HEADING WEST – to the country

Both the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are recognized tourist destinations, but what is there to see if you head inland from Brisbane?

Brisbane has a number of expressways and Tollways that inter connect the main parts of the city and suburbs, linking it north, south and west of the City.

If you are looking to see what the country has to offer west, it is best to travel by car and head towards Ipswich – where it is possible to either head into Ipswich itself; or head west to Toowoomba on the Darling Downs; North west to Esk, Somerset Dam and the Brisbane Valley; or south west towards either Boonah or to Amberley Airforce Base and on to Warwick and Stanthorpe on the southern side of the Darling Downs.

They say that getting there is half the fun of the final destination – and this is certainly true of the drives west.

Ipswich is the oldest regional town in Queensland – and was a centre for coal mining and railways, so there are a lot of historic buildings in the centre of town, and lots of Queenslander houses in older parts of the city. Being an old city it also has well established parks in the centre of town – Queens Park being one of these, which even has a zoo in the centre of it. Head to Goleby Avenue to find it, and Denmark Hill Conservation Area (20 Chelmsford Ave) also has lots of walking tracks, even taking in Triassic Park – where you can see fossils of dinosaurs.

The Art Gallery is located on D’arcy Doyle Place (Tel: (07) 3810 7222, has been developed especially for Children to get involved in Art.

West of Ipswich is the RAAF Amberley Air Force Base, and there is a museum there too (see Museums in Things to see on this website).

Boonah – is a small town to the south west of Ipswich, and is at the centre of what is called the “Scenic Rim” – mountains surrounding the town and district in almost a circle, making the area very scenic. There are lots of cattle properties and farms, including some wineries, a lavender farm, horse riding and close to Boonah is Lake Moogerah, where there is a caravan park (Tel: (07) 5463 0141). The Lake is a popular place to go fishing, water skiing, sailing and canoeing. The town and some smaller towns nearby are very much traditional Australian country towns, with a pub or two, some cafes and shops along a main street. Traveling to this area will give you a very good impression of small town country life in Australia, and if you want to experience a real farm, make contact with Lillydale Farm (www.lillydale.com.au Tel: (07) 5544 3131) where guests can stay over, or visit to see a working farm in operation. Also in the area are mountain biking trails, and rock climbing, with events such as markets and Rodeos at different times. Also look for Destiny Boonah – where they rescue donkeys.

Heading west to Warwick on the Darling Downs – The road from Ipswich to Warwick heads past the RAAF Amberley Airforce base, and westwards through Australian bush and forests towards Cunninghams Gap – and the winding road up the Great Dividing Range. The road is quite steep and has been subject to rock falls at various time, and at the top of the Range is the Cunninghams Gap National Park with great views over the Fassifern Valley below, high cliffs, walking trails and rainforest making it a haven for birds and other wildlife.

You are now on the Darling Downs and a little further on you will start to see the black soil plains that have made the Darling Downs one of Australia’s best farming areas for growing wheat, barley, sorghum, Canola and other crops.

The road leads from Cunninghams Gap to a T junction, with the right side leading north to the small towns of Allora and Clifton and on to Toowoomba and Dalby, while turning left leads on to Warwick and Stanthorpe.

Warwick (The Rose City) is the biggest town on the Southern Downs, and has a number of old homes, a main street with some impressive stone buildings, lots of shops. The town is also well known for its public and private Schools, and its rose gardens. Entering the town you will cross over the Warrego River and the town is located on the main Brisbane to Sydney highway, so lots of cars and trucks heading north and south stop in Warwick to break their journey. Close to Warwick is the small town of Killarney, almost destroyed by a Tornado that ripped through the town in 1968. The town is located in and around valleys and hills, and nearby is 40 metre high Queen Mary Falls and gorge and rainforest area, with a number of walkways and a popular picnic spot near the entrance to the Park. West of Warwick is Leslie Dam, which is a popular picnic area too.

Heading south from Warwick the landscape changes from the black soil plains to drier land, with bush, forest and large rock boulder outcrops making their appearance. This area has become known as the Granite Belt and is more a sheep area, but as you approach Stanthorpe, you will come across wineries and apple orchards. There are more than 50 wineries established around Stanthorpe, making the area a popular destination for Tourists, and particularly popular when events involving wine tastings are happening. Stanthorpe is quite high and so winters here can get very cold, particularly at night. There are also a number of National Parks nearby, and the main road leads southwards to New South Wales and Tenterfield.

Lowood, Laidley, Gatton, Helidon and the Lockyer Valley are located directly west of Ipswich with the road leading to the range and on top of the Range, the big city of Toowoomba. The Warrego Highway is the main road leading to Toowoomba, and it is possible to either travel through Ipswich or to take a bi-pass that goes around the main Ipswich town. A few kilometres past Ipswich on the western side is the right turnoff to Esk and the Brisbane Valley, or heading straight ahead you will travel on to Lowood, Laidley, Gatton and other small villages heading for Toowoomba.

The road passes through farmlands on both sides of the road, as well as smaller hobby farms, with the University of Queensland, Gatton Campus being just off the main road. Gatton College, as it was once known was first set up in 1897 and has become one of the main Agricultural Universities in Australia, with a diverse range of courses.

The Lockyer Valley is very fertile, and vegetables, Lucerne, corn as well as dairying are all carried out in the Valley, with roadside market stalls providing travellers with a lot of this produce. As you drive along you will also see Irrigation sprays of water over many of the crops, tractors, and other signs of farming activity, making for an enjoyable drive through the Valley.

Also look out for the Queensland Transport Museum – 34 Lake Apex Drive, Gatton (Tel: (07) 5466 3426) which has over 200 trucks on display. This is part of the Lockyer Valley Cultural Centre with a café, art gallery, the Legends of Fame, all right beside the lake. See www.lockyervalleyculturalcentre.com.au

In Gatton head to Freemans Road to the Gatton and District Historical Village (open Sundays) where there are 22 restored historic houses. Also see www.gattonheavyhorses.com.au , www.australiansatwar.net.au , www.bauersorganicfarm.com.au , www.balloonsabove.com.au. and www.fordsdalefarmstay.com Five very different websites that show the diversity of life in the valley.

In Laidley, head to Patrick Street to see the old shops and Das Neumann Haus – built in 1893 (on the corner of William Street) – a good place to enjoy a coffee and maybe some Apple Studel. Also in Laidley see the Laidley Pioneer Village and Museum (open 7 days) on the corner of Drayton and Pioneer Streets – with the old horse drawn Hearst, Motor bikes, Police Lock up, wagons and slab built cottage. (Tel: (07) 5465 2516).

The Lockyer Valley towns are small and very rural, making a nice change from a city environment. It is also possible to take a less direct road from Ipswich via even smaller towns, following the Cobb & Co Trail – which goes from Ipswich to Walloon, Rosewood, Grandchester, to Laidley then on to Gatton.
Nearby is Wivenhoe Dam on the Brisbane River, a big dam with camping facilities next to it, and water activities being the main attraction. In Gatton itself, there is also the Queensland Transport Museum on Lake Apex Drive, with displays of old trucks used over the last century to transport goods to and from markets.

If you are looking for a special pub lunch – head to the Mulga Hotel at 106 Mulgowie Rd in Mulgowie (Tel: (07) 5465 9127) and at the bottom of ‘the Range’ on the Warrego Highway leading up to Toowoomba is Helidon Spa (07) 4697 6255, where you can stay over and enjoy the Spa waters at the resort there.

In 2011, the Valley made headlines around the world, when a massive wall of water from a huge downpour of water in Toowoomba, headed down Murphy’s Creek into the Valley destroying homes, cars, sheds and washing away livestock and people too. This type of flooding and the extent of the damage had never been seen before, but since then the area has largely recovered, with building rebuilt on higher land.

Toowoomba – is also called the “Garden City” and sits on top of the Range. The city, with a population of around 90,000 people is one of the biggest regional cities in Australia, and has tree lined streets, many spectacular home gardens, large parks and due to its location, a different climate to the coastal plains. In winter is can be cold, and heavy mists can often cover the parts of the city closest to the range escarpment. Toowoomba has both a thriving main street and also shopping centres, with a number of large private and public schools and a University. There are many places to stay, and great restaurants to eat in, and in September, there is the “Carnival of Flowers” – one of the highlight events in the year. At the top of the Range there is a large park (Picnic Point) with views over a square top mountain called Tabletop Mountain and the Lockyer Valley. It is easy to stop here to admire the view and it is a popular park for picnics, hence the name, “Picnic Point”.

The City itself is in a dish shaped valley, so from Picnic Point the roads leading to the city centre head downhill. It was here just one block to the west of the Ruthven Street, the main street of Toowoomba that in 2011 a creek became massively swollen with heavy rain washing away cars and people in them, before heading down the range to Murphy’s Creek and the Lockyer Valley, destroying homes, properties and all in its way. The devastation was covered on film, with the sight made news around the world.

Some of the main attractions of Toowoomba are certainly the historic homes and gardens, particularly in the suburbs near the Range, as well as the City’s parks and gardens. Look for Queens Park; Lake Annand Park on East Creek (Perth St cnr.Mackenzie St); The Bi-Centennial Waterbird habitat (Cnr Mackenzie St and Alderley St); and near the University entrance on West Street see the Ju Raku En Japanese Garden, which means “enjoy peace and longevity in a public place”.

The Cobb & Co museum is also in Toowoomba at 27 Lindsay Street, with a number of Cobb & Co stage coaches on display. There is also a large regional Art Gallery next to City Hall on Ruthven Street. There are also many historic churches and other historic buildings around James St, Russell St, including the Mort Estate buildings at 86 James Street.

Heading out of town to the north on the New England Highway, look for the Village Green at Highfields, and a little further on (about 15km from Toowoomba) look for Black Forest Hill – which has one of the largest collection of Cuckoo Clocks and Grandfather clocks in Australia. This is also near Cooby Dam where there are picnic areas and also the Highfields Pioneer Village Museum and Park (Tel: (07) 4696 6309). Here you will find over 50 buildings covering 20 acres of ground, with different activities and displays. There is a toyshop, blacksmith, old slab cottage, museums with an Ambulance historical display, and also the Southern Cross windmill history. You can also enjoy a cup of Billy tea and damper too. The drive continues to Crows Nest along the top of the escarpment, with nice views on both sides of the road. Crows Nest Falls National Park is located just east of the town, and has a water fall in a great granite gorge, in amongst tall rainforest. There is also another National Park, called Ravensbourne, about 45 km from Toowoomba, which has rare tall Red Cedar Trees, Blackbean and Rosewood trees in the rainforest, as well as Piccabeen Palm trees as well as picnic grounds. It is possible to take a road here down the escarpment and on to Esk in the Brisbane Valley.

Heading further west from Toowoomba – there are the towns of Jondaryan, Oakey and Dalby. The road leading to Dalby from Toowoomba travels through a mix of hobby farms and larger grain growing and cattle properties. Oakey has a Museum of Australian Army Flying (Tel: (07) 4577 7666) which is worth seeing, and in Jondaryan there is the very popular Jondaryan Woolshed, said to be the world’s biggest woolshed in the world when it was built in 1859. Here they have lots of stories and activities with draft horses, sheep, lambs, sheep dogs, cart rides, billycart races and you can even camp here too (Tel: (07)4692 2229 Address: 264 Jondaryan-Evanslea Rd in Jondaryan). Dalby has a Pioneer Park Museum (17 Black St) which has a very large collection of tractors and agricultural equipment, and other displays set in old colonial buildings. The city itself has a population of around 12,000 people, and is at the centre of the grain industry with massive grain silos, and also large Power Stations, powered by the coal that lies underground. There is even a bio-fuel Refinery converting grain to ethanol in the city, while the town in near one of Australia’s biggest cattle feedlots, “Grassdale” able to handle over 30,000 cattle. Cattle raised in northern Australia are brought south to Dalby to the feedlots before heading to market. The mix of grain, cattle, sheep, mining and energy means that Dalby has a diverse economy, making it an interesting city to visit.

One of the main attractions in the area is the Bunya Mountains, the biggest Bunya Pine forest in the world. The trees can grow to up to 50 metres high, while the Bunya Nut cones which grow high up in the tree can be up to 3 to 4 kilos in weight, about the size of a pineapple. Up to around 80 cones can be on a tree, and they can fall to the ground. Be careful to make sure that none fall on your head! The Cones break apart and inside are 50 to 80 or so nuts. They are a bit like almonds with an outer shell and the actual nut to eat inside this shell. To eat, you can roast the shells for about half an hour and then use a hammer or nut cracker to break open the shell for the nut inside.

The Bunya Mountains National Park was established in 1908 making it Queensland’s second oldest National Park. It is possible to camp here, and enjoy the rainforest and many birds and native animals, like wallabies and Scrub Turkeys that you might see. Bunya nuts were a popular food for Aboriginal clans in the past, and they formed the basis of clans coming together when the Bunya nuts were in season (around January each year) to celebrate the seasons and conduct ceremonies.

Brisbane Valley – Just west of Ipswich is the turn off to the Brisbane Valley, leading to a number of small towns including Coominya, Esk, Toogoolawah and Kilcoy. These are all small rural towns, with beef cattle properties, wheat, some diary and mixed farming surrounding the towns. There are also a number of small hobby farms in the area too. Each of the towns has a mix of small shops, schools, hotels, service stations, cafes and places to stay, with the main attraction being the quiet country lifestyle and relaxed living. Esk is located next to a very high mountain almost towering over the town itself, and the Somerset Dam on the Stanley River is not far away. The dam has nice picnic grounds below the dam wall, and is very popular for water skiing. Toogoolawah is close to the Brisbane River, the longest river in Queensland.

Wivenhoe Dam is on the Brisbane River and is much bigger than Somerset Dam. The Dam has a 2.3km long dam wall constructed in 1974 to hold back the water. It is possible to canoe and fish on the lake, and use some small power boats, but not all. Wivenhoe Dam provides most of the drinking water for Brisbane.

We hope you enjoy your time seeing the towns outside Brisbane.

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

Happy Traveller

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