Sometimes you just need the wide open spaces. Endless blue skies, rolling green and gold hills, plunging waterfalls, good ol’ country hospitality and roadside pumpkin stands.
Wineries, distilleries, orchards & dairies with cheese-so-good-you-could-eat-it-with-a-spoon certainly don’t hurt either.
Southern Queensland Country is at its most beautiful in Autumn when the crisp country air gets a little chilly and the trees erupt in flaming golden foliage. A weekend is ideal, but you can drink in that fresh country air and warm your belly with delicious country food in one day if time is short & your budget is teeny tiny.
This itinerary is more relaxed with just Warwick and Killarney or the Granite Belt, but you can visit all three in one day. There is so much more to Queensland than ridiculously beautiful islands, rainforests and beaches!
The day starts early, with an hour and a half’s drive before your first stop along the Cunningham Highway. The stop is easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled for the roadside carpark for the Cunningham’s Gap trail. The short walk through the cool rainforest rewards a little effort with a beautiful view.
Another half-hour of driving and it’s time to stop for morning tea in the city of roses & rodeos, Warwick. The wide, flower-lined streets of the regional hub are quiet, dotted with locals stopping for a chat. You get the sense that everyone knows everyone and that there’s always time for a chat in Warwick.
Stretch your legs with a free self-guided walk of the town’s historical buildings, maps available from the Visitor Information Centre.
Mussell’s Restaurant – Mamma Lucia’s Patisserie
I don’t know who Mamma Lucia is or how she convinced Mussell’s Restaurant to let her steal the show with her marvelous patisserie, but the woman knows a thing or two about all things sweet and satisfying.
Hop back in the car and hit the road for the Granite Belt.
The Granite Belt
Named for the huge chunks of granite dotted throughout the countryside, courtesy of volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago, the Granite Belt is a quieter place these days.
Clusters of enormous granite boulders form caves and make great lookouts at Donnelly’s Castle. Thought to be one of the former hiding places of notorious bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, it’s worth stopping for 20 or so minutes to walk around the caves & boulders and walk up to the lookout on top of an enormous monolith, for views across the valley.
You’ll need shoes with at least a bit of grip on them (not sandals!) and you’ll have to have good mobility to be able to get around most of the area.
Jersey Girls Café at Granite Belt Dairy, Thulimbah
Pop in to Jersey Girls Café for a delicious ploughman’s lunch in their lovingly-decorated café. Each set of tables & chairs is a separate dining set that looks like it’s been plucked straight out of a country home & the walls are decorated with paintings depicting life on the farm.
Before you sit down to a hearty lunch, stop at the cheese counter and try a bit of everything. Bring an eski with you so you can take some (or a tonne) home!
The serving sizes are generous, but loosen your belt and make room for a milkshake. There is nothing like a milkshake made at a dairy.
Castle Glen Distillery
A stone’s throw away is Castle Glen Distillery. One of the last independent distilleries in Queensland, Castle Glen produce their own wine, liqueurs and spirits in just about every flavour under the sun.
Wander through “the Castle” (really) and pick up something a little different – the pink musk liqueur is out of this world.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, don’t miss Sutton’s Farm. Inside the big shed is the café & shop, furnished with turn-of-the-century school desks & benches clustered together to form tables. Unfortunately, you can’t get their legendary apple pie take away ( or by the slice), you have to order a whole one to share & eat in the café.
Got some extra time up your sleeve? Autumn is the perfect time to go apple picking in the orchard.
The Pink Lady Apple Juice, however, can be bought by the bottle, so stock up. Take my word for it, you’ll want at least three. It’s the sweetest, fruitiest apple juice I’ve ever tasted.
Time for something a little stronger. The Granite Belt is Queensland’s primary wine-producing region due to it’s cool climates, but unlike major Australian wine regions, Queensland’s best wineries are a little…strange.
The Strange Bird Alternative Wine Trail celebrates the region’s many winemakers producing more unusual wines, such as Barbera, Gewurtztraminer and Zinfandel. One stop on the trail is Boireann Winery, pop in to the cellar door and sample their full-bodied, spicy and peppery reds.
It’s been a pretty good day already, but if you’ve got some more left in you, swing back towards Killarney & Queen Mary Falls.
We stopped only briefly in Killarney at the Art Gallery/Vintage Shop for a poke around and a chat with the head curator/shop assistant. Look out for the roadside pumpkin stand and the local events coordinator – a tin dragon on a street corner.
Queen Mary Falls
Just 10km outside Killarney is the 130 ft plunge waterfall that features heavily in the postcards & pride of Killarney locals. There is one lookout right beside the carpark, but a short walking track leads to a second lookout on the other side of the falls, for a closer vantage point. Both are worth checking out.
Spring Creek Mountain Café
It’s time to rest and revive before the drive home.
It would be easy for Spring Creek Mountain Cafe to rest on its laurels and attract customers for the glorious view alone, but fortunately this isn’t the case.
Whether you stop for Devonshire Tea, Bev’s Beef & Shiraz Pie, lime panna cotta with coconut ice cream, mango & mojito sauce or the Moroccan Apple Pie with rose petal ice cream & persian fairy floss, as I did, you’re in for a treat. If you’re feeling far too relaxed to head back to reality, stay the night at one of their cottages.
Don’t forget to order a coffee to perk up before the big drive home – it will certainly be more enjoyable than one at a petrol station.
Before it gets too dark, head back towards Brisbane. Remember to stop for a break every two hours to stretch your legs, grab a coffee and give your mind a break from the road.
Have you been to Southern Queensland Country? What’s your favourite country weekend escape?