This article originally appeared on Southern Queensland Country.
Perfect if you’re sneaking in a mini-break from Brisbane or the Gold Coast, this 3-day itinerary will have you cruising country roads, walking in the spray of waterfalls, crunching along granite trails and did we mention the food and wine!
Day 1: Brisbane to Killarney
(173km, just a smidge over two hours)
Stressed out city types you need a nature fix! Pack yourself a picnic and head out of town via the small towns of Beaudesert and Boonah to your lunch destination: the verdant Queen Mary Falls. From Boonah take Carneys Creek Road, which becomes The Head Road and then Spring Creek Road – what you’ll notice over this 60km stretch, is the landscape getting greener, hillier and more beautiful as you wind your way over the twists and turns of the Great Dividing Range.
Walk on the wild side
Part of Main Range National Park, Queen Mary Falls is a lush place to relax and explore. There are shady picnic tables, wood burning and electric barbecues (watch out for swooping kookaburras after your lunch!), toilets and a 2km walk to the base of the Falls. If you’re not fond of stairs, stroll to the viewing platform a couple of minutes from the start of the track to see the Spring Creek cut its course and cascade over the 40-metre fern-encrusted drop. But sitting at the base of the Falls breathing in the fresh, damp air is well worth the half-hour circuit, which is easy done if you’re even moderately fit.
After your walk, grab a coffee and a freshly baked scone, jam and cream from The Falls Café opposite the National Park (they also do great burgers) and sit on the deck with the locals – colourful king parrots, lorikeets and shy bower birds are regular visitors.
From here it’s ten minutes to Killarney town along the Falls Drive. If you’ve developed a taste for chasing waterfalls, drop into Browns and Daggs Falls along the route – they’re worth a wander, although much smaller than Queen Mary Falls, with no designated tracks or facilities, bar an easily accessed viewing platform at Daggs Falls.
Watch out for farm stalls selling eggs and vegies – pumpkins and potatoes are usually available and crisp greens in season.
Check out Willow Gallery, a local artists’ co-op where you can pick up paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jewellery and textiles, and call into the Killarney Hotel, a classic old pub circa 1910, for a quick drink on the wide verandah overlooking the main street. If you’re into history Killarney Heritage Centre, open weekends 10am-2pm and by appointment, has an interesting collection of local historical photos, articles and small artefacts.
Hideaway in the hills
Late afternoon, make your way back along Spring Creek Road to Spring Creek Mountain Cottages and Café. Check-in to your cottage and settle in for some quiet time overlooking the rolling emerald green hills and rocky outcrops of the Condamine Gorge, Wilsons Peak and the Border Ranges. Wi-Fi is patchy so take the opportunity to brew a soothing cup of tea, sit on your verandah with a book and just breathe in the cool mountain air. The world can wait!
About half an hour before sunset, head to the café for a drink on the deck while the sky morphs from blue to golds and pinks before the evening star pins itself to the heavens, kicking off the big sky night show. You’re in for a treat – a delicious dinner under starry skies – Chef Bev Ruskey specialises in using local Killarney produce – ingredients like Black Angus beef, lamb, vegetables grown not 10 km from the restaurant and honey gathered from busy local bees on the Acacia Plateau feature in her home-style menu that changes with the seasons. A simple steak, salad and fat cut chips made from Farmer Mal’s red-soil potatoes washed down with a Granite Belt red, hits the spot nicely! Get some sleep now, tomorrow is another big adventure!
Day 2: Killarney to Stanthorpe
(113km, 1 hour, 15 minutes along country roads)
Today is all about eating and drinking … somebody has to do it!
Before the feasting begins, rise early and take a 2-minute stroll to Carr’s Lookout to catch the sun rising over the Gorge and mountains – the view is often shrouded in dawn mist, making for winning Instagram pics, certainly #worthgettingupfor!
Take your time over a hearty country-style a la carte breakfast al fresco at the Café, then pack your bags and hit the road for The Granite Belt, via Warwick.
Pie to drive for
Once you reach Warwick, take the New England Highway and set your course for Thulimbah – when you begin to see granite boulders, stone fruit groves and apple orchards dotting the landscape, you’re getting close.
Morning tea is beckoning and tucking into freshly baked crumbly apple pie with creamy spiced cider ice cream at Suttons Farm is going to be a highlight of your day! Farmers Dave & Ros Sutton also make wicked cider, juice, jams, sauces and syrups from their apples, so don’t leave without stocking up.
Stanthorpe Cheese is just a short hop over the railway tracks – here you can try and buy farmhouse cheeses made from the milk of happy Jersey Cows – and other local artisanal products like Lyrah infused vinegars, Mt Stirling olives and olive oil, and New England Larder pickles, chutneys and relishes.
Find a Strange Bird
You’re in Queensland’s premier wine region so a wine tasting or two along the Strange Bird Wine Trail is compulsory! ‘Strange Bird’ is the nickname for the unusual, lesser known varieties of wine grapes grown in this area – Saperavi, Fiano, Verdelho, and Durif to name a few. As you’re heading south, drop into Ridgemill Estate, Hidden Creek, Twisted Gum, Golden Grove orSymphony Hill for a wine tasting and a chat with the winemaker at the cellar door. Don’t forget to buy a case or two to take home!
Stop in at Jamworks for a range of sweet treats made from local produce – buy a jar of delicious strawberry, ginger and rose jam – it’ll be the perfect reminder of your time here when you’re gobbling down some toast and rushing off to work next week.
For a really special farm to table lunch book a table at Ballandean Estate winery’s The Barrelroom and Larder where chefs Travis Crane and Arabella Chambers source ingredients no more than 3-hours’ drive from their kitchen. Seasonal menus star local vegetables, venison, lamb, goat and pork alongside herbs and salad greens from their own garden, and they will match your dishes with Ballandean Estate wines. Perfecto!
No question – you’re going to need to walk off lunch in Girraween National Park, a short drive away. Granite trails, from easy 30-minute strolls to challenging half day hikes, take in spectacular granite landscapes, tracts of bush, meandering creeks and precariously balancing boulders. Keep an eye out for pretty spring wildflowers from October to November.
If you’re keen on an early morning hike, you can stay close to the National Park at Girraween Environmental Lodge (self-catering) or at Vineyard Cottages (onsite restaurant or book a cottage with a kitchenette), or in Stanthorpe book in at Diamondvale Cottages, Alure or 31 The Rocks and dine at local favourite McGregor Terrace Food Project.
Day 3: Stanthorpe to Brisbane or Gold Coast
(250kms, just under 3 hours drive)
If you’re not off on a dawn hike, sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your accommodation or try Feast n Farmin’, Foxy’s Bakery or Brinx Deli in Stanthorpe.
Hands up who wants to go home?
No we didn’t think so! Before you set your course toward home, drop in to the Truffle Discovery Centre to learn about the area’s truffles – a gourmet ingredient sought after by chefs and home cooks – you can buy fresh truffles here in the season (usually late July /early August depending on the weather) or truffle oil or truffle-infused honey year-round.
On the way out of town tour Kent Saddlery’s workshop to see master saddlers and leather artisans at work, or drop into Granite Belt Christmas Farm – where you can buy fresh handmade chocolates from Mrs Claus’ Kitchen, or savour the fresh smell of pine on a wander through the fields of real Christmas trees – if you’re there in harvest season you can take home the perfect festive tree!
Explore on foot or horseback
Travelling back through Warwick, and continuing onto the Cunningham Highway, you have the option of spending the afternoon walking and picnicking in the beautiful Goomburra section of Main Range National Park or having lunch, horse riding and feeding the farm animals at Bestbrook Mountain Resort.
Whichever you choose, you’re heading home relaxed and refreshed with a haul of gourmet goodies to tide you over until the next time you set off road tripping these country roads.