Whenever I travel overseas I always muse about how little history Australia has compared to the rest of the world but that’s because I live in suburbia and forget that driving just an hour or two inland is like travelling back in time. It makes me wonder how many tourists miss out on country town Australia by never leaving the beaten track.
There are plenty of stunning coastal destinations within easy reach of Brisbane but when I need a fix of the country I head to the Southern Downs region; an area that contains the perfect mix of history and nature.
From Brisbane, take the Cunningham Highway towards Warwick. Admittedly the drive is a little dull for the first hour but picks up around Aratula which is a great place to stop for some local produce and a bite to eat. Shortly after you’ll enter Main Range National Park as you drive up Cunningham’s Gap through the Great Dividing Range. There’s a number of hikes of various lengths around here, but as I always tend to visit in the warmer months I prefer to appreciate the mountainous scenery from my air-conditioned car.
View from Cunningham’s Gap
I tend to always visit the region during summer so I can photograph the sunflowers but with many outstanding outdoor locations the cooler months would be more pleasant for exploring. There’s a variety of ways to spend your time in the Southern Downs region so here’s a few of my favourites to pick and choose from. Click the map for exact locations.
Once you reach the New England Highway take the turn-off towards Allora and then a quick right to visit Glengallan Homestead. Glengallan is a heritage listed and semi-restored house open to the public from Wednesdays to Sundays. Built in the 1800s, it later fell into disrepair and has since been revived with funding. I’ve seen a few old homesteads in my time but this one really tickled my fancy because the restoration is incomplete and I love anything abandoned and rundown. Don’t miss the mummified cat. A visit here will take roughly 30 minutes and costs $10.
Mary Poppins House:
If you have the time drive on to Allora where you can see the childhood home of P.L. Travers, the author of ‘Mary Poppins’. The house is found towards the end of the main street and can be visited by appointment only. We were incredibly lucky to be passing by just as the owner was out the front and she kindly agreed to allow us to look through.
My favourite reason for visiting the Southern Downs is sunflowers! If you visit during the summer months there’s a chance you’ll stumble across a sunflower field but I’d strongly suggest checking out my sunflower post for specific tips on where to find them.
It’s 20 minutes back to Warwick from Allora. Warwick certainly has that colonial country town feel we lack in the cities and no shortage of beautiful heritage buildings, but not a whole lot to do otherwise. We had dinner at Soban House which was a grossly understated gem and the best Japanese food I’ve ever had!
Queen Mary Falls:
If you’ve got a hankering for a waterfall 40 minutes east of Warwick near the lovely township of Killarney you’ll find the Falls Drive. There’s plenty to explore so refer to this map to plan your trip. We first visited Daggs Falls lookout which is just beside the road and then continued on to Queen Mary Falls. You can do a short walk here which overlooks the falls and then decide if you wish to walk on to the bottom of the falls (the on-site map makes this much more confusing than it actually is). I was devastated to discover that due to recent rainfall the longer track was closed so I’d suggest checking track conditions before you make the trip.
If you continue on towards Boonah you’ll find Carrs Lookout with stunning views but be warned, if you decide to drive back to Brisbane from here you will find yourself on very steep, narrow and almost deserted road. There were a couple of times on this drive I thought I was going to die. The one perk is that you’ll drive through Main Range National Park where you’ll find yourself completely surrounded by the sound of bellbirds and cicadas. It’s truly magical but still not worth the stressful drive.
If food and wine experiences are more your thing then a visit to Stanthorpe is a must. Only 45 minutes from Warwick you’ll start to discover an abundance of wineries and plenty of local stores full of farm fresh produce. The area is particularly famous for apples so you can’t go past Suttons Juice Factory for a slice of pie. And if you stay the night I recommend Stannum Lodge Motor Inn followed by Brinx Deli for an excellent breakfast.
Mount Marley lookout, Stanthorpe
Girraween National Park:
Being a photographer I try and seek out unusual landscapes and Girraween National Park, 30 mins south of Stanthorpe, certainly ticks my boxes. Situated in the Granite Belt the landscape is primarily rock with huge boulders in impossible formations, walking tracks and waterholes. We visited in summer but apparently in the cooler months the place is alive with wildflowers. There’s also camping options if you’re that way inclined.
What’s your favourite thing to do in the Southern Downs?