Country Roads: a Brisbane to Toowoomba road trip

A red bridge over a lake in the manicured Japanese Gardens, Toowoomba, Queensland

The most obvious route is not always the best one. Chris and Sarah take the long road to the Darling Downs and discover the interesting history and gourmet goodness of southern Queensland.

Mention southeast Queensland to people anywhere else in the country and they usually think of Brisbane and the Gold Coast. And fair enough, too, since both places are great for a holiday. But Chris and I are broadening our horizons and spending a few days checking out some of its country charms, driving from Brisbane to Toowoomba. You can go straight there and arrive in less than two hours, head north (see here for some places to see along the way) or go a long way south, check out a premier wine-growing region and take your time. And that’s what we’re doing. Once we’ve picked up our Apex Car Rentals vehicle at Brisbane Airport, we’re on our way.

Southern Way: Brisbane to Stanthorpe

Warwick Post Office

When I show Chris our route on the map app he thinks I’ve lost it. It’s 130 kilometres direct to Toowoomba, but we’re taking a 220-kilometre detour to Stanthorpe first. Set in the Granite Belt, it’s a place with a bit of everything – wineries, orchards, history and national parks.

About two hours after we set off, Chris pulls over in Warwick, one of Queensland’s first inland cities with sandstone heritage buildings still standing proudly in its streets. The attendant at the petrol station recommends Bluebird Kitchen & Smokehouse for lunch, and it doesn’t disappoint – I order chicken tacos and Chris has a burnt end brisket cheeseburger that he talks about for the next three days. It’s then only another 60 kilometres on to Stanthorpe.

A Vine Time: Stanthorpe to Texas

Banca Ridge Winery

The Granite Belt is known as one of Queensland’s best wine regions, with more than 30 vineyards. Chris is going to drive again today, so I get to imbibe in some of the spoils. After much deliberation – and plenty of good reviews online and from a couple of locals – we decide to head to Varias Restaurant. We feast on dishes created using produce grown in the local area and I try a couple of wines from the Banca Ridge Winery. Before heading out of town, we head to the top of Mount Marlay and do a short walk – be kind, it was a big lunch – around the summit to check out the views of the town.

Having always wanted to go to Texas – the place with big hats and college football teams – we decide to check out the Queensland town of the same name. It’s right on the border with NSW and, I suspect, not a lot like the Lone Star State, although this is cattle country. Texas used to be the centre of an important tobacco-growing region, and we stop by what was once the Police Barracks to check out the Texas Heritage Centre and Tobacco Museum.

Much to our surprise there’s also another industry long since gone. In the late 1920s, a rabbit plague overtook the region with those bad bunnies playing havoc with local farms. To combat the ravaging cottontails, the Texas Rabbit Works was opened. For three decades thousands of rabbits were trapped and sold to Europe and the USA, helping the community through the Great Depression. Thankfully, it’s been turned into a museum and Chris and I learn more about the struggle to keep rabbits at bay than we’ll probably ever need to know.

High Hopes: Texas to Toowoomba

Two people sitting on a grassy plateau overlooking rural views, Table Top Mountain, near Toowoomba, Queensland

After a day filled with history, today we are all about the great outdoors. First stop is the Inglewood Olive Walkway that follows Macintyre Brook through the groves before taking a loop around the town. Thankfully, on the town circuit, we find the Inglewood Coffee Shop & Tea Garden, a country cafe decorated with Elvis and old Hollywood memorabilia. Even better, it does a hearty, all-day breakfast, which is exactly what you need on a road trip. It’s a scenic, two-hour drive to Toowoomba, but it’s even more picturesque once we arrive. The city is famous for its beautiful gardens, and we take some burgers to Queens Park and eat them sitting beneath a huge tree while making plans.

The next morning we rise early to take on Table Top Mountain to the east. From a distance, you can’t miss it – it really does have a flat top, and you can climb right up there. But, it really is a steep climb. We get into the scrambling and rock hopping and, about half an hour later, arrive at the top. It’s well worth the effort. Although there is not a single tree at the top of the mountain, the views are extraordinary, taking in the whole Lockyer Valley. After such a huge effort, we deserve a treat and decide to check out a local craft brewery. At 4 Brothers Brewing, they do it right – a great range of bevvies, including a mango IPA, as well as awesome soaking-up food like cheese burgers and wings. It’s lunch with a little extra.