Rural Retreat: Brisbane to Toowoomba travel guide

Get a taste of country life and take a driving tour to Queensland’s Darling Downs. Small towns and big scenery is all part of the allure of this particular road trip.


A tractor on a trailer sits on the roadside near a heritage antique centre, Esk, Queensland

This is some of the most beautiful rural country in southeast Queensland. Take the long road, slightly north as you head out of Brisbane, and you’ll travel through the Valley of the Lakes, dotted with small country towns. Some of them, like Esk, have a single main street lined with old-fashioned timber buildings representing the nineteenth-century Queensland vernacular.

Keep your eyes peeled too, for signs advertising local agricultural shows. Held on the weekend, they feature every aspect of country life, from competition baking to champion chickens. This is the quiet life though, where sensational scenery and a sense of relaxation will be the tenets of your road trip.


Four people in the basket of a hot-air balloon flying over countryside near Ipswich, Queensland

Arrive in Brisbane at least a day before so you can get a pre-dawn start. Just 30 minutes away is the take-off point for Floating Images hot-air balloon flights. As the sun rises so will you, taking in views of Ipswich, the Great Dividing Range, the Brisbane skyline and the surrounding countryside. Afterwards help pilot Graeme Day deflate the balloon before sitting down to a hot breakfast.


  1. If you’re taking the more scenic option, Marburg is a slight detour, but a worthwhile one. This town was once the bustling hub and the original buildings that were central to daily life – Bielefeld’s Store, the original police station and the Marburg Hotel, built in 1879 – have all been restored.

  2. It’s Queensland’s largest lake and provides drinking water for a good portion of the state’s southeast. Lake Wivenhoe, however, is also a big drawcard for recreational boaters, as well as swimmers, who can dive in at Logan’s Inlet and Billie’s Bay, and fishers (you’ll need a permit). There are also plenty of walking trails, playgrounds and barbecue and picnic areas back on dry land.

  3. When settlers first came to this area, they carved up the land into huge stations. There were small mines, larger timber operations and, later, a number of dairy farms. The township of Esk was born, and now its main street has art galleries, antique stores and cafes all housed in renovated historical buildings. Also nearby is the beautiful Bellevue Homestead, where the Prince of Wales (before he was King George VIII) was once a guest.

  4. Stretch your legs before you reach Toowoomba at Bunnyconnellen. Former graziers Ninian and Ann Stewart-Moore have taken over the property and now oversee its vineyard and olive grove. The farm, with its collection of rustic buildings, plays host to regular events. There’s also a gift store in the old school bus garage, where you can buy antiques, homewares and pieces by local artists. Just let Ann know you’re coming – you can have a stroll around the garden while you’re there.

  5. Toowoomba, set atop the Great Dividing Range, is probably best known for its annual Carnival of Flowers. But this country town now has a thriving street art scene. This is in large part to First Coat Studios, a group of artists that facilitates public art projects and runs its own gallery space. Start at Ruthven Street and go exploring. There’s a downloadable Google map here.


Woodlands of Marburg

Check into Woodlands of Marburg, a mansion built in 1891 for a local sugar cane and rum baron, and now home to a country inn, restaurant, theatre and haunted building where lantern tours explore its spooky rooms.

Esk Grand Hotel

Stay in true country pub style at Esk Grand Hotel. The town is a great central spot to take some time exploring the lakes of the region or doing some hiking or horse riding. When you get back, know that a good meal and a comfy bed await.

Burke & Wills Hotel

Set right on Ruthven Street, Toowoomba’s Burke & Wills Hotel had a huge upgrade a few years ago making its 82 rooms some of the best in town, with walking access to most of the sights. There’s free off-street parking, too.


Two-storey Queenslander-style building with wide verandahs, Marburg Hotel, Queensland

Book your Apex Car Rentals’ vehicle to pick up at Brisbane Airport when you arrive. There’s a range of new and late model options available, from compact cars to SUVs and people movers. Toowoomba is about 130 kilometres directly west of the Queensland capital along the Warrego Highway. A much more interesting route that you can stretch out over a few days takes you north from Ipswich, around the edge of Lake Wivenhoe to Esk before heading onwards to your destination.


Person walking along a trail through thick rainforest, Bunya Mountains National Park, Queensland

Extend your road trip by heading about 110 kilometres north of Toowoomba to Bunya Mountains. From the plains surrounding them, you’ll drive steep, winding roads towards the top of these rainforest-capped peaks where the world’s largest forest of bunya pines still grows. The national park plays host to a number of walks where you should look for brightly coloured king parrots and crimson rosellas.