With four distinct seasons and an abundance of fresh local produce, the Granite Belt is one of Australia’s most charming and picturesque rural food and wine regions. There are plenty of great things to do in the Granite Belt which is an easy 3 hour drive from Brisbane. Take the time to explore all four of the main towns – Stanthorpe, Ballandean, Applethorpe, and Glen Aplin – and you’ll find even more than these great Granite Belt things to do.
Stay in Mother Superior’s room at the Abbey
In the words of Shakespeare, “Get thee to a nunnery” because if it’s this one, you won’t want to leave. The Abbey Boutique Hotel in Warwick was a convent until as recently as 30 years ago and offers charming and romantic accommodation with one of the grandest breakfast rooms you’ll find anywhere in Australia. Stay in the Mother Superior’s room, eat breakfast in the original dining room, and ring the original chapel bell. You can also get married or renew your vows in the chapel inside The Abbey.
High tea at Glengallan
Take a step back in time and a self-guided tour at Glengallan Homestead and Heritage Centre, a wealthy pastoralist’s sandstone mansion dating back to the mid 1800s. Restored by a group of passionate volunteers, Glengallan provides a unique look at the life of a wealthy Queensland farming family and also an appreciation of the vast amount of time (and money) it takes to restore a grand historic mansion. There are stories to uncover in every room and the sense of history is palpable. Located half way between Warwick and Allora, Glengallan is a great stop on your way to or from the Granite Belt wineries and offers a superb house made high tea with all the trimmings.
Visit Wallangarra Train Station
When the Queensland and New South Wales governments couldn’t agree on a rail gauge, the tiny settlement of Wallangarra near both borders became a major junction where interstate passengers had to change trains. The bureaucrats couldn’t agree on the grand Victorian station either. The Queensland side has a typical bullnose roof while the other is flat and angled towards the tracks. The café on the platform is a lovely spot for breakfast, lunch, or morning tea. Don’t miss the quirky museum inside the building on the platform near the cafe.
Feel merry at the Granite Belt Christmas Farm
Whether you’re prone to muttering ‘Bah humbug’ whenever someone mentions Christmas or you’re Rudolph’s biggest fan, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the genuine Aussie charm of the Granite Belt Christmas Farm. People drive up to 6 hours to pick up a live tree from Christmas tree farmer Brad Fraser. His wife Katrina Fraser is a chocolate maker extraordinaire and creates irresistible delights for the Mistletoe Store which is filled with sparkling ornaments and has a delicious cafe. The hot chocolate shouldn’t be missed. Kids (and adults) can also feed the friendly animals which include reindeers, sheep, goats, and the cutest donkeys. Entry is free; animal feed is an affordable $2.
Drink a glass of Dragon’s Piss
Castle Glen Australia is famous for three things: Cedric Millar who has been making fruit flavoured (and other) drinks and liqueurs for more than 30 years, its 500+ beverages which come in every colour of the rainbow, and the distinctive castle which houses them. Some of the more unusual drinks include ‘Dragon’s Piss’ (which, thankfully, tastes like ginger rather than its namesake) and Queensland Delight which features a risqué meter maid on the brightly coloured label. It tastes way better than it looks too. When sunlight shines through the castle’s stained glass windows, the bottles glitter like a treasure chest of precious jewels waiting to be discovered.
Admire works at the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery
With a focus on art that celebrate the character and history of the region, this compact gallery goes to show that good things come in small packages. The Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery has close to 900 pieces in its own collection and also hosts specialty exhibitions. When I dropped in, the short listed entries for the Stanthorpe Art Prize were on display and dazzling visitors with their beauty and creativity. It’s always worth dropping in to see what’s on.
Discover some Strange Birds
Stanthorpe is home to Strange Birds. All of them have no feathers, don’t know how to fly, only come in two colours – red or white – and live in a bottle. But they’re not some bizarre new species. ‘Strange Birds’ are Granite Belt wines made from alternative grape varieties like Sylvaner, Nero d’Avola, and Petit Verdot. The Strange Bird Wine Trail is one of the most unique wine routes in Australia and just one of the many reasons visitors flock here.
Granite Belt wine tasting
Don’t be surprised if the laconic bloke behind the counter turns out to be an award winning winemaker. When you visit Granite Belt cellar doors, you’ll be treated to the region’s personal touch which adds a something really special to every wine tasting experience. Top choices include Girraween Estate for its excellent sparkling wine and beautiful views. Balancing Heart has great wines and a charming and loquacious winemaker, Mike Hayes, who is also President of the Queensland Wine Industry Association. If you would like to visit one of the region’s oldest and most established wineries, Ballandean Estate has old vines, volcanic soils, a high altitude, and superb buttery chardonnays. Bent Road Wines has a wine history that stretches back 8,000 years with delicious local drops made in terracotta qvevri (similar to amphoras), buried in the ground between the vineyards. Cellar door visits are by appointment only and not to be missed (neither is my favourite, the excellent La Petite Mort Gentil Qvevri).
Buy local produce fresh from the farm
Eating out is one of the great pleasures of visiting the Granite Belt. Most restaurants dish up stellar dining at country prices and unique experiences like lunch in an apple orchard are also available. Drop into the Visitors Centre or give them a call to find out what’s on. You can also go direct to the producers themselves. Take a drive around the region in the cooler months to stock up on figs, pears, apples, olives and apricots. Warm weather brings berries, cherries, early stone fruit, and bunches of sweet smelling lavender. Prefer a one-stop-shop? Sam’s Fruit and Vege has all you’re seeking and more.
Learn how to make wine
If you want to learn more about Queensland wine, the cellar door at the Queensland College of Wine Tourism should be your first stop. Discover the story of the State’s wine history in an interpretive gallery and taste award winning vintages created by talented viticulture and oenology students. If you want to give winemaking a try yourself, there is a hands-on two-day Winemaker for a Weekend course offered during vintage.
Take a hike at Girraween
Girraween National Park is filled with huge granite boulders, pretty wildflowers, streams to rock hop over, and trails to suit every age and fitness level. Set off from your accommodation bright and early so you’ve got time to do one of the longer walks. The views from The Pyramid trail, with its outlook over Girraween National Park, are especially impressive. This is a great spot for kids to let off some steam before a wine tasting stop or lunch.
Pick apples at Nicoletti Orchards
Pluck your own apples (or cherries in season) straight from the trees at Nicoletti Orchards, a third generation fruit farm that has been growing apples and stonefruit on the Granite Belt since 1950. Along with with some of the freshest apples (or cherries) you’ll find anywhere, it’s also lovely to stroll between the trees weighed down with colourful fruit (even on the wet day that we visited).
Walk in the footsteps of Captain Thunderbolt
When you’re clambering over the huge granite boulders known as Donnellys Castle and peering into the small rocky openings which look like caves, it’s not hard to imagine what it was like being a trooper in search of ‘Captain Thunderbolt’. The notorious bushranger was rumoured to have used this spot as his hideout when he was on the run from the law. Local legends aside, it’s worth checking out Donnellys Castle for the view alone.
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