Take a break out west and discover remnants of colonial days.
Just over an hour’s drive west, Brisbane’s Lockyer Valley is a hidden gem almost on our doorstep, offering a wealth of things to do and places to stay for the jaded city dweller seeking a break in the country. This farming region, also known as South East Queensland’s salad bowl, makes for an ideal weekend or short-stay getaway exploring scenic surrounds and a fascinating pioneering past.
Settled in the mid-1800s and part of the first Cobb and Co mail and passenger service in Queensland, the valley is a history buff’s dream with many heritage-listed homesteads, churches and other colonial buildings from the period to be found throughout the valley. Laidley’s Pioneer Village, with original buildings and buggy and carriage displays, is a must-see, as is the tiny, quaint town of Forest Hill with two heritage-listed hotels as well as craft shop and antiques and collectables centre.
A Cobb and Co tourist drive between Ipswich and Toowoomba, marked by distinctive wagon wheel signs, also commemorates the region’s early years taking in small historic villages such as Rosewood with its former police station and court house and the Grandchester Railway Station…which are all heritage-listed. Popular options for experiencing the area’s natural beauty include hot air ballooning at sunrise from the small township of Hatton Vale – providing a tranquil bird’s eye view of the valley’s patchwork landscape of farms and lakes – and more active alternatives such as bushwalking and bird watching.
Trails for horse riding and mountain bike riding also are common throughout the region. Accommodation includes homestead retreats, such as Spicer’s Hidden Vale near Grandchester, a working cattle farm with deluxe cottage accommodation, a fine dining restaurant (Cottons) and stunning views to the Great Dividing range and Cunningham’s Gap. B&Bs, ranging from the cosy and rustic to the more upmarket and boutique, are dotted throughout the valley and ideal for romantic getaways, fun weekends with family or friends or wedding groups. Camping grounds and caravan sites also are available.
Winter is one of the best times to visit the region to take advantage of cooler daytime temperatures while enjoying the cosiness and atmosphere of a warm fire at night. However, the valley hosts a busy program of markets, agricultural shows and other events throughout the year (see www.lockyervalley.qld.gov.au for information).
A visit is not complete without a stopover at Ipswich, Queensland’s oldest provincial city and gateway to the Lockyer Valley. Allow at least a few hours if not a day to take in the city’s lovely old homes, explore antique and memorabilia shops such as the Ipswich Antique Centre and stop for morning tea or lunch at fourthchild café which is earning a reputation and growing clientele for its emphasis on locally sourced produce in quality meals and delicious home-made baked goods.
Other highlights include Queens Park, the state’s first public park, and the award-winning interactive Workshops Rail Museum. The city’s visitor information centre has brochures, maps and tour information about the entire region to help plan your exploration.
Spicers Hidden Vale and Cottons Restaurant, 617 Grandchester Mt Mort Road, Grandchester; fourthchild cafe, 6/126 Brisbane Street, Ipswich; Ipswich Antique Centre, is at 85 East Street, Ipswich. For more information about things to see and do in Brisbane and regions see www.visitbrisbane.com.au.