A few hours’ drive from Brisbane, the Granite Belt Region located close to the border between New South Wales and Queensland is perfect for a weekend getaway. The region’s hub of Stanthorpe (218 kilometres from Brisbane) is easily reached either by car or bus via a scenic journey through Cunningham’s Gap. Packed with award-winning wineries, delicious fresh produce, and dramatic national parks harbouring prehistoric granite boulders, this area should be on everyone’s list of places to visit when dropping by Australia’s sunshine state: Queensland.
Jennifer Johnston is an Australian freelance travel writer and blogger with a strong interest in people, history, culture, the environment, and responsible tourism. She blogs at Travel Bug Within.
When should you visit?
At an elevation of 1000 metres above sea level, the cool, dry climate attracts visitors throughout the year. It is an especially appealing destination during the warmer summer months in Brisbane (December through March) for those seeking an escape to where the pace of life is a little slower and temperatures are lower. The days are warm, but the humidity is less of an issue due to the region’s elevation.
Stanthorpe is known as the ‘coldest town in Queensland’ during winter (June through August.) You’ll need to pack warm gear to fend off the wintery air during these cooler months. Night-time temperatures can drop to -15 degrees Celsius and daytime doesn’t climb much above 5 degrees Celsius. But who doesn’t enjoy sitting in front of a log fire with a glass of fine local wine? Especially if you’ve purchased a pair of warm sheepskin-lined Ugg boots (unique Australian-designed sturdy slippers) from the Ugg Boot Lady in the small village of Glen Aplin, 10 kilometres outside of Stanthorpe.
Springtime (September through November) is a magical time to visit when the orchards blossoms and the grapevines begin to bud.
Grapes were first planted on the Granite Belt in the 1860s, and the region’s reputation as a leading and innovative wine producer has been growing ever since. At almost 900 metres higher in elevation than the Bordeaux region in France, the region produces many award-winning alternative variety wines thanks to its unique climatic conditions and the rich granite soil, combined with winemakers who are keen to push the innovative envelope. With over 50 cellar doors, you’d need a week to taste every one. Here’s a small sample to tempt your palate:
Heritage Estate Wines, rated five stars by James Halliday (Australia’s most respected wine critic.) They also have an enticing lunch menu, which, when paired with some of their award-winning wines, may have you looking to book a room in their beautiful timber onsite accommodation, Winery Cottage.
The Puglisi family are an institution in the region as is their winery, Ballandean Estate, where they’re producing alternate varieties like the Saperavi, Nebbiolo and Viognier. Their on-site restaurant Barrelroom & Larder offers delicious modern Australian-Italian cuisine utilising local produce. Gourmet picnic hampers can be purchased and enjoyed in the vineyard grounds.
Across the road from Ballandean Estate is Golden Grove Estate, another family-run winery offering five-star wines for a very reasonable price.
The Granite Belt Region has many accommodation choices ranging from basic to luxury. Villas and self-contained cabins at the wineries offer the perfect combination of relaxation and an option to enjoy dining with locally produced wines without the need to drive anywhere.
Fresh food and local produce
Thanks to the Granite Belt’s cooler climate and a soil rich in decomposed granite, the region produces a variety of fresh produce, including apples, olives, figs, strawberries, locally cured meats, hand-made jams and preserves, farmhouse cheeses, vinegar, and chocolates.
You won’t be able to say “no” to the artisan cheese in the dairy farm cheese shop at Stanthorpe Cheese in Thulimbah, 10 minutes north of Stanthorpe. Their cheeses are made from a single herd of pure-bred Jersey cows, and the flavour of their cheese changes with the season. If it’s raining and the grass is rich and luscious, the cheese has an earthy aroma. In winter, when there’s frost on the ground and the cows are fed hay, the cheese flavours become more intense. Why not create your own selection of cheeses, cured meats and wines to take away?
The Jamworks (open Friday to Tuesdays) sells a selection of jams, preserves and chutneys made from fresh produce sourced largely from Granite Belt growers. Their café serves local produce from their modern warehouse-style building.
Mt Stirling Olive Farm, in the village of Glen Aplin, has irresistible pickled olives and cold-pressed olive oils infused with uniquely Australian flavours like lemon myrtle and bush lime.
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With so many fabulous eating and winery options, you may wish to stretch your legs and explore. Girraween National Park, sixteen kilometres east of Ballandean, has 11,000 hectares of eucalyptus forests filled with wildlife and marked hiking trails that range from one kilometre to 10 kilometres in length. It’s incredible to stand next to the 200-million-year-old Triassic granite boulders and wonder how nature created such surreal giant rock formations. Sundown National Park is a wilderness park in the Severn Valley popular with birdwatchers. There are three entrances to Sundown, the one via Ballandean is suitable for 4WD vehicles only.
Why visit now?
You may be concerned about stories in the media reporting the Granite Belt Region is suffering a prolonged drought and a (recent) series of bushfires near the township of Stanthorpe. Yes, it’s true that the locals are facing challenges from these adverse conditions, but the rural communities of Australia are a resilient bunch. The Granite Belt Region is open for business and more than ever the locals want people to come and visit, to sample their warm hospitality and indulge in their delicious produce.
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