When you think of Australia you tend to imagine a hot and sunny climate all year round. Well, there’s actually a lot of places you can go to for a chilly winter escape – even here in the sunshine state of Queensland!
Just a 2 and a half hour drive West of Brisbane, Stanthorpe is nestled in the heart of the Scenic Rim and is the perfect location for a romantic weekend getaway. Situated in the West Moreton region of South East Queensland (inland from the Gold Coast), the Scenic Rim consists of classic country farmlands, breathtaking national parks and quaint towns boasting delicious local produce.
We planned our weekend in early June, fully prepared for the cold weather (especially as the week before we arrived they’d had their first snowfall of the year!) but if you fancy something a little extra special, hold out until mid-July when the annual ‘Christmas in July’ occurs throughout the region – a fantastic time for kids.
Deciding that we wanted to splash out and treat ourselves, we booked 2 nights at Alure Stanthorpe in one of their luxurious villas. Check-in wasn’t until 3pm so we decided that we’d get to Stanthorpe, have a wonder around the town and occupy ourselves for a few hours beforehand.
The drive westwards from Brisbane was certainly picturesque and we arrived in Stanthorpe around lunchtime. We pulled up into the main street to hunt for some lunch. Searching for ‘gluten-free’ food in Stanthorpe on Google literally pulls up every cafe, which is very inaccurate. In the few cafes I visited, gluten-free simply didn’t exist. We stopped by Zest Pastries hoping to grab a bite but discovered that their gluten-free options were non-existent so I opted for a pot of breakfast tea whilst watching my partner devour a locally made pork and apple cider pie.
We then drove up to Mount Marley lookout (a short drive from the high street) and walked around the top to take in the views of Stanthorpe and surrounds, and discovered just how chilly it really was! There are more strenuous tracks for those wanting a decent walk but we weren’t in our hiking gear so we just walked around the paved footpath which loops back to the car park.
As you drive into Stanthorpe on the New England Highway (coming from Brisbane) you’ll pass a busy junction with several attractions all in one place. Take a left down Halloran Drive to ‘Suttons Juice Factory, Cidery and Cafe’ to learn more about apple juice and cider production and sample some of the incredible food in their cafe. With lots of gluten-free options on hand it was difficult to decide between scones with apple jam or the chocolate beetroot cake – guess which one I opted for!
Venture right from the New England Highway and take your pick from the selection of local wineries. In the midst of winter, the grape vines were bare and rather eerie (not to mention the difficulties of growing in the long drought), but in summer you can just imagine the flourishing greenery. We dropped by the infamous ‘Castle Glen’ distillery and found the interiors to be rather dark and rather empty. Maybe it was due to the low season, but we were completely ignored by the single staff member, and as such left empty handed and rather disappointed.
Stanthorpe Cheese proved to be a much livelier (and friendlier!) affair, with the ‘happy-to-help’ cheese experts encouraging our purchase of several smokey and smooth local cheeses, a beetroot chutney and some gluten-free crackers to enjoy them with. There is also the well-known ‘Jersey Girls’ cafe on-site if you wanted to stop by for some food and a warm drink.
In the heart of Stanthorpe is the picturesque Quart Pot Creek – a quiet place to walk, spot some local wildlife and have your picture taken next to the big thermometer which is often filmed on TV weather forecasts. Park on Leslie Parade and pop into the information centre (they also sell coffee!) to pick up some maps and get ideas for places to go.
Just before 3pm we drove around 5 minutes south of the town to Alure Stanthorpe, set back off Mt Tully Road. After check-in we drove around the dams and pulled up to our villa, which was bigger than our rental apartment! We were amazed by just how luxurious and secluded the villa was – even though it seemed close to its two neighboring accommodations at first glance.
The huge open living space consisted of a fully-fitted kitchen and coffee machine, dining area, living area with a smart TV and working log fire, the snuggly bed with double electric blanket, large bathroom with L’Occitane toiletries and GHD hair straighteners, and we won’t forget to mention the 4 person hot tub on the private deck outside. There was literally nothing more you could want! We loved our stay here and definitely made the most of the log fire and hot tub! A 2 night stay at Alure Stanthorpe will set you back between $360 – $490 (depending on the season) for either the glamping tent or luxury villa – both with hot tub, self-catering amenities and a continental breakfast hamper (Alure review coming soon!).
That evening we booked in for a 7pm meal at Varias Restaurant on Caves Road in the town. As part of the Queensland College of Wine Tourism, the award winning restaurant provides real-life experience for students and promotes local food and wines from the surrounding area. The food is a little pricey, but unlike most Brisbane restaurants, the servings were rather generous. With a good choice of gluten-free options and wines available, we enjoyed the delicious food on offer (although we turned up a little over-dressed!) I opted for crispy duck in lettuce leaves, followed by sticky korean chicken strips. I couldn’t even finish my main I was so full, so didn’t make it to desserts. My partner opted for panko crumbed lamb brains followed by sirloin steak, which he advised me was also delicious.
When we booked our 2 night stay at Alure Stanthorpe we were offered a ‘Truffle Temptations’ tour for an additional $50, which we locked in for Saturday lunchtime. The tour is only $5 per person, however our package included credit towards some of the products in the store.
The Truffle Discovery Centre is located near to some of the wineries off the New England Highway and the business is in conjunction with Law Dogs Australia. The tour is really just an informative session on truffle growing in Australia with some live action truffle hunting from one of their skillfully trained dogs and the opportunity to taste and purchase some of the truffle infused products available in their small store. It was interesting to hear how the business developed – planting native European trees and coating the roots with truffle spores to encourage truffle growth. The whole process of growth to harvest is lengthy and requires some real patience. In seeing a demand for truffle hunting dogs, Law Dogs Australia began to train it’s dogs specifically to hunt truffles and often hires the dogs out to other truffle growers across the nation when its time to harvest.
The truffle honey and truffle oil are delicious – the honey is a great accompaniment with cheese and the oil is perfect for pasta or risotto. If you have a bit of extra time on your hands, you can also watch the Law Dogs Australia dog show, showcasing some of the law dogs in action.
As always, we planned a hike for the next day in Girraween National Park, around 45 minutes south of Stanthorpe. We headed for the Pyramid walking track, which takes you into the heart of the park when searched in Google Maps. The road disappeared shortly after entering the park and became a dusty, sandy track, wide enough for one car at best (not suited for city vehicles!) After around 15 minutes you’ll reach a large car park and (unfortunately) there’s minimal signage for the walking tracks so follow other people if you can (there were only 3 cars there when we arrived so we had to figure it out for ourselves).
The tracks aren’t well-signed (I was a little disoriented!) but you can eventually find your way by using your senses. The track starts on a flat rocky area (a bit slippy in the rain!) and winds round into the rainforest. From here, the track is much easier to follow towards the Pyramids, but be warned, there’s a LOT of stairs. It took us around 30 minutes to get to the top of the walking track, at which point you’re faced with a steep rocky slope. The rain started to intensify and although we made it half-way, we decided to turn back for fear of losing our grip, but we managed to get a few shots before we headed back down.
On the way back, turn off to the right towards the Granite Arch, which is well worth it for the photos! If you’re prepared for a longer hike, there are some larger trails available throughout the park, but remember to always be prepared come rain or shine. Here’s a great summary of some of the most popular trails.
We loved our stay at Stanthorpe and are planning to head back in summer to see a different side to this sleepy winter town.
Planning your trip to Stanthorpe and surrounds and have some questions? Let me know in the comments below.
Happy travels! 🙂