We took our time to find some of the most unique experiences and things to do in Warwick and the surrounding Southern Downs.
Just over the Great Dividing Range, which separates Queensland’s beautiful beaches from its vast inland, is a fertile basin of farming land known as the Darling Downs.
In the southern part of the Downs, rugged national parks give way to rolling pastoral land and fields of grain crops. Near the New South Wales border, a patchwork of vineyards and orchards hide Queensland’s best wineries. Amongst the dramatic and everchanging landscapes, historic rural towns tell the story of European settlement in the region.
A stone’s throw from Brisbane, the Gold Coast or Toowoomba, the Southern Downs offers an idyllic weekend escape, but you could spend a lot longer discovering everything the region has to offer. Here are twenty-eight unique things to do in Warwick and the Southern Downs to get you started.
Things to Do at Cunninghams Gap and Spicers Gap
Cunninghams Gap is the gateway between Queensland’s coastal plains and the Downs. It is a pass in the spectacular Great Dividing range, first mapped by explorer Alan Cunningham in the early 1800s. Some two hundred years later, it remains the primary connection between Southeast Queensland’s sub-tropical coast and its dry interior. Nearby, Spicers Gap, another pass discovered around the same time has become a popular spot for camping and bushwalking.
1. Drive Cunninghams Gap
The Cunningham Highway takes you up into the Main Range National Park. As you ascend, pastures give way to eucalyptus forests and ultimately the UNESCO listed Gondwana Rainforest. The rugged peaks, cliffs and ridges of the range rise sharply up in front. The remnants of the volcanoes that formed this spectacular section of the range are evident, and the view leaves no doubt as to how the Scenic Rim region to the east of the gap derived its name.
2. Walk Atop the Range
The drive itself is incredible, but to get a closer look, park the car at the small car park at the top of the pass. Stunning views and amazing biodiversity are the highlights of this ancient mountain forest. Bring your walking shoes, binoculars, camera, and a water bottle. Popular hikes include the short and sweet Rainforest Circuit and Fassifern Valley Lookout, or longer, more challenging walks to Mt Mitchell, Mt Cordeaux and Bare Rock.
3. Camp at Spicers Gap
At nearby Spicers Gap, a picnic area, walking trails, and small but popular campgrounds are available.
To reach Spicers Gap you will need to leave the Cunningham Highway after you pass through Aratula on the eastern side of the range.
- Address: Spicers Gap Road, Clumber QLD
- Cost: $6.75 AUD per person per night
4. Take on Multi-day Treks to Remote Camps
This section of the Main Range National Park also has remote camping and multi-day day hikes for adventurous and experienced hikers. Hiking at Main Range National Park is one of the best things to do in south east Queensland.
5. Unwind at One of Queensland’s Best Lodge Experiences
If camping isn’t your thing why not try something at the other end of the spectrum. The nearby Spicers Peak Lodge. The lodge is a truly unique and luxurious experience. One of Queensland’s premier holiday stays, Spicers offers fine dining, spa facilities, and a plethora of outdoor activities making an ideal alternative to a beach holiday in Southeast Queensland. All-inclusive stays start around $1,000 AUD per night.
- Address: 1 Wilkinson Rd, Maryvale QLD 4370
Things to Do in Allora Queensland, ‘The Best Little Town on the Downs’
Known as the ‘best little town on the Downs’ Allora is an example of a quintessential rural Queensland town. Get out and stretch your legs and admire the historic and heritage-listed cottages of the little town. Grab lunch and some supplies before you head off to drive the nearby Sunflower Route or to explore the Goomburra Valley.
6. Call on the Mary Poppins House
The childhood home of P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, can be found amongst the historic houses of Allora’s Streets. The architect owners have restored the home to its former glory and now offer tours of the house by appointment. A visit to the Mary Poppins home is easily one of the best things to do in south east Queensland!
- Address: 61 Herbert St, Allora QLD 4362
- Cost: $7 per person
7. Pop by for Lunch at Amy’s Country Cafe Allora
Amy’s Country Cafe on the main street is a no frills country town cafe serving great coffee, big breakfasts and classic lunches. Drop in for a steak sandwich while you’re in town.
- Address: 50 Herbert St, Allora QLD 4362
- Cost: Less than $10
8. Cruise the Sunflower Route
The Sunflower Route runs between Warwick and Allora, taking drivers past fields of beaming sunflowers. If you’re in the area it’s the perfect Sunday drive and a great photo opportunity.
Sunflowers typically bloom from late December to March but bloom is variable based on weather or, recently, extended drought. Check the Southern Downs tourist website for up to date information on the best time to visit.
9. Look in on the Glengallan Homestead and Heritage Centre
Glengallan is a restored historic homestead not far from Allora. The homestead showcases beautifully decorated, historic rooms, immaculate gardens in a scenic rural setting. The onsite cafe serves delicious local meals highlighting the products grown and produced in the area. Glengallan Homestead even has its own commemorative wine.
- Address: 18515 New England Hwy, Glengallan QLD 4370
- Opening Hours: Wednesday – Sunday from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
- Cost: $10 per person to tour the grounds
Things to Do in the Goomburra Valley
The indigenous people of this area knew it as the upland. They hunted food by burning the grasses, to promote new green sprouts which would in turn attract animals. They were known by the coastal tribes as the Gooneburra, ‘the ones who hunt with fire’.
The Goomburra Valley runs west, down off the Great Dividing Range. Through it flows the Dalrymple Creek, an essential waterway to this agricultural region. A diverse array of flora and fauna exist here as the quick rise in altitude gives rise to a variety of climates, vegetation, and wildlife. The head of the valley offers great camping and access to the western side of the Main Range National Park.
10. Pitch a Tent in Gordon Country
Gordon Country is the most famous of a number of campgrounds, just before the national park, that attract hundreds of campers from Queensland and around the country every weekend. Camping starts from $17 per person per night but Gordon Country also offers glamping, cabins, cottages, 4WD driving tracks, and even a wedding venue.
Cheap camping is also available in the Main Range National Park here for $6.75 per person per night.
- Address: 1847/2081 Inverramsay Rd, Goomburra QLD 4362
- Cost: $17 per person per night
11. Bushwalk in the Main Range National Park
A number of trails begin in the Main Range National Park, Goomburra section. Ranging from one to twelve kilometers in length, the walks take you through eucalyptus forest, lush rainforests, past falls, and stunning viewpoints.
12. Hear New Music at Arcadia
In May each year, the Goomburra Valley hosts one of Southeast Queensland’s favorite electronic music events Arcadia. Held over the labor day long weekend at the start of May each year, this two-day, two-night music and arts festival brings together some of Australia’s most exciting new bands, producers and DJ’s in a beautiful rural environment.
13. Go 4WDriving at Janowen Hills
4WDriving enthusiasts will find more off-road, four-wheeling action at the Janowen Hills 4WD Park. For the adventurous, car wreckage, old tires and trenches set the stage for a wild ride. Prices start at $25 per vehicle for day use or purchase the weekend ticket for $30 for up to 8 days of 4WDriving.
Camping is also available at Janowen Hills for $15 per adult per night with powered sites available for an additional $7 per night.
- Address: 1570 Inverramsay Rd, Goomburra QLD 4362
- Cost: $25 per vehicle per day
Things to Do in the Historic Town of Warwick, Queensland
The historic town of Warwick, Queensland has played an important role in the establishment of this agricultural region. Take a morning or weekend to discover all this traditional country town has to offer. Known as the rose city, Warwick’s symbol can be seen in the parks, gardens and flower boxes throughout the city. Also on display are the iconic sandstone buildings that tell of a time gone by.
14. Grab Breakfast at the Cherry Tree
For an avocado smash that would give any Melbourne cafe a run for their money and prices that won’t sink the budget, drop into the Cherry Tree for brekky and a coffee.
- Address: 85 Fitzroy St, Warwick QLD 4370, Australia
- Cost: Breakfast and lunch from $10
15. Follow the Historic Building Trail
The original sandstone buildings of the city can be found along the Heritage and Historic Building Trails. The town hall, post office, police station, and courthouse are just some of the buildings that stand as a testament to the city’s rich history. A map of the heritage trail, not just in Warwick but throughout the Southern Downs can be found on the local council website.
16. Drop into the Warwick Art Gallery
- Address: 49 Albion Street, Warwick, Queensland 4370 Australia
- Opening Hours: 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Sunday
17. Uncover the Warwick and District Historical Society Museum
This volunteer-run museum offers a fascinating look into the past, showcasing the history of Warwick and the Southern Downs. As a volunteer-run initiative opening hours are a little unconventional.
- Address: 81 Dragon St, Warwick, Queensland 4370 Australia
- Hours of Operation:
- Tuesday and Thursday from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
- Friday from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
- Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
18. Experience the Warwick Rodeo
“Never the horse that couldn’t be rode, never the rider that couldn’t be throwed” or so the saying goes. In late October the best riders and bucking stock from around Australia come together in Warwick to prove the saying wrong, in front of crowds of more than 30,000. A trip to the Warwick Rodeo is easily one of the most fun things to do in south east Queensland!
- Address: 18 Kingsford St, Warwick QLD 4370, Australia
- Cost: Tickets start at $25
19. Ride the Southern Downs Steam Railway
The Downs Explorer is an unique heritage railway experience on the Darling Downs and Granite Belt. This tourist railway offers a range of unique experiences through some of the most picturesque countryside in Australia. Routes include Warwick to Wallangarra, Clifton, Wheatvale, Hendon, Toowoomba, Goondiwindi, Tenterfield and Stanthorpe. The ‘Downs Explorer’ is based at the site of Warwick’s former historic Locomotive Depot on Hamilton Street in Warwick Queensland.
- Address: Warwick Railway Station, Lyons St, Warwick QLD 4370, Australia
- Cost: Tickets range between around $20 and $100 depending on the route and inclusions such as meals.
20. Use Your Fingers at the Bluebird Kitchen and Bar
Regional Queensland may not be your first thought when you think of American style BBQ, but Bluebird is changing that, one serve of brisket at a time. With a mouth-watering and constantly rotating menu of BBQ classics and innovative plates, do yourself a flavor and drop in when you are in town!
- Address: 4370/130 Palmerin St, Warwick QLD 4370, Australia
- Cost: Less than $50 for two
21. Stay in the Abbey of the Roses
Now known as the Abbey Boutique Hotel, immerse yourself in history when you stay in this heritage-listed 130-year-old manor. Beautifully appointed rooms feature fireplaces, claw-foot bathtubs, wooden furnishings, and luxurious bedding. Onsite amenities include tennis courts and a restaurant. The welcoming owners have gone the extra mile to make your stay memorable with neat extras like free bicycles, an evening drink, and a library.
Things to Do in Killarney Queensland, the Top of the Condamine
Killarney is situated at the start of the Condamine River which flows to the Murray to creating Australia’s longest river system, an essential resource in this dry country. Beyond its association with the Condamine, it is also home to a number of impressive waterfalls, a friendly country town, and a number of fun things to do in south east Queensland!
22. Explore the Falls Drive
Take in the waterfalls along Spring Creek Road. Over fourteen kilometers you will see Browns Falls, Daggs Falls, Queen Mary Falls and Carrs look out. The complete Waterfalls route continues on 75 kilometers over the range to Boonah.
23. Have a Pub Meal at the Killarney Hotel
Visit the Killarney Hotel a traditional Country pub with classic pub fare, cold beer, and country hospitality.
24. Escape to the Country at RiveRun Cottage
This charming cottage is the perfect weekender. Set against a stunning countryside backdrop and beautifully appointed, the cozy home sleeps four and has been thoughtfully furnished with everything you need for a relaxing country getaway.
Things to Do in Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt
The Granite Belt is a scenic tableland on the Great Dividing Range. The region straddles the state border between Queensland and New South Wales. The Granite Belt takes its name from the granite boulders that dot the landscape. At the center of the region, the country town of Stanthorpe Queensland has become synonymous with the wider area. Queensland’s coldest region is renowned for its climate, orchards, natural beauty, and, amongst those in the know, its wine.
25. Traverse the Girraween National Park
Bushwalking, camping, and stunning natural beauty await in the rugged Girraween National Park. The granite boulders synonymous with the region and the spectacular displays of wildflowers the park derives its name from are unique sights here.
There are a number of bushwalks, trails and hikes available here ranging from short walks under thirty minutes, right through to full or even muti-day treks.
Park facilities include, barbecues, picnic tables, toilets and parking. Drive in tent, trailer and caravan camping is available as are remote camping sites for those looking to embark on a multi-day hike.
- Cost: Free to visit during the day, $6.75 per person per night to camp.
26. Track the Strange Bird Wine Trail through Stanthorpe and Ballandean
Queensland is rarely recognized amongst Australia’s best wine-producing states. However, the winemakers of the Granite Belt, are working tirelessly to change that. And now they are starting to develop a reputation for their Strange Bird varieties, unique wine varieties outside your standard savy bs and cab savs. Take the opportunity to visit and discover the best wineries in Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt, one of the most popular things to do in south east Queensland.
27. Hunker Down on the Storm King Dam
Hidden amongst the gum trees on the banks of the iconic Storm King Dam is Quaffers. Quaffers on Storm King offers cozy modern cabins, luxurious beds, and warm fireplaces. The comfortable cabins are the perfect place to base yourself while exploring all that Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt has to offer.
28. Let Essen Take the Hard Work Out of Fine Dining
Born out of a love for cooking, the family team at Essen offers two and three-course meals from Wednesday to Saturday each week. The rotating menu is simple. So simple in fact that you don’t get to choose (although a vegetarian option can be arranged if desired). With great food, atmosphere and service they even allow BYO if you’ve picked up a bottle of wine from one of the nearby wineries.
- Address: 2 McGregor Terrace, Stanthorpe QLD 4380, Australia
- Cost: From $50 per person
How to Get to Warwick and The Southern Downs
You can rent cars easily from Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, or Warwick itself.
Cycling through Warwick and the Downs is another unique way to experience the area, maps of popular routes are available through the local council.
Driving the Southern Downs is simple and safe, roads are in good condition. You will often share the roads with caravaners and large transport vehicles. If coming from the east (Gold Coast or Brisbane, Cunninghams Gap can be treacherous, with many trucks, occasional landslides, winding roads and a lot of weekend traffic, stay alert!
Brisbane to Warwick: 2 hours
Gold Coast to Warwick: 2.5 Hours
Toowoomba to Warwick: 1 hr
When to Visit Warwick and the Southern Downs
Each season holds something different in the Southern Downs. Summers are hot and Winters cold and dry with clear frosty nights.
Hot summers bring rain, and green to the area. Crops fill the fields and it is the perfect time of year to drive the Sunflower route. Temperatures average between 15 and 30 degrees.
From March to May temperatures begin to ease and the weather is suited for camping and campfires in the Goomburra Valley and National Parks.
By June the crisp dry winter has set in. Blankets of frost on foggy mornings are common, and, on the odd occasion, snow falls, an unusual sight in the Sunshine State. Stanthorpe is one of Queensland’s favorite winter escapes. Cozy cabins, log fires, and red wine make for a romantic getaway.
From September moderate temperatures and the colour of fresh bloom return to the Southern Downs. Spring is possibly the best time for exploring the national parks and bushwalking in the Southern Downs.
Have you explored Warwick and the Southern Downs? What did you think? Let us know below!
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Feature Photo Credit: Dualiti Photos