Ekka, officially known as the Royal Queensland Show, is one of the great family events of the year, when the country comes to the city. What makes Ekka such a wonderful event is its ever-changing nature and broad appeal with something on for everyone. On the other hand, it can be both pricey and crowded. Below are some of the best tips for getting the most out of your Ekka experience, saving money and maybe even your sanity.
Ekka is an agricultural show designed to both showcase the best of the countryside and as a way to connect people from the agricultural community around the area. Having said that, most people actually go more for the sideshow activities, such as the rides, stalls, as well the regular performances and fireworks.
Tickets at the gate are $32 for adults and $21 for kids (more on discount tickets and deals below.) Once through the gate, there is a lot to see for free including agricultural exhibits, demonstrations, petting zoo and so on. The evening sees a both a series of entertainment performances as well as fireworks. This year there will be two nightly firework shows, one at 6 pm and another at the regular time of 7:40 pm.
It is the rides and food that take up most of your budget. So the best way to plan your day using the entertainment guide to focus on doing as much free stuff as possible with a few paid rides and activities in between. There is plenty of Australian bush culture to learn about, including wood chopping, stock whip competitions, dog shows and more. To ensure that you can see each event you often need to turn up early to each entertainment area to get a good seat.
Discounts on tickets
If you buy your tickets online then you will get a 15% discount. Adults tickets are down to $27.20 and kids to $17.85. But group passes are also well worth it, including Adult and Child Pass for $38.25, Family Pass for $75.55 and Family Rider Pass that includes $80 worth of ride tickets for a family of 4 for $140. For $180 you can get an Ultimate Family Value Pack, which includes 4 burger and drinks vouchers.
This year they have introduced a twilight ticket which lets you in after 6 pm. This ticket is $16 online or at the gate. It is perfect for people looking to head in just for the evening entertainment and the side show. What you do miss out on is all the pavilions and exhibitions which mostly close before 6 pm.
Have a budget
When comes to saving money for families, one of the best bits of advice is to have a budget. In fact, give each of your kids a budget. That way it is up to them whether they blow it all on overpriced show bags, rides or dagwood dogs. This lets them learn responsibility as well as avoiding fights about which rides they want to go on and which things to buy.
Remember most families spend an average of 8 hours at the show, so combine the budget with an entertainment plan to stretch your show budget as far as it can go.
Beating the crowds
So over the Ekka week, around 400,000 people are likely to turn up. Even on a weekday when there is no Ekka holiday in Brisbane or any of the surrounding areas, the show gets pretty crowded. So it is good to have a plan to avoid the crowds.
So the obvious one is to avoid Ekka day and the weekends. This year Ekka day is on August 16 and for the areas outside of Brisbane City, it will be August 14. Going early works as well, though this is best with little kids, who can enjoy a day of fun kids activities before the majority of people turn up.
There are plenty of little shows and entertainment on. Try and plan your time to arrive at each one a little early to get a good seat, or even just get a seat. In the afternoon and evening from 5 pm there is plenty of exciting entertainment in the main arena. Try and get there early.
The main arena can fill up quickly with crowds eager for the entertainment
Remember the timing might be a bit different this year because of the addition of the 6 pm fireworks. In the past, I would say arriving each night at 6 pm at the main area would be fine, but you might want to pop in a little earlier. The earlier entertainment that starts at 5 pm is enough to keep people's interest until the main entertainment comes on.
This section is worth a section all of its own. When the crowd gets too much and you just need to sit down and relax, then you need to find a chill out zone. During the day you can go to the stands of the main arena and often you can find a shady spot at the top of the main stand just to sit.
During the day you can find plenty of free seating around the Main Arena
The Gourmet Plaza has plenty of seating but fills up pretty quickly, but you will also find a few coffee shop style areas around the grounds where you can sit down at a free table for a breather and maybe even a cup of coffee or tea.
There a couple of places with chairs to chill out and beat the crowds
The main entertainment at Ekka is Ekka Nights that starts at 5 pm in the Main Arena. You probably don't need to turn up until 5 pm to get a decent seat because the first hour is less entertaining. This year there will be a fireworks show designed to allow families with young kids to leave earlier, so you really should try to get there by then.
What is on at the main arena is very varied. It includes wood chopping, horse riding, penny farthing bicycles, sheep dogs and more. It is definitely worth grabbing some food and sitting down to watch it.
But throughout the day there will be other entertainment at different places around the showgrounds. Some highlights this year include an eXtreme pogo stunt team, Jaws of Death Escape artist and as well as high divers on fire. What is on fire you ask, apparently both the pool that they dive into and at least one of the divers. Check out the Ekka website to find out what's on and where.
Ekka is a great place for food and drink. There are of course all your unhealthy show favourites that you should probably let your kids eat this one time just as a special treat. I am thinking dagwood dogs (almost impossible to find outside of country shows anymore.) But there is also quite a bit of country cuisine to try as well. Don't forget all the international favourites that make living in a multicultural country so good.
Food can be a little expensive for families on a budget. You are allowed to bring your own food and drink into the showgrounds. So definitely bring your water and think about packing a few healthy snacks, if not a full meal for the whole family.
The Gourmet Plaza is the main place to eat, but there is plenty of other places around the show to get a wide range of food
Of course, there are things like chocolate fudge, fairy floss and scones. I really love a great country scone!
But there is always one Ekka delicacy that attracts queues and it is the strawberry sundaes. 10 tonnes of strawberries will be shipped in and something like 150,000 sundaes sold. Not only they are delicious but their sale will raise funds for The Prince Charles Hospital Foundation.
One of the classic show items is the show bag. These bundles of themed goodies are one of the most important status items for kids to take away from the show. Even though they probably contain stuff you wouldn't normally buy on their own. Put them all together in a bag and your kids will be begging you for $20 to buy one for them.
The show bag pavilion has over 300 different show bags
With over 300 different show bags on offer, a bit of research can mean you can actually get some pretty sweet deals. Some bags include ride vouchers. These are the ones to buy at the start of the day, though of course, you will be the one carrying them around for your kids all day. Otherwise, wait until the end of the day to buy your show bags.
Not only can you bring your own water and food to the venue, you will probably want to buy show bags and other things while you are there. So it is great to know that there are lockers available. There are a couple of locker areas around the show grounds, but the main one is beside the show bag pavilion.
Ekka has tried various tricks over the years to attract couples to the show. Yes, it can be a popular date, especially for couples from smaller towns or other countries. This year the main deal will be the Ekka night tickets. These tickets are $16 online and at the gate, but are only usable after 6 pm. So the focus will be on the entertainment, main arena shows that go from 5 pm to 8 am, Ekka food and sideshow rides.
Don't forget, it is an agricultural show
Most people go to Ekka for everything but things like cows, sheep and cake baking competitions. But even if looking at prize winning bulls is not your thing, there are lots of rural displays and shows worth checking out. This can include sheep herding through to whip cracking. It is quite fun to pop into the cattle auctions.
You don't have to check out the livestock at Ekka, but you might as well while you are there
You can drive if you really want to and there are several parking areas in Fortitude Valley where you can park and walk. It is recommended that you book your car park space online in advance. You can also use the King Street Parking in Bowen Hills, which is the closest parking spot to Ekka.
If you are going to drive you would be better off parking at one of the transport locations. Trains are the coolest way to get there as they arrive right in the heart of the show grounds at Exhibition Station. People coming from the countryside can train it straight there.
But for most people, the bus is the way to go. There are a number of Ekka buses spots around Brisbane. Though you can jump on a range of buses that stop near the show grounds leaving from places like Woolloongabba, Chermside, Nundah and Roma Street Station.
The main bus stop to get off at is Herston, though the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital is closer, it is easier to walk down the bike path to the showgrounds from the Herston bus station. Check out the Translink website for more details for your journey and for all the Ekka transport details (which weren't published yet at the time of writing this)
International visitors should take the chance to visit Ekka, as it is often their first and easiest change to experience Australian country culture. There will be many rural skills on display, from horse riding to wood cutting competitions as well as Australian country music. Shows bring a lot of the best of country life to the city and is one of those true Australian experiences that nearly every kid here has experienced.
International visitors who get the most out of Ekka do go to enjoy it as a rural show, often going with local friends who have grown up with the experience. So it is definitely something for everyone.