As regular readers know, I love Brisbane's inner suburbs -- but I also like to blow the city cobwebs away when I can. With family now living in Toowoomba, I've become a regular visitor in recent years, and I've come to appreciate the glorious parks and change of pace that Toowoomba offers.
The attractions below are good for adults, families with children, and those taking their dog out for the day. Most also have wheelchair access. Nearly all are outdoors, so the trip is best done on a fine day (postpone if it's raining and, ideally, aim for Spring or Autumn, when weather is mildest). Also bear in mind that Toowoomba hosts the Carnival of Flowers in September, so this is a very busy (though spectacular) time to visit, and it will be harder to find parking spots, get access to parks, etc.
Aim to set off around 9am with some morning tea already packed. This should put you at the top of the range, entering Toowoomba, at around 10.30am. Turn right off the highway as you enter town, and then left into Margaret Street. Drive along Margaret Street until you see Lindsay Street on your right. Turn into Lindsay Street and drive until you see the mass of windmills outside the Cobb&Co Museum. Find a parking spot and you're ready to explore.
First on the agenda is the Toowoomba Botanical Gardens, just across the road from the windmills. You can wander in from the corner, or walk up the footpath until you reach the stone arch that marks the gardens' formal entrance.
The gardens feature colorful flower-beds, formal gardens, and a number of memorials. The paths are concreted and generally a good gradient for wheelchairs. As far as I've been able to work out, dogs are permitted in the Botanical Gardens on a lead. The gardens have plenty of pretty places to eat your morning tea.
If you keep walking, you'll run into sprawling Queens Park, which joins the Botanical Gardens. Queens Park features stately trees, a dog off-leash area (down the bottom), and two excellent children's playgrounds.
The playground closest to Lindsay Street has activities for younger children, and a very cool quick-reflexes game. It also has a 'freedom swing' for children in wheelchairs. Further down the hill is a much larger playground. This also features activities suitable for younger children, as well as more challenging equipment for older kids.
After a couple of hours in the park, it must be lunch-time. I suggest heading back to your car and visiting the Cobb&Co Museum (open 10am-4pm daily, 2011 prices: $10/adult, $6.50/3-14 years, $25-32/families, free for carers and Workshops Rail Museum members). Dogs aren't permitted at the museum, so if you have a furry friend, skip this bit and head to one of the other attractions below (Picnic Point is the best option for lunch).
The museum has an interesting collection of vehicles from Queensland's history, as well as natural and local history displays and changing exhibitions. Kids' activities often run during the school holidays. The cafe is fine and not too over-priced (with Merlo coffee), and has a play area where you can watch littlies while you eat. You can buy your tickets and go to eat at the cafe before visiting the exhibitions, or wander through the exhibits and head to the cafe to finish.
If you like roses, head to Newtown Park, bounded by Taylor and Holberton Streets (about a 5-minute drive from the museum). It features large rose gardens, at their best from mid-September to May. (If visiting outside these times, ring the Toowoomba Visitor Information Centre on 1800 331 155 to check that the roses are flowering, as they are sometimes pruned very hard.)
Newtown Park also has a small children's playground and a big oval to kick a ball around. A flat, wheelchair-friendly path leads through the rose beds. Dogs are permitted on leads.
Japanese Gardens The tranquil Japanese Gardens on West Street are the most traditional gardens of their type in Australia, and the largest at 4.5 hectares. To find them, head to West Street near the University of Southern Queensland (about a 10-15-minute drive from Newtown Park). The gardens open from 7am to 7pm daily, and are wheelchair accessible. The Tourist Information people tell me that dogs are permitted in the gardens on a leash, but be aware that is a place people visit for its peace and calm, so a boisterous dog won't be welcomed. For pictures of the gardens, or more details, see the longer Weekend Notes review of them.
Picnic Point Your next destination is Picnic Point. To get there, drive back to the main entrance into town and follow the signs along Tourist Road.
High on the Great Dividing Range, Picnic Point offers scenic views, another children's playground, and numerous short walks. I haven't done any of the walks yet (having only recently discovered this area myself), but locals told me that they were clearly signed. Picnic Point is also good for dogs, which are permitted on the walks on a lead, and also have an off-leash area. (Though one dog-owner did tell me to check my dog carefully for ticks if we visited the off-leash area in summer.)
At Picnic Point Restaurant, you can eat in (either casual or a la carte), buy take-away, or just get ice-creams for everybody (open Mon-Thurs 8.30am-5pm, Fri 8.30am-9pm, Sat 8am-9pm, Sun 8am-5pm). It's not cheap, but prices are reasonable given the location and the quality of the food. It is wheelchair-accessible (though some other parts of Picnic Point are not).
Staying overnight If you're staying overnight, it's time to head to your accommodation. Toowoomba has many bed-and-breakfasts, including some in heritage properties. For dinner, you could dine at Picnic Point, or go for a walk and find a good eatery yourself (I've never eaten dinner in Toowoomba, so can't make any recommendations).
Not quite Red Dog, but... (visit Picnic Point to find out why this dog has its own statue).
On Sunday, you could try a bushwalk at Ravensbourne National Park, which is only 32km from Toowoomba and has plenty of short, scenic walks. Or, if you're into pioneer history, take a half-hour drive to the Jondaryan Woolshed, halfway between Toowoomba and Dalby. I've done both and enjoyed each of them. Alternatively, you could just spend a little longer at the attractions listed above and spread them over two days.
Back to Brisbane
When you're ready to go home, drive back down the highway to Brisbane, taking it easy on the range, which is very steep and definitely a place to drive safely. If it's late afternoon and you're still hungry, you could try a pie at Big Dad's Pies at Schulte's Meat Tavern (yes, that really is its name). Just look for the sign on the highway at Plainlands. You can also buy some great local fruit and veg cheap if you keep your eyes open as you drive. I hope you've had a good trip.