Ekka is billed as when the country comes to the city. For many families it is a highlight of the year, for many others, it is an overpriced rip-off. Below is a guide to getting the most of Ekka this year, avoiding the rip-offs, surviving the crowds and getting the most out of this wonderful annual event for the whole family.
Ekka is officially known as the Royal Queensland Show and is Queensland's biggest country expo. These are essentially meetings where people in the agricultural sector come together to do business and give out awards for the best of things related to what people do in the countryside. You know, things like best cow/bull, pig or sheep, fastest wood chop or most delicious scone or jam.
Of course, when people in the country get together they are looking for a party. This includes music, entertainment and of course the famous sideshow. While the sideshow is great, the problem is that it is an additional cost on top of the ticket. Which is what makes many people think that Ekka is a rip-off.
The sideshow at the Ekka is fun but can be a bit overpriced
Ekka runs for 10 days from August 10 to 19, which includes 2 weekends. Brisbane, that is, the Brisbane City Council area, gets a holiday on Wednesday August 15. Other parts of South East Queensland and surrounds often have a public holiday on Monday August 13. This includes Logan, Redlands and the Moreton Bay council areas. This holiday is also observed as west as Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley and as far north as Bundaberg. Meanwhile, places like the Gold Coast reserve their holiday for their own show
The gates open at 9 am and last entry is at 8 pm, but the show stays open after that time to around 9 pm. Most of the agricultural displays go from 9 am to 5 pm, with some other pavilions staying open an extra hour. Basically, you need to go during the day for the agricultural show while nighttime is about food and entertainment.
Tickets cost $35 for an adult and $20 for a child. You can obviously save money with a family pass and now they have an adult and child pass (which makes more sense for modern families).
One of the best ways to save money is to get a Twilight pass for $20. This lets you enter after 6 pm, so you get the see the best of the entertainment, especially the fireworks, then enjoy the food and the sideshow. This is great for people coming after work on a weekday or who are not that interested in the main agricultural part of the show.
Beat the crowd and find places to chill out
Even at quiet times, there can be quite a crowd at Ekka. Obviously on weekends and especially on Ekka day when the schools and work all have holidays, the crowds can be pretty intense. But don't be intimidated by the crowds.
The Ekka crowds are infamous, but you can beat them if you know how
If you have young kids and you don't plan to stay for the evening's entertainment, the answer is to get their early. So the main street of Ekka will still be crowded in the morning, but elsewhere it is quieter.
The best way to avoid crowds is to take your time and plan your day. If you want a seat anywhere for entertainment, the answer is to get their early and wait. This especially applies to the Ekka night entertainment. They have something on from about 5 pm, though officially the entertainment doesn't start until 5:30 pm. A good strategy is to get their early with food and find a nice spot to sit and wait.
You should also think about where you can go to chill out. There are several places to do this, especially during the day. If you want to just sit and relax during the day, go to the main arena. You can usually find a spot to sit in the main stand under the shade or, you can sit or lie on the grass on the mound next to this area.
People chilling out at the mound at the main arena at Ekka
Also look around for the various seating areas near cafes. You can sit here without buying coffee or food and chill out for a little while. Avoid the main food halls as they tend to be packed and it is hard to find a place to sit. Having said that, if you can find a spot to sit, Gourmet Plaza has entertainment on during the day and evening, so a great place to relax for a while.
Entertainment is varied and there will be something that appeals to everyone. Some things include pig races, fashion parades, whip cracking, music at various venues such as Gourmet Plaza and XXXX Stockman's Bar and Grill, animal parades, sheering displays and lots of kids entertainment. Watch also for roving performers in the crowd.
The XXXX Catleman's Bar for beer, steaks and entertainment
The best entertainment will be on in the main arena in the evening, called Ekkanites There is a fireworks display at 6 pm for little kids who need to get home early and another at 7:45 pm. The actual entertainment starts a little earlier than advertised with things like sheep herding, so you can take the kids there early, find a great spot and keep them entertained while waiting for the main show. Normally we take our dinner with us to eat while waiting.
From experience, these are some of the most interesting and entertaining fireworks displays that incorporate a range of innovative features, such as flamethrowers and kites. The one thing not to miss at Ekka is the fireworks.
Ekka has one of the most innovative and fireworks shows
Obviously, it is an agricultural show with a wide range of agricultural displays. While most of the pavilions are the same every day, what is happening in the main arena area changes, so you may want to check the schedule if you are particularly interested in anything.
The agricultural part of the show can be very entertaining. There is a lot of interactive activities, including chances to pet animals, from lovely cats and dogs through to farm animals, pony rides and more. Entertainment can vary a lot, from regular wood chopping displays to horse riding shows.
Other things can be less fun but no less interesting for people who enjoy animals, agriculture and country culture, whether you are looking at various competition animals, the best cakes from the countryside or displays put together by high schools around the region.
A high school display about their home town and local produce
There is a lot of great food at Ekka, but not a lot that is really special. You won't go hungry and they have the full range of multicultural and healthy offerings. But if you are at a show you really want to enjoy the traditional offerings as well.
Ekka is an opportunity to eat traditional show food
If you want something sweet, then things like chocolate fudge, fairy floss and scones are great show treats. But the crowds head to the many places selling strawberry sundaes. Updated by Grant Lew of Lick! Ice Cream, sales of this combination of strawberries and ice cream support the Prince Charles Hospital Foundation. Their popularity is seen by the fact that over 150,000 sundaes will be sold using over 10 tonnes of strawberries.
Don't forget to grab your Strawberry Sundaes at Ekka
Ekka is also a good excuse to have a Dagwood Dog, which is a hot dog on a stick, dipped in batter and covered in tomato sauce. But really you want to try something a little better, such as the steaks from the Royal Queensland Steak House or XXXX Stockman's Bar and Grill, among other places.
I would suggest avoiding things like hamburgers, as most are just made from frozen patties stuck in a tasteless and slightly stale bun. I didn't realise places still sold hamburgers this bad until I went to Ekka. Yes, the countryside comes to Brisbane at Ekka, but they must leave the burgers at home when they do.
There is a wide range of modern and international food options at Ekka
If you are looking to save money, remember you can bring in your own food and water. So many families pack sandwiches and snacks to fill up their kids while only buying them some special treats.
One of the unique parts of the show are showbags. They take all sorts of things that could be sold separately, but you probably wouldn't buy them if they were, put them together into a bag, and now your kids are asking for $20 to buy one. Though theoretically, the total value of what is in the showbag should be many times more than the retail cost of all the items alone.
Now there are two types of show bags. The first type has things you can wear around during the show, so they are great to get early in the day to add to the fun of the event. The other are things your kids will want to play with at home, so get them on the way out.
My view is to give your kids a budget. That way it is their choice about how much to spend on rides, food and show bags. This teaches them how to budget and value money, but also it gets them off your back when it comes to always asking for things. That is, unless you enjoy always having your kids nag for things.
Overall show bags start at $5, with most showbags costing around $25, and some being more experience.
You can drive if you want and there are a number of parking areas nearby, in particular in Fortitude Valley. If you are planning to do this, I would recommend that you book your car park space online in advance. From there people normally walk up to the southern entrances to the show.
The best way to Ekka is using public transportation. The coolest way is the to take the train that arrives right in the heart of the showgrounds at Exhibition Station. This is popular with people coming from far afield, especially those coming in from the countryside who come to Brisbane by country train.
Buses are probably the most convenient with special Ekka buses leaving from spots around Brisbane, including Woolloongabba, Chermside, Carindale, Eight Mile Plains and Roma Street Station. So you can drive to one of those locations and bus in from there.
The best bus stop to get off at is Herston because from there you can walk down the bike path to the Showgrounds. The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital stop is closer, but you need to cross a couple of roads to get the entrance.
Ekka is a great opportunity for international visitors to experience Australian country culture, something that is often difficult or expensive to do at other times. During the event, there will many rural skills and crafts on display, including from horse riding, wood cutting and Australian country music. Not only does the show bring country life into a city setting, but remember nearly every city kid has experienced a rural show, so it is very much part of growing up in Australia.
So if you are visiting from abroad, come along, see the rural aspect of the show, eat the food and learn a bit more about Australia. It is definitely an opportunity not to be missed.
Here are the main tips
Get in early to avoid the crowds, especially with young children.
Take your own food and drink to save money.
Plan your day if you want a good seat to see various entertainment.
Take your time, unless you need to see everything and you only have a little bit of time, you can leisurely wander the showground.
Have a budget. This is good for kids, tell them, "This is how much you have to spend for the day." and they can make up their own mind if they want food, show bags or rides.
Focus on the agricultural part of the show and the free entertainment. The sideshow can be fun but not worth the money.
Know where you can chill out if the crowds get too much or your feet are sore.
There are lockers around the showgrounds, with the main one being near the Show Bag Pavilion.
Dress right. Often August in Brisbane is hot during the day and cold and at, especially when you are watching the evening's entertainment.
Put your stuff in the lockers while you walk around
I think that agricultural shows are a great experience and if done right they are good value for money. As part of the ticket price, you get a wide range of entertainment, opportunities to see farm animals and taste food that is hard to find outside of an agricultural show these days. You can easily spend 6 to 8 hours at a show and spend very little money.
The sideshow rides are fun, but not worth going to the show just for the sideshow
Of course, there are extras like sideshow rides, shopping, showbags and so on. Certainly, it is not worth the ticket price if that is the only reason you are going there. So plan well have a great Ekka.