Stanthorpe is a town in an area known as the Granite Belt, which is part of the South Downs. The name, Granite Belt is obvious when you see the granite everywhere, including the granite formations at Girraween. North of this region, in areas around Warwick, it is sandstone, but from not far north of Stanthorpe down to and across into New South Wales it is granite. Some guides to the Granite Belt include Warwick, but I will leave it out of this guide.
Spectacular rock formations in Girraween National Park are a feature of the Granite Belt
Settlers have come into the region, seeking tin, or in the period after the First World War, starting farms. You will see a number of French name locations around Stanthorpe which were named after battles or locations that Australian troops served in France. The region has now become famous for its stone fruit, apples and winemaking. In fact, many of the wineries outside of the area still use Granite Belt grapes to make excellent wines.
When tin miners moved into the region in 1872, they tended to work around an area known at Quart Pot Creek and this became the name for the settlement. But quickly people wanted a better name for the town and combined the Latin word Stannum for tin with the Middle English word Thorpe for village. Basically renaming the town Tin Village.
Mural at Amiens Legal Centre depicting the life of post WWI settlers
The mines were quickly worked out and there was a focus on agriculture, especially cooler climate crops, including grapes. It wasn't until after the first World War, when the government was giving loans to returned servicemen to establish farms in the region, that the area really took off. This also included a sizeable number of Italian migrants and the establishment of the area's strong Italian roots.
How to get there
It is about 3 hour drive from downtown Brisbane to Stanthorpe. The quickest and easier way is over Cunningham's Gap and through Warwick. Even if you are in the north or the south of Brisbane, this is often the best route you can follow. The main alternative road is to take The Head Road through Boonah and Killarney. It is about the same distance but the scenic road is slower.
There are also buses to Stanthorpe but they only operate on weekdays. You can also take a bus to Brisbane or Toowoomba.
How to get around
Once in Stanthorpe, you can walk around the town but beyond that, you pretty much need to drive. That is, of course, unless you prefer to cycle around the mostly flat region.
Walking trail by Quart Pot Creek in Stanthorpe leading to the giant thermometer
If you don't have a car or don't want to drive, then there are tours to get you out and about in the region. Wild Cat Tracks offers boutique tours of the region for 2 to 4 people. There are also a number of food and wine tours in the region as well.
Stanthorpe itself has a number of basic motels. These are decent places to stay if you want to be in the town itself. However, outside of town provides a wide range of very interesting accommodation. Three examples of this include Braeside Homestead, which is a perfect example of reasonably-priced luxury that is good for groups of up to 8 people, plus a separate cottage for a more romantic getaway. Sabo's on Severn has a steady stream of returning customers heading in for the great hospitality. The rooms are cosy and comfy but you can also relax on the deck, sit in the gardens or wander the estate down to the river. If you want your wine nearby, then there are winery stays, such as Heritage Wine Estates which has accommodation cottages.
The luxuries of staying in country accommodation at Sabo's on Severn in Stanthorpe
For budget-conscious or self-contained travellers, there are multiple caravan parks in the Granite Belt. Top of the Town Tourist Park has cabins as well as powered and unpowered caravan and tent sites, as is typical of caravan parks in the area. Of course, you can also camp at Girraween National Park and at Sundown National Park which has both conventional and four-wheel drive accessible campsites.
The town of Stanthorpe is worth more than just a whistle-stop. If you are just passing through town, then look for a cafe or a pub for a quick meal, or grab some local fruit from one of many shops by the road.
A selection of apples from Nicoletti Orchards in Stanthorpe
If you are stopping, then the main attraction is the Artistic Stanthorpe and Historic Stanthorpe walking trails. The walk features multiple murals and sculptures around town. These include interactive murals designed for the young and the young at heart to get into the artwork for cool pictures.
The are murals big and small, sculptures and installations along the Artistic Stanthorpe Walking Trail
Stanthorpe also includes the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery which features constantly changing local artworks as well as art installations in Weeroona Park. If you are in town on a Sunday, the Stanthorpe Pottery club's Earth and Fire Gallery will be open and worth popping in for a look. They also run workshops, so if you want to learn about pottery or improve your skills, check out their schedule.
Local artworks feature in the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery
The other walk in town is around Quart Pot Creek. This area has been developed exclusively by the local townspeople through local fundraising and volunteer work to create a great creek walk that leads up to the historic Red Bridge. You can do the short stroll of about 2 km that takes in the Giant Thermometer and Red Bridge, or walk along the creek in a circuit of around 5 kms (depending on which route you take).
Artist capturing the beauty of Red Bridge in Stanthorpe (you can just take a photo if you didn't bring your paints with you)
The area of Stanthorpe is actually made up of a number of small little townships, often with French names. One place to visit is the Amiens Legacy Centre & Memorial Park. Most visitors will want to stop in at the centre, where there is a historic train carriage converted into a museum, a replica Bailey Bridge and a tin mine mockup for the kids to practice the skills of tin mining. You can visit any time but check opening times and it is usually open on Sundays.
Amiens Legacy Centre Museum in a historic Train Car
Another attraction you can view, but not visit, is the Ballandean Pyramid. This man-made structure is on private property so while you can view it from the road, you can't actually go up to it without trespassing. Climbing is also forbidden for safety reasons.
For people who love to catch their own dinner, then fishing in the Severn River is a popular activity. Locals recommend fishing in the Sundown National Park but there are other spots along the river, including areas with picnic and barbecue facilities. Spinning lures seem to do the trick but do have a tendency to get caught up on scrub on the river bank. You can also try your luck in Quart Pot Creek with some sources suggesting just by the Stanthorpe Visitor Information Centre is a nice place to cast your line.
Down on the border to New South Wales, an old train station has been converted into the Wallangarra Museum and Café. Yes, it is a nice place to get coffee, a snack or a meal, but there is also a small free museum here. As this was the changeover between the wider New South Wale rail gauge and the narrower Queensland rail tracks, you can stand on the platform with one foot in each state and marvel at how each side of the train station looks different because both states built one side each and refused to come up with a single uniform design.
The premium natural attraction in the Granite Belt is Girraween National Park. The spectacular rock formations include natural standing and balancing stones as well as The Pyramid, a large exposed rock roughly shaped like a pyramid. Across the border in NSW is the Bald Rock National Park, which all part of the same area of rock formations and you can walk from Girraween, across the border, to Bald Rock.
If formations of granites rocks are your thing, then also visit Donnelly's Castle, which is a natural granite rock formation whose history includes being used as a hideout by the infamous Captain Thunderbolt bushranger, also known as the Gentleman bushranger. It is a great place for younger visitors to explore.
For people with a four-wheel drive, Sundown National Park is a great spot to visit for camping, swimming and hiking. While there is one campground accessible by conventional vehicles, the national park's lack of general accessibility makes it an escape into the wilderness.
Festivals & events
The year kicks off with the Stanthorpe Show in January. This is a great example of a mid-sized country show. Big enough to be exciting, not so large that the crowds become unbearable.
Running since 1966, the Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival attracts crowds of over 70,000 people to celebrate the bounty of apples and grapes. There are street parades, wine stomping, food festivals, apple pie competitions and a gala ball.
To celebrate the winter season and with the real possibility of Snow, the biennial Snowflakes in Stanthorpe is the hottest celebration in the cold. Go ice skating and snow-related activities.
Don't forget Christmas in July. Not an official festival as such, but every restaurant and guesthouse seems to get in on the act, decorating inside and outside with Christmas decorations and serving the type of Christmas food that we can't enjoy in Australia's hot summer Christmas season.
Christmas in July dinner at Heritage Wines in Stanthorpe
With large numbers of artists and craftspeople in the area, the Granite Belt Arts & Crafts Trail, seeks to highlight the skills and talents of locals with a 3-day event in October with workshops, open studios, talks and exhibitions. For many, it is getting hands-on with multiple workshops while others take the time to meet the artists in their studios. With music and entertainment on, locals also come into Stanthorpe to party.
Meet the artists on the Granite Belt Arts & Crafts Trail
November is time for the Stanthorpe Rodeo. This is a great chance for people from the city to see people from country areas demonstrating their skills.
There are plenty of other events and happenings on in the Granite Belt. Wineries and guest houses will host dining events, there are music nights, fundraising performances and much more.
For many years, I treated Stanthorpe as a stop on the way to somewhere else. Maybe get a coffee, lunch or pick up some locally grown fruit. But if you stop and explore the region, you will learn that there is much more to this great area, and even more when there are events occurring.