Take a road trip through Queensland’s Granite Belt to discover some of the country’s most dramatic scenery and best cool-climate wines.
Rising up to 1,200 metres above sea level, Queensland’s Granite Belt region is home to some of Australia’s most dramatic scenery and offers surprises at every turn of the New England Highway between Stanthorpe and Tenterfield.
This stunning landscape is the result of 200-million-year-old Triassic granite formations, where massive boulders balance seemingly precariously on top of each other. Surrounded by dense forests, it all makes for a breathtaking (and literally breath-taking) sight for walkers and photographers. Even after several trips to the area, I’ve found many reasons to return, this time heading mainly to the southern end around Ballandean. Here, some absolute highlights.
Girraween National Park
With its 11,800 hilly hectares of unique rock formations and hiking trails, Girraween is one of the most rewarding walking locations I’ve ever experienced. And it’s not just the drama of wondering, ‘Will these boulders topple over one day, and will I see it happen?’ (No, they’ve passed every Workplace Health and Safety check imaginable.)
Maybe it’s the crisp fresh mountain air; or is it the sense that you’re feeling a part of Earth’s history, where giants roamed and played skittles with these big rocks? Girraween and neighbouring Sundown National Park are all of that, and there’s a good chance you’ll come away feeling reinvigorated by the great heights of healthy exercise you’ve achieved while channelling John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.
An alternative for a rewarding walk to see spectacular balancing boulders is at Bald Rock National Park adjoining Girraween, accessible from the NSW side of the border near Tenterfield (entry fee applies). Here you’ll find the largest exposed granite rock in the southern hemisphere: it’s where the giants presumably got their rocks off.
Granite Belt cool-climate wines
Granite Belt wines have come to the attention of wine lovers and critics in recent years, and with good reason. There are over 50 wineries, many with cellar door sales and tastings: just what the doctor ordered after my daytime exertions. The unique terroir with its longer growing season and deep granite soils, combined with the innovative approach of the region’s winemakers and vignerons, produces wines of elegance and complexity. Cool-climate wines as individual as a fingerprint.
Close to Girraween at Wyberba there’s a small cluster of wineries ideal for that post-walk tipple. Balancing Rock Wines, awarded Best Small Cellar Door on the Granite Belt by Gourmet Traveller WINE 2019, has a cute label displaying the balancing rock in its vineyard. David and Lori Broadbent offer a range of reds and whites including a highly awarded reserve sagrantino, which is definitely one for the cellar at home if you don’t drink it all first.
Pyramids Road Wines focuses on low-volume handmade wines, the passion of Sue and Warren Smith who are expats from the Sunny Coast doing a terrific job with a big range of grape varieties, with reds like mourvèdre and petit verdot prominent. Sue laughs that, “Our friends said we had rocks in our head taking on the hard work that goes into winemaking – but now the only rocks are on our labels.”
Girraween Estate is the love child of Lisa and Steve Messiter, who purchased the property in 2009; since then they have won top awards for their shiraz cabernet and chardonnay. They are especially proud of their fruit-driven, crisp and refreshing sparkling wines.
There’s something brewing (and distilling)
It’s not just about the wines of the Granite Belt. You’re very welcome to rock up to a brewery or distillery if that’s more your fancy: there are several choices including the boutique Brass Monkey Brew House, the closest to Ballandean; Granite Belt Brewery (with pub-style food, and comfortable cabin accommodation so you don’t need to drive).
Even before a drink, you’ll think you’ve arrived in Scotland. The solar-powered castlelike building reflects the heritage of the Millar family in the British Isles and their service to royalty dating back to the 13th century. The product range includes multi-award-winning whiskies and gins (served on the rocks, naturally) plus a whole range of delicious liqueurs based on the region’s abundant fruit.
Donnelly’s Castle – the Bushranger’s hide-out
Not far from Castle Glen you’ll find a spot called Donnelly’s Castle. You can squeeze through crevices in giant granite rock boulders, walk on top of them and enter into cave-like openings. The famed bushranger Captain Thunderbolt once used this rocky outcrop north of Stanthorpe as his hideout and it’s a hidden gem.
Add these to your itinerary, too:
Pack your Esky full of the region’s fresh organic food and artisanal, hand-crafted products. Here are some suggestions:
Sutton’s Juice Factory – For natural juices and handmade apple pies.
Ashbern Farms – Pick your own strawberries and enjoy yummy ice-cream.
Stanthorpe Cheese – For a great selection to accompany your wine purchases.
Mt Stirling Olives – Try the fruity, cold-pressed extra virgin oils.
Jamworks Gourmet Foods – For jams and relishes made from local produce.
Anna’s Candles – For soy-based scents.
Washpool Farm Soaperie – For natural products and soap-making workshops.
Accommodation options within the Granite Belt area include B&Bs, cottages and lodges. If you want to get an early start for a walk at Girraween, then Girraween Environmental Lodge, Wisteria Cottage and Girraween Country Inn are close to the park entrance.