The region is two hours west of the Gold Coast and up until now I only knew it as that cold place where it snows in Queensland in winter.
Stanthorpe is at the heart of the region and when I was told it was one of the cooler areas in South East Queensland over the summer, I was hooked as riding in summer can be taxing. I was especially hooked when I remembered the curvaceous ride up through Killarney and the sumptuous twists of the Tenterfield range that enable me to get there and return.
The Granite Belt region is aptly named sitting on a ribbon of granite rock that is naturally displayed in all sorts of interesting shapes. Budding geologists will have a ball.
The land is utilised for many industries including wine and grape vineyards, apple farms, strawberry farms, fish hatcheries and cheese factories to name several.
To get to the Granite Belt region from Brisbane or the Gold Coast, there are several options: the Warrego Highway to Toowoomba then out through Warwick and south bound. There is also the Cunningham’s Gap option which is a stunning and curvy ride to Warwick. I came up through Boonah, Carney’s Creek and Killarney. If you are coming from the Northern Rivers region, up through Casino then the Tenterfield range is the way to go.
For me the ride up through Killarney is stunning, encompassing narrow, winding roads through canopied rain forest regions, then bursting out into ribbons of asphalt along the ridge of the main range area. I wanted to turn around, descend and do it again as it’s a favourite of mine.
Along the way, a picnic at Carney’s Creek near the rock formations is a great idea; followed by a stop at Carr’s Lookout to see if you can spot the plane wreckage from the 1900s that is still in the foliage across from the lookout.
If you love the bushland, Queen Mary Falls and Brown Falls waterfalls awaits. Several cafes along the ridge also await to tantalise your tastebuds.
From Killarney you can pursue the highway south or, as I did, take Old Stanthorpe Road. If your bike is a tarmac queen, avoid it, as it has about 10km of unsealed, corrugated roads. Eventually you will appear at the northern end of Stanthorpe near Applethorpe.
My first arranged stop was Sutton’s Apple Farm. Ros and David own the farm and they make juices, pies, ciders as well as obviously producing apples for the industry. Being a teacher by trade, Ros is always keen to host school visits of all ages and even has schools visiting from the Gold Coast.
I had heard great things about their apple pie so had to try it. It is completely handmade with onsite ingredients and served with special flavoured ice-cream and apple syrup dribbled over the cream. It did not disappoint.
My gran used to make her apple pies by hand so this was a great throwback. In fact this apple pie has such a great reputation that when one customer Googled where to find the best apple pie, Sutton’s came up, he jumped in his helicopter on the coast and flew up requesting landing clearance on the farm while in transit. He has since popped in again numerous times.
From there I went via Thullimbah, an old local rail station, to Donnelly’s Castle, one of Captain Thunderbolt’s hideouts. It has all sorts of outcrops, formations and even some cave-like nooks. I approached from the wrong direction and turned into the state forest nearby which also had amazing formations. The tracks are well-beaten, but may be tough for some road bikes. Donnelly’s Castle road is also unsealed but not too difficult.
The region is also known for its strawberries and Ashbern’s Strawberry Farm was next on my bucket list for the weekend. Picking fresh strawberries is a highlight as well as experiencing food and drinks with the strawberries as the main ingredient.
There is so much to do in this region you will have to stay a night or several. My accommodation was arranged at Ridgemill Estate which has eight modern and inviting cabins on site near the vineyard. It has its own cellar room, manufacturing facility and taste-testing sessions.
They make some beautiful wines, some of which have won prestigious awards. The location is a stunner and to sit on the deck looking out on the vineyard hearing the sounds of nature is so relaxing. You can eat out under the stars or around the nearby rocks area.
If you love sunsets, Mt Marlay lookout is a top spot with a viewing platform, walking trails, rocky outcrops and mountain biking trails. There are many restaurants in or near town to suit any taste or you can cook a barbecue at Ridgemill. Don’t forget to enjoy the chockies and a glass or two under the vista of the many beautiful stars.