Toowoomba, located 90 minutes west of Brisbane, is known as the ‘garden city’ and after a recent visit there I can certainly vouch for that. With more than 150 parks and gardens, yearly festivals and shows, even the fussiest of gardeners will be in their element. Add to that a rich history showcased through an array of museums and national parks, and Toowoomba definitely won’t disappoint.
Nobody can ‘do’ Toowoomba in just one day so we decided to check into the quiet yet beautiful Big4 Toowoomba Caravan Park just minutes away from the hub of town. Even the park has a maze of gardens, and plenty of big trees for that essential summertime shade. It’s a great park for tempting the kids away from all the tech toys, as it has a host of outdoor activities including a jumping pillow, pedal carts, pool, spa, and a TV room for those wet days at camp.
Arriving at the Big4, the welcoming staff are like fountains of knowledge and will answer any questions about the area with a smile. You’ll get maps, vouchers and friendly advice about the park and points of interest in Toowoomba.
One of the best places to get an overall view of the valley below Toowoomba is Picnic Point, where you can nearly see all the way back to Brisbane and everything in between. From here there’s a stack of great walking trails for different fitness levels leading you around the spur and through the bush. A little hint, head back here at sunrise or sunset for stunning views bathed in evening colours.
Driving around town, it’s not hard to see why it’s called the garden city. Streets are lined with stunning trees, waterways have been turned into eco-friendly wetlands, bushland has been set aside to allow for walking trails and BMX tracks, kid-friendly parks are everywhere you look, and then there’s the magnificent botanical gardens, with the stunning Ju Raku En Japanese gardens being a highlight.
The Japanese gardens were planted back in 1983 and have evolved to what they are today by Professor Nakane of Japan. His inspiration includes a combination of medieval, ancient and 18th century design. All of the large rocks (weighing tonnes) throughout the gardens have been placed to perfection to represent the different elements and forms. Weaving through the gardens and giving solitude and life to different areas is a waterway, which begins as a 5 metre waterfall then flows to large ponds which provide habitats and food for koi and local water birds. Within the garden there’s an estimated 2.3 kilometres of gravel paths to explore.
Toowoomba’s history goes way back to the 1840s and if you wander the streets there is still evidence of the early decor on the old pubs, town hall, music theatres and other heritage buildings. With so much history in the area, the Cobb & Co museum is a must stop.
Not only does it house one of the largest collections of horse drawn carriages on the planet, you can retrace the historical events that led to the founding of Queensland through life-like re-enactments and voiceovers. There’s a workshop inhouse where they restore old carts and give new life to rundown relics – these guys do an amazing job and you’re free to watch them, interact and ask questions during their working hours. If you thought all windmills were the same, let me tell you they aren’t, as outside the museum there is a display explaining all the different types and their functions.
For those keen to get out of town for a day drive, Toowoomba has several neighbouring national parks that allow for further exploring. One of the best in Queensland, and in fact the second oldest in the state, is Bunya Mountain National Park.
An easy hour drive to the northwest via Dalby, the drive takes you across vast plains and towards the base of the mountains that rise over 1100 metres above sea level. The roads seem narrow as you climb higher and higher towards the hub of the Bunyas, but the illusion is actually caused by the size of the trees beside the road. Bunya and hoop pines, old strangler figs and tall gums line the road, where thick rainforest scrub covers the ground.
The main centre in the Bunya area is where you’ll find the best info, and where many of the designated walks start from, which include a quick 20 minute walk through to half day treks. Here is where you’ll also find the NPWS info centre for all the updates on trail conditions, waterfalls and any permits you need. This part of the Great Dividing Range was formed some 30 million years ago and now is home to the largest stand of Bunya pines in the world. The egg-shaped Bunya pine cones can weigh up to 10kg and contain protein-rich nuts which can be roasted for an additional taste.
Toowoomba is like a central hub, a gateway to the west where travellers can head in any direction. The lower valleys are rich with volcanic soil, allowing perfect conditions for local delicacies, yet high up on the plateau west of the range, the farming lands are more suitable for livestock.
Toowoomba is a place to get back to nature and connect with others. You can explore many parks and forests, spend hours on country drives discovering hidden villages, eat some of the best produce in the state or take one of the many wine trails, and invigorate your tastebuds – Toowoomba is that good.