The Darling Downs

9 November 2010

Crisp air, rolling hills, cascading waterfalls and authentic country charm await you in the Darling Downs

It’s fortunate that when, in 1827, botanist Allan Cunningham first stepped on to the downs west of the Great Dividing Range, the Governor of New South Wales was named Ralph Darling. For naming the downs, the Darling Downs was highly apt, as prettier, more darling countryside is hard to come by.


Clever naming wasn’t the only clever thing that Cunningham did. His very arrival was an important milestone in Queensland’s history, as Cunningham had discovered a way through the daunting Great Dividing Range. His route opened up the Darling Downs to Brisbane and the coast. And Cunningham got to have something named after himself too – the Cunningham Highway.


Cunningham discovered spectacular countryside, important for both its beauty and its farming potential. Although the landscape has been dramatically reshaped since, it is nonetheless still striking, and thousands of acres of national parks preserve the native attractiveness that Cunningham first saw.


The town of Warwick is a major centre in what is known as the Southern Downs, or the southern region of the wider Darling Downs. Warwick has a rich agricultural history that is reflected in the many grand sandstone buildings throughout the town. Warwick is also a major centre for basing a trip, as I discovered.


A very appealing feature of Warwick, and indeed the Darling Downs, is the cooler weather. The region is known as the coolest part of Queensland and makes for a great escape from the rest of the state’s heat. You can enjoy the crisp air as you wander amongst the many cafes, restaurants, shops and pubs on offer.


A trail guide is available from the Tourist Information Centre, which will lead you to the various historical buildings in Warwick. The Warwick Railway Station, one of the many impressive sandstone structures, holds a special place in history. It’s where an egg was thrown at PM Billy Hughes, which prompted the establishment of the Commonwealth Police.


St Mary’s Cathedral is a prominent landmark presiding over the town, and contains a Catholic museum. The post office, town hall, police station and court buildings all have mighty sandstone edifices. A truly splendid building is the Abbey of the Roses, a convent that has been converted to a guest house and function centre. It’s open to the public during certain times – you can find out when, at the door.


If you crave a really stiff dose of history, then Pringle Cottage will provide the fix you’re hankering after. It’s a restored sandstone cottage; I thought cottages had to be small, but clearly this isn’t the case. The cottage dates from 1870, and the rooms are set up exactly as they would have been over 100 years ago.


A vast array of artefacts of historical significance is on display in the Emporium building, located on the Pringle Cottage grounds. Various other historical buildings have also been added to the grounds, including the old newspaper printery, a shepherd’s hut, a Presbyterian church, an early store, a saddle-room, and a bar.


Warwick is known as the Rose and Rodeo city. Roses proliferate everywhere in the city, through the centre of town, in homes and in public parks and gardens. And the Warwick Rodeo, held in October each year, is Australia’s best-known rodeo and has the richest prize in campdrafting. The Rodeo Heritage Centre will tell you about all of this, and more.


Tucked amongst the strappy foliage of some waterside plants is the tactile marble sculpture of Tiddalik. According to legend, Tiddalik is the frog that swallowed enough water to trigger a drought. Joining him is a platypus sculpture, and more sculptures are planned to line the banks of the Condamine River. The Warwick Greenbelt also lines the river bank, with sealed tracks for walkers and cyclists, historic trails and various picnic spots.


Once you’ve had your fill of Warwick, a superb way of getting to see the best the countryside has to offer is to embark on one of the many tourist trails that lead from town. Cedar Route (Tourist Route No 11) extends 62km to the north of Warwick as you head towards Toowoomba. The road takes you through the World Heritage area of the Goomburra Valley. You can enjoy hiking through Goomburra State Forest; the Dalrymple Creek Bush Walk is even disabled assisted. Along the way you can also stop at the Glengallan Homestead, or take a detour on the way back and visit the Bestbrook Machinery Museum.


The Settler’s Route (Tourist Drive No 1) winds through deep gullies, tall mountains and over numerous rivers. Along the way you will pass through Yangan, a pretty town with historic buildings.


Next along the way is Killarney, the so-called ‘scenic gem’ of the Southern Downs. Killarney is surrounded by hills, views and waterfalls, and the colours of the rolling countryside are painted with thick, luscious afternoon sun.


Once you’ve stopped for a drink at Killarney’s pretty pub, you can follow the signs to the Falls Drive. This takes you through verdant valleys, then up steep escarpments with grazing cattle, to Queen Mary Falls. Along the way you pass Brown’s Falls, which you can see if you are prepared for a short but wild bush walk. Just up the road is the Dagg’s Falls lookout, which provides an awesome view of the valleys below.


Queen Mary Falls is the star attraction, however. In fact, this destination is so popular that a caravan park is located across the road. A beautiful park precedes the paths to the falls, where you can picnic, barbecue and rest. The caravan park hosts a café and souvenir shop. The coffee there tasted fantastic, especially after hiking through torrential rain to see the falls. The things I do for you people...


The falls are circumnavigated by a single path, which you can choose to approach from either direction. The ‘normal’ route is to follow the path to the right, which takes you over the river and out onto a viewing platform high atop the gorge. This offers a spectacular view over the falls’ 40m drop into the rainforest gully below. The walk then takes you to the base of the falls and back up the escarpment. It is pretty steep, so the less mobile may want to think twice.


A word of caution: from this point onwards, the road is blocked to heavy vehicles and caravans. Otherwise, further down the road is Carr’s Lookout, which provides magnificent views of the Condamine Gorge. This is also where the Condamine River starts, before it eventually joins the Murray-Darling. You’ll no doubt want to stop at the renowned Spring Creek Mountain Café too.


Keep going 2km further down the road and you can visit the Moss Gardens, where all the trees are covered in moss and lichen, and buried within is part of the 100-year old rabbit-proof fence. Sadly, this walk is likely too difficult for the mobility impaired.


On your way into or out of Warwick, there is another tourist route you can take, but this one isn’t marked on the map. From the Bruxner Highway, which passes through Casino in NSW, head north on Clarence Way. This road passes through gorgeous farmland with mountains framing the picture in the distance. Some of those mountains belong to Toonumbar National Park, and you’ll have to climb up and over a couple. The car will have to work a little harder, but it is absolutely worth it for the views. If you don’t fancy chewing through this road in one sitting, the town of Bonalbo has a caravan park and a breathtaking setting.


At Urbenville you turn westward along Kangaroo Creek Rd. Along this stretch you can see beautiful escarpments ringing the horizon. Eventually you’ll come to pass through Beaury State Forest, with yet more stunning vistas, especially looking westward over the valleys and farms. You then turn left onto Mount Lindesay Rd and follow the signs to Killarney. I’m afraid this section of road is just more of the same – beautiful countryside, rolling hills, gullies and valleys, escarpments and hills. Yes, it’s a terrible bore.


Another word of caution: we managed to rattle the fridge door off on this trek, so some sections of road aren’t what you’d describe as buttery-smooth; they’re more like peanut-buttery-smooth, the extra crunchy kind. Having said that, someone did forget to lock the fridge door... Don’t let this put you off, however. It’s simply stunning touring.


So, be sure to come and explore the Darling Downs, which offers some spectacular scenery, especially if your normal route hugs the coastline. With Warwick being so close to Brisbane, it’s almost rude if you don’t visit!




Travelling north or south, take the New England Hwy.
From the east or west, take the Cunningham Hwy.




Kahler’s Oasis. 98 Wallace Street (New England Hwy), Warwick, 4370.
Ph: (07) 4661 2874.
E: [email protected].


Queen Mary Falls.
Ph: (07) 4664 7151.
E: [email protected].




Warwick Visitor Information Centre
49 Albion Street, Warwick, Queensland 4370
Ph: (07) 4661 3122




Drive to Killarney, then follow the signs to the Falls Drive.


Walk along the riverside and see Tiddalik. Corner of Canning and Victoria St.


Grab a map from the Tourist Information Centre and learn about Warwick’s impressive buildings.


Grab maps from the Tourist Information Centre and go on some spectacular scenic drives.




Visit some historical buildings.
Ph: (07) 4661 3234.
Entry $6 adults, $4 concession.


Open 9.00am to 4.00pm Monday to Friday,
10.00am to 3:00pm Saturday or by appointment, or Sunday by appointment.
Adults $10, Concession $7.50.
4 Alice Street Warwick, QLD 4370
Ph: (07) 4661 8183.
E: [email protected].


Bistro open lunch and dinner seven days.
65 Albion St, Warwick, QLD 4370.
Ph: (07) 4661 1229.


Coffee and views.
Spring Creek Rd, Killarney QLD 4373
E: [email protected].
Ph: (07) 4664 7101.

By Sean Cummins

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