My top 5 things to do while you're in Toowoomba

Think Toowoomba's not the most exciting place to visit for a conference? Think again! Over the next few months, we're going to share with you some of the things we love about Toowoomba, to help you with planning your trip.

My early memories of Toowoomba are of a loveable, sleepy country town. But, the “Garden City” has long outgrown this image, boasting a revamped and relaxed CBD, craft beer houses, music, art, modern dining and the hub of a region that has so much to explore and enjoy.  If you have 1 or 2 days after the conference, consider exploring the National Parks, historic farms and eateries in the Darling Downs… It’s so difficult to choose but my 5 top things to do while you are in the Toowoomba region are:

1. Eateries and Bars

Melbourne-esq style eateries

Toowoomba city has followed in the footsteps of Melbourne and is embracing the trend of laneway eateries. Locals start their work day in the city with a caffeine hit, or two, from Ground Up Espresso Bar. This little laneway café is all about perfectly brewed coffee, amazing baked treats, a trendy outdoor setting and friendly staff. It’s also a perfect starting place for a lazy weekend spent wandering through the streets of the city discovering the magical wall murals hidden throughout the streets (mentioned in Carmel’s post). When your legs need a rest, and you need a treat, stop in at Hello Harry for a gourmet burger (and some chips, and a shake!) and wash it down with an ice-cream made using liquid nitrogen at Nitrogenie. The ice-cream menu changes weekly so you never know what to expect – except that the ice-cream is always perfectly smooth and creamy.

If you’re looking for a bite to eat that is a little bit healthier, I like to frequent Full of Life Organics for a fresh juice and a salad packed full of the latest super foods. This café is a quiet place to relax with a shaded outdoor seating area, perfectly located in the CBD for a spot of ‘people watching’.

A short distance from the CBD, but still in easy walking distance is Railway Street - aptly named as it runs beside the railway line. It offers numerous café choices – Ortem, Engine Room café, Homegrown Health and Inbound Brasserie. I tend to gravitate towards Ortem for its delicious fresh foods. Its menu is an ever-changing choice of edgy takes on classic dishes. This place is seriously cool, and loved by Toowoomba locals.

International cuisine

Personally, when travelling I like to try something a little braver. Kajoku Korean & Japanese Cuisine hits the spot every time with its diverse menu. If you have never been to a Korean restaurant this is a great place to expand your culinary horizons. The wait staff are very polite and helpful and will happily show you how to barbecue the meat on your table. If cooking your own meat isn’t your thing (you have to do that enough at home!), I recommend trying the yakisoba or the hot stone mixed rice. Of course, if you decide to enjoy some sake, then you might want to try out their karaoke room after your meal.

Another favourite haunt of mine is Sofra. This is Turkish cuisine at its best and offers a very charming experience with an intimate atmosphere. Sofra is as much about the lively entertainment and over-the-top decoration as it is about the diverse menu and wine list.

Good ol’ country pubs

Toowoomba’s great food doesn’t stop in the city. The country areas around the city are filled with pubs offering deliciously filling, old-school meals. Take a drive past Highfields checking out the rural scenery and stop at Meringandan Hotel for lunch and a cool beer. This pub has a 41/2 star rating on Trip Advisor and deserves each of these stars for the huge homemade meals and friendly staff. Or there’s the Farmer’s Arms at Cabarlah - famed as the longest continually-licensed pub in Queensland (since 1863 the sign out front proclaims!).

Another pub offering a great meal, with a side of fascinating history is Rudd’s Pub, which was built in 1893 and originally known as the Davenporter Hotel. The name change recognises Steel Rudd– famous for the “Dad & Dave” stories.  The pub lets you “eat in a museum” – photographs and memorabilia covering the walls and ceilings telling stories of days gone by. The hardest task is deciding what to eat. With over 50 mouth-watering items on Mabel’s Kitchen menu it’s hard to pick: Dads Mighty Mixed Grill; Dave's Terrific T-Bone; Reef and Beef... and the list goes on.

Bars

A chilled night out in Toowoomba starts at Muller Bros rooftop bar in the Toowoomba CBD. This bar is the epitome of trendy with cocktails, nibble platters and live music all part of its appeal. I mean what could be better than buffalo wings, dips and cheeses with unlimited cocktails/wines/beers?! Muller Bros also offers a Brazilian BBQ restaurant (all you can eat).

2. Boyce Gardens

Toowoomba has many fantastic picnic spots. One of my family’s favourites are the Boyce Gardens – a heritage listed garden established between the 1930-1950s. We often visit the many areas of the gardens– the rainforest, the pine forest, marvelling at the roses, native orchids, proteas, ericas… before spreading the picnic rug under the 150 year old strangler fig.

3. Heritage Homes

No visit to Toowoomba is complete without seeing some of the stately homes that grace the city. These are some of my favourites but why not visit them all and decide for yourself?

My all-time favourite is Ascot House – one of the largest and most elaborate of all the grand Toowoomba residences. Built around the 1870s, Ascot was a single story timber residence set on 32 acres. The grounds now cover just 2 acres but the house also has a tearoom and museum.

The Grange has over 120 years of timeless elegance, so no wonder this home is a favourite for many. The traditional early colonial design includes wide verandahs, pressed metal ceilings, VJ walls, cedar doors and fireplaces.

Bishop's House was designed by the architect Henry Marks. Henry was well known for his inventions– see his pot-bellied ventilation flues and chimney shafts, windows and a walling system in this 1911 residence.

If you love old buildings then the Toowoomba Railway Station is not to be missed. Built in 1874, it was the centre of trade in Toowoomba for many years, welcoming many governors and royalty. Now the station is home to the Inbound Brasserie.

There are so many other majestic buildings to see while you are in town: the Empire Theatre, City Hall, Vacy Hall, St Luke’s Church… the list keeps going!

Toowoomba Railway Station, Qld - 1908 courtesy Aussie~mobs

4. The Bunya Mountains National Park

Need time to unwind away from the distraction of mobile devices? Then consider a picturesque 90 minute drive to the Bunya Mountains. The breathtaking views, native wildlife, and brilliantly coloured parrots make the Bunya Mountains an ideal destination for locals and tourists alike. Be dwarfed by towering bunya pines, stretching 25 metres high and listen to trickling waterfalls. I like nothing better than hiking one of the many walking tracks before relaxing at the Poppies Café with pancakes and bunya nut ice cream. Make sure you have time on your leisurely drive home to visit the historic Jondaryan Woolshed.

Interior of wool shed, Jondaryan, 2 November 1894 courtesy Queensland State Archives

5. Jondaryan Woolshed

The Woolshed lets you step back in time to the pioneering days of the 1850s. Take a self-guided tour through the historic woolshed and the original buildings in the museum grounds, watch the Machinery demonstrations and even pat the Clydesdale horses. The 90 metre shearing shed built in 1859 used 5000 sheets of the newly developed corrugated, galvanised iron and was boasted as ‘the finest in the colony’. A visit to the Woolshed is never complete though, without enjoying traditional damper and treacle, or perhaps the Ploughman’s Lunch. Why not immerse yourself in the rural experience by staying the night in one of the cabins – Wyona Cottage, Wainui Cottage or even a room in the Authentic Shearer’s Quarters?

As you can see you will need to stay a while to enjoy all Toowoomba and the Darling Downs has to offer…

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My top five reasons to love Toowoomba

ASCILITE 2017 is coming to my home town, and I couldn’t be more excited. I grew up on the Darling Downs, did my high-schooling in Toowoomba, but never actually lived “in town” until three years ago, when I moved back home with my young family. I moved for the free babysitting really, but I stay for a whole lot more than that. My top five reasons to love Toowoomba - both as a place to live and a place to visit (say, for a conference) are...

1. The foggy mountain top

Toowoomba is perched on the top of the Great Dividing Range. This means you can watch the temperature drop as you drive up that steep, steep highway from Brisbane. It also means that early mornings can be foggy at any time of the year. There is nothing more romantic than waking up to fog rolling past the window, or seeing fog settled on a lake on your morning walk. Sure, it can make driving home on a foggy night a bit of an adventure, but I still love it every time the fog rolls in.

2. The laneways in the CBD

Toowoomba does this really, really well. It’s a gracious old country town, which has always been the hub for a very large agricultural area. As a consequence there are dozens of laneways in the city precinct. These are now adorned with fabulous public art, and populated by great quality cafes, small bars and restaurants. There are more than 80 urban artworks in a 2km radius, and more being added at this year’s First Coat festival (May 19-21). Some of my favourites are

The Walton Stores

3. The parks

Toowoomba is known as the Garden City for a reason. It has red volcanic soil that gardeners just love, and you can see the results everywhere you look. My favourite parks are

  • Ju Raku En Japanese Gardens at USQ. They are the largest and most traditionally designed Japanese Gardens in the southern hemisphere. My kids love to explore the “Remote Singing Valley”.
  • Laurel Bank Park is a favourite at Carnival of Flowers time, when the garden beds are designed to flower exactly on time, and planted to reflect a theme last year’s was a tribute to Disney musical theatre. All year round, we love the wisteria lined arches, the hedges clipped into a variety of shapes (a train you can sit in! A hungry caterpillar! A giant spider!), the lawns, the playground, and the scented garden designed by the Association for the Blind.
  • Picnic Point is the perfect balance of lawns and playgrounds and picnic areas, merging into bushwalking trails that encourage you to explore the hundreds of acres of escarpment bushland on Toowoomba’s doorstep.
  • Really, there are so many… Webb Park perched on the side of the mountain with a really long and fast slippery slide built into the slope, Queens Park on the main street into town, where festivals happen, and where practically all visitors stop on their way through town, Newtown Park, with its State Rose Garden and lovely old rotunda, Lake Annand which is connected by walking paths meandering through parks that line East Creek for kilometres… You’ll have to come and stay a while to see them all for yourself.
Picnic Point

4. The weather

Toowoomba is practically always cooler than Brisbane - usually by 5 degrees or so, and it rarely gets humid. We also have proper seasons. It gets cold in winter, and is glorious in both autumn and spring. Our summer has just the right balance of hot days (but not too hot) and nights that cool down and give you respite.

5. The Downs

I grew up on the Darling Downs, and I love driving out of Toowoomba through the farmland. There are so many great country drives out of Toowoomba in every direction, and the Darling Downs is a simply beautiful rural setting.

But don’t just take my word for it!

  • The Urban List describes Toowoomba as “the place to be” for fresh produce, fresh air, and a refreshing art scene.
  • Gardening Australia featured the Japanese Gardens in episode 5 this year - catch it on iView.
  • The Global Goddess calls Toowoomba a great city to get lost in, and a mini-Melbourne.
  • And on that mini-Melbourne note, check out the great street art around town that came out of the First Coast Festival.