A weekend away to the Granite Belt and Girraween National Park will make you wonder if you’re in Queensland for three reasons:
1. The climate: Did you know you could get snow in Queensland?! With towns at more than 1,000m in altitude, it can get a lot colder in the Granite Belt than in the rest of the state, especially at night.
2. The hikes: Forget the rainforest, the waterfalls, and the coast. It’s all about Granite!
3. The wines: Queensland wines aren’t the best in the country, but this may not apply to Queensland’s premier wine district!
Weekend itinerary from Brisbane to the Granite Belt
We left Brisbane on Friday night to have two full days down on the Granite Belt. Our program:
- Day 1: Hiking, wineries and farm stay
- Day 2: Apple Orchard, Wineries/Distillery and drive back to Brisbane via the Falls Drive.
Hiking in the Granite Belt: Girraween National Park
Let me start with an important warning: if it’s raining, be extremely cautious. The granite gets very slippery, and most hikes will become hazardous. Girraween National Park is best explored on a dry day.
The hike up to the top of the Pyramid is the best you can do in the Park, but also the hardest if you don’t like steep tracks.
The start is lovely, as you cross the river and view funny granite rocks like the Granite Arch (30-minute return). But at the end, it gets very steep to reach the top of the Pyramid (1.5-hour return). I found it looked a lot harder than it was. But those who are scared of heights will find it challenging – especially on the way down.
The other option for nice views is to go up to Castle Rock (1.5-hour return). It’s easier as it’s less steep and the view at the top is as rewarding as the Pyramid. But the track leading to the top is not as diversified as the Pyramid.
For those less experienced in hiking, the Underground Creek is a great option too. The track is straightforward (1-hour return) and even a bit boring to be honest until you reach an impressive granite block. Then, it’s time to have fun exploring all around. You can make a loop to go to the top of the granite and see the river before it falls under the rocks.
We didn’t try to fit in the Turtle and the Sphynx, as we wanted to spend time at the winery and go back to the farm not too late.
You can download a map of Girraween National Park here to view all the different hikes.
If you want to hike the next day, try Bald Rock National Park, on the other side of the New South Wales/Queensland border (30-minute drive from Girraween). You can see Australia’s largest granite rock during the Summit hike (1.5-hour walking time).
For a change of style, Sundown National Park isn’t too far (1-hour drive from Girraween). I haven’t been to that one yet.
Wineries in the Granite Belt
There are family-owned wineries a bit everywhere in the region. With a high altitude, a cooler climate, and rich volcanic soils, it’s the best place in Queensland to grow grapes. We found some good wines, but also tasted very different levels of quality.
Ballandean Estate is the oldest of the region, and also the closest winery from Girraween National Park (only 15-minute drive) where you can have lunch between two hikes. They offer delicious local food in their Barrelroom Restaurant. They work with local farmers, and most of the ingredients they use are coming only minutes away from the restaurant. Alternatively, you can also buy their picnic basket for two to enjoy it in the vineyard (24-hour notice required).
Golden Grove Estate, another big winery in the region, is next door.
The next day on the way back to Brisbane, you have the opportunity to visit more wineries a bit more north. You may want to try the reputed red wine at Boireann Winery.
The Summit Estate Wines offers a different wine tasting experience. Usually, we just stay at the counter and try the wines, with a short introduction and the opportunity to ask questions. This time, we all sat around the table with other customers. The session was done with an educative approach, and everyone had the opportunity to have a go at describing the aromas and flavours each wine inspired them.
Castle Glen is maybe the most surprising winery you’ll ever see. Well, because it’s not only a winery. They also produce all kind of liquors in their distillery. They built a fake old castle in the middle of the vineyard. Inside, it looks like a shop full of potions of all kinds. They’re all made on-site.
The Visitor Guide is available online to help you plan the wineries you’d like to visit.
We fit the winery visits in our hiking program. But if you’re not a hiking fan, you may want to focus only on the wine region.
You can, of course, drive from one winery to another. But I thought I should mention two original ways of exploring the wineries in the Granite Belt to consider for a different experience:
- Once a month, you can hop on a beautiful steam train in Warwick to join a mystery winery tour
- For active wine lovers, you can cycle on country roads and stop at wineries on the way (see cycling trail map here). If you don’t have a bike, you can hire one here.
Sutton’s Juice Factory: Juice tasting in Apple Orchards
Unfortunately, we visited the orchards a couple of weeks too late to see the beautiful blossoms. They seem to flourish early Spring. The Granite Belt region is known for its fruit farms.
Although I found the products a bit overpriced, we enjoyed being able to taste all the different kinds of apple juice (which was a better option than wines in the morning) made on-site. It was an opportunity for me to learn about the making as well, although I wished we could see more of the “behind the scenes” than just the final products in the cafe.
We also tried their ciders, and for once they weren’t too sweet to my taste – which is quite rare in Australia!
They are also reputed for their apple pie. Once slice will easily feed two people. My main disappointment came from the way it was served. I was happy to read their note about using eco-friendly tableware… but the tasting was in a plastic glass, the pie was served in a non-reusable cardboard box, the ice-cream came in a plastic cup, and we were given non-reusable plastic straws and paper napkins. They still have a lot of work to do to improve the sustainability of their cafe, and the note felt like greenwashing to me.
The Falls Drive
Instead of going straight back to Brisbane, we took a detour via the Falls Drive. It takes one hour to drive there from Applethorpe.
The easy hike at the Queen Mary Falls offers stunning views of the falls from the top and the bottom.
The drive back to Brisbane from there takes two hours via a lovely scenic road most of the way.
If you plan to do the Falls Drive, you may be interested in reading my full article about it.
When to visit the Granite Belt?
The Granite Belt is great all year round. I visited it in Autumn and Spring and found it lovely. I will be back to see it during the other seasons!
- In Summer, you’ll escape the heat and view the lovely sunflower fields
- In Autumn, you’ll get the lovely warm colours that don’t happen enough in the rest of tropical Queensland
- In Winter, you’ll get the real cold experience like nowhere else in Queensland… and even the snow if you’re lucky!
- In Spring, the blossoms are lovely, and it’s the best time for hiking… Girraween is an aboriginal word for “The Place of Flowers”: many very small native plants will seduce those passionated by local flora.
Have you visited the Granite Belt region? What did you do there? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where to stay on the Granite Belt?
For the budget travellers and camping lovers, there are two campsites in Girraween National Park, Bald Rock Creek and Castle Rock, which you can book online.
I haven’t tried it, but there is an Environmental Lodge in Girraween National Park*. There was no information available on their website about their environmental efforts, but it looks like a great option for those after a great combo of comfort + nature.
If you’re looking for a memorable experience: consider staying at this Australian farm. I highly recommend it to all animal lovers.
Map of this weekend itinerary in the Granite Belt
It takes approximately 3 hours to drive down to the Granite Belt from Brisbane. It’s mostly a very scenic and enjoyable drive.
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