Dappling the western flanks of the Great Dividing Range about 210km southwest of Brisbane, the Granite Belt region features rolling hillsides lined with vine rows and orchards (apples, pears, plums, peaches) that thrive in the cool, crisp air here (Stanthorpe, the regional hub, sits at an altitude of 915m).
Stanthorpe & Ballandean
Queensland’s coolest town (literally), Stanthorpe (population 4300) is one of the state's lesser-known tourist hotspots. With a distinct four-season climate, the town is a winter retreat where normally sweltering Queenslanders can cosy up in front of an open fire with a bottle of vino rosso from one of the 50-plus local wineries.
Squatting on the edge of the Great Dividing Range, 700m above sea level, Toowoomba is a sprawling country hub with wide tree-lined streets, stately homes and down-to-earth locals. There's not a whole lot going on here from the travellers' perspective (in fact, when we asked a local friend 'What should we do when we get to Toowoomba?', his reply was 'Leave.
North Stradbroke Island
An easy 30-minute ferry chug from the Brisbane suburb of Cleveland, this unpretentious holiday isle is like Noosa and Byron Bay rolled into one. There’s a string of glorious powdery white beaches, great surf and some quality places to stay and eat (catering to Brisbane's naughty-weekend-away set).
The clear waters of Moreton Bay stretch 125km from Caloundra to the Gold Coast and are sprinkled with some 365 islands – one for every day of the year. The bay is separated from the Pacific Ocean by four sand islands: Moreton Island and Bribie Island to the north, and North and South Stradbroke Islands towards the south.
If you’re not going further north in Queensland than Brisbane but want a slice of tropical paradise, slip over to blissful Moreton Island. You’ll be reassured to learn that Moreton's cache of sandy shores, bushland, bird life, dunes and glorious lagoons are protected – 95% of the isle comprises Moreton Island National Park & Recreation Area.
Manly & St Helena Island
Just a few kilometres south of the mouth of the Brisbane River, seaside Manly has a busy marina that makes a good base for trips out onto Moreton Bay. Bunched-up at the base of a hillside, the town itself is an affluent, self-contained delight, with plenty of places to eat (seafood rules) and sunny seaside lawns along the Esplanade.
The Redcliffe Peninsula talks up its historical credentials. Site of Queensland’s first European settlement (1824), the peninsula juts into Moreton Bay about 35km north of Brisbane. There's not a whole lot of 'ye olde' stuff to see here, however, with the local focus squarely on maintaining a relaxed pace of life.
Jondaryan Woolshed Complex
Fresh from a $2 million refurbishment, the huge Jondaryan Woolshed Complex showcases the rich pastoral traditions of Queensland. Built in 1859, it’s the state’s oldest operating woolshed and offers a fascinating glimpse back in time. It’s located 45km northwest of Toowoomba on the Warrego Hwy.