Ian first heard of Stanthorpe from his friend and ex-work colleague, Nigel, from Brisbane. Ian was introducing Nigel to Hunter Valley wine, and Nigel said that Queensland produces good wine at Stanthorpe, which is also renown for being the coldest place in Queensland. Stanthorpe lies adjacent to the New England Highway just north of the New South Wales-Queensland border. Despite this, and us having driven to the Sunshine Coast via the New England Highway and Toowoomba a few years ago, we have never stopped at Stanthorpe to sample the wines. We were about to rectify that omission.
Stanthorpe’s chilly reputation is due to it lying at about 1000 m above sea level. When we arrived at the Information Centre early on Saturday afternoon, the Big Thermometer adjacent to Quartz Pot Creek showed 14.6 degrees. The people in the Information Centre were some of the most helpful we have encountered—reminds us of Information Centres in Broome and Rockhampton. We came out with lots of information about Stanthorpe and the region known as the Granite Belt, including lists of dog friendly attractions.
We checked into the Top of the Town Tourist Park, selected our flat, powered site with a clean, concrete slab, then had our lunch of pork pies and fruit. For our afternoon activity, we drove to the Granite Belt Brewery, which is also a resort and a restaurant. Well behaved dogs are allowed on the deck behind the restaurant, so that is where we headed. Ian tried a tasting paddle of four beers—the pale ale was OK, the IPA was a bit strange, but the pilsener and Irish red ale were quite good. Ian was keen to try the porter, which is appropriate for such a cool day, and then buy some cans to take away. However, another group of people arrived at the bar a few seconds before him. When it looked like they were going to fully occupy the single bar person’s attention forever, we left empty handed apart from a drink coaster. If we were to come back, it would be interesting to try the restaurant and a few more of the beer offerings.
It was too late by this stage to do any wine tasting, so we headed back to our caravan park. We booked a table at the Aussie Beef Steakhouse, which was walking distance across the road from our caravan park. As usual, we gave Dexter his dinner and settled him on the bed in Matilda, then walked over for dinner.
Our young waiter at the restaurant had no idea. We asked if the fish of the day was local, or at least coming from Queensland or northern NSW water. She had to ask someone in the kitchen, and came back saying that the fish of the day was Orange Roughy, which is the most unsustainable fish you can eat. We passed on the fish, but she said that the oysters were definitely local because they came from Tenterfield, which is on the New England Highway just over the border in NSW. Ian tactfully explained that was unlikely, as Tenterfield is about 200 km inland. Ian had a “pale ale” from another local brewery called Brass Monkey, but it was rubbish as it had no hops. However, the Heritage Estate Rabbit Fence Red wine was quite interesting, and not bad at all. Ian ended up with a medium rare steak, as it was supposed to be a steak restaurant, and he is pleased to report that it was very good—juicy, tender and tasty. All up, a mixed night, and a bit more expensive than we would expect from a restaurant that clearly skimps on training its staff or buying local seafood.
We woke to a crisp, clear Sunday morning. We had a simple breakfast of toast, then drove to the Stanthorpe Dairy for some serious cheese tasting. They are well set up for cheese tasting, and get very busy. The cheese is made on the premises from local milk. We were allowed to take Dexter onto the verandah where we had morning tea. Ian had a lovely milkshake, while Katie enjoyed a coffee. We bought up big with a variety of cheese.
Our next stop was Heritage Estate Wines, from where our red came from the previous evening. There are two cellar doors, but we stopped at the first one we came to, across the road from Vincenzo’s and the Big Apple. Ian did a full tasting, and found that all the wines were good. The Granite Belt wineries appear to promote a wide range of wines that are not generally grown in the more familiar wine regions. They call these Strange Birds. To be called a Strange Bird, a wine variety must represent no more than 1% of the total bearing vines in Australia. They did not have any of the Rabbit Fence Red available for sale, but Ian bought a mixed half dozen bottles, including a nice tawny port and a 2018 Wild Ferment Marsanne (one of the Strange Birds) that is expected to age beautifully over the next 5 years.
As it was coming up to lunch time, we parked at the Suttons Juice Factory in the hope of getting some food, trying some apple cider, and enjoying some apple pie for which this place is renown. Unfortunately, the place was packed with people with similar plans, and there were very few wait staff. After using the facilities, Ian worked out that it would be dinner time before we were able to get any attention, so for the second time in two days we left an establishment empty handed due to its inability to cope with customers.
We drove south, past the centre of Stanthorpe, and came across the Jam Works. This has a fenced verandah where you can sit with a dog. We had a haloumi burger (Ian) and a beef burger (Katie) with chips for what had become a somewhat late lunch, and we felt quite satisfied. Surprised at the lack of local brews, Ian tried an Old Man Pale Ale from Victoria, which wasn’t bad (at least you could taste hops). This place had a well organised system to cope with a huge influx of tourists wanting lunch—service was fast, and the people were helpful. Ian wonders why some places struggle to service their customers? He is also perplexed why tourist oriented places like this do not co-operate with other local businesses and sell some local drinks rather than going to all the hassle of importing from interstate?
Back at the Top of the Town, all three of us had an afternoon snooze on the bed. We were still full after our substantial lunch, so we knocked off some cheese and biscuit leftovers in lieu of dinner. We watched TV, and for the first time on the trip had some of the hot drinking chocolate that we had taken away.
The temperature dropped to 10 degrees on early Monday morning, so the heater went on again. We had cereal for breakfast, and then left the caravan park a little after 9:00 am. We filled up with fuel, and then bought some lunch material from Stanthorpe’s Aldi supermarket.
We headed south down the New England Highway towards home, but we decided to have one last night away—in Tamworth, NSW.