Time Travelling in Toowoomba
Southern Queensland, with kids
With Toowoomba voted as Suncorp’s fourth most family-friendly city in Australia for two years running - ahead of Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne – it’s really no surprise it proves to be a destination that’s simply made for kids.
We don’t even make it off the tarmac of the city’s brand new Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport before the kids are champing at the bit to burn off a little post flight energy at its colourful open-air playground: a kid-friendly bonus that one wouldn’t normally expect to find in a regional airstrip. But this state-of-the-art airport is anything but ordinary.
Once a two-hour drive from Brisbane Airport, Wellcamp has opened up Toowoomba and its raft of festivals – including the colourful Spring Carnival of Flowers
and Easterfest - and family friendly fun to visitors from all over the country, and indeed the world.
Our first stop is for a little R&R and some fresh country air at sprawling Ravensbourne Escape. Overlooking the spectacular Ravensbourne National Park, the spacious cottages are perched on the eastern escarpment of the Great Dividing Range just 45-minutes from Toowoomba.
The perfect place for a bit of well-earned family time, there is plenty of space for the kids to run about and wear themselves out. While the cottage’s wrap around balcony provides perfect vistas and a soundtrack of birdsong from which to enjoy a glass of wine as the sun sets. Ravensbourne is also an ideal location from which to explore quaint country towns like nearby Crows Nest, as well as some great kid-friendly national park walking trails. We venture down one to the gorgeous Crows Nest Falls and its lookout over a deep gorge known locally as the Valley of Diamonds.
Back in town, the playgrounds alone are enough to convince my two to consider a permanent relocation! With an excess of state-of-the-art contraptions to climb, bounce, play, slide and swing on, the kids could happily spend our entire holiday testing out each one. A favourite, the Picnic Point Lookout and Parklands sits proudly on top of the Great Dividing Range, and boasts three amazing playgrounds - including the kooky Magical Witch's Forest playground complete with turrets, quirky cats, climbing walls, and a huge flying fox. We are equally smitten with the Picnic Point café, where we enjoy an incredible lunch and an intriguing wattle and violet ice cream sundae while soaking in the panoramic views over Main Range and Lockyer Valley.
Sprawling through the city centre, picturesque Queens Park is another top spot for the kids with loads of space and playgrounds aplenty. Perhaps the most spectacular and peaceful of Toowoomba’s parks is the University of Southern Queensland's traditionally designed Japanese Garden, Ju Raku En - complete with its resident ducks, red bridges and waterfall.
From the immaculately preserved 19th century buildings in and around Russell Street to the ultra-modern street art installations and achingly hip stores like Neo-Tokyo which is devoted to anime and pop-culture, a wander around Toowoomba’s CBD feels a little like time-travel. In the spirit of stepping back in time, we’re staying at Russell Street’s heritage-listed Vacy Hall. Liberally filled with curios, it’s one of Australia’s great historic hotels and proves to be a real-life Tardis.
Unlike our previous accommodation, Vacy Hall is less about running around and more about soaking up the atmosphere. A place so magnificent it elicits whispered “whoahs” from both the kids as our host welcomes us inside the 116 year-old guesthouse. While the kids are made feel very welcome, they are instructed to keep their voices low, and asked to avoid running and jumping on the stunning parquet floors and sweeping wraparound verandas. They’re also pointed in the direction of the home’s acres of garden, complete with swing set, where they’re told they can run happily amok!
Speaking of food, Toowoomba is also home to a thriving, and delicious, foodie culture. With some of the best local produce in Australia on their doorstep, specialty cafes, delis and amazing restaurants are emerging across the City. We eat our way through bowls of seafood bouillabaisse and juicy steaks at The Spotted Cow; platters of barbecued deliciousness from Sketches at Ravensbourne Escapes; and Angus mignons, delectable dips and a whole-baked Brie at the very cool, family-friendly local, Fitzy’s on Margaret.
But, the standout is The Chocolate Cottage in Highfields, because ... chocolate! An utterly charming cafe boasting bright décor in a restored 19th century schoolhouse, it’s the perfect spot for a meal with the kids. And the food? Oh my! A spinach and fetta hotcake tower with cherry tomato salsa and a crispy bacon skewer sets our hearts racing! But it is the smoked salmon on toasted brioche with scrambled eggs, hollandaise and a preserved lemon gremolatathat is worthy of sonnets! Then there are those house-made chocolates. 60 different varieties in fact... we may have to stay until lunch to taste them all!
After our short break in Toowoomba, our family is completely smitten by what is a friendly, multicultural destination that has retained its country town friendliness and charm while “growing up” into a dynamic city full of young people, great food, and many happy families. Including this one.
When she’s not treading on Lego and being forced to watch Frozen on loop, Aleney de Winter is a travel, food and parenting writer. She shares tales of travelling and eating along with the hilarious antics of her globetrotting six-year old foodie son and daredevil three-year old daughter on her blog, Boy Eats World