A mountain paradise just a few hours from Brisbane
JUST a few hours from Brisbane, the Granite Belt offers a unique world poised among starkly different regions. Aptly named for its rugged, boulder-strewn terrain, the region has much to offer.
When entering the Granite Belt from surrounding areas, visitors can notice a remarkable change in landscape. From each direction, the surrounding areas give way as granite begins to peek from beneath the earth. It's not the outback; it's far from it. But it's still a distant world from the lush, albeit hot and humid, rainforests of nearby regions.
It might seem a hard-shelled land by nature, as vegetation grapples for a stronghold between granite boulders, but there's lots to love. In winter, the cold climes can be a shock to those travelling from just about anywhere else in Queensland, but they're also a big drawcard.
Often, this means frost. On the rare occasion, there's also the chance of sleet or snow.
In summer, hot days melt into cool nights - a great appeal for coast-dwellers hoping to escape the humidity.
The wineries are plentiful, beautiful, and produce a pretty impressive drop. In this region, those interested in delving into the world of alternative wine would be in luck. For a tasting or two, there a plenty of options. There are wine tasting tours aplenty, but with vineyards spread across a wide region, it's important to plan your transport and remain safe on the roads. If the viticulturalists' creations have worn you out, the region is teeming with other opportunities.
At the heart of the Granite Belt is Stanthorpe, a town steeped in history. At 811m above sea level, it's known as the coldest town in Queensland.
Stanthorpe and its many surrounding villages have experienced many evolutions of identity over the years. Stanthorpe was founded by tin miners in the late 1800s.
When mining waned in the region, many turned to farming. With a bunch of Italian settlers and a cool, dry climate to boot, grapes - and wine - found their way into the region.
Later on, much of the region was staked out for soldier settlers after the First World War, and their journey of settlement can be explored with the Armistice Way, a 34km tourist drive through the villages including Thulimbah, Pozieres and Amiens.
In modern times, the Granite Belt has cemented its place as a tourist hub, with vineyards, fruit orchards and other farming operations still strong. While a road trip for local apples and stone fruit is a coup for visitors, many travel to the region for an extended stay each picking season.
The region's fruit production is a labour-hungry business, and overseas workers flow into the region each year, particularly over the summer months. This transient workforce has also left its mark, with Asian grocers and backpacker accommodation vendors dotting the region. In the summer, cool evening walks along Stanthorpe's Quart Pot Creek are a treat.
Often, the air might be laced with garlic aromas, another telltale sign of the Italian branch of Stanthorpe's history.
While many of the region's treasures have been created by its human inhabitants, from the High St museum to the Red Bridge over Quart Pot Creek - still used on occasion by a steam train - and the Lock St soldiers' memorial, some of the greatest wonders of the Granite Belt are much older.
Girraween National Park's many meandering tracks are dappled with endemic plant species. In spring, wildflowers bring the park to life, and there are many you won't see anywhere else in the country.
For adventurous souls, the national park's Pyramids Walk is a decent, but manageable trek. It ends with a steep ascent, with the great reward of breathtaking views from the top.
This journey will take you past precariously perched granite boulders. There's plenty of wildlife to spot along the way, and a few spots for a swim in the summer.
Across the border in nearby Bald Rock National Park lay more adventures for those keen for an extra drive.
If the hiking has left your legs exhausted, you can stop by Storm King Dam, 10 minutes south-east of Stanthorpe, for a spot of fishing.