On the main ridge of the Great Dividing Range, Toowoomba is about 130 kilometres west of Brisbane in Queensland.
You’ll often hear Toowoomba called The Garden City, and with good reason.
The mild year-round climate and fertile volcanic soils create an extravaganza of colour and fragrance every spring.
And to celebrate, the ten-day Carnival of Flowers combines horticulture, music and great food and drink.
Toowoomba gives you a big dose of chlorophyll in any season, with a mosaic of neatly tended parks growing native and exotic deciduous trees that do well in the city’s unique conditions.
Being in the Great Dividing Range there’s striking mountain scenery in all directions, and lots of lookouts from which to take it all in.
1. Picnic Point Lookout and Parkland
Hoisted up in the Great Dividing Range at an elevation of 700 metres there’s a tremendous vantage point right of the range’s escarpment and foothills.
The lookout is in a 65-hectare park atop a prominent cliff, frequented by Toowoomba’s residents since the 1880s.
Picnic Point is on the Queensland Heritage Register and grants you an exhilarating view of the bush-clad slopes of the Main Range and its deep gorges.
You couldn’t pick a better place for a picnic or barbecue, and there are playgrounds for wee ones and a choice of walks to savour panoramas of the Lockyer Valley and the volcani Table Top Mountain through the trees.
After adventuring through the bush you can hike up to the cafe for a tall glass of something cold.
2. Japanese Garden
Top of the list of Toowoomba’s horticultural treasures is this Japanese garden planted on the north side of the University of Southern Queensland campus in the 1980s.
The Japanese name is Ju Raku En, which translated approximately means “to enjoy peace and longevity in a public place”. It was all designed according to traditional Japanese principles by Professor Kinsaku Nakane of Kyoto, and represents a Buddhist paradise, with a celestial sea bathing the shores of three islands, said to be home to the immortals.
There are more than 230 species of Australian and Japanese trees growing here and three kilometres of paths on which to admire them.
These will also convey you past a mountain stream and waterfall, a dry garden and an exquisite azalea hill.
3. Queens Park and Botanic Gardens
Beginning life in the 1870s, the fabulous Queens Park and its Botanic Gardens were more than a century in the making, and have held onto plenty of features and plantings from the late-1800s.
Lots of specimen trees survive from this time, among them an English oak, swamp cypress, Bunya pines, a Himalayan pine and Chinese elm to name a small handful.
The genteel camphor laurel avenue that crosses the park from north to south is also historic.
While Queens Park has a loose, free-ranging style, the Botanic Gardens are neat and formal, with precise flowerbeds, avenues and hedges.
Naturally Queens Park and Botanic Gardens are one of the main anchors for the Carnival of Flowers, and during this time stage the three-day Heritage Bank Festival of Food & Wine.
4. Cobb+Co Museum
Australia’s National Carriage Collection is on show at this museum that started life as long ago as the 1960s.
The basis for what is now the Cobb+Co Museum was the collection of one W.R.F. Bolton, who devoted more than 30 years to purchasing and restoring historic carriages and their accessories.
There are now 47 antique horse-drawn carriages in the collection, giving you an insight into the development of transport in Queensland.
For kids there’s the Coach Stop play area, where they can saddle up on a replica horse, dress up in old-time uniforms and get behind the counter at a historic general store.
Cobb’s Coffee Shop is also a necessary stop, baking ace muffins and scones, and preparing tasty light meals.
5. Laurel Bank Park
This charming 4.5-hectare park was landscaped in the 1930s on the west side of Toowoomba’s CBD.
This space is a joy all year, with its mature exotic trees, picnic area, playground, topiaries, gazebo, Scented Garden and perfect croquet greens.
But Laurel Bank Park really comes into its own in spring when the cherry trees burst into flower and there’s a riot of colour and scents in the marvellous formal flowerbeds.
This all peaks with Toowoomba’s Carnival of Flowers in September.
As for the Scented Garden, this is a “garden within a garden” and is designed with shrubs, herbs and blooms in raised beds using ideas offered by the Downs Association of the Blind.
6. Spring Bluff Railway Station
When it was laid down in the 1860s the Main Line Railway between Brisbane and Toowoomba was the first narrow gauge main line in the world.
Not long before the line reached Toowoomba it passed through the Main Range, which posed a serious engineering challenge and needed sharp gradients, 47 bridges, nine tunnels, dozens of curves, culverts and embankments on 18 miles of track.
Spring Bluff Railway Station is in the midst of the Main Range and was built to give the trains a place to stop on that tough climb to Toowoomba.
The station closed in 1992, but remains a treasured visitor destination for its sense of peace, quaint old buildings, manicured flowerbeds and beautiful nature.
The grounds are free to enter and there’s a spacious green picnic area with a gazebo and children’s playground.
7. Highfields Pioneer Village
Minutes away in Highfields there’s an outdoor museum with more than 60 historic buildings that have been saved from demolition, moved to this site and restored.
These houses, shops and multiuse buildings are an exciting document of Australian history, mostly from the Darling Downs region and filled with historic appliances, tools and machinery.
Within the Pioneer Village you can visit sub-attractions like the Ambulance Museum, Fire Brigade Museum and Queensland Energy Museum, all with apparatus, uniforms and memorabilia dating back well over a century.
Younger children will be thrilled with Myrtle May, the 10¼-in gauge miniature railway, and Henry the Model T Ford bus, both of which run on the last Sundays of the month.
8. Peacehaven Botanic Park
Also in Highfields is a dreamy botanical garden on a plot of land donated in the 2000s by local dairy farmer, Stan Kuhl.
He travelled all over the world, and wanted to add elements from the many famous gardens that he visited in the hope of promoting world peace.
In just over five hectares, Peacehaven Botanic Park is rich with native flora, and a great place to just sit back and take in the Bunya Mountains, far off to the northwest and Gowrie junction directly to the west.
Youngsters have plenty to get up to, at an archaeological dig with a replica dinosaur skeleton and a great nature-themed playground.
9. DownsSteam Tourist Railway & Museum
This not-for-profit volunteer-run attraction in the Toowoomba suburb of Drayton is located at a former railway sidings.
The initial goal of DownsSteam was to preserve and restore the last surviving steam locomotive built at the Toowoomba Foundry Company, the C16-106 Southern Cross Works No.
28m dating to around 1914. Known as the Pride of Toowoomba, this locomotive takes its place alongside other engines and rolling stock, including a diesel locomotive, a Gatsby Flyer rail motor and various coaches.
The aim is to set up a working heritage line, but for now you can check out this historic rolling stock and step inside the DAV 1131 “Memory Coach”, at Drayton Railway Station.
This is filled with railway artefacts and memorabilia like archive photographs, signs, operating manuals, crockery and cutlery, firing shovels, builders’ plates and much more.
Also compelling is the kaleidoscopic Dreamtime Journey Coach, painted by an indigenous inmate at the Westbrook Correctional Centre as a tribute to the aboriginal workers who built the railway through the Main Range.
10. Empire Theatre
Both a culture and entertainment linchpin, and an elegant landmark for Toowoomba, the Empire Theatre has a history that goes back to 1911. The first building burnt down in the early 1930s and was reborn in a beguiling Art Deco style.
Much later, in the 1990s this monument was restored and can now hold audiences of more than 1,500, and is praised as one of Australia’s great performing arts venues.
On the menu is drama, classical music, live comedy, touring music artists, magic, lots of entertainment for children , workshops and film screenings.
In the 2000s the complex was expanded to include the neighbouring neo-Gothic church, built in 1877 and now a stage for cabarets, lectures, workshops, trade shows and special events.
11. Lake Annand Park
In Toowoomba’s assortment of sublime urban parks is this calming space along the East Creek southeast of the city centre.
Lake Annand is a big draw for waterfowl, which you can feed (birdseed not bread!) from a little boardwalk and a lovely humpback bridge.
On the banks are well-tended lawns, shrubs and tall trees with lots of shade.
Families could pass a carefree afternoon with a picnic or barbecue, while commuters use the bikeway that threads through Lake Annand Park, East Creek Park and Queens Park, on the way to the CBD.
12. Table Top Mountain
If you’re feeling fresh and are experienced enough to handle unmaintained trails then you may be ready to take on Table Top Mountain.
It’s not hard to understand the appeal of this ancient volcanic cone, which has almost vertiginous slopes climbing to just under 600 metres above sea level (158m prominence). The lower slopes are in eucalypt forest, but the summit is bare, carpeted in native grasses like kangaroo grass.
From the top you can survey the Main Range to the south, the Lockyer Valley to the east and Prince Henry Heights rising to the north.
Table Top Mountain is on the Aboriginal Register, and if you’d rather enjoy the scenery from afar, there’s a variety of lookouts with super vistas in the area, like the Katoomba Point Lookout (Prince Henry Drive) and the Bob Dodds Lookout (Tobruk Memorial Drive).
13. Ravensbourne National Park
Further out, you can discover the remnants of the wet eucalypt forest that once covered a big swathe of the Great Dividing Range.
Trails carry you under lofty trees, through palm trees and next to murmuring streams.
There’s also a wealth of birdlife in this environment, and more than 80 different species have been recorded.
Take the Cedar Block Circuit and you can find out about the Jarowair and Jagera Aboriginal people who would pass through this land en route to bunya nut festivals up in the Bunya Mountains to the northwest.
Be sure to pay a visit to the Gus Beutel Lookout for magnificent panoramas encompassing the Scenic Rim and Lockyer Valley.
14. Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers
People from all over Australia descend upon Toowoomba to celebrate the arrival of spring at this ten-day event every September.
The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is not just an eruption of spring colour, adding great food and performances by world-renowned music acts into the mix across more than 60 events and experiences.
Most of the city’s parks get in on the action, but Queens Park and Laurel Bank Park in particular are the soul of the party.
If you have to pick one spectacle to represent the whole carnival it’s the Grand Central Floral Parade, in which beautiful flower-embroidered floats pass through the CBD to Queens Park, accompanied by street performers and carnival characters.
Afterwards these floats go on show at the Godsall St Oval, and you can purchase the blooms that decorated them.
15. Toowoomba Farmers’ Market
This market takes place every Saturday from 07:00 to noon under the windmills on the Cobb+Co Museum grounds.
Straight from the producer you can buy seasonal fruit and vegetables, ethical meat, locally-roasted coffee, flowers, jams, sauces, cheese, smoothie mixes, handmade gifts and lots of options if you’re peckish and haven’t picked up breakfast or lunch.
And because you’re buying from the farmer or maker you can find out more about provenance and how to get the most out of their produce.
There’s live music most weeks, and if you have children in tow there will be activities and entertainment.