The Retirees Escape Covid – Stanthorpe Day 3 and going home

After a night of board games and a sound sleep, I was a bit slower out of bed. It is the coldest day of this winter and there is even speculation that there will be snow – not a common occurrence in Queensland. We rustle up breakfast and toss ideas around about the points of interest to visit today. Into the mix comes discussion about the very scented bath and hand foam provided by the Cottages management. It is a local product made by Washpool and it has an outlet in Ballandean. We visited Rod’s Dad’s grave yesterday and it was clean and no maintenance required but we continued to notice every dam was full to overflowing so we thought we would visit Storm King Dam which had not ever been full and even was declared empty during the recent drought leaving Stanthorpe dependant on trucks to deliver potable water to town. A variety of cellar doors were discussed as was the various routes. Finally, the picnic to empty the fridge of all the food we had brought along. So we hit the road. First stop Storm King Dam.

We continued south to Symphony Wines cellar door. There we had our first tasting of the morning (it must be after 4.00pm some where in the world). This vineyard claims that it has had 3 of its wines served by Qantas in its business class and first-class cabins so it must be alright. Whilst the others chatted and sipped and sniffed, I took a tour around the exterior but as I returned, I noticed a group coming from the cellar with water bottles filled with wine. Very strange but when I enquired I was informed that they were samples prepared by the Symphony Wines winemaker using grapes from another vineyard. It appears it is not uncommon for smaller vineyards to contract the winemaker of the larger vineyards to make their wines. Overall good quality and we will be sampling more through our membership of their club.

After Symphony we took to the road and travelled further south to Ballandean. Remember that soap discussed over breakfast well we found their “cellar door”. Wow the moment we went through the door we were assailed by a storm of fragrances. Not really my cup of tea but the girls found it alluring purchasing a cornucopia of rubs scrubs and shampoos. As we left the wind rose and there was a wetness in the air – not snow possibly sleet definitely sprinkling rain. The temperature must have been in the low single digits, but the wind dropped it further. Our picnic looked doomed to be back at the cottage.

Rod was of two minds about visiting the Puglisi family at their family vineyard “Ballandean Wines” but in the end he thought it polite to call in. Lucky for us he did. We were all greeted like long lost family and allowed to use their members room for our picnic. We were recommended to drink their new season Rose which we did and were delighted with. As the afternoon rolled on and the wind howled so the wine continued to flow in the form of a tasting this and that leaving us with a desire to join their club also. By the time the tasting was winding up I needed some fresh air and a comfort break.

We left the cellar door and made our way back to the cottage. The wind was chilling and the thought of a roaring fire and a glass of wine relaxing before that fire was too enticing. We stayed in for the evening occupying ourselves with more cards and board games. Some where through the evening we finished of more of the acquired food and went to bed with very happy bellies. We are going home tomorrow but there is no hurry to leave this oasis. We discuss what we might do on Stanthorpe’s coldest day whilst travelling home – where else but the Xmas shop. So after a hearty breakfast and packing the car – we were supposed to being taking home less not more so the packing took longer than planned.

As we travelled north-east to Brisbane, we kept a lookout for the Xmas shop. Just before Applethorpe we cross the rail lines and then we head into what appears to be bush but Google maps assures us it is just around the corner when voila there is the gate to acres of pine trees all the perfect house size trees and in the middle a pen of deer and the Xmas shop. What a surprise here in the wilderness is a depot for the most discerning Xmas trinket shopper. Most important they serve hot Belgian chocolate. We leave behind a bit more cash – helping the local economy before farewelling Xmas to December where it belongs.

The travel home is uneventful. We collect our car and by late afternoon we are settled into our slippers in front of the telly. All in all, I was surprised what was on offer in Stanthorpe. I will be doing it again shortly.

The Retirees Escape Covid – Stanthorpe Day 2

I had attempted to view the night sky before retiring to my dreams and was thwarted by clouds blown across a dark sky. Morning came quietly with a cold breeze and more clouds. Even so I was keen to get out and start our break by finding the track into Stanthorpe so camera in hand and dressed for a chilly morning I left our cottage and surprised a mob of wallabies contentedly grazing on the lawns around the cottages. The female was carrying a joey who wisely remained tucked up in the pouch.

Beyond the mob was the original house and a grand old house it is. There were 4 other cottages, but no one was moving about save the wallabies and the wood ducks. Even the Tawny Frogmouth remained tucked up in bed. After moving around the house joey decided to check out the visitors and popped his head out and looked around. I found the track to the bridge and along the way I meet the chooks who thought I was coming with their morning feed. Stanthorpe is famous for its granite outcrops. Even though the temperature was in single digits, the freshness of the morning and softness of the sun playing on the bush and rocks, was a fabulous vista to start the day.

I followed the track to the bridge and crossed over. Last night our neighbour had told us that it was a wet ride across the creek and now I could see the reason why. Recent rain had filled ponds along the bank and the track to Stanthorpe was impassable. The neighbours house “the Lodge” was high up on the bank above me but the crossing was wet and muddy. So, I turned around and returned to the cottage. This is what I saw walking there and back.

After breakfast we started our exploration. I wanted to visit the “soldier settlements” granted to WW1 soldiers to start again after the horror of the battlefields of France. Many of the villages were named after those battlefields. The programme continued for WW2 veterans, but mostly they were not successful farmers and not much remains of these settlements. On the way we passed Castle Glen cellar door. Built to appear to be a castle it is tired and tacky and we did not stay long.

Besides we were close to Stanthorpe Cheese. A repurposed shed the cheese factory makes a range of soft and hard cheeses and has tasting room. In addition, they have a range of country product from chutneys to jams. The tasting ranged over 8 different cheeses accompanied by pastes and chutneys. We came away with a bag full for the cold nights with a glass of wine. Five stars of taste.

We had read about Donnelly’s Castle as being a must do. It is off the beaten track but certainly lived up to the reports. it’s not actually a ‘castle’.  This quiet spot is a wonderland of giant granite boulders and walking amongst the boulders you can explore into cave-like entrances and narrow crevices.

Donnelly’s Castle is famously the site used by bushranger ‘Captain Thunderbolt’ as his hideout. Thunderbolt was the longest roaming bushranger in Australian history and it’s no surprise he managed to elude authorities here, because as you wander over, under and through the network of boulders, you feel you’re hidden away from the world!  There’s also an exciting lookout sited on the top of one of the granite outcrops. Be careful returning down that boulder as the potential to slip and fall is very real.

From Donnelly’s castle you drive across Amiens Rd to Pozieres – the name of the town in the midst of an infamous battle of WW1. The only thing to tell you this was once a village is the telephone box outside the closed post office and the cold stores. From there we followed Amiens Rd pass Messines into Amiens where we found the Amiens Legacy Centre and township maps. This fabulous memorial tells the story of soldier settlements and the villages, the visit by the Prince of Wales in 1922 and the restored carriage now converted to the museum. It is humbling to see the conditions for returned service men and their families to start a new life. There is also the story of the tin miners who established Stanthorpe. Returning towards Stanthorpe we came to the remnants of Amiens and the memorial to the servicemen from the area who served and did not return plus the story of the soldier settlements.


We then returned to Bapaume but we could not find any evidence of the village. We then went on to Robert Channon Wines cellar door. Robert is famous as the man with the name which Moet & Chandon thought a threat and demanded he stop using his name. The nearly 20 acres of vineyards at Robert Channon Wines produce approximately 50 to 60 tonnes of grapes each year.  The relatively small size of the vineyard and tonnage is typical of the boutique size of the dozens of wineries across Granite Belt Wine Country. The grapes they grow are Verdelho, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay and red varieties are: Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. We left the vineyard weighed down with more wine.


It’s been a long day so we head home stopping off at Mt Marlay for an all over view of the town. Then we arrive at the cottage, start the fire, get out the nibbles cards and wine. The wind has risen and the temperature drops but not to worry we are warm and cosy in side the cottage.

The Retirees Escape from Covid – Stanthorpe

It’s a bright Friday morning. We meet up with Rod and Kerry Hayes for our annual wine weekend, but all is different – its not May and its not somewhere exotic. Typically, we travel to a new wine district within Australia or overseas but this year we are limited to wine districts within Queensland. Typically, it is May because Queensland has a May long weekend whilst the rest of Australia is still at work. Covid and government health regulations make it different, so we are travelling in July to Stanthorpe on the New England Highway near the New South Wales border 223 kilometres (139 mi) from Brisbane via Warwick, and 811 m above sea level 3 hours away by car.

Rod spent part of his early life in Stanthorpe, and it was home for his mother and father until his death. For Rod there was the important task of checking on his father’s grave for any repair and tidying up.

The land within the boundaries of Stanthorpe is primarily used for urban purposes: housing, recreational, commercial and industrial with some undeveloped land on the hillier slopes. Crops grown in the surrounding area include vegetables, apples, grapes and stone fruit. Wine is also produced in the area, and sheep and cattle grazing is also prevalent. Mount Marlay is to the north-east of the town and rises to 918 metres (3,012 ft).

Prior to white settlement, The Kambuwal were the first settlers with their territory stretching from the western scarp of the Great Dividing Range and their eastern flank ended around Stanthorpe. Stanthorpe was founded by tin miners. People came from many countries to mine tin from 1872. Prior to 1872 the area was known as ‘Quart Pot Creek’ but from then for a time, the area was the largest alluvial tin mining and mineral field in Queensland. A more suitable name was sought by the town fathers. Stanthorpe literally means ‘tintown’, as Stannum is Latin for ‘tin’ and thorpe is Middle English for ‘village’.

When the tin prices fell, many miners turned to farming. The subtropical highland climate was suitable for growing cool climate fruits and vegetables. Grapes were first planted here in the 1860s with encouragement from the local Catholic parish priest to produce altar wine. The railway reached Stanthorpe in May 1881.

Following the First World War, Stanthorpe was a major resettlement area for soldiers recovering from mustard gas exposure. Many of these Soldier Settlers took up the land leased to them in the areas around Stanthorpe which now bear the names of First World War battlefields.

Stanthorpe is also famous for its granite outcrops which abound and present headaches for large agricultural concerns.  Its also famous as the coldest place in Queensland. So we are headed for Diamondvale – weekend accommodation for the grey nomads of south east Queensland.

Travelling by car you must cross the cattle grid which bounces the passengers awake. Our first stop is at Heritage Wines cellar door set amongst its grape vines in the village of Cottonvale just past the cattle grid. The cellar door is attached to the machinery to make the wine in a barn style building. Inside is a large fireplace in the centre of the dining space and people in festive garb are nosily celebrating Xmas in July. Opposite the fireplace and the diners is the wine tasting bar but with the event in the dining room tastings move onto the enclosed verandah. Sun streams in and the glass keeps the chill winds out. The verandah is very busy with visitors but it is very pleasant to look across the vineyard tasting the bounty of the fruit. We can see a table setting under a tree with the empty glasses abandoned no doubt because of the wind. The bottle brush is in full flower as is the wattle.

Heritage wines Cellar door, Wattle, The “tastings” bar, The vineyard and the table

After topping up our wine stocks we left Heritage Wines travelling along the old Stanthorpe road into the township and out to Diamondvale Cottages. Our cottage boasted two bedrooms with ensuite, kitchen dining and lounge, air-conditioning and timber stove. Quart Pot Creek meanders past the cottages which are also home to a mob of Wallabies, wood ducks and Tawny Frogmouth.

We checked out our surrounds and met the mob. There is a slab hut setup as the catering hut for outdoor functions overlooking Quart Pot Creek. Our cottage has a small porch off each bedroom. The bush was starting to settle for the evening and the temperature dropping.

Our wine weekends also incorporate our card evenings. So after settling in, starting the fire, and preparing the smorgasbord of things to pick at whilst polaying cards, the cards are shuffled and we are in for the evening as the wind outside howls and the temperature plumets. Tomorrow will be Queensland’s coldest day for 2021.

All tap and showering water is provided from rain water tanks and Stanthorpe was going through a rainy period after a very concerning period of drought when the Storm King dam was so low Stanthorpe was transporting water to the township. So, when the tap water turned brown and spluttered out of the taps, we suspected the tank had run dry. Our host was travelling to the Sunshine Coast some 4 hours away, so she arranged a neighbour to visit and troubleshoot the problem. He concurred with our view the tank was dry, so he diverted the water from the main tank, so we were saved.

During this chilling interlude (the back door was open to that howling wind) we learned from the neighbour that there is a bridge across the creek leading to a path following the creek down into Stanthorpe township. I decided to check it out tomorrow. After cards we stoked up the fire and retired to bed. Looking forward to a big day tomorrow.