A Cool Change In Southern Queensland Country

Killarney is the perfect spot to escape summer's heat as Hannah Statham discovers.

It's 37 degrees in Brisbane and 100 per cent humidity. The only thing I can liken it to is swimming in a bowl of soup, so I've hatched an escape plan. I'm hitting the road to discover Killarney, a quaint country village a smidge over two hours south-west of the city. 

A quick search online and I'm delighted to find a cool change of weather 1000 kilometres above sea level where you can light the pot belly, sleep with a doona and wear a jumper all year round. Simple country town this is not – I've quickly discovered a bustling food scene with a passionate paddock to plate philosophy that would rival the best restaurants in its big city counterparts.

My journey to greener, and cooler, pastures begins with a two hour drive to the Killarney via Boonah in the Scenic Rim.

Although it's the weekend, I'm one of the only cars on the road and it's an easy drive even for a novice country driver like myself, who's used to riding the clutch between city blocks.

There seems to be a correlation between kilometres and cows in this part of Queensland, so you'll know you are close when you've encountered more cows than odometer ticks.

Hungry and ready for lunch, I pull into Karoomba Lavender Farm & Vineyard, a restaurant, cellar door and gift shop at Mt Alford about 65 minutes from Brisbane.

Overlooking rolling hills, vineyards and lavender bushes I find myself eating my way through a menu that puts the surrounding paddock on the plate. The beef short ribs with romesco potatoes with a broad bean, parsley and lemon salad is the stuff dreams are made of.

Lavender, not surprisingly, also seamlessly weaves its way into menu items and their lavender ice-cream is hands down the best dessert I've had all year.   

Completely stuffed from a three-course lunch, I'm pleased to work off my food coma with a steep and winding one hour drive up to Spring Creek Mountain Cottages & Cafe.

The property is the realisation of owner Bev Ruskey's dream to build a place to eat, stay and share her uninterrupted views of the Condamine Gorge, Wilson's Peak and Border Ranges with the rest of the world. 

There are three cottages to choose from and each one comes with a wood fire, kitchenette (not that you'll want to cook), floor to ceiling windows and a balcony to soak up the postcard views.

Perched 1000 kilometres above sea level, there's absolutely no internet or phone reception and I'm forced to sever my screen dependence. Immediately it's something I'm not that upset about. After a few hours of tech-free rest and relaxation I realise I've worked up a mean appetite for dinner.

Having heard only great things about Bev's cooking, I was eager to dive head first into the menu and taste test produce sourced from Killarney and the Darling Downs.

The obvious starting point was Bev's fabled beef and shiraz pie – a pie so loved by locals that she isn't allowed take it off the menu.

It's pie-fection with its creamy gravy, slow-cooked, melt in your mouth Killarney beef and buttery pastry. Washed down with a few glasses of the Symphony Hill Tempranillo (from the Granite Belt), I know I'll sleep soundly tonight.

The next morning I join the other early risers for an easy hike around Queen Mary Falls, which is just a 10 minute drive away.

It only takes me about 30 minutes and two kilometres to wind my way from the top of the cliffs down to creek level, but there are longer walks for more serious hikers. 

Back at home base, the smell of freshly baked carbs and brewed coffee wafting in the air tempts me down to the restaurant. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day – I would be happy to eat here for the rest of my life.

It starts with fresh fruit compote, followed by freshly baked croissants with homemade jams (fig, apricot and strawberry) and a hot breakfast selection.

The coffee is good, but the baked herb ricotta with oven roasted tomatoes and bacon is even better.

With my hike-induced hunger pangs satiated and having heard so much about the dramatic landscape in this part of town, I'm eager to put some dirt under my wheels and Louise Brosnan from Cambanoora Co is the girl to help me do it.

From bumping around on 4WD tracks in the Condamine Gorge to the head of the Condamine River (part of the Murray Darling system) to hand picking potatoes with local farmer Mal Smith, Louise has packaged up the best of her Forest and Farm tour for me today.

I've visited the Lord of the Rings Elm forest in New Zealand and the Muir Woods in San Francisco so when she told me about the 1500 year-old Rosewood Trees on Mal's farm I was giddy with excitement to see these leafy legends.

Standing in their imposing presence I couldn't help thinking this has to be one of the best kept secrets in the country…that and to watch out for passing Hobbits. 

Louise and Mal swapped stories of Killarney's timber history, where bullocks drove timber up and down the gorge and men scaled trees using springboards armed with only an axe to take down nature's high rises. It made me feel lucky to have a desk job and promptly reminded me to load my bar up next time I do Body Pump at the gym.

We finish guided tour digging up some of Mal's famous Sebago spuds and he wastes no time telling me how to cook them.

You have to trust a third generation potato farmer – so I waste no time in asking Bev to roast them for dinner.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and I'm naturally apprehensive about returning to the sweltering, summer conditions back in Brisbane.

Word Count: 997
Author: Hannah Statham

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