Way out in the Western Downs, there are numerous free things to do to pass your time, but there’s also a lot of space between those places. Emphasis on “a lot”. With towns and attractions so few and far between, it’ll make you wonder whether a trip in the Southern Queensland Country is worth the ass-numbingly long drive it takes to get you there. The answer is yes.
While there’s not so much to do that you’re overwhelmed, as can be the case with towns closer to the coast, heading westward between the ocean and the outback is a more relaxed way of adventuring. And it’s not all farmland either. It’s filled with forest drives, peaceful lagoons, and intriguing histories. All of which makes a road trip out to the Western Downs much more inviting than it appears at face value.
Get Your Melon In A Photo With A Giant Melon
The Big Melon, Chinchilla
C’mon, you know you want to take photos with the “Big Things”. It’s touristy, it’s cheesy, but it’s iconically Australian, and it’s a must-do when you’re in a town with one of them.
In Chinchilla, that “Big Thing” is the Big Melon, a massive slice of delicious-looking watermelon that pays homage to the towns iconic Melon Festival, a wildly fun bi-annual event themed around the delicious, red, oval-shaped fruit.
It’s only a new addition to the list of Australia’s “Big Things”, with it only been around since late 2018. But driving along the Warrego Highway/A2/Chinchilla Street through town, you can’t miss the giant, sumptuous slice of fruity paradise. After that, it’s irresistible to not take a photo with it.
Picnic In A Beautiful Parkland
Chinchilla Botanical Parklands
Once you have pulled a few silly faces and lots of ridiculous poses in front of the Big Melon, take a saunter over to the Chinchilla Botanical Parklands behind it.
These new beautifully created parklands have lots of different areas and plenty of space to spread out in, so you can easily find peace and serenity all to yourself. There’s also a watermelon themed park for the kids to go nuts in too.
Even if you’re not there to fill the belly or to tire the kiddos out, a walk through the Botanical Parklands is a great way to chill out, move at a slower pace, get a book read in, or just stretch the legs.
Get Lost In A Rainforest
It’s also home to the largest concentration of natural Bunya Pine in the world. While these unique trees that resemble fishbones are plentiful here and a sight to see, it’s the other natural attractions that will draw you in time and time again.
The mountain range has numerous walks for the casual walker but also caters to hikers who like a long, hard slog. Natural lookouts and waterfalls are in plentiful supply around here, and so are the animals.
Pademelons are a bit more elusive, but a trip to the mountaintop township, Dandabah will have you surrounded by wallabies who look like they’ve taken over the joint. Fluffiness abounds!
If that’s not enough to draw you in, Bunya Mountains National Park is also listed as a Dark Sky Area, meaning if you catch a clear night, stargazing is at its most magnificent.
There are so many reasons this national park is a must-visit destination. It’s a special place, and no matter what you do here, they’ll become cherished memories.
Click the links belowif you’d like to read about my trip to Bunya Mountains Camping Trip:
Be There Stargazing
It’s not just Bunya Mountains National Park that’s Dark Sky Country. It’s the whole damn region too! With the towns so few and far between, there’s not a whole heap of light pollution dotting out the stars.
With so many places to park under the starlit sky out here, it’s easy to find a quiet spot to yourself where you can gaze up at the universe and ponder existential questions about it and all its infinite mysteries because nighttime out here is a revelation. Cue Florence And The Machines, “Stand By Me“.
Go Camping… For Free(dom)!
Sitting under a starry sky on a clear, moonless night is a beautiful experience in and of itself. But camping under the light of a trillion stars is even better. Better yet, if that campsite is picturesque and serene. But the Western Downs one-ups it and makes it free to do so too!
There are numerous incredible free camping grounds scattered across the Darling Downs sub-region where you can pitch a tent and watch the twinkling stars of the ever-expanding universe. No fences, no cramped preplanned spots, no fees, no premium surcharges for prime places, and virtually no chance of seeing wildlife.
Places such as the Chinchilla Weir have the added benefit of being right next to a stunning, serene waterway which opens up a whole host of other activities, such as swimming, kayaking, photography and bird watching.
It’s things like that that make pitching up a tent in the middle of nowhere and sitting by a blazing fire even more magical than just looking up at the beautiful night sky.
And it’s all completely free. Free!
Each of the major towns throughout the Western Downs has a lake, weir or a lagoon nearby. Dalby’s got Lake Broadwater, Tara Lagoon sits in Tara, Chinaman’s Lagoon lies in Miles, Waterloo Plains Environmental Park in Wandoan and Chinchilla features the Chinchilla Weir and Old Man Lagoon. Towns have got to have that water supply. And where there’s water, there’s the beautiful birdlife.
It’s makes for serene viewing for the casual birdwatcher and a delightful addition to a picnic by the waterway (provided they don’t poop on you or in your food). But for the more enthusiastic avian watchers out there, they are fantastic places to observe the local winged wildlife. All are great options, particularly Lake Broadwater, which has a dedicated bird hide you can stow away in and Lake Caliguel where millions of cockatoos hang out.
Take To The Waters
Despite taking up a fair chunk of real estate, the Western Downs is pretty devoid of human-powered, land-based nature activities, aside from the aforementioned Bunya Mountains National Park. Water-based activities, on the other hand, are plentiful. That is, providing you take some crafts along with you to the waterways.
Kayaking is a great way to quietly enjoy the beautiful, serene waters of Lake Caliguel, Lake Broadwater and the Chinchilla Weir, as is a stand-up paddleboard. And if there’s some wind passing through, kite surfing is a fun way to experience some thrills across those calm water bodies.
Even if you don’t have a watercraft to explore the waterways with, you can always have a refreshing wild swim in one of the lakes and lagoons by the town.
Tara has a great place to swing into the waters, with Tara Lagoon being right in town.
There’s also at the Chinchilla Weir, Lake Caliguel and Lake Broadwater that you can take a dip into as well.
Stroll Through A Park With Historic Buildings.
Richard Best Memorial Park, Warra
Almost every town out there has a museum, painting a picture of what life used to be like there. Some of them are paid affairs, while some are free behind fences and opening times. Richard Best Park is a little different from all those places.
Situated in the tiny township of Warra, halfway between Dalby and Chinchilla, Richard Best Park has an array of beautifully restored buildings and odds and ends, including a historic railway station, a school building and tractors and other such throwbacks. It’s pretty light on the information side of things, but if you’re not looking to delve deep into why it was integral to the town, a walk through the small park is still an intriguing one and a great way to stretch the legs.
As a bonus, there’s the old Warra Hotel across the street standing there as if it’s an extension of the Memorial Park and the war memorial building across the street.
Making it an even more inviting place, it’s also a rest stop for travellers to “lay their weary heads to rest, don’t you sleep drive no more.” Seriously, sleep-driving is not good. It’ll only cost you a donation, and you won’t die. Stay here in this lovely little throwback memorial park that’ll give you the vibes of yesteryear.
View A Gateway To The Past
Athlone Cottage, Jandowae
Another free to roam, no fence, no nonsense museum you can roam lies in Jandowae. Athlone Cottage is a beautifully restored lovingly kept historical museum that takes you back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Unlike many of the museums that towns usually have, Athlone Cottage feels more authentic.
Historic items are placed where they would have been when they were used and not behind all behind glass cabinets which adds to the feeling you’ve just stepped back in time. Complementing the grand old buildings is a vibrant floral garden which makes a visit here all the more delightful.
The Western Downs is part of the Darling Downs region. Click here to see what the Darling Downs has to offer.
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