How to spend a long weekend at the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers
Winter might be knockin’ on our doors, but there’s nothing like the promise of sunshine and pretty blooms to get you through the cooling temps.
Cue the award-winning Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, a massive 10-day fiesta running from 15 to 24 September 2017, celebrating the much-anticipated burst of colour that paints the city when spring kicks in.
But don’t let the name fool you, because it ain’t just about the beautiful flowers – cue delicious local food and wine, show rides and live music from some of the country’s top performers.
If you don’t have 10 days up to your sleeve, we suggest making it a long weekend during the first three days of the carnival when most of the action is going down!
Flower, Food and Wine Festival
Kick off the weekend celebrations at the Ergon Energy Flower, Food and Wine Festival, running only for the first three days (Friday to Sunday) from 10am-10pm.
Daily and three-day passes are available for purchase, with entry costs including all live cooking and gardening demonstrations, DIY workshops, beer and wine appreciation sessions, exhibitions and live music. And don’t think the kids are forgotten either, with their very own play space full of workshops and activities.
Now this place is a foodie’s heaven, with all the best local produce of Southern Queensland Country sitting side-by-side: seafood, cheese, mezze platters, organic doughnuts, slow-cooked BBQ pork, award-winning tipple… you know the saying “your eyes are bigger than your belly”? Well, this festival puts that well and truly to the test.
When the sun goes down, a killer line-up of performers take to the stage for the Heritage Bank Live Concert Series, this year treating us to the likes of The Paper Kites, Hot Potato Band and Daryl Braithwaite.
Heads up: You’ll most likely be wrapping up each day here, so make sure you get there early to grab a good seat (or table).
The Grand Central Floral Parade
The Grand Central Floral Parade takes place on the first Saturday of the carnival, and again, you’ll want to arrive early to secure a prime spot, as thousands of people flock to watch the floral floats, colourful street performers, stilt walkers, carnival characters and live bands make their way through the Toowoomba CBD to Queens Park.
But being a spectator isn’t just what this is about, and one of the highlights is being able to get involved yourself when, at the tail-end of the parade, free chalk is handed out so that you too can leave your mark on the city.
No carnival would be complete without the thrill and excitement of adrenaline-pumping rides, show bags, sideshow games and carnival food (fairy floss and dagwood dogs we’re looking at you).
Sideshow Alley in Lower Queens Park is a kids (and big kids) technicolour whirlwind, topped off with firework displays lighting up the sky each night. Like the Flower, Food and Wine Festival, it only runs for the first three days of the carnival.
We’re talking everything from belly dancers and opera singers to tai chi and community yoga sessions, not to mention a diverse menu of music on offer from jazz and blues to folk and rock’n’roll. Bring a picnic blanket and set yourself up for a day’s leisure.
(Psst, for a twist on the garden experience, come after dark for a twilight tour of Laurel Bank Park. For just five bucks, this one-hour nocturnal tour will shine the light on the darker side of the plant life and the night-time scenes of the park.)
Best Parks and Gardens
Being a carnival of flowers, it would be a crime if you didn’t actually stop (from all the eating and wine drinking) to smell the roses.
While visiting Queens Park, Laurel Bank and Picnic Point, make sure you take your time wandering the amazing displays of floral colour (Laurel Bank also features the Scented Gardens, which was specially designed for the visually impaired, and Queens Park has its own botanic gardens section).
But if you think that’s impressive, wait ’til you see the Chronicle Garden Competition entries. These dedicated home gardeners, business owners and schools spend most of winter preparing their gardens to delight the senses of excited visitors. With between 40-70 entries each year, we suggest picking up a copy of the competition garden guide from the local Visitor Information Centre and mapping out your must-see gardens.
Ride the steam train to Spring Bluff
If you feel like venturing out of the CBD, ditch the car for a scenic train ride to Spring Bluff on a two-hour morning or afternoon trip.
Running only during carnival time, you can catch the steam train from Toowoomba’s Railway Station for a scenic 35-minute journey to Spring Bluff Historic Railway Station. Here, you can explore the beautiful gardens and station, which began construction in 1864, before grabbing a bite to eat at the cafe and heading back to Toowoomba.
For more information about costs and booking call Queensland Rail on 1300 732 087 or book online. Alternatively, you can buy tickets in person at the Toowoomba Travel Centre located at the railway station.
– Accommodation usually books out fast! If you haven’t been lucky enough to secure a room in Toowoomba, try the surrounding areas of Withcott, Highfields, Helidon, Crows Nest and Pittsworth. All are within a 10-35-minute drive of Toowoomba. The Toowoomba Visitor Information Centre also keeps a list of accommodation with vacancies, so if you’re not having any luck, give them a call.
– Wear comfortable shoes. Depending on what you try to fit into a day, you may do a lot of walking.
– If you’re planning to drive and park near the Floral Parade route, keep in mind that some streets in the CBD are closed early on the Saturday morning to allow the floats and parade participants to line up.
– The parade ends at Queens Park, which means the people who are sitting at the end of the route will be waiting for approximately half an hour after the dedicated start time before seeing the first of the floats. If you don’t want to wait this long, sit near the start and then make your way to Queens Park for Sideshow Alley before the rest of the crowds converge there.