The sunset from the 31 The Rocks property in Stanthorpe.
The sunset from the 31 The Rocks property in Stanthorpe. Liana Turner

Embrace the chill in state's coldest town

The mercury dips below zero, but it's easy to forget when you're pedalling through beautiful countryside.

As a chilly morning melts into a crystal-clear autumn day on Queensland's Granite Belt, the conditions are prime for touring the region around Stanthorpe by bicycle.

We meet Jon Hendry and Vanessa Boulton at Rotary Park, soaking up the idyllic autumnal scene of Quart Pot Creek.

In much of eastern Australia, the seasons tend to blend into one another; there's no clear definition save for the inescapable mugginess of many a summer night and the slightly less warm winters.

But in Stanthorpe, it's like another world entirely, the trees ablaze with colour in the lead-up to their winter dormancy.

 

Autumn colours in Stanthorpe, Queensland.
Autumn colours in Stanthorpe, Queensland. Liana Turner

Residents have long been proud of the town's rep as the coldest in the state, and this sparked efforts to build a giant thermometer that's under construction near the volunteer-run Visitor Information Centre.

When completed, it's set to be an operational station collecting weather data for the Bureau of Meteorology, helping to keep Stanthorpe's frozen winter temperatures on the record.

In autumn, visitors can enjoy moderately cold but beautiful low-humidity conditions.

It's no wonder Jon and Vanessa fell in love with the region when they first visited several years ago.

Surprised to find there was no existing bike tour business in the region, the cycling fanatics moved their lives to Stanthorpe and launched Granite Belt Bicycle Tours and Hire.

They have teamed up with accommodation house 31 The Rocks as part of an autumn/winter package.

After a short drive north from town, we began our cycling tour with a stop at Donnelly's Castle in Pozieres.

From there, the tour passed apple plantations flanked by the Pozieres and Passchendaele State Forests.

For the most part, the apple harvest had been done and dusted with the haul being processed nearby or in shops and kitchens across the country, but occasional pieces of fruit were still visible.

 

There are about 30 apple varieties at Sutton's farm in Applethorpe.
There are about 30 apple varieties at Sutton's farm in Applethorpe. Liana Turner

While they're relative newcomers, Jon has garnered enough knowledge of the region to share insight into the areas we're pedalling past.

Some of the apple trees we see have been here for many years, after the farmland was painstakingly cleared by soldier settlers after World War I.

It was their influx into the region that inspired many of the region's village names, including Amiens, Pozieres, Passchendaele, Fleurbaix and The Somme.

Visitors can also check these out by driving along the Armistice Way, or learn more at the Stanthorpe Heritage Museum.

Our first stop since saddling up on our bikes was Nicoletti Orchards in Pozieres - third-generation apple farmers, and they've left a mark strong enough to have a road named after them.

Along with long-time supermarket favourites, Toni and Daniel Nicoletti have begun growing the new Kalei variety that was developed on the Granite Belt.

Depending on their availability, the bicycle tours often stop by the Nicoletti farm - which is otherwise not open to the public - to offer visitors a little extra insight into one of the Granite Belt's biggest industries.

A little up the road, there's a chance to drop into Stanthorpe Cheese and the Jersey Girls Cafe.

Whether it's a cheese tasting, a slice of cheesecake or a jersey milkshake that you find most enticing, there's plenty to help you refuel mid-tour.

While the Granite Belt is known for its award-winning wines, Castle Glen offers liqueurs in a huge range of unique flavours.

The castle-like building has been filled with stunningly coloured bottles and there are tastings just like at the nearby cellar doors.

 

The lawn and front vineyards at The Summit Estate Wines.
The lawn and front vineyards at The Summit Estate Wines. Liana Turner

After some enthusiastic pedalling, we're ready for The Summit Estate's line-up of its broad range of wines.

Along with its signature range, The Summit Estate has created the Wickerman Wines label for its pagan-inspired Winter Solstice event that will return on Saturday, June 23.

Offering a quiet break from active exploring, the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery is an impressive facility for a town of its size.

Artists from across the country and the world will have their work on display as part of the Stanthorpe Art Prize from June 15 to July 19.

Impressive Granite Belt craftsmanship is also on offer at Kent Saddlery on the New England Highway, a short distance from the down.

No trip to the Granite Belt is complete without a few winery visits. Ridgemill Estate and Ballandean Estate are good starting points and offer fabulous wines, but there is a vineyard around every corner and there's a consistently high quality across the region.

To balance out the indulgence, a trip to Girraween National Park offers easy or challenging hikes. For an easy option, try the Granite Arch. If you have a bit more time, check out The Junction (two hours) or The Sphinx and Turtle Rock (four hours). For a steeper incline but stunning views, check out The Pyramid.

 

The writer was a guest of Southern Queensland Country Tourism.