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Put the Toowoomba flower festival on your calendar this spring

The Toowoomba flower festival, now known as the Carnival of Flowers has been a highlight in the Queensland calendar for over 70 years and this year will be no different. It’s the perfect reason to plan a road trip out of the city.

Queens park during the Toowoomba flower show

Most of south-east Queensland runs on two seasons, it’s hot or it’s not which is why we love to take a drive out to Toowoomba in spring, or autumn to remind ourselves of how beautiful the shoulder seasons can be.

Just a 2 hour drive from Brisbane the regional city of Toowoomba has a lot to offer on a day trip. The surrounding area offers options to extend your stay with foodie trails, wineries, lakes and rainforests to explore.

In September the annual Toowoomba flower festival, or the Carnival of Flowers as it is now known, provides the perfect excuse to visit. The event began back in 1949, shortly after the end of the war as a way to draw people into the regional city and give the local economy a bit of a boost. Toowoomba was already known as the garden city so a flower show was the obvious choice.

Will there be a Carnival of Flowers in 2020

In a year that has put severe restrictions on people across the globe and seen all Australian’s making a fantastic effort to contain the pandemic we are thrilled to see that the current status in Queensland together with a comprehensive COVID safe plan will allow the event to go ahead.

If you are a regular you will notice some changes in 2020. The much-loved parade will take on a new format. The festival of food & wine, sideshow alley and the gala dinner has been cancelled this year along with a number of the co-ordinated events hosted by community groups.

Floral display at Carnival of Flowers in Toowoomba
Around the world at Laurel bank park

However, the flowers are planted and primed to bloom on queue and the performers are scheduled and deep into rehearsals. For the foodies that are feeling at a bit of a loss, the new #trEATS event will see many of Toowoomba’s bars, restaurants and cafes join in the festivities with a special September menu and featured dishes inspired by the flower show.

Key flower festival locations

The whole city gets on board for the Carnival of Flowers, from the city’s main parks and gardens to community groups, businesses and many local home gardeners. That said there are a handful of key locations to make sure you include in your itinerary and these are all free entry to the public:

Queens Park & Botanic Gardens

Number one in all seasons is Queens Park and the adjacent Botanic Gardens. It’s a riot of colour and fragrance during the festival with bed after bed of carefully tended plants all apparently synchronised to flower at precisely the right moment.

The arch at Queens Park with Carnival of Flowers borders in the foreground

At night Queens Park will sparkle with the night garden illuminations and each Saturday during September artists will create a floral masterpiece using only chalk.

Situated on a 25-hectare site there is room to spread out on the expansive lawns under the canopy of huge stately trees. The Cobb & Co Museum is located next to the botanic gardens and during the event will features displays of brightly coloured hanging baskets.

Laurel Bank Park

Another large park close to the city centre is Laurel Bank Park and this is one too must be included. It features manicured and curated garden beds, large mature trees, picnic and BBQ areas and a children’s play park.

Tulips at Laurel Bank Park

Tulips are always a personal favourite, not something we can grow in Brisbane but they are just stunning here planted out in dense carpets under the big old trees.

Wisteria tunnel in Laurel Bank Park, Toowoomba
The wisteria tunnel at Laurel Bank Park in fragrant bloom for the festival

The floral displays here will be in place all month and during the festival they’ll be running guided twilight walks with the gardening team. The active in parks programme will also have the floral backdrop to exercise routines such as zumba and yoga on saturday mornings.

Ju Raku en Japanese Gardens

I have a personal love for all things Japan and Japanese Gardens so I’ll always take the detour out to the University to see these at any time of year. Next to the Cowra Japanese gardens in New South Wales, these feel the most faithfully designed to Japanese style, plantings and aesthetic.

Vermillion bridge in Ju Raku-en Japanese garden

The 3-hectare site is criss-crossed with meandering pathways and a large central pond. During spring there are blossoming trees at the lakes edge and a picnic area draped in flowering wisteria vines. There is also a bamboo grove and dry sand garden.

You’ll find complete information on planning a visit to Toowoomba’s Japanese gardens, Ju Raku-en at this link.

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

Situated next to the town hall, the gardens of the Art Gallery are looking spick and span and very ‘springlike’ but that’s not why we have it on our list. They are hosting an Ikebana display by the Toowoomba’s group from the Sogetsu School.

Ikebana arrangement from the Ikenobō school in Kyoto
Ikebana: This particular example evoking early spring was not in Toowoomba but at an exhibition of the Ikenobō school at Rokkaku-dō temple in Kyoto.

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging that dates back to the mid-1500s. Its simple lines are deceptively complex and beautiful and I’d highly recommend stopping in to see the arrangements that are as relevant to today’s modern and minimalist preferences as they were during their medieval origins.

Picnic Point

Sitting high on the crest of the great dividing range is Picnic Point and lookout. There are stunning views from here out over the range and back across the Lockyer valley.

Toowoomba lookout

From the top walk to the man-made waterfall or take one of the short walking tracks including the Firetail trail circuit. You can take the more adventurous TableTop Mountain climb from the lower section of the park.

There is a restaurant at the top and extensive grassed areas many under the shade of majestic bunya and hoop pines with picnic and bbq facilities. The garden beds are filled with colour to celebrate the flower festival but it’s the stunning natural views that steal the show up here.

There is additional information for planning your visit to Picnic Point and the lookout in this article.

The floral parade

The floral parade was added in 1950. Headed by a bullock team it stretched back for 3 miles. With 50,000 turning out to see it in its first year it was a roaring success and became a popular part of the annual program.

In 2020 with the need to maintain social distance and other COVID-safe protocols it wasn’t practical to have 1000’s of people lining the pavements while the floats went past but unwilling to give up so easily an alternative arrangement has been put in place. This year rather than parading the floats past people in the street, people move past the floats.

For 9-days from the 19th to the 27th September, you can see the floral parade in bloom around the Grand Central Shopping Centre.

Is all that fresh spring air making you famished?

Although we won’t have the Toowoomba Food and Wine festival and gala dinner this year there is absolutely no reason to go hungry. The way almost every restaurant and eatery in Toowoomba has joined in for the 2020 carnival takes us back to the early years of the event, welcoming people to the city and supporting the economy through the local businesses.

One of the laneway murals at Ground up Espresso
Ground Up Espresso

You will find a comprehensive listing of the Carnival themed dishes and participating restaurants on the official site.

A few old favourites in the city have sadly closed in the past year, we but a couple of personal favourites and recommendations would be:

Ground Up Espresso is located in a narrow alley at 501 Ruthven St. Both sides are decorated in the street art murals the city is known for and it’s super popular with locals and any visitors that know it’s there. There are a few tables outside, they offer a basket of blankets to cozy up in the wintertime and their coffee is excellent.

Their breakfasts, brunches and treats cabinet are good quality and they’ve recently dedicated a section of the cabinet to the Bakers Duck, a fabulous local bakery that would normally need you to be queuing by 7 am for the crowd favourites but now you can also get them at Ground Up with your morning cuppa. The strawberry cheesecake danish is super popular but I’m always going to side with the almond croissant!

Urban Grounds is slightly out of the city centre adjacent to Laurel Bank park, they’ve got a large outdoor seating area, extensive cafe menu and are after my heart with an all day breakfast option which I’ll never be able to resist.

Why not stay a little longer

When the sun goes down on the Carnival of Flowers the night garden in Queens Park will light up to stroll through from 6 pm. There is also a projected light display set to music on the Rowes building in Russell Street. If you were having trouble choosing between the restaurants and spring-inspired dishes for lunch this gives you a second chance at dinner.

On the second day, you could discover Toowoomba’s street art murals, follow a heritage walking trail through the city or take a drive out to the nearby cellar doors including Preston Peak, Bunnyconnellen and Rosalie House.

Toowoomba street art - 57 supersized murals painted by local and international artists

Toowoomba offers a range of accommodation options, a couple of popular choices are the Quest Apartments in the city, they are centrally and conveniently located. I’ve used Quest extensively for business travel in both New Zealand and Australia and find them a good consistent option with the extra space and facilities an apartment offers.

For those that prefer the B&B style and for the personality of the heritage city to shine through there is Vacy Hall, Toowoomba’s Grand Boutique Hotel located amongst beautiful gardens in a stately old home, tastefully decorated and with a variety of rooms and suites.

Finding your way around

With so many great activities, many of them free to enjoy, Toowoomba is a fantastic destination for an early spring road trip. We’ve included the key locations for the Carnival of Flowers and other top spots in Toowoomba on this map to help you find you way around.

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Toowoomba flower festival pinterest poster
Toowoomba flower festival pinterest poster
Toowoomba flower festival pinterest poster
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