Just when you think you have discovered the hidden gems Stanthorpe has to offer – another visit reveals a few more local treats. It helps to have your trip organised by someone who knows Stanthorpe like the back of her hand and can pick out some of the best assortments. Kind of like when you are given a box of Cadbury Favourites, you know without having to tear open the lid, which chocolates are your ‘picks.’ This Stanthorpe visit (in March 2021) was like being handed a chocolate box filled with my personal favourites! (HUGE thank you to Monique Krause from Granite Belt Tourism for delivering an itinerary jam-packed with plenty of goodies that definitely matched my tastes!)
And ok I know, March was a few months ago. I’ve been sluggish uploading stories. Covid has left me with a go-slow feeling like I’m pedaling through sludgy mud. The intention is there but the delivery hasn’t always been!
But for this post there was an incentive: it’s the first of July. And you need to start planning!
Hello the Granite Belt Christmas Farm
The month of December falls right in the middle of an Australian summer – so for those in Australia who celebrate Christmas, it is HOT. I wrote about my lamenting the heat and humidity of a Brisbane Christmas and escaping to the festive town of Leavenworth outside of Seattle USA here.
So creative Aussies have come up with an alternative – celebrating Christamas in July – in the heart of winter. That’s why this story starts with somewhere special in Stanthorpe that blew my festive socks off – the Granite Belt Christmas Farm
The family-owned and operated Christmas farm is where you will find the Christmas spirit in bucket loads. And if Christmas isn’t quite your thing, there’s a friendly bunch of animals waiting to say hello and receive some gentle pats.
The last time I was at a Christmas tree farm was back in December 2018 at the Dogwood Christmas Tree Farm near Vancouver, Canada. I was with my friend Nathalie and her family wandering around the farm searching for their family Christmas tree. It was COLD, raining but so much FUN!
My next Christmas tree farm experience was back in Aus at the 20-acre farm in Applethorpe (right next to Stanthorpe.) Under blue skies and sunshine, I peered across the rural landscape where rows and rows of pine trees were growing. What a cracker of a day to visit the farm. No chilly temps or rain in sight!
Brad Fraser (the tree grower) co-owns the property with his wife Katrina (the chocolate maker.) They’ve chosen this place as the ideal location to raise their two kids and inject Christmas festive ‘ness’ into the Granite Belt Region.
Serenaded by a recording of Bing Crosby’s, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” Brad strolls over to greet our group holding a box full of small brown paper bags – filled with feed for the animals.
Once we’ve said hello to the animals including a few pats with Luey and Huey the teenage donkeys and taken a photo of the camera-shy reindeer (not sure whether it was Cupid, Dancer, or Rudolph?) and shared some feed with the inquisitive goat, Brad was ready to demonstrate how he trims the radiata pine trees into that Christmas tree ‘cone’ shape.
“They love a haircut,” he says, brandishing a large machete /knife with a long silver blade.“The pruning has to be done up to four times a year,” he says.
This true blue Aussie tells you how it is, sharing a few Aussie ocerkisms which had me smiling throughout his demonstration.
He suggests we step back to watch as he stretches up reaching towards the tip of a tree towering above his six-foot frame.
“All you have to do is think of an upside-down ice-cream cone and trim by eye,” explains Brad. “It’s all about the growth around the head of the tree.”
Bard swings the knife expertly and we watch the pine needles fall cleanly away.
“This razor-sharp knife leaves a nice clean cut,” Brad says. “You have to make sure no one is around to cop a hit.”
How do you choose your tree?
You wander around the rows and rows of trees, selecting your favourite tree and Brad will cut it down for you.
“Not everyone wants a tall tree, some people may be touring around in a caravan and only want a small tree.”
You cannot help but love Brad for his passion and enthusiasm.
After the demonstration, we head inside the mistletoe store and into a Christmas wonderland. Buddy from the movie Elf would have felt right at home. (Who remembers Will Ferrel’s character from Elf? One of my favourite Christmas movies of all time!)
I’ve not seen anything as stunningly festive (is that a word?) The photos fail to show how special this place is. You’ll think it’s December all year round inside the Mistletoe store.
And let’s not forget Katrina (Mrs. Claus) has excelled in chocolate making. We sampled a few of her homemade goodies and I looked longingly at the range of irresistible-looking treats in the cafe display cabinet, including Katrina’s signature handcrafted Belgian chocolate range, ‘naughty but nice,’ made with dark pure Belgian chocolate! There are sauces and fudges you can buy and take away to place on your Christmas pudding.
They also provide picnic hampers which can be pre-ordered online or by phoning the cafe on 0499 924 289. You can BYO your own wine from one of the many local wineries. I’ve written about a few of Stanthorpe’s wineries here.
The Christmas Farm is open 9 am – 4 pm seven days a week all year with the exception of the month of February when they close.
Not surprisingly December is their busiest time of the year.
Other places to visit in Stanthorpe
You can easily spend an entire day at the Christmas Farm or you can stop in and enjoy many other of Stanthorpe’s experiences.
The tasty treats at Zest Pastries
Walk down Stanthorpe’s main thoroughfare (Maryland Street) and stop at no. 54 – Zest Bakery where pastry maker Stephen Lambert’s handmade pastries and bread are on display. But not for long! They are so popular the favourites – mine was the lemon curd tart – will often sell out before lunchtime.
We spend some time with Stephen out the back of the store in the kitchen – where all the baking and creating is done.
“It’s very rewarding to fill up a shop every morning and see it empty at the end of the day,” Stephen says.
He’s demonstrating by making a lemon curd and tells a few stories in between mixing.
“When you’re here at 3am on your own it’s good to have a chat,” he says smiling.
By having a chat he means he talks to his tools of trade. We’re introduced to Stavross the oven, Stanley the knife, Cheryl the rolling pin, Maxine the big mixer and Barry the other mixer.
Zest offers cooking classes and if you get to spend an hour with this guy, I guarantee you will be laughing within the first five minutes.
A unique orchard experience
I’ve always loved a Pink Lady apple but biting into one straight off the tree at the McMahon Bros. Orchard at Pozieres. From tree to mouth with a real CRUNCH!
As part of an Apple Orchard Tour, we met David McMahon, the fourth generation in his family to work on the McMahon family farm. Following David we wander through the orchard rows, arriving at a special place they’d set up for ‘lunch in the orchard.’
David’s brother Paul with his fiancee Megan (and the brother’s mum and dad, Jeff and Rosey) run an organic orchard on their family farm. They run seasonal tours and currently have Brunch in the Blossom. Book the day before to secure your place and check their Facebook page for when the tours are run. Our lunch in the orchard was a unique experience and an insight into the dedicated people who work hard to deliver fresh produce to our table.
Private booking and events available by enquiry. Phone 0498 138 410
McMahon Bros Orchard.
61 Nicoletti Lane, Pozieres
Where to stay:
Along Eukey Road look out for the wagon with the sign that says “Kurrajong Barn.”
This old barn has been converted into a comfortable self-contained home that sleeps up to 10 people (five bedrooms including a loft open bedroom.) The barn comes with two lounges and a fireplace in each (one open the other a potbelly), a massive kitchen, a large open entertaining area with barbecue, and plenty of tables and chairs to accommodate a large party.
Overlooking rows of grapes, this rural property will have you reaching for your book and a glass of wine and a desire to go nowhere!
(The Blue Wren Cottage behind the barn sleeps up to four guests.)
Get packing July is almost here
Grab the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in July and forget about a hot December Christmas. Instead, pack your bags with winter coats, beanies, scarves, and gloves then head to Stanthorpe where you can enjoy a hot toddy around the fireplace. And when you’re playing the carols telling you it’s cold outside, you don’t have to pretend. Because in Stanthorpe after dark, it really is freezing!