Adventures In Ipswich

Who knew that right on our doorstep there is a world of history and quirky things to do, all in a small heritage-laden city that is more misunderstood than Kanye West?

Until recently I confess that Ipswich was not on my to-do list, not even a possibly-some-time-in-the future alternative-to-clipping-toenails list, but a chance drive west last year to see an ancestral home revealed more charming and at times edgy surprises than you can poke a stick at.

All of which make Ipswich the perfect candidate for a one or even two day adventure.

St Pauls Cathedral Ipswich

For a start his once-rich mining town, being about as unfashionable and unattractive to the 1970s and 80s Japanese and white shoe brigade investors as it gets, escaped the heritage building wrecking ball and subsequent architectural obscenities of which Brisbane sadly possesses in plentiful supply. 

The result is a mostly charming small scale town centre that still possesses many of the grand colonial buildings dating from its mining and rail transport heyday and hilly surrounding suburbs with an abundance of sprawling ornate villas. 

Of particular note is the old Top of the Town precinct which is gradually becoming a bit of a cafe and vintage and boutique shopping hub, Qld’s oldest Richard Gailey-designed church that has been given an art deco façade and is now Studio 188, an alternative performing arts centre, the Ipswich Art Gallery with its regional touring exhibitions and fantastic free kids activities and the splendid Ipswich Antique Centre with an in-house café that does high teas. 

But there’s much more to Ipswich than its town centre. Take a short hike to the inner echelons of the city to Denmark Hill, a reserve with bush-walking tracks, old mine relics, dinosaur footprints and water towers to climb, from where on a clear day you can see NSW, Brisbane CBD and the Great Dividing Range.

Denmark Hill Conservation Park

Inner east on the road back to Brisbane is south east Queensland’s oldest park, Queens Park, a gracious limestone-trimmed bountiful green space which dates from 1861 and contains one of the best kids playgrounds around, the beautiful Japanese Nerima Gardens complete with traditional tea house and an impressive walk-through state of the art wildlife park Ipswich Nature Centre that is gold coin donation entry. Adjacent is Queensland’s only surviving Walter Burley Griffin building, which has been transformed into the quirky Incinerator Theatre.

Nerima Gardens Ipswich

On the topic of kids parks, Riverheart Parklands on the Bremer River, with its water and sand play and adventure forest is a must visit, as is the aeroplane-themed Lobley Park.

Head cross river to North Ipswich, where the award-winning Workshops Rail Museum operates out of heritage listed buildings, with the chance to see traditional works happening, drive a train (via simulator), relive the golden age of train travel and partake in fantastic children’s activities and play areas.

Spend a night at a gorgeous B&B like Mary’s Place in an old Queenslander or camp on one of the 8 exclusive sites on an inner city bushland – Harding’s Paddock.  Then relive the Happy Days era at the Tivoli Drive-In or catch a show like the Russian Ballet at the Civic Centre for half the price of the same show at QPAC. Or, for the adrenaline junkie, spend a retro Saturday night at the speedway.

Food-wise, experience some gastro pub fare in a restored traditional Queensland pub like The Ulster (hang-out of the Ipswich mayor) or tapas at the Stumps Hotel in town or head a bit out of town for a country style breakfast in a garden shed at Florrey-Bel.

In another nod to Ipswich’s history visitors can take a heritage train ride on the Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway on Sundays once a month steam trains run from Bundamba Station on the old coal line to Swanbank Station (site of Ipswich’s worst mining disaster at Box Flat Colliery, with 17  miners trapped underground and their bodies never recovered. The colliery and rail line were subsequently closed). This steam train ride combines with the fabulous Handmade Expo Market at Bundamba’s Ipswich Turf Club.

And for the history buffs and ghouls the place is littered with fragments of a dark past – take a ghost tour of Ipswich Cemetery, cast an eye on Sandy Gallop’s Ipswich Mental Asylum (one of those fearsome 19th century institutions) which has now been incorporated into UQ’s campus or venture out to Gailes for a peek at the old Wolston Park Hospital (ex-Woogaroo Asylum) which was once one of the most feared places in Queensland and whose heritage buildings stand abandoned. 

And if you happen to drive past Brynhyfrydd Park, it was once site of the Blackstone School of Arts and part of the estate of Ipswich’s very own castle – Brynhyfrydd or, as the locals knew it, Blackstone Castle. Built by a Welshman the imposing Italianate building, constructed from 600000 locally made bricks, boasted a central tower, was 3 storeys, had 49 rooms and the latest conveniences like hydraulic lift, generator to run electric lights, marble fireplaces and an entire floor devoted to entertainment. Demolished in 1930 to make way for a mine, the bricks have ended up in buildings around Ipswich and its front door now belongs to Blackstone Welsh church. 

And for a bit of old-fashioned adventure on the trip either there or back, skip the Motorway and take the historic western route via the Moggill Car Ferry.

And, for more great things to see and do in Ipswich, visit Discover Ipswich HERE

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