PUPPY PARADISE: Toowoomba's Carnival of Flowers has a new focus on dogs through the Petals and Pups program.
PUPPY PARADISE: Toowoomba's Carnival of Flowers has a new focus on dogs through the Petals and Pups program.

Petals and Pups: New event to keep carnival top dog

THIS is the Year of the Dog, not just in the Chinese calendar, but at Toowoomba's Carnival of Flowers.

The city is embracing the latest tourist craze which has swept Europe and America - with up to two-thirds of pet owners wanting to eat and travel with their pets, and looking for dog-friendly activities and destinations.

Tourism councillor Geoff McDonald said the new Petals and Pups program was one of several innovations to this year's carnival.

"When you win accolades and awards as we have, you have to do even more to remain fresh and stay on top," he said.

The concept for Petals and Pups came from volunteer Erin Kehoe O'Shea, who noted how many people took their dogs to Laurel Park during last year's event.

"The opportunity was there to give people more from their experience," Cr McDonald said.

While he said dogs had always been welcome at the carnival - with the imaginatively named "Puppy" the Pomeranian marching beside his Toowoomba Thistle Band drum major owner Hugh Morgan way back at the first carnival parade in 1950 - this is the first time dogs and their owners have been actively catered for.

The result is more than 30 dog-friendly activities, 27 off-leash parks, 20 human-and-hound accommodation stays, and three structured self-guided itineraries to choose from -The Cultured Canine, Pampered Pup and Adventure Dog - complete with dog-friendly places to eat and stay.

"I think it could grow into something pretty special for the area," Cr McDonald said.

Another innovation is the Chef's Brunch, which this year gives patrons the chance to meet and eat with Mediterranean-style cook Julia Busuttil Nishimura, and hear about her new cookbook Ostro, at Gip's Restaurant (appropriately enough, named after a dog), on Sunday, September 23.

With the 10 days of the carnival already chock-a-block with activities, Cr McDonald said organisers were also keen to explore stretching into night events, with the inaugural Night Garden in Queen's Park, expected to stun.

Running from 6.30-9.30pm on Wednesday September 26-Sunday, September 30, the display ($5-$16) will include 12 feature installations, and is expected to grab a lot of attention, along the lines of Vivid in Sydney.

"It's something really different at night, which we hope will encourage people to stay out longer and possibly stay overnight," Cr McDonald said.

"Last year we had over 250,000 visitors and, while weather plays a key role, we are hoping with these new events to be over 200,000 again."

Part of what captured the imagination of locals and tourists alike, he said, alongside the gardens, great food and acclaimed music acts, was the involvement and support of so many community groups highlighting diverse interests and talents within the festival's more than 60 events.

With each event "unique in its own right", Cr McDonald said it was hard to pick a favourite but, as a born and bred Toowoomba boy, he still got a big kick out of the festival parade, which he remembers watching from the window of the family business as a child.

"All those people of all ages, smiling and enjoying themselves - that to me is the most lasting image, and gives me the greatest joy," he said.

The carnival runs from September 21-30. For the full itinerary of events, go to tcof.com.au.

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