Often on my travels I have preconceptions about the destinations I’m off to next, but after visiting Bundaberg in north Queensland, I think I will always keep an open mind. Rolling in to town, I wasn’t expecting much more out of the trip than visiting the iconic Bundaberg Rum factory, seeing a few cowboy utes, and plenty of holidaymakers. Boy was I wrong.
These days Bundaberg is known as a vibrant Queensland country town on the banks of the Burnett River, with all the modern day facilities you’d expect in a city. It’s about a 40 minute drive off the main highway to get to Bundy, as the locals call it, but well worth the drive as you pass through cane fields and market gardens mixed in with acres of bushland.
The town dates back to 1847 when John Burnett surveyed the region. It was settled soon after by pastoralists bringing their cattle and sheep to the area. Bundy’s early years were rough and chequered, marked by a large massacre and complicated land sales. By 1870, when an area was surveyed on the southern side of the Burnett River, Bundaberg was declared a town. The name Bundaberg was arrived at by combining ‘Bunda’ from the language of the local Taribelang people, and ‘berg’ the Saxon word for town.
The city is a major sugar cane grower, but relies heavily on tourism throughout the region. Being an old river town, there is an array of heritage buildings along the banks and in the main street. Bundaberg also lays claim to the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, which peters out towards Fraser Island. As such, the marine life, water activities and the way of life in Bundy is nothing short of impeccable.
There is a plethora of things to do in town, and of course two of the iconic places to go are the Bundaberg Rum Distillery and the Bundaberg Soft drink facility, aka The Big Barrel. Here, the tours take you through how the drinks are made from start to finish, with a history lesson thrown in. Then there’s a little taste testing, plus you get to take a few samples home.
You might also spend time at the Hinkler Hall of Aviation or explore the beautiful botanical gardens in the heart of town. Fresh is best at Bundy, where cafes and restaurants use locally grown produce on a daily basis to give you a true mouth-watering experience.
Having some 70,000 residents in the area, Bundy is a huge place and the city limits extend all the way to the coast, and in my mind these little coastal towns capture the true feeling of north Queensland.
During winter the caravan parks and camping areas swell as the southerners converge on the area seeking warmer weather both day and night. Chatting to other holiday makers in the caravan park, we learn that some have been making the pilgrimage for over a decade and book their spot up to a year in advance.
By heading to one of the many little coastal hamlets you’ll definitely feel the stress ease away after settling in. There are eight gems between Elliott Heads and Moore Park, yet each hold their own personality.
The landscape around Bundy towards the coast is all flat except for one little knob, called Hummock Lookout, and despite being only 90 metres above sea level, you can see for miles. Rumour goes this knob is the result of an extinct volcano, and was named back in 1799 by Matthew Flinders when he sailed past. But little did he know that the local Taribelang Aboriginal People were already farming the rich soil below the Hummock for crops.
Along the shoreline there are miles of black volcanic rock. Years ago Kanaka people (south sea islanders) worked in the area and they made sea walls and safe pools where they could swim and be safe from things in the ocean that bite. The beaches tucked within the sea walls are made from pure sand and tiny shells that have been washed ashore from deep in the ocean.
The towns of Bargara, Moore Park, Coral Cove and Elliot Heads are family friendly with parks, bikeways, and boutique coffee shops. For the fitter folks or those who want a day away from technology, why not hire a bike and take the 9km (one way) ride along the linking coastal pathways. No need to worry about the sun, there are plenty of shady spots, beaches or cafes along the way to cool down – all part of the Queensland way.
On the north side, Mon Repos is a renowned nest area for Loggerhead sea turtles. Around November each year they come ashore and spend hours digging and then finally laying dozens of precious eggs. During January to March visitors can take a prearranged night tour and watch the tiny turtles crack open the eggs, dig their way out of the sand and paddle their little hearts out to the water’s edge – but, only 1 in 1000 survive the elements. Mon Repo is at the forefront of turtle conservation in the area and they take massive steps to protect the eggs, from fox baiting, closing the beach at night, and even having visitors help relocate the eggs to higher ground when high seas threaten.
Bundaberg is surrounded by no less than four national parks, and beaches galore where you can go into low range and get off the grid for a day or more – just make sure you get the right permit. Between hiking and mountain bike trails, remote fishing spots down to some epic winding hill climbs, you’ll definitely be well rewarded for lowering your tyres and tackling one of Bundy’s great off-road experiences.
Speaking of fishing, there’s a maze of creeks that feed off the Burnett River where you can drop a line or maybe a crab pot or two, as well as countless miles of open beaches to fish, and some of the best offshore fishing around with countless reefs, bommies and sheltered coves to hook the big one.
Baffle Creek is the furthest point north and this is the perfect spot to drop a kayak or SUP into the water for a quiet day on the water exploring mangrove inlets or a sneaky fish. At 20km long, Moore Park is the main beach in the area which has sections where dogs are allowed and patrolled in the summer.
With the Great Barrier Reef at its doorstep, a quick 20 minute flight to some of the outer islands, the plankton filled water around the area is warm, pure crystal clear and alive with sea creatures such as stingrays and an array of fish, plus if your very lucky dugongs frequent the area.
So there you have it, don’t ever presume what a town can hold until you spend time exploring the area, chatting to the locals, and leaving your expectations at camp. I know I will be back to explore Bundaberg’s inner and natural beauty again.
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