Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Adam Ford checks in from historic Bundaberg in Queensland's Wide Bay-Burnett...
It’s not hard to be captivated by Bundaberg and the cane country that surrounds it.
Just as they have done for more than a century, emerald fields of verdant sugarcane rising from rich red earth blanket the landscape, and as you cruise into town you get a real sense of the rural prosperity this region enjoys.
Located four and a half hours’ drive north of Brisbane, Bundaberg is the provincial hub of Queensland’s Wide Bay-Burnett region, and is billed as the southern gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. There’s plenty to recommend a stop of three or four days in the city itself. Sensational weather, welcoming locals, top notch seafood, superb beaches, a plethora of historical attractions, and one of the world’s most famous tipples are all part of the appeal.
Enjoy this Bundaberg travel guide.
Base yourself: City centre
Average hotel price per room/per night: AUD $140
Great breakfasts: Alowishus Delicious, Indulge
Awesome coffee: Oodies Café, Alowishus Delicious, Nourish Cafe
Top spots for a beverage: Bundaberg Rum Distillery, Bargara Brewing Company, Old Bundy Tavern, Riverfeast (Fridays)
Must-dos: Bundaberg Rum Distillery, Mon Repos Turtle Encounter tour (seasonal), Australian Sugar Cane Railway ride
Bundaberg has fairly consistent weather for most of the year. The subtropical climate sees an annual average daytime temperature range of 22 to 31 degrees, making for reasonably comfortable summers and extremely mild winters. You will need something warm to pop on at night in the cooler months.
One of Bundaberg’s key natural attractions is its status as a nesting site for marine turtles. The region is home to the South Pacific’s most significant nesting population of the endangered loggerhead turtle. Mon Repos Turtle Centre on Mon Repos Beach is operated by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and offers seasonal beach tours at night to witness two crucial aspects of the turtles’ life cycle — nesting and hatching. Only tour participants can access the beach at night. Time your visit for summer/early autumn if you want to take part. Nesting occurs from November to January, and the hatchlings make a run for the ocean from January through to late March.
Bundaberg’s surprisingly large city centre runs parallel to the Burnett River.
Most of the action is centred along Bourbong Street, which is home to a tidy mash-up of modern and heritage buildings, of various architectural styles. The superbly maintained Post Office building dates back to 1891, while the former Commercial Bank of Sydney building was completed the same year. The classic revival style School of the Arts building adds an incongruous splash of Venetian-esque glamour to the streetscape. There are several historically-significant churches around town, including the neo-classical Holy Rosary Catholic Church — built in 1888.
You’ll notice a 100-metre-high mural of a humpback whale family towering over the CBD. It was created by American marine artist Wyland, who travelled the world painting life-size whales on the sides of buildings back in the 80s. This mural is one of two in Australia painted by the artist (the other is located in Sydney). They’re part of Wyland’s global series of 100 ‘Whaling Walls’.
Head down Barolin Street towards the river to find the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery. With its psychedelic exterior, the building is hard to miss. It’s been a customs house and bank in previous lives, and now houses three gallery spaces that host local, national and even international exhibitions. Check the website for what’s on during your visit.
On to a cultural institution of a different kind. It’s hard to separate Bundaberg from the world-famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery, so why bother? Just go along for the ride — whether you’re a rum fan or not. There would be few visitors to the city who don’t end up at the distillery (which even has its own museum) at some point. Created from molasses, a plentiful by-product of sugar processing, and popular with pioneering settlers, Bundaberg Rum was a nectarial match-made-in-heaven from the outset in the 1880s, and today the Bundaberg Rum Distillery is internationally renowned for its wares — which it continues to manufacture on site in Bundaberg.
Start your visit with a self-guided tour of the interactive Bundaberg Rum Museum Experience. The interpretive displays are housed in the giant fermenting vats in a former bondstore. Entry to the museum includes two tastings. From there, devotees can also opt to take a guided tour of the distillery itself or push the boat out on the Blend Your Own Rum Experience.
It would be remiss not to enjoy at least one Dark and Stormy during your stay in this town. Insist (naturally) on Bundaberg Rum, Bundaberg Brewed Ginger Beer and fresh lime. Here’s to a legend!
Bert Hinkler is a name that you’ll hear a lot during your visit to this city.
Born in the city in 1892, Hinkler went on to make a significant contribution to the burgeoning aviation industry. His most significant achievements including a solo flight from England to Australia in 1928, and a solo flight across the South Atlantic in 1931 (a world first). Hinkler is honoured at Bundaberg’s state-of-the-art Hinkler Hall of Aviation — located in the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens. The museum offers a highly interactive experience, which kids — and big kids at heart — will absolutely love. Allow yourself a good two or three hours to do it justice.
Opposite the museum is Mon Repos cottage (known as Hinkler House), which has an intriguing backstory. It was built by Hinkler in Southampton, England, in 1925. With the aviator’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1933, the house eventually passed into the hands of local authorities. In 1983, it was dismantled brick by brick, transported to Australia, and reassembled in Bundaberg. The interior is just as it would have been back in Hinkler’s day. A self-guided tour of the house is included in the Hinkler Hall of Aviation entry fee.
The history lesson continues at the nearby Bundaberg & District Historical Museum and the Fairymead House Sugar Museum. The Historical Museum offers a mind-boggling array of artefacts and paraphernalia to peruse, while Fairymead charts the history of the local sugar industry. It’s housed in a former sugar plantation home that dates back to 1890.
A combined ticket to all three attractions is available.
Time your visit to the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens just right and you’ll have the complete pleasure of taking a ride on the Australian Sugar Cane Railway. This community project, operated solely by volunteers, is heaps of fun. Beautifully maintained steam locomotives pull repurposed sugar cane carriages on a circuit of the tranquil gardens. Check the Facebook page for operating dates and times.
With its possie just a stone’s throw from the coast, it will come as no surprise that fresh seafood features prominently on most menus in Bundaberg.
One of the best options for a fish feed is Grunske’s by the River. These piscatorial purveyors not only sell seafood — they catch most of it themselves. You can view the fleet of fishing boats from the deck that overlooks the Burnett River as you enjoy your seafood platter and a chilled white. The location is magic at sunset.
For something tres more exotic, the who’s who of international cuisines can be found in and around the city centre. Try Meekak Korean BBQ Buffet, Pappar’Delles Italian Restaurant or Curryquest. All three get great reviews.
Pub grub is also plentiful in this part of the world. The Spotted Dog Tavern on Bourbong Street is a bit nondescript from the outside, but inside you’ll discover a relaxed and friendly setting and a mouth-watering menu of steaks, seafood and schnitzels.
On one exterior wall of the Bargara Brewing Company on Tantitha Street, you’ll see the colourful #Taste Bundaberg mural. It highlights some of the region’s locally grown and produced specialties. Pop in to try the brewery’s range of lovingly crafted artisanal beers, including the Rusty Roo 5.5% Irish Red Ale, Thirsty Turtle 4.5% Bright Lager and the Convict 6.9% IPA (based on a recipe dating back to the colonial era). The brewery’s food offering includes tasting platters of local produce, and awesome pizzas. We warn you now — you may never want to leave.
If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Friday night, make your way to RiverFeast (just across the way from Grunske’s). This repurposed boat building shed by the river hosts a lively bar, live entertainment, an eclectic mix of street food vendors and a smattering of market stalls. The vibe is chilled, and it’s a fun way to mix with the locals.
For café-style casual dining and amazing coffee, head for Alowishus Delicious in the very cool Earls Court arcade in the heart of the city. This place is super popular — so much so, that it takes up three shops. The café is open for breakfast and lunch, and also offers a range of pre-packaged meals and house-made gelato.
On the far side of the Burnett River (but still just a five-minute drive from the city centre) Oodies Café has the shabby chic vibe nailed. Wherever you look here, there’s a story to be told. Grab a table inside or head for the covered courtyard, festooned with yet more of the owner’s collected treasures.
The city centre offers the opportunity to shop up a tropical storm.
You’ll find many of the usual retail suspects along the main street, and in the air-conditioned confines of Hinkler Central shopping centre on Maryborough Street.
The Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery’s gift shop is a good spot to shop for souvenirs. There’s plenty of design chic to tempt you, along with paintings, sculptures, and one-off pieces of pottery by local artists.
The Bundaberg Rum Distillery is also no slouch in the gift shop department. You’ll find a formidable array of branded merchandise available — much of it featuring the familiar furry face of Bundy R. Bear.
To shop for fresh local produce, gourmet foodstuffs and freshly roasted coffee, head south of the city to Alloway Farm Market.
Brisbane has the Gold Coast, Cairns has Palm Cove and Bundaberg has Bargara — a coastal retreat that’s popular with visitors and locals alike.
Bargara is just a 13-kilometre drive east of the city, so in theory you could stay here and drive into town as needed. We recommend splitting your time between the two. Enjoy swathes of white sandy beaches, resort style accommodation and rolling rural countryside.
While you’re travelling between Bundaberg and Bargara, take a short detour to The Hummock Lookout, which sits on top of what was once a volcano. While it’s not massively elevated, the lookout does provide 360 degree views of the city, coast and the lush green landscape in between.
To get up close and personal with the marine life that inhabits the Great Barrier Reef, consider a visit to Lady Elliot Island. The flight time from Bundaberg to the coral cay is less than 30 minutes. Snorkel off the beach, view the reef from a glass bottomed boat and dive with turtles and manta rays.
Just like its London namesake, the EconoLodge Park Lane in Bundaberg is all about location, location, location. The hotel is situated just a short walk from the CBD and is the perfect spot to base yourself to explore everything the city has to offer.
The hotel offers clean, comfortable and affordable accommodation in a variety of room types and self-contained suites. Stroll to cafes and restaurants with ease or dine in the hotel’s newly renovated restaurant. The tropical saltwater pool and spa are the ideal way to beat the afternoon heat.
For further information, please visit www.bundabergregion.org.
Do you have any tips to add to our Bundaberg travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.