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 Hervey Bay, thanks to Choice Hotels...
Basking on southern Queensland’s Fraser Coast, Hervey Bay is a slightly abstract concept; a state of mind as much as it is a particular place.
So, when planning your Hervey Bay getaway, try and let go of the notion that you must be based in the ‘centre’ of Hervey Bay, because there actually is no centre. Instead, you’ll discover a string of idyllic oceanfront villages linked by a palm-fringed esplanade that runs alongside the eponymous bay. Each has something special to offer, and the others are all within easy reach.
Humans are not the only type of holidaymakers that flock to this region. From mid-July to early November, humpback whales use the bay and the tranquil stretch of water between the mainland and nearby World Heritage-listed K’gari Fraser Island (known as the Great Sandy Strait) for R&R during their annual 10,000-kilometre return migration from Antarctica to the South Pacific. The bay also serves as a nursery and training ground for their new-borns.
Each whale spends an average of five days in the bay feeding, frolicking and ‘mugging’ captivated whale watchers, before continuing on their incredible odyssey. It’s estimated that the whales bring 80,000 visitors a year to the Fraser Coast, and in light of their importance to the region and vice versa, Hervey Bay has been designated a Whale Heritage Site by the World Cetacean Alliance.
Getting to and from Hervey Bay requires much less effort than that put in by the whales. Direct flights are offered from Brisbane and Sydney. Alternatively, the region is a very pleasant three hours’ drive north of Brisbane or two hours from the Sunshine Coast, via the historic city of Maryborough. If you are arriving into Bundaberg, the drive south will take a leisurely hour.
Enjoy this Hervey Bay travel guide.
Need to know
Base yourself: Pialba, Scarness, Torquay, Shelly Beach, Urangan Average hotel price per room/per night: AUD $140 Great breakfasts: Enzos on the Beach, Aquavue, Vinvero’s Cafe Awesome coffee: Cody’s Coffee Shack, Bean Beat, Vinvero’s Cafe Top spots for a beverage: The Dock, Aquavue, Beach House Hotel Must-dos: Whale watching cruise, sunset cruise, Hervey Bay Esplanade Trail, Urangan Pier walk
Best times to visit Hervey Bay
If your priority is eyeballing the gentle giants of the deep, you obviously have a limited window of opportunity to do so. Most whale watching cruises operate from mid-July to the end of October, after which time whale numbers quickly peter out. In terms of the weather, this is also the best time to head for Hervey, with maximum daily temperatures in the mid-twenties, low humidity, and just four or five rainy days a month. Book your accommodation well in advance.
From November to March, temperatures, humidity and rainfall climb and crowds fall just as dramatically. Expect daily averages in the low to mid 30s and overnight temps of around 20 degrees. The humidity can be extreme, so good air con at your hotel is essential. In recent years, whale cruise operators have gotten creative with the off-season, and there are plenty of day cruise options that offer the opportunity to spot other marine dwellers like humpback and bottlenose dolphins, and sea turtles. A cruise is also the perfect way to keep your cool, thanks to the refreshing sea breeze that ensues.
Top cultural experiences in Hervey Bay
Hervey Bay’s culture is one of sun, sand, and a permanently mellow surf, which makes this such a popular family destination.
Soaking up the relaxed seaside vibe from Point Vernon around to the Urangan Boat Harbour is the name of the game. The drive from one end of the Esplanade to the other will take you about 30 minutes. Point Vernon is largely residential (check out the stunning oceanfront homes), but offers plenty of quiet beaches, parks and recreational facilities. The holiday vibe ratchets up a notch as you reach Pialba — home to the splashtastic and free-to-enter WetSide Water Park.
Further along, Scarness and Torquay offer a plethora of cafes, eateries, bars and boutiques, and a stunning sandy beachfront. Urangan is home to the historic pier and Pier Park, while continuing around the point will bring you to Dayman Park and the bustling marina (the departure point for whale watching and day cruises).
All are linked by the fabulous Hervey Bay Esplanade Trail — a sixteen-kilometre bike and walking track, lined with outdoor exercise equipment and much loved by the local jogging fraternity. Hervey Bay Rent a Car at Urangan also rents bikes. Kit up and head off to explore at your own pace. There are interpretive boards along the route that provide context and inspo for things to see and do.
For water sports and activities, drop by Aquavue on the beachfront at Torquay. Hire stand-up paddle boards and kayaks, or go full throttle on a jet ski. Aquavue also encompasses a stylish café and bar, and the deck overlooking the beach is perfect for a sundowner.
Traditional culture vultures should plan a visit to the impressive Hervey Bay Regional Gallery in Pialba — also home of the Fraser Coast Discovery Sphere museum (just look for the breaching 22-tonne, close-to-12-metre-high sculpture of Nala the humpback out front). The gallery stages local and touring exhibitions across two halls, while the Discovery Sphere is a one-stop-shop for insight into local marine ecology. Learn about whale song, the aforementioned practice of mugging (where a whale will rise up out of the water vertically to eye off its surroundings), and much, much more. With a host of interactive activities on offer, the kids will love this.
The Brolga Theatre in Maryborough is the region’s pre-eminent venue for live performance, but holidaying thesps and theatre lovers will adore the jaunty red Z-PAC Theatre just off the Esplanade in Scarness. The theatre stages community productions throughout the year.
Hervey Bay for history lovers
The Butchulla people are recognised as the traditional owners of K’gari and are believed to have inhabited the Fraser Coast for at least 5,000 years (some estimates put the period at ten times longer).
European settlers came to the region from the late 1840s, and in due course Hervey Bay’s series of seaside villages were established for the pleasure of wealthy landowners from Maryborough and Gympie. Burgeoning timber, mining and sugar industries saw the construction of a rail link from Maryborough to Pialba, followed by the Urangan Pier in 1913. The rail line was extended all the way to the end of the pier, which at that time was a whopping 1.1 kilometres long.
Standing at the land end of the surviving 800+ metres of the pier today, the structure still seems to stretch almost to the horizon. It’s an awesome spot for a morning stroll and offers sweeping views back towards the coast and across to Fraser Island.
To get a true sense of the scope of the structure in its heyday, head over to the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum, located alongside the Z-PAC Theatre. The TARDIS-like facility looks reasonably modest in size from the street, but actually encompasses 1.3 hectares of display space packed with fascinating remnants from the past. History buffs will need three or four hours to do the collection any sort of justice. There’s plenty of information about the pier (including a scale model of the original structure), along with memorabilia from the famous wreck of the SS Maheno on Fraser Island.
Great places to eat in Hervey Bay
It will come as no surprise that al fresco dining is big along the bay.
Unassuming Vinvero’s Café at Scarness gets rave reviews on TripAdvisor and it’s not hard to see why. You’ll get a great coffee here, along with a menu of artfully presented Asian-style bites. Pull up a pew outside and watch the world go by.
Straight across the Esplanade, the interior at Enzo’s on the Beach features a soaring ceiling and plenty of reclaimed and recycled accents. There’s a natural flow out onto the deck, which overlooks the golden beachfront and turquoise waters of the bay. The menu is bamboozingly diverse. Check out the ‘Fiesta Feasts’ offered Thursday to Sunday evenings.
Up the Esplanade in Torquay, Coast is the spot to push the boat out on a special occasion (but hey, with an air-conditioned interior section, who needs an excuse). Think wispy sheer curtains, neutral tones and a superbly nuanced menu of share plates. The menu changes frequently but if the Hervey Bay scallops are on it, do it! Also check out the menu of boutique Queensland beers, and a dedicated G&T menu featuring botanical gins from across the country.
Around at the marina, The Dock offers a relaxed feel and a beautifully executed array of tapas and shared plate options. Comfortable couches and outdoor tables overlook the floating city of masts, helms and hatches.
There are endless cafes along the Esplanade, and in the name of research we attempted to tick off a good percentage of them. Special mention to Cody’s Coffee Shack for great coffee and a quirky offbeat vibe. Look for the extremely Instagrammable kombi out front (that doubles as a seating booth).
As each day in paradise draws to a close, there are myriad opportunities to enjoy a pre-dinner tipple bathed in the glow of yet another golden sunset. But perhaps none are more exquisite than heading offshore with Blue Dolphin Marine Tours on their superb seasonal sunset champagne cruise. Blue Dolphin Marine Tours operates a magnificent 12-metre luxury sailing catamaran from the Great Sandy Straits Marina. During whale season, the cat provides an intimate whale watching experience (which is capped at around 24 guests). From November to June, the sunset cruise is offered (alongside a half-day dolphin spotting cruise).
Relax on deck with a glass of chilled bubbles, wine or beer, and graze on a platter of snacky bites as the sky above comes alive with vivid colour. Skipper Peter Lynch and his wife Jodie are wonderful hosts and will have you back at the marina in time for dinner.
Where to shop in Hervey Bay
Hervey Bay is first and foremost a holiday town, so you may find yourself in need of the following staples.
Ladies, for chic resort wear or something summery to step out in, swing by Luxe, located on the Esplanade at Urangan. Think cool linens and flowing lines. Australian watercolour and landscape artist Ashleigh Manley has a gallery next door.
Just up from Luxe, the Hervey Bay Hat Company is the region’s only store dedicated wholly and solely to the tit-for-tat. Browse the array of trilbies, fedoras, panamas, Stetsons and sun hats and step onto the beach shaded in style.
Searching for your next great beach read? Head for the Hervey Bay Book Exchange at Torquay, which piles them high and sells them low.
For casual beach wear, sarongs, gifts and mementos of your Hervey Bay holiday, the Urangan Pier Park Community Markets are held each Wednesday and Saturday in the park adjacent to the pier. You’ll also find jewellery, handcrafted artisanal products and fresh produce. There’s a feel-good focus on supporting local charities, school groups, and individual causes.
Ways to relax in Hervey Bay
Getting out on the water is the number one way to relax in this part of the world.
And whether the whales are in residence or not, experiencing the serene beauty of the bay and Great Sandy Strait firsthand is not to be missed.
Google ‘whale watching cruises Hervey Bay’ and you’ll get a bewildering array of options. Most operators offer several departures a day and some type of guarantee (that you’ll see a whale or get a return cruise), and stories abound of the mammals actually seeking out cruise vessels to ham it up for the cameras. Your choice of cruise may come down to how many other guests you want to share the experience with.
Putting the whales to one side (no mean feat), there are plenty of other marine residents to meet. Wil, Jacqui and the team at Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours offer a fascinating year-round Turtle Discovery Tour on board the Milbi — a glass-bottom vessel that operates from the Great Sandy Straits Marina. This cruise has an Indigenous focus and you’ll learn about aspects of Butchulla culture, while seeking out dolphins, sea turtles, dugongs and more. One of the highlights of the day is the traditional welcome to country ceremony. Snorkel in the warm waters of the strait, walk on pristine sandy cays that have to be seen to be believed, and enjoy a deliciously healthy included lunch.
It floats omnipresent on the horizon east of Hervey Bay and like whale watching, the options for exploring K’gari Fraser Island during your stay on the Fraser Coast are many and varied. The world’s largest sand island covers 184,000 hectares and encompasses a wide variety of landscapes and ecosystems. Unless you plan to spend an extended period on the island, most day trips and cruises can only scratch the surface. But hey, there’s always your next visit.
Conveniently located in Pialba and within cooee of the beachfront, water park, gallery, and Pialba Place Shopping Centre and business district, Comfort Inn on Main Hervey Bay makes a great base for a Hervey Bay getaway.
The low-rise hotel has 28 newly refurbished, air-conditioned rooms, each of which features contemporary interior design and a beautifully presented bathroom. Room amenities include a fridge, microwave, tea and coffee facilities, complimentary Wi-Fi and satellite television. There’s plenty of onsite parking, and guests can cool off after a hard day of sightseeing with a dip in the tropical-style pool.
Comfort Inn on Main Hervey Bay is owned and operated by the Hervey Bay RSL and all guests receive a complimentary drink and a discount on dining at the club. It’s a ten-minute walk from the hotel (or ask reception to book the complimentary shuttle for you).
Do you have any tips to add to our Hervey Bay travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
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.