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 Rockhampton, thanks to Choice Hotels...
As you roll into ‘Rocky’ in central Queensland, either by plane, train or automobile, you can’t help but get a sense of the vastness of this state.
Rockhampton is located 600 kilometres north of Brisbane, and it’s another 700 kilometres on to Townsville. Head west from Rocky for 700 kilometres and you’ll eventually reach Longreach. This region is big.
Tracts of rich grazing land around the city sprawl against a backdrop of the hazy purple mountains of the Great Dividing Range. This is cattle country and if you were unaware of that fact before you arrived, the six ‘Big Bulls’ that stand sentinel at various entry points to the CBD (representing the six key breeds farmed here) will set you straight.
It feels like Rockhampton is on the verge of something bigger than its bulls. There’s a lot going on here. The newly redeveloped Riverside Precinct is absolutely stunning, new players are revolutionising the culinary scene and there’s a host of first-class cultural and historical attractions on offer. A brand-new arts precinct is also in the offing.
Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide’s YouTube channel. Only got a couple of days to get to know the historic city of Rockhampton in Central Queensla…
Best times to visit Rockhampton
Rockhampton sits on the Tropic of Capricorn and has reasonably consistent daytime maximum temperatures for much of the year. The temperate weather lends itself to outdoor pursuits and dining. However, when humidity hits, it hits hard. With no cooling ocean breezes, the city can swelter. Opt for accommodation with good air con. It gets chilly overnight in winter, so pack a pashmina.
When planning a visit to Rockhampton remember that city accommodation is often at a premium during the week due to corporate bookings and FIFO workers. On the flipside, the city can feel a little quiet on weekends and some attractions, restaurants and cafes close. You’ll need to strike a balance between the two.
Top cultural experiences in Rockhampton
The CBD runs parallel to the Fitzroy River and the stunning Customs House building — constructed at the turn of the 20thcentury — is testament to the city’s historic importance as a river port.
Today this classical edifice sits squarely in the middle of Rocky’s spectacular $36 million Riverside Precinct redevelopment, which opened in early 2018. Centred around Denham and Quay Streets, the redevelopment, which included extensive street-scaping and the construction of a fabulous riverfront promenade and recreation area, pulls together the plethora of fine Victorian buildings that line the riverfront into a unified precinct. It’s an absolutely delightful spot to while away a couple of hours. The kids will love the dancing fountain, and free Wi-Fi is available.
If you’re up for a stroll to see more of the CBD’s considerable inventory of heritage gems (on a street grid that was modelled on that of Melbourne!), you can check out the stunning Post Office, the School of Arts, the Queensland National Bank Building and the art deco City Hall.
The Rockhampton Art Gallery is moving from its current fairly nondescript building on the edge of the CBD, to a purpose-built arts facility in the Riverside Precinct. The gallery holds one of regional Australia’s most significant collections of mid 20th century Australian art, including works by Albert Tucker, Fred Williams, John Brack, John Perceval, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan. It also hosts touring exhibitions and special events. Note: The gallery is currently closed for its relocation, and will reopen as the Rockhampton Museum of Art in mid 2021.
Rockhampton for history lovers
European settlers had first contact with the Darumbal first people of Central Queensland from the mid 1850s.
The Darumbal Enterprises website is well worth a visit to do some pre-holiday research on the nation’s history and culture.
To gain some insight into the pioneering life of early colonial settlers, a visit to the fabulous Rockhampton Heritage Village on the north-eastern side of town is well worth the modest $14.50 entry fee. It’s home to a mix of original and reproduction buildings that are packed with memorabilia from the 1850s to the 1950s. The village is beautifully presented and what’s really amazing is the facility is maintained and manned almost entirely by volunteers.
Back in town, the Archer Park Railway Museum is another fascinating opportunity to step back in time. Again, largely staffed and maintained, magnificently, by volunteers, the museum features lots of interactive activities that families will love. Climb on board several heritage rail cars and take a spin in what is believed to be the world’s only operating Purrey Steam Tram.
Millions of years of natural history are on display at the privately owned Capricorn Caves, located about 30 minutes’ drive north-east of the city. This is one of the region’s most popular attractions. Take a guided tour through a number of impressive surface caves which are home to tiny ducking and weaving bent-wing bats. The soaring Cathedral Cave is a popular spot for weddings and comes complete with chapel-style seating and a rocky pulpit.
Great places to eat in Rockhampton
From cheap and cheerful to sophisticated concept dining, Rockhampton’s culinary scene may come as one of the biggest surprises of your visit.
Boathouse is the newest addition to the city’s dining landscape. It’s part of the newly revamped Riverside Precinct and offers superb views over the Fitzroy River. Happy hipsters rub shoulders with glowing baby boomers as the cool tunes flow and faultless waitstaff ride the wave of popularity. The menu is awesome (and very affordable — although we did visit during the launch phase so where things settle remains to be seen). The cocktail list is a treat.
The same team is behind Headricks Lane — a funky mixed-use venue housed in a heritage warehouse on East Street. There’s a laneway-style café (that doubles as an upscale eatery by night), and a micro-brewery and bar. Lots of interesting textures and industrial finishes work together to create an amazing ambience.
If there’s anywhere you’d expect to get a great steak it would be in Rockhampton. The historic Criterion Hotel on Quay Street is a popular option. Alternatively, head for the Great Western Hotel (which dates back to 1862). It has an award-winning steakhouse, and hosts a live rodeo in its indoor arena on Wednesday and Friday evenings. Cowboy boots and hats are the unofficial dress code!
For casual eats and top coffee there are great cafes tucked away across the city. 45 East Street offers a rustic vibe, while Dingles Café & Bar melds a heritage setting with contemporary finishes. Jolt Café Bakery has a great location under the arches of the old Post Office.
Where to shop in Rockhampton
The CBD offers plenty of opportunities for shopaholics to get their fix and you’ll find all the retail names you’d expect to cross paths with in any large Aussie urban centre.
For something a little more organic, head for the Arcade Car Park Market. It happens every Sunday from 8am to 12.30pm in the heart of the city (immediately opposite the Quality Hotel Regent Rockhampton). From turnips to tarot card readings, hand-made toys, preloved fashions and bric-a-brac, there’s something here for everyone. Check the Facebook page for special events and details of live entertainment.
If you happen to be in town on the second Sunday of January, March, May, July, September or November, hightail it over to the Rockhampton Heritage Village Markets. A gold coin will get you in the gate, with proceeds going towards the upkeep of the village. Shop for locally produced arts and crafts, food and fashion and take a spin on the Cobb & Co coach or in one of the village’s classic vintage cars.
Ways to relax in Rockhampton
For those in need of some me-time, the 33-hectare Rockhampton Botanic Gardens is a stunning retreat.
Parts of the gardens date back to the 1870s. One of the highlights is the small zoo, which is free to enter. Other treats include the Japanese Garden, the Banyan fig forest and the tranquil lagoon. The Gardens Tearooms does a mighty fine jam and cream scone.
You can also get away from it all at the top of nearby Mount Archer. The drive to the summit takes around 40 minutes. Take a stroll on the newly completed Nurim Circuit Elevated Boardwalk which provides sweeping views of the city far below, along with the surrounding region.
Where to stay in Rockhampton
Quality Hotel Regent Rockhampton
The sublime Quality Hotel Regent Rockhampton occupies a fully restored former TAFE college. The heritage-listed main building dates back to 1914 and no expense has been spared upgrading the interior to 21st century standards.
Take the sweeping main staircase (or lift) up to your choice from 49 spacious guest rooms and suites with soaring ceilings and plush modern bathrooms. Some rooms have kitchen facilities, which makes self-catering a breeze.
Amenities at the hotel include a tropical pool surrounded by a verdant garden, conferencing facilities and a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and one of the best lattes in town! The dinner menu features a fabulous range of well-priced mains with an emphasis on local seasonal produce. The crispy duck breast and chilli berry compote is a must-try. Follow it up with traditional bread and butter pudding for dessert.
Do you have any tips to add to our Rockhampton travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
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.