Home to a rare colony of nesting turtles and the southernmost gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Bundaberg is a city of environmental treasures and cultural pleasures.
By Stephanie Williams
The historic sugar cane city of Bundaberg is a four hour drive north of Brisbane and the southernmost gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It is fringed by fascinating coral cays, lagoons and 140 kilometres (87 miles) of glistening white beaches.
From Bundaberg it is a short drive to Mon Repos Regional Park, home to the largest concentration of nesting sea turtles on the eastern Australian mainland. Bundaberg is also the base for diving and snorkelling trips to Lady Musgrave Island and Lady Elliot Island, as well as swimming and fishing from coastal national parks.
But Bundaberg isn’t just a coastal experience, you can also explore city drawcards such as museums, heritage buildings and lush botanic gardens. Learn more about the sugar cane trade and how Australia's popular Bundaberg Rum has put this town on the map. There’s a range of Bundaberg accommodation from campgrounds to luxury apartments, or consider the beachside suburb of Bargara, 15 minutes away.
- Visit the turtles as they nest in the Mon Repos Regional Park
- Learn how sugar cane and rum have shaped this town
- Island hop on Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave coral cays
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Top things to do in Bundaberg
Watch turtles nest at Mon Repos Conservation Park
Between November and March at Mon Repos Regional Park, you can join a nightly tour to see green, flatback and the endangered loggerhead turtles nest and hatch on the small beach there. Mid-November to February is the best time to see female turtles laying eggs, while hatchlings usually begin to leave their nests from mid-January. In January you may glimpse both nesting adults and their newly-hatched babies, crawling to shore for their first swim.
Enjoy the island life near Bundaberg
Over summer, turtles also nest and hatch in smaller numbers on nearby Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave Islands, the southernmost coral isles of the Great Barrier Reef. These spots are also spectacular sites for snorkelling and diving, with manta rays and fish among the rainbow of resident marine life. Base yourself in the beachfront eco-resort on Lady Elliot Island, home to 19 dive sites. Take a guided reef walk or hike around the island, spotting the abundant birdlife.
Further north is Lady Musgrave Island, a national park and the only coral island on the Great Barrier Reef with a navigable lagoon. Swim and snorkel the lagoon’s clear, turquoise waters alongside coral trout and enormous technicolour fish. Scuba dive with manta rays and moray eels, glide over the reef in a glass-bottomed boat or see starfish, sea urchins, clams and corals exposed at low tide. Explore the island on a day trip or go castaway – you’ll need to book ahead for one of the 40 camping spots.
Learn about Bundaberg’s sugar and rum
You can’t drive around the Bundaberg region without seeing towering stalks of the local crop – sugarcane. There are three local brands – Bundaberg Rum, Bundaberg Brewed Drinks and Bundaberg Sugar – that rely on the local sugar industry and have helped put Bundaberg on the map. Take a tour of the Bundaberg Rum distillery which dates back to 1888. You can even blend your own rum to take home. Visit Fairymead House, a grand 1890s homestead housing sugar industry memorabilia, a gift from Bundaberg Sugar.
Explore the streets of Bundaberg
Back in Bundaberg, you can trace the city’s heritage in the museums and gracious colonial buildings. Visit the subtropical Bundaberg Botanic Gardens precinct, which includes more than 10,000 plants, a working sugar cane train and the Hinkler Hall of Aviation, which pays tribute to solo aviator Bert Hinkler. Take a break next to the museum at Café 1928. Cruise the Burnett River aboard the Bundy Belle and see Bundaberg from a new perspective.
Visit towns and coastline outside Bundaberg
Bundaberg sits at the hub of the Coral Coast, a dreamy stretch of white beaches, national parks and relaxed coastal towns. Head 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) north and hit the surf at Agnes Water, a sleepy holiday hamlet. You can take a surf lesson, or hire a board or bike there. Visit its sister township of Seventeen Seventy, a popular departure point for reef cruises and fishing charters. Its unusual name is actually the year explorer Captain James Cook and the crew of HM Bark Endeavour landed here. You can also swim or fish at Elliott Heads, go diving in Coral Cove and Innes Park, or spot kangaroos in Woodgate Beach.
How to get there
Bundaberg is serviced by a regional airport, with links to Brisbane and Lady Elliot Island. You can take the Tilt Train from Brisbane, which takes around 4½ hours or drive on sealed highways up and down the Queensland coast and from the inland.