Things to do in Bundaberg
COVID has created many hardships and challenges. Travel writers like me who love to explore have to place international travel on the backburner for a while. After three months of lockdown, I was itching to burst out of Brisbane. Without overseas as an option, these ‘strange’ COVID times have forced me to look closer to home and discover more of the beautiful places in my state of Queensland.
How to get to Bundaberg
A four-hour drive from Brisbane, 365 kilometres via the Bruce Highway, why haven’t I visited the home of my favourite alcoholic beverage (Bundy rum) before? One of my boys had an away soccer game in Bundaberg two years ago and I made him catch the team bus, as I didn’t feel like driving there and back in one day! You can take the tilt train to Bundaberg and a small regional airport has links to Brisbane and Lady Elliott Island.
Winning a prize at an ASTW Christmas lunch hosted by Capricorn Enterprise helped me rectify my slackness in not having visited Bundaberg since my childhood. With a voucher for two nights’ complimentary accommodation at Oshen Apartments in Yeppoon and COVID restrictions not allowing Queenslanders to leave the State, I hatched a plan to drive to Yeppoon via Bundaberg.
A road trip!
With another friend, Catherine who because of COVID was on ‘stand-down’ from her job, we left Brisbane at 10 am one Sunday morning bound for Bundaberg. The plan, to be at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery before it closed at 4 pm.
Famous for Bundaberg Rum
We drove through the main street of Childers at 2.10 pm and pulled into the Bundy Rum carpark at 3.30 pm. Enough time to have a quick look through the shop and make some purchases.
At the distillery, in pre-COVID times you could take a tour and learn about the history of this world-famous brand. Unfortunately, because of COVID all tours were on hold and there we no tastings in the store. (These will be restored soon they told us.)
We were staying overnight with a friend, Annie who lives in Bargara. We mentioned to Annie we didn’t get to do any tastings. She just happened to have the three Bundaberg Rum Royal Liqueurs in the cupboard, so after dinner, we did the taste test. All three received a thumbs up. We knew we would have to get back to the distillery store to buy them (the Royal Liqueurs can only be purchased at the store!)
And on that quick stopover en route to Brisbane, we made a second pitstop at family-owned and operated Kalki Moon Distilling and Brewing (thanks Liz for the recommendation.) As I’ve ‘matured’ I’ve acquired a taste for gin and this artisan gin distillery produces a couple of award-winning varieties. Kalki Moon was founded in 2017 by Rick Prosser who cut his teeth working as a Rum Master at Bundaberg Rum. I chatted to Mick on this Saturday morning and he shared the exciting news they’re about to launch a limited edition Kalki Moon Rum
I recommend calling into their warehouse facility for a tasting and tour.
Tip: It’s not something you want to rush, take your time and enjoy!
Bundaberg’s history of settlement
A walk along the Bargara foreshore in the late afternoon was something I could get used to. Annie pointed out the black volcanic rocks framing a sectioned off part of the beach. These black stone walls at Bargara (and at Mon Repos beach) were built by the Kanakas whose job was to clear the cane fields of volcanic rock.
Before European settlement in the 1850s, the area was occupied by the Gureng Gureng Aborigines and the Taribelang people. By the 1870s German and Danish migrants who settled in the area to farm, had cleared land and began grazing cattle. In 1876 there were two sugar mills in Bundaberg.
From 1880 the first group of South Sea Islanders (referred to as Kanakas) were brought to Bundaberg as part of a ‘blackbirding’ trade – indentured labourers – to work sugar cane plantations and farms. For the next 30 years, until Federation in 1901, these ‘Kanakas’ cleared the cane fields of black volcanic rock shifting it by hand to Bargara and Mon Repos Beach, where you see the rock walls they built.
Sweet Farmgate experiences
Late afternoon, we squeezed in a drive to Tinaberries at Wongarra. Annie’s daughter is friends with one of the sons of owners, Tina and Bruce McPherson. This was a good thing as we turned up with a glass of bubbles in hand (rushing straight from Bargara beach to Tinaberries.) We obviously confused some of the customers at the farmgate who thought a glass of bubbles was for sale!
When Tina and Bruce bought the cane farm 14 years ago, they wanted to grow something other than sugarcane. Tina loves strawberries and knows everyone else pretty much feels the same about the sweet fruit. She planted a winter variety and you can pick your own between the months of August – October.
We were ready to try their famous ice-cream. Catherine chose dragon fruit and I went for strawberry. Delicious!
Bert Hinkler one of Bundaberg’s favourite sons
The next morning, we had to leave for Yeppoon to board a 3 pm ferry to Great Keppel Island. So it was a quick stop at the Botanic Gardens to look at the Hinkler Aviation Centre celebrating the life of one of Bundaberg’s favourite sons, aviation hero Bert Hinkler. As a teenager, Hinkler flew his hand-built gliders on Mon Repos beach (15 minutes from Bundaberg CBD.) He later set aviation records becoming the first person to fly solo from England to Australia in 1928 and across the south Atlantic in 1931.
Unfortunately, in 1933 at age 39 he died in a plane accident. In 1983 the house he lived in for a few years in Southampton England was going to be knocked down. A couple of people interested in Bundaberg’s connection to Bert Hinkler organised for the house to be carefully dismantled, brick by brick, numbered and shipped back to Bundaberg where it was rebuilt. ‘Mon Repos’ House is found in the Botanic Gardens as a monument to Bert Hinkler.
Inside the museum is a replica of the plane he flew on the inaugural flight and lots of memorabilia.
An unfortunate casualty of COVID is the Bundy Food Tours Owner operator Suzie Clarke took guests on a behind the scenes guided tour of family-owned farms (including Tinaberries), coffee roasters, a seafood supplier, sourdough baker, kombucha brewer, and a gin distiller. A teacher in Bundaberg, she operated the tours on the weekend, “I wanted to share our region’s unique stories and show people you don’t have to travel abroad to have an iconic food experience,” says Suzie.
Unfortunately, with the tours not running during COVID and social distancing presenting problems visiting the locations, Suzzie decided to close the business. What a shame as I will be returning to Bundaberg to experience more than one night and of course more of the tasty local produce! I also want to come back for the turtle hatchings.
You can read more about Bundaberg in my story published in Truly Aus
Take the road trip – you will be so impressed with what you discover. I certainly did.