The city of Bundaberg sits among sugar cane fields near the coast of south-east Queensland.
Sugar has been Bundaberg’s lifeblood since the 1870s, but Bundy may in fact be more famous for a sugar bi-product.
If you didn’t already know, this is Australia’s rum capital, and Bundaberg rum is sold the world over.
The subtropical climate lets all sorts of other crops to flourish, many of which go into soft drinks like ginger beer, produced by another local giant, Bundaberg Brewed Drinks.
As you’d expect at this latitude, Bundaberg’s botanic garden is something special, but it is also full of attractions, one a museum honouring the locally-born aviator Bert Hinkler, who broke the mould in the 1920s and 30s.
1. Bundaberg Rum Distillery
The Bundaberg Distilling Company has been going since 1888 as a use for the waste molasses left over from sugar production.
The world-renowned brand has picked up scores of awards in its time, and is now under the Diageo umbrella.
In 2016 the distillery unveiled a new, $8.5m visitor centre immersing you in the storied history of the Bundaberg Rum and also a starting point for a distillery tour.
At the multisensory Museum Experience, within a retired bondstore, you can stand inside one of Bundy’s 75,000-litre barrels.
Then on the tour you’ll accompany an expert guide to see a 21st-century distillery in full flow.
For an extra fee you can even have a go at blending your own rum.
The shop is a big part of the experience, selling Bundaberg Rum’s entire range, as well as rum-infused sauces, jams and fudge.
2. Bundaberg Botanic Gardens
Bundaberg’s economy is still founded on subtropical crops, which puts a trip to the botanic gardens near the top of must-dos.
This lush and intricately landscaped environment is navigated by boardwalks and pathways, and unfolds across almost 30 hectares supporting more than 110 bird species.
Growing here are some 10,000 trees and shrubs, arranged in precincts and sub-gardens like the Australian rainforest, rare fruit tree orchard, prehistoric garden, fern garden, bamboo grove, Japanese and Chinese Gardens, bromeliad garden, palm grove and a garden for Bundaberg pilot Bert Hinkler (more next). Kids will also be thrilled with a journey on the two-kilometre, narrow-gauge Australian Sugar Cane Railway.
Indulge in a sweet treat or meal at Cafe 1928, which also sells duck feed for the neighbouring lake.
3. Hinkler Hall of Aviation
Bundaberg-born aviator Bert Hinkler (1892-1933) crammed a lot of feats into a short life, becoming the first person to fly solo from England to Australia and accomplishing the first solo flight across the Southern Atlantic.
In 2008 the multimillion-dollar Hinkler Hall of Aviation opened in tribute at the botanic gardens, and has a remarkable design evoking a biplane wing.
Inside you can learn more about Bert’s astonishing achievements and sit in the cockpit of a replica Avro Baby, identical to the one he flew from Sydney to Bundaberg in 1921. There are also glide simulators, aircraft and personal artefacts from Bert’s life as well as his home, Mon Repos, which was saved from demolition in 1983 and relocated from Southampton, England to the gardens.
4. Mon Repos Turtle Encounter
Every year from November to January, the largest population of loggerhead turtles in the South Pacific shuffles onto the beaches of nearby Mon Repos to nest.
Then from January to March the hatchlings make their own difficult trip from the nests to the ocean.
This heart-warming but threatened cycle can be witnessed through the Mon Repos Turtle Centre.
There, with the help of interactive displays and a new immersive theatre, you can learn about the biology of the loggerhead turtle and the perilous journeys they make to reproduce.
If you’re here in season you can take a night-time Turtle Encounter to see the turtles or their hatchlings making their way across the beach.
5. The Bundaberg Barrel
Bundaberg is a name recognised far beyond Australia’s shores, and, on top of rum, this has much to do with Bundaberg Brewed Drinks which was founded back in 1960. Known mainly for its ginger beer, Bundaberg makes a whole range of other fruit or root-based soft drinks like sarsaparilla and lemon, lime and bitters.
You can drop by the Bundaberg Barrel for a self-guided tour of the automated factory, to see the creations being brewed before your eyes and bottles zipping along the production line.
You’ll see warehouse robots moving boxes, and there’s lots of buttons to push and levers to pull.
At the end you’ll get to taste the brand’s 18 different flavours, and will receive a six-pack of your choice to take home with you.
6. The Hummock Lookout
Bundaberg’s immediate area is relatively low-lying, save for this volcanic remnant a short drive east of the CBD on the way to Bargara.
For a long time the Bundaberg Hummock was used as a navigational aid, including by the cartographer Matthew Flinders who led the second circumnavigation of Australia at the turn of the 19th century.
On land, the Hummock is a great place from which to survey the flat landscape, looking east to the Pacific or back over the sugar cane fields to the Bundaberg Distillery and Mill.
Also visible to the west is Paddy Island in the Burnett River, which was the scene for a massacre of the local Taribelang Aboriginal people in the 1850s.
An extensive Aboriginal art mural at the Hummock recounts this incident.
7. Bourbong Street
As we see it now, Bundaberg’s CBD came together in the last decades of the 19th century.
A great deal of the architecture from those early years is intact, especially on the arterial Bourbong Street, which has more than its fair share of independent shops, hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes.
Going east from Buss Park it’s also very pretty, thanks in no small part to the line of heritage-listed weeping fig trees that were planted in 1888 and during the 1920s.
As for listed buildings, look out for the Commercial Bank (191-193) dating to 1891, the Neoclassical Bundaberg School of Arts (184) from 1889 and the Italianate Bundaberg Post Office (155) completed in 1891.
8. Alexandra Park Zoo
The riverside Alexandra Park was given a zoo in 1911 and this continues to be a treasured free amenity for the city.
Alexandra Park Zoo is fully accredited and provides humane enclosures and conditions for species including emus, wallabies, dingoes, spotted-tailed quolls, cotton-top tamarin monkeys and various snakes, lizards and Australian parrots.
One animal you may not have seen before is the white-throated snapping turtle, which occurs in the wild only in the river systems of Central Queensland.
9. Baldwin Swamp Environment Park
A block or two from Bundaberg’s CBD and you’ll suddenly be venturing across a boardwalk surrounded by hundreds of waterbirds.
The Baldwin Swamp Environment Park protects wetlands, grasslands, eucalyptus forest, rainforest and vine forest.
The quantity of birdlife is impressive to be so close to the city centre, and it’s not unusual to see more than 50 species in the space of a short walk.
As well as innumerable waterbirds you might come across quails, fairy wrens, rainbow bee-eaters and dollarbirds, while raptors like bazas and goshawks make nest in the park.
10. Woodgate Beach
A day trip you simply have to make is the town of Woodgate Beach, which lies not far away to the southeast.
The beach in question is 16 kilometres long and is enclosed by former pineapple plantations, dunes and the melaleuca swamp and cabbage palms of the Burrum Coast National Park.
The Southern Great Barrier Reef and the finger-like Fraser Island ensure that the surf at Woodgate Beach is little more than a ripple.
Nature is in charge here: Kangaroos wander onto the beaches, dolphins play in the surf and you may see a turtle making her nest in the sand.
Between April and November you may even see a humpback whale breaching.
Around 300 bird species have been sighted in the Burrum Coast National Park, and a special birdhide walking track has been set up to help you get a glimpse.
11. Fairymead House Sugar History Museum
At this stately plantation house you can get the background on Bundaberg’s sugar industry that continues to boom to this day.
The property, built in the 1890s by sugar cane pioneers, the Young family, has been restored and relocated to a picturesque setting next to the botanic gardens.
On a self-guided visit you can take in the Indian bungalow architecture and get to know the sugar pioneer families who laid the groundwork for modern Bundaberg.
There are details on sugar-making, from cane to crystal and the vital role played by the South Sea Islander community.
Outside, the neatly landscaped Front Garden is bursting with tropical plants, and you can find some repose in the serene Japanese Garden.
More convenient than Woodgate Beach, the seaside community of Bargara is 15 minutes at most from Bundaberg’s CBD.
Awaiting you here is a tropical escape, with palms swaying on the foreshore and a string of alluring beaches.
These are skirted by an esplanade, six kilometres long with views to the Coral Sea and the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
A much loved spot for families is The Basin, a sheltered swimming area at the north end of Kellys Beach.
The material used for The Basin is local, pitch black volcanic rock from ancient lava flows, locking in a calm, clear pool at high tide.
13. Alexandra Park
After a trip to the zoo you could take a stroll in the rest of the park, which sits on the Burnett River and has a waterfront track with lots of natural shade.
Alexandra Park has been here since the late-1870s and has a few monuments that have stood the test of time.
Close to the riverside is a dainty bandstand, raised in 1911, and there are also three colonial guns thought to have been purchased in the 1860s and placed here in the 1910s.
As you’d hope, Alexandra Park has lots of mature trees, including a couple of historic figs, while just next to that bandstand is a well-equipped children’s playground.
14. Kalki Moon Distilling and Brewing Company
Since you’re in Australia’s rum capital you might want to squeeze another distillery into your trip.
Boutique and small-batch, Kalki Moon is a newish operation, set up in 2017 and producing a choice of gins and liqueurs (chocolate, choc-mint, pink gin). At the time of writing in mid-2020, rum was almost ready for release.
Distillery tours are absolutely free and depart every 30 minutes, giving you insights about every step in production.
There’s also a cellar door (tasting room), where you can buy the range at discounted prices, along with branded glassware and even soap made with gin botanicals from the distilling process.
Another of the many fruits that do well in the Bundaberg region’s red soils is the strawberry, and if you find yourself here between June and October, remember to keep Tinaberries on your radar.
This farm is a few minutes out of Bundaberg towards the coast, and specialises in the glossy, conical camarosa variety.
You can swing by the farm shop for perfectly fresh and juicy strawberries, which come in wrapped plates (250g), punnets (500g) or packs (750g). If you come in September you’ll be able to head out into the fields to pick your own.