In the Sunshine Coast’s hinterland you’ll find the town hailed for saving Queensland from bankruptcy in the 1860s.
Alluvial gold was discovered in the area in 1867, triggering a gold rush that turned Gympie into a fully fledged town in a matter of months.
As you wander Gympie it’s fun to remember that the central Mary Street follows the course of a mining trench flanked by encampments, while the Town Hall is on the very site where prospector James Nash struck gold in 1867. There will be lots of opportunities to connect with Gympie’s past, on a heritage railway, at museums filled with artefacts from the early days and on the town’s historic streets.
These are lined with hotels, churches, shops and music halls that sprang up on the back of the gold rush 150 years ago.
1. Gympie Gold Mining and Historical Museum
This fantastic museum, bursting with historic machinery and old relocated buildings, tells you everything you need to know about the industries that sustained Gympie in its early years.
One of the heritage buildings on the site belonged to Andrew Fisher, prime minister of Australia for three terms between 1908 and 1915, and houses a collection of period furniture.
There are all sorts of compelling things to see, from authentic gold mining paraphernalia to a steam engine, 1923 ambulance, vintage railway goods crane, a two-man chainsaw and horse-drawn carts.
There are also pieces from WWI and WWII in the collection of the Fifth Light Horse Regiment, active between 1914-1919 and 1921-1943. Kids will love the educational gold panning exhibit, which will show you how to spot gold among alluvial gravel.
2. Mary Valley Rattler
A long branch of the North Coast Railway Line, dating back to the 1910s, is open in Gympie as one of Australia’s longest heritage railways.
At the historic, heritage-listed Gympie Railway Station you’ll board an elegant carriage pulled by a C17 967 steam locomotive from 1950. The 46-kilometre round trip takes you south along the banks of the Mary River and its tributaries, stopping at quaint townships, crossing century-old bridges and negotiating curves and gradients along the winding route to Imbil.
Before or after your journey it’s worth pausing at Gympie Station for its museum display, gift shop and cafe.
3. Woodworks Museum & Interpretive Centre
After the Gold Rush, the timber industry took over as the main employer in the Gympie region, and remains a way of life to this day.
This museum in the north of Gympie proper was opened by the Department of Forestry in 1984 and shines a light on the timber industry and the many changes it has come through down the decades.
There are some thrilling exhibits to peruse, like original pioneer tree felling tools, a 1900 steam-driven sawmill and a 1925 Republic winch truck.
There’s a demonstration area where you’ll be able to see the manual tools in action, while the museum also presents the art of woodcarving, which you can observe at the Woodworkers’ Workshop.
Souvenirs hand-made here are for sale at the museum shop.
4. Memorial Park
One of many heritage-listed places around Gympie, this park of remembrance was laid out on a triangular plot south of Mary Street in the aftermath of WWI.
Memorial Park was opened in 1921 and was visited a few months later by the future King Edward VIII when he unveiled the Gympie and Widgee War Memorial Gates, which open onto the green space.
The park itself has large, accommodating lawns, a small playscape, meandering paved walkways, dainty rockery beds and gum trees, pines, jacarandas, poinsettias and palms.
It was all intended as a memorial to the 167 local men who lost their lives in the war, and returning servicemen were employed for the project.
At the centre is a bandstand (1920) paying tribute to a bandmaster, and there’s a monument to James Nash, the prospector who first discovered gold in the area in 1867.
5. Lake Alford Recreation Park
As you approach Gympie on the Bruce Highway from the south you’ll arrive at one of the town’s best assets.
Spreading out south of the gold mining museum is Lake Alford, a sinuous pond ensconced by lawns, flowerbeds and tall shady trees.
Ducks, swans and a wealth of other waterbirds and bushbirds flock to the banks and can be fed if you bring healthy snacks like birdseed instead of bread.
At the entrance to the park is a monument to the gold miners whose discoveries in Gympie lifted all of Queensland out of an economic depression in the 1860s.
There’s a superb all-abilities playground by the lake, as well as an off-leash dog park and barbecue facilities.
On the first, third and fifth Sunday of the month, the Gympie Museum Markets trade at Lake Alford.
6. Mary Street
If you spend any time in Gympie you’re bound to find yourself on Mary Street at some point.
This is the town’s main shopping and dining thoroughfare, with broad footpaths and mature shady trees.
What’s also fascinating about Mary Street is that the route was set down as soon as gold was discovered in the area in 1867. This was the site of a dual row of tents that traced the digging bank.
So as well as being somewhere to browse family-run shops and sip coffee, Mary Street is endowed with a lot of heritage buildings, as you’ll tell from the Neoclassical facades and the cantilevered verandahs belonging to former hotel buildings.
At No. 236 check out the Gympie Stock Exchange, from 1882, while at No. 242 the Neoclassical Bank of New South Wales Building has been standing since 1891.
7. Historic Architecture
Mary Street can be the beginning of a tour of Gympie’s assortment of 19th and early 20th-century heritage.
In fact there’s a lot of carefully restored architecture going back to the Gold Rush period, so you can set aside an hour or two if you want to see everything.
On the roundabout where Mary Street meets Caledonian Hill is the Town Hall (1890), which was built at the very spot where prospector James Nash struck gold in 1867. Off the west end of Mary Street on Channon Street is the old Lands Office Building (1873), which has since become the Australian Institute of Country Music.
A few doors along is the Gympie Court House (1902). Close by on Channon Street you’ll come across the Surface Hill Uniting Church (1890), the Freemason’s Hotel (1870s), the grand former Post Office building (1880) and the Masonic Hall (1901).
8. Gympie Regional Gallery
Hugo Du Rietz (1831-1908), the man responsible for many of the historic buildings on Gympie’s streets, also designed the elegant heritage-listed School of Arts building (1905) on Nash Street.
This now houses the Gympie Regional Gallery where you can check out national touring exhibitions and see lovingly curated shows for local artists.
There are three galleries inside, and the program is lively so there will be something new to see every few weeks.
In the months before we made this there had been first-rate exhibitions for lacework (Mary Elizabeth Barron), sculpture (Sally Spencer retrospective) and works on paper (Julie Bradley).
9. Gympie Aquatic Recreation Centre
The beaches of the Sunshine Coast can be reached within an hour of Gympie, but on a hot day there’s a convenient alternative closer to home.
As well as having a 50-metre Olympic outdoor pool the aquatic recreation centre also has a ton of family-friendly facilities like seasonal slides, a splash zone, an outdoor barbecue area and a kiosk/cafe with lots of outdoor space.
If you’re serious about exercise there’s also a 25-metre heated pool that is open all year as well as a fully-equipped gym and health club.
10. Gympie Region Heritage Trail
For those who want to leave no stone unturned there’s a trail that lets you get in touch with the history of the wider area, which covers almost 6,900 square kilometres.
There are 34 stops on this route, giving you the chance to discover the Mary Valley, Cooloola Coast, Kilkivan, Goomeri and Gympie’s environs.
These are all listed on the state heritage register, and hark back to industries as diverse as gold mining, cattle farming, timber, dairy, sand mining, banana planting and the railways.
With a smartphone you can use the QR code at each numbered location, or there’s a printed brochure at Gympie Visitor Information Centre (Destination Gympie Region).
11. Victory Heights Trail Network
This system of trails for bushwalking, jogging and mountain biking has been developed just three kilometres north-east of Gympie town centre.
The access point is off Bath Terrace, where you’ll find parking, toilets and information panels about the network.
The trails wind off into 60 kilometres of mature eucalypt forest, offering ample shade.
For bushwalkers and trail runners there’s a 2, 3 and 5 kilometre trail, as well as a variety of shared trails to navigate, adding up to 17 kilometres. Mountain bikers can ride some 25 kilometres of designated trails, all signposted and suitable for a spectrum of abilities. There’s even a two-kilometre track for kids.
Every Saturday at 07:00 there’s a free parkrun along the five-kilometre walking and running trail.
12. Woondum National Park
You can get to this unforgettable natural spot in 20 minutes from Gympie.
At Woondum National Park the Boulder and Woondum Creeks flow through a landscape of granite boulders and wet eucalypt forest.
One of the amazing things about the park is that until the late-1990s much of this land was used for logging and banana plantations.
Eucalypt forest has been reintroduced and is thriving, and where the two creeks meet there’s a chain of cool rockpools that you can paddle and swim in, as you hop from boulder to boulder.
13. Deep Creek Fossicking Area
One way to return to the earliest days of European settlement in Gympie is to go panning for alluvial gold.
This can be done, with a licence, at Deep Creek, which can be found in the south of Gympie, between Brisbane Road and the Bruce Highway.
It’s worth remembering that Gympie’s watercourses were extensively worked during the Gold Rush and no surveys were made to show how deep the alluvium goes or its gold content.
But some 150 years later you might strike it lucky thanks to re-concentration or on the off chance some gold was missed by those early prospectors.
The most productive spots are along the creek bed, and along the banks on the inside of bends.
14. Destination Gympie Region
Another reason to visit Lake Alford is for the region’s visitor information centre, easily visible from the Bruce Highway.
Now, there’s a few reasons to make use of an amenity like this, whether you want to make a booking, arm yourself with maps and brochures, get some firsthand advice or just use the free Wi-Fi.
But Destination Gympie Region is also the place where you can get hold of gold fossicking licences for the State of Queensland, as well as locally made souvenirs and goodies from Gympie Region producers.
15. Gympie Music Muster
Every August a camping village at the nearby Amamoor State Village plays host to a four-day country music extravaganza.
The Gympie Music Muster attracts tens of thousands of people every year and is staffed by a small army of volunteers from the local community.
All subgenres of country music are on the menu, as well as adjacent styles from bluegrass to folk, blues, bush ballads, blues and rock.
Some of the many stars to take the stage at the Gympie Music Muster since its inception in 1982 include Rodney Carrington, Keith Urban, Troy Cassar-Daley and Gord Bamford.
And as well as big headline performances you can check out casual guitar jams, poetry readings, fire-side acoustic sets, boot-scooting sessions and song-writing workshops.