The first thing to say about Hervey Bay on Queensland’s Coral Sea is that it has ferry access to the stunning Fraser Island.
Whether you go on your own steam in a 4WD vehicle or let an experienced guide take the reins, Fraser Island needs to be in your plans.
But the tourist-friendly seaside city has much to recommend it, not least because of the long Esplanade curling around the foreshore leading you through coastal woodland, beside golden sandy beaches, a handsome old pier, an eco-friendly water park and untold places to eat and drink.
July to October this is one of the best places in Australia to see the humpback whales as they rest with their calves in the calm Coral Sea.
1. Fraser Island
More than 120 kilometres long, the world’s largest sand island is ever-present off the coast of Hervey Bay, creating a vast barrier against the Pacific surf.
Fraser Island has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years by the Butchulla People, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its ecological bounty.
We’re talking epic shifting sand dunes up to 200 metres high, majestic stands of tall rainforest, paradisiacal freshwater dune lakes, peat swamps and mangrove forest.
If you want to plan your own 4WD adventure, barges and ferries make the crossing daily from River Heads (20 minutes out of Hervey Bay proper), and you’ll need vehicle and camping permits.
If you’d prefer some local insight there’s no shortage of tours available, and we’ll outline one below.
2. Remote Fraser Island Tour from Hervey Bay
On this experience via the online tour platform GetYourGuide.com you’ll immerse yourself in Fraser Island’s stupendous natural beauty.
The journey begins with a cruise along the Great Sandy Strait, sighting dolphins, sea turtles, dugongs and dingoes on land.
Then you’ll go ashore on an amphibious watercraft, which will roll right onto the beach to keep you dry.
The tour will be flexible to your plans, whether you want to kayak in the crystalline waters of Bowarrady or Awinya Creek, go snorkelling in Wathumba Creek hike over sand dunes for marvellous views or do some whale-watching (mainly July to October). The experienced staff will fill you in with lots of fascinating facts as you go, and lunch, morning snack and afternoon tea will be served on board.
3. Four-Hour Whale Watch Encounter
Mostly between July and October, but also in the adjacent months, humpback whales can be seen in the waters off Hervey Bay on their migration from the Antarctic to warmer subtropical waters to give birth.
Humpback whales grow to a maximum length of 16 metres and are a Hervey Bay icon, celebrated in local culture.
On this half-day tour through GetYourGuide.com you’ll travel in a 20-metre luxury catamaran, listening to expert commentary from your crew.
The vessel has been designed especially for whale-watching, and comes with a water-level viewing platform and windows to help you see underwater.
The humpbacks take breaks from their journey in Hervey Bay’s sheltered seas, so your chances of an encounter will be high.
4. Hervey Bay Esplanade
Tying Hervey Bay’s waterfront together is the 17-kilometre beachfront path that runs east from Gatakers Bay on Point Vernon to the Boat Club in Urangan.
You can ride, walk or skate through shaded coastal parkland, basking in almost constant coastal views and coasting past cafes, fish and chip shops, ice cream parlours, souvenir shops, playgrounds and family attractions.
If you don’t have a set of wheels there are bike hire shops on the route.
Almost all of the things in this article are right on the Esplanade, together with a raft of local amenities, from picnic sites to adventure playgrounds.
5. Wetside Water Park
Where Main Street meets the Esplanade, Wetside Water Park is a free, sustainably-designed water attraction open seven days a week during the school holidays (outside June and July). The park opened in 2009 to mark Queensland’s 150th anniversary and was built on 384 piers that were sunk into the underlying sand.
All of the water propelling Wetside’s slides and shooting from the ground has been harvested from a subterranean storm water network.
The park is a godsend for people with little ones in tow, and at Totside under fives can play in a zero-depth splashpad.
There are jets and fountains all across Wetside, and a tipping bucket dumps many litres of water on the crowd below.
You can also test your wave-riding skills on the Flipside Boardrider, while every Saturday night at 19:00 there’s a show combining lights, music and water displays.
6. Urangan Pier
A sight that goes hand-in-hand with Hervey Bay is this historic wooden pier pushing out into the Coral Sea for more than a kilometre.
Now somewhere to unwind, go fishing, spot dolphins and rays, or admire the views to Big Woody Island and Fraser Island, Urangan Pier has industrial origins.
It was ready in 1917 after four years of construction, and was a docking point for cargo ships exporting timber, sugar and coal.
In those times the pier incorporated the Hervey Bay Railway, which ran all the way to the tip.
The trackbed of this line is now the Links Corridor, a 6.2-kilometre trail running all the way to the Hervey Bay Botanic Gardens.
Continue your walk at the parks along the foreshore, grabbing a treat at one of the eateries on the Esplanade.
7. Hervey Bay Botanic Gardens
The showpiece at Hervey Bay Botanic Gardens is the Orchid House, which holds some 15,000 plants, including many orchid varieties that you’re unlikely to have seen before.
This also has a cafe, where you can take tea looking over the gardens’ lagoon and patch of rainforest.
You can amble through the mature Chinese garden, which has a moon gate and bamboo grove, while the Japanese Bridge is just the place to watch the ducks and turtles paddling around the lake.
Another of the beautiful sub-gardens is the informative bush tucker garden, brimming with edible plants, and there’s a small contemplative labyrinth for a mindful walk.
8. Hervey Bay Historical Village & Museum
A cluster of 19th and early 20th-century buildings has been relocated to this site within walking distance of the beach in Hervey Bay.
There are just shy of 30 buildings in all, among them a blacksmith, Hervey Bay’s Methodist Church from 1901, an 1898 slab cottage filled with period furniture and the original Goodwood Railway Station.
There’s masses of historic machinery and tools to peruse, like a petrol-powered washing machine, an IHC three-horse power engine, machines for cane harvesting and much more.
Sunday is the day to visit, when you can watch a horseshoe being forged, treadle a century-old wood lathe and help make a length of rope on a 19th-century machine.
9. The Fraser Coast Discovery Sphere
A great intro to the nature and culture of Hervey Bay, as well as a primer for a trip to Fraser Island, this interactive attraction is a short way inland from Wetside Water Park.
Here you can get acquainted with the phenomenal natural diversity of the Great Sandy Biosphere, shown in vivid detail at a theatre presentation.
Humpback whales are prominent, and you can view a full-sized replica skeleton and have a simulated underwater encounter.
All through the Discovery Sphere are snippets and pieces of artwork representing the Dreamtime legends of the Aboriginal Butchulla People, the Traditional Owners of Fraser Island.
10. Reefworld Aquarium
This beachfront aquarium is one of just a handful in the world to use sand-filtered seawater in its tanks, while being illuminated by natural sunlight.
This attraction has been in business since 1979 and has an eye-opening diversity of marine life, including a variety of sharks, big Queensland groupers, the venomous stonefish, manta rays, lungfish, sea apples and a world of tiny fish in reef displays.
On the walls there are non-live educational exhibits, from rare shells to sharks’ teeth, while children will be able to interact with starfish, sea urchins and coral at the touch tank.
11. Dundowran Beach
There’s a quite a large tidal range at this beach in the Hevey Bay suburb of the same name, west of the town proper.
At low tide the ocean at Dundowran Beach practically disappears, and if you keep an eye on the schedule you can wander out and watch the tiny fish and crabs scurrying around.
When the tide comes in the water is shallow enough and absent of strong currents so younger members of the clan can swim in safety.
Tracing the beach is a quiet residential community, so kangaroos won’t be shy about hopping along the shore, especially first thing in the morning.
12. Point Dayman Park
Sitting just next to Reef World Aquarium is a rather unfrequented park that culminates above the ocean at a headland.
This is Dayman Point, which is a scenic place to pause for few minutes and gaze out to Big Woody Island and Fraser Island behind.
Unsurprisingly, this is a coveted place for wedding photos, but is also dotted with little monuments and backed by a picnic shelter.
A little bit of exploration along the immaculate tree-shaded lawns will bring you to another vantage point, at the Matthew Flinders Lookout where there’s a monument celebrating the bicentenary of the namesake explorer’s epochal circumnavigation of Australia, during which he mapped Hervey Bay for the first time.
You can also find a miniature replica of the Ariadne, the first ship to sail directly from Liverpool to the Port of Maryborough in 1862.
13. Hervey Bay Regional Gallery
Just the place to sample the region’s art scene and catch important travelling exhibitions, Hervey Bay Regional Gallery is rated “Category A”. As a public amenity, the gallery is free to enter and maintains strong ties to the local community through all sorts of activities, from tours to talks and workshops for children.
As a nod to a female humpback whale that returns to Hervey Bay ever year, one permanent artwork is Nala, a monumental sculpture of a breaching whale, set in front of the building and weighing 22 tonnes.
14. Torquay Beach
Hervey Bay’s main, north-facing beach is buffered from the Esplanade by a string of narrow parks, hiding the town’s canoe and sailing clubs among its dense stands of eucalyptus, palms and pines.
This green wall means that when you’re lounging on the luxurious golden sands of Torquay Beach it can be hard to believe that the city can be so close.
But you’ll only have a short walk to the nearest shop or restaurant.
That northern orientation and the island offshore leave the beach with lazy surf and shimmering, clear waters.
At Nielsen Park there’s an inviting, grassy picnic area with lots of natural shade and an adventure playground.
15. Susan River Homestead
Spread across almost 700 hectares, Susan River Homestead is a fully-fledged adventure resort deep in bushland 25 kilometres from Torquay Beach.
There’s a whole menu of packages available here, combining air-conditioned accommodation and a campsite that caters to RVs and caravans.
But Susan River Homestead is also a day destination, so you can make the brief drive from Hervey Bay to go waterskiing on the resort’s private lake, take a two-hour horseback adventure or use facilities like the swimming pool, tennis courts or the Olympic-sized trampoline.