Set just in from the Central Queensland Coast, Rockhampton is one of the oldest cities in the state, developed on the banks of the Fitzroy River from the 1850s.
In the CBD there’s a lot of architecture surviving from Rockhampton’s first decades, especially on Quay Street on the River Front.
Much of this was paid for by a gold rush, while today the city is the capital of Australia’s cattle trade.
Being on the Tropic of Capricorn, Rockhampton has a wonderful lush botanic garden, home to one of the best zoos in the state.
Venture a little way out and you can discover ancient limestone caves, amazing mountain lookouts and the beaches of the Capricorn Coast.
1. Rockhampton Botanic Gardens
You can discover the vibrant plant life sustained by Rockhampton’s tropical climate and what is described as one of the best regional botanic gardens in the country.
Whether you’re here to unwind on a stroll, take a family picnic or do some horticultural exploration, you could lose all track of time in this gorgeous environment.
There are almost 30 different sub-gardens and precincts, among them two tracts of rainforest, 150-year-old Banyan figs, a pinetum, Japanese garden, lagoon foreshore, fernery, palm grove, tropical fruit arboretum and many more than we can list.
The gardens also provide a habitat for over 50 native animals and are the setting for a variety of local sports clubs, as well as Rockhampton’s war memorial.
2. Mount Archer National Park
Between Rockhampton and the Central Queensland Coast is the Berserker Range, the highest peak of which is protected by this national park.
Mount Archer is 604 metres, affording marvellous views from its peak over the surrounding ranges and back to Rockhampton.
This can be reached via two easy trails from the main picnic area.
In the wider park are 4250 hectares of mostly eucalypt forest, with a big pocket of dry rainforest along Moores Creek’s deep valley.
Come to the valley early in the morning or late in the day and you stand a good chance of seeing rock-wallabies hopping to the creek to drink.
3. Rockhampton Zoo
In the greenery of the Botanic Gardens, Rockhampton Zoo is a major animal attraction with more than 60 species, including a full spectrum of Australian animals, from koalas to kangaroos, dingoes, crocodiles and wombats.
The headliners though are the large family of chimpanzees, which were given a revamped enclosure in the 2010s.
The aviaries are stunning, holding more than 80 birds from over 25 species, including rose-crowned fruit doves, royal spoonbills, macaws and wedge-tailed eagles.
In every area there will be a daily keeper talk going into depth on the species’ behaviour, diet and habitat.
4. Rockhampton Heritage Village
The first century of European history in the Rockhampton region is captured at this open-air museum spread over more than ten hectares of land.
Preserved here and loaded with historic tools, artefacts and furniture are cottages, a printworks, a woolshed, fire station, school, wagon works, timber cutters’ shed and much more.
Many of these buildings are original, while others are accurate reproductions based on period photographs.
The Rockhampton Heritage Village also maintains important collections of vintage vehicles, timepieces and dolls, all worth exploring.
Every other month on a Sunday the village puts on a sprawling market for food, handmade arts and crafts, fashion and organic cosmetics.
5. Archer Park Rail Museum
The elegant railway station building at Denison Street was built between 1897 and 1908, and was added to the Queensland Heritage Register in 1992. At the museum you can learn the fascinating story of the epic North Coast Railway, and daily transport in the Rockhampton area.
There’s a Digital Soundscape system bringing the ambience of days gone by back to life, accompanied by tons of railway artefacts and photos.
The star of the show is the French Purrey Steam Tram, which was reconstructed using parts from Rockhampton City Council’s fleet dating between 1909 and 1939. This engine is fired up on weekends for rides along a stretch of track.
6. Capricorn Caves
This hugely popular limestone cave system lies just 30 minutes north of Rockhampton and is one of Queensland’s oldest attractions, having been discovered in 1881. You can experience the Capricorn Caves through a choice of tours, the most popular being the hour-long Cathedral Cave tour.
This leads you into the phenomenal Cathedral Chamber, which has sparkling natural acoustics.
There’s also a riveting Fossil Tour, showing the many thousands of fossils that have been discovered in the system, ranging from miniscule creatures to massive prehistoric beasts.
And if you sign up in advance you can traverse the caves on a special Adventure Caving Tour, lifting you up to the surface for 360° panoramas.
7. Kershaw Gardens
This 50-hectare palm-rich park on the north bank of the Fitzroy River is laid on what until the 1980s was actually a landfill site.
The park inaugurated in 1988 and reopened its doors in 2018 after suffering damage in Severe Tropical Cyclone Marcia three years before.
If you’re in Rockhampton with the whole clan Kershaw Gardens is a go-to for its superb nine-storey playground, Wyatt’s Wonder Web, equipped with ladders, tunnels, climbing nets and ropes.
There’s also an impressive man-made waterfall, a water play area by the river, free Wi-Fi, a sensory garden, picnic shelters, winding walking tracks and a camping site.
8. CBD Heritage Walk
Rockhampton is endowed with lots of Victorian and early-20th-century architecture, recalling its merchant and gold rush past.
So it’s a great idea to spend an hour or two getting lost on the tree-lined streets of the CBD.
If you only have time to get an impression of the city you can walk this two-kilometre trail, entirely along the waterfront Quay Street.
With a downloadable map for smartphones, this walk alone takes in 20 handsome pieces of heritage, like the Criterion Hotel (1890), the Post Office and Clock Tower (1895), Cattle House (1864), Union Trustee Chambers (1887) and Luck House (1862).
9. Rockhampton Art Gallery
With a front row location next to the Pilbeam Theatre on the south bank of the Fitzroy River, Rockhampton Art Gallery is free to enter and has been around since 1967. The gallery may be compact, but its permanent exhibition draws on a formidable collection that charts Australia’s Modernist movement from the mid-20th century.
There are pieces by Fred Williams, John Brack, Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale and Charles Blackman, to name just a handful.
There’s also an exciting programme of temporary exhibitions, from regional, state, national and international institutions (entry fees may apply here), as well as a calendar of talk and workshops.
10. Pilbeam Theatre
The performing arts hub for the whole Central Queensland region is by the river in Rockhampton.
The Pilbeam Theatre opened in 1979 and in its time has hosted many famous Australian music artists, comedians, actors and other cultural figures, among them Baz Luhrmann, Peter Allen, Tina Arena, David Hobson, Angus & Julia Stone and Kitty Flanagan.
The auditorium seats just under 1,000 people and puts on a mix of live music, performances by the Rockhampton Symphony Orchestra, plays, tribute acts, stand-up and sketch comedy, musicals, dance and also fun for children.
When you get there you can relax with a drink at the bar, where you’ll be able to pre-order refreshments for the interval.
11. Mount Etna Caves National Park
The striking karst landscape at this national park is the remnant of coral reefs from an ancient sea.
The many rocky niches here provide a vital habitat for bats, including vulnerable ghost bats and over 80% of the country’s breeding population of little bent-wing bats.
As you might guess, Mount Etna Caves is a delicate habitat and visits are limited.
But there are trails and a picnic area at the day-use area.
December to February you can put your name down for a guided ranger tour when you can watch thousands of little bent-wing bats issuing from their roosts to hunt.
12. Yeppoon Main Beach
If you want to pass a relaxing day on the Capricorn Coast, the main beach at Yeppoon is about 30 minutes away.
With soft, pale sand, this is almost 1.5 kilometres long and at low tide can be up to 300 metres wide.
At high tide there’s no beach at all, so naturally it’s worth keeping an eye on the schedule.
Away from the deeper southern end, the surf is light and family friendly, and by the seawall backing the beach there’s a grassy reserve on the foreshore.
Yeppoon Main Beach has all the necessary facilities, including gas barbecues, and also on the foreshore is the new zero-depth water play feature, the Keppel Kraken, with a mythical sea creature emerging from its centre.
13. Dreamtime Cultural Centre
Central Queensland’s only indigenous cultural centre shines a light on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history.
Guided tours of the centre take place at 10:30 and 13:00 and feature a didgeridoo demonstration and a visit to the Torres Strait Islander Village during which you’ll find out about their spiritual beliefs and traditional lifestyle.
Your guide will also show you how to throw a boomerang, and during the school holidays there’s a performance by Djarn Djarn Dancers, a men’s dance group.
On a self-guided visit you’ll be free to explore 12 hectares of landscaped gardens, discovering the role of plants in Aboriginal life and exploring 34 metres of recreated sandstone caves from the Central Queensland Sandstone Belt.
14. Alkoomi Adventure Farm
For a taste of outback agricultural life, this cattle farm in Marmor, about 40km south of Rockhampton, welcomes guests to camp or stay at en-suite accommodation and take part in daily life on the farm.
Alkoomi Adventure Farm is in picture-perfect rolling countryside, with walking tracks up to distant lookouts.
Some of the daily chores you can get involved with include hand-feeding the cattle, grooming horses, collecting eggs and feeding chickens.
You can also take part in all kinds of outdoor activities, like horseback riding, quad biking or swimming or kayaking in freshwater dams.
15. Koorana Crocodile Farm
The first commercial crocodile farm in Coowonga has been in business for 40 years.
In its earliest years, Koorana Crocodile Farm had to catch crocodiles from the wild that were a threat to the local public.
The farm today holds more than 5,000 crocodiles and invites people on twice-daily tours every day except Christmas.
The period from February to May is a good time to visit, as this is hatching season when you may get to see a baby crocodile being born and will be able to hold a young crocodile in your arms.