As quirky names go, this town on Queensland‘s central east coast takes some beating.
“Tannum Sands” comes from the 1930s, when a group of Sunday School children returned from a beachside picnic with sunburn: “we can really tan ‘um over there”. Since the 1950s the beach has the Gladstone Region’s favourite day out, and is bordered by an inviting ribbon of greenery known as the Millennium Esplanade, also the setting for a popular market once a month.
On the opposite bank of the Boyne River from Tannum Sands is Boyne Island, home to one of Australia’s largest aluminium smelters, in keeping with a region that blends subtropical beauty with large-scale industry.
1. Millennium Esplanade
The foreshore of the main beach in Tannum Sands has been the leisure destination of choice for the Gladstone Region for more than half a century.
And no wonder, as this long, broad strip of greenery has tall gum trees, palms and pines, lots of weather-proof shelters, little gardens, playgrounds and near constant views of the ocean.
Surveying the horizon, you can make out the islands of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, and the mass of Rodds Peninsula, about 15 kilometres to the east.
Once a month, this beautiful space welcomes the Beach Arts Music Markets, a Tannum Sands institution, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
2. Tannum Sands Beach
The beach itself has 600 metres of picture-perfect golden sands, from the rock flats in the north to the mouth of Wild Cattle Creek in the south.
This is the main surfing beach for Gladstone, and is the location for the Tannum Sands Surf Club.
The beach is patrolled from September to May, and surf club is open on weekends for treats and light meals.
Waves get up to around one metre in a strong south-easterly wind, and the reef breaks are at their best around mid-tide.
For swimmers this is a pretty safe place to bathe, although it’s best to stay clear of the mouth of Cattle Creek on a falling tide.
3. Beach Arts Music Markets
Couched in the scenic greenery along the Millennium Esplanade there’s a popular community market on the first Saturday of every month.
The Beach Arts Music Markets are a bit of everything, mixing fresh produce, homemade goodies, food and drinks prepared on the spot, all sorts of arts and crafts and live music.
In fact, music is the soul of the event, and the Blackboard Sessions gives up-and-coming artists a stage to show what they can do.
There are more than 100 stalls at every market, all with a backdrop of greenery, gum trees and the ocean.
4. Canoe Point Beach and Parklands
This beach and its peaceful foreshore can be found at the mouth of the Boyne River, just up from Tannum Sands Beach.
On land you can amble into bushland reserves, across dunes and over a beachfront boardwalk that takes you all the way to the neighbouring beach.
You’ve also got open grassy spaces, shelter huts and wood-fired barbecues for picnics.
There’s a big difference between the two ends of the beach at Canoe Point: The exposed eastern beach has healthy waves, but for the most part is free of riptides.
The western beach near the picnic area meanwhile is calmer, with low waves, but shelves deeply and does have stronger currents.
The region’s capital merits a closer look, not least for the way it balances the unrestrained natural wonder of the barrier reef with colossal heavy industry.
The state’s largest multi-commodity shipping port is right here, standing as the world’s fourth-largest coal export terminal.
If that sounds intimidating, this industry is sequestered from Gladstone’s scenic marina, screened by the grassy Spinnaker Park.
There’s a fantastic regional art museum, an absorbing maritime museum and lots of places to survey the islands of the Southern Great Barrier Reef and scan the ocean for humpback whales in season.
Gladstone is also the gateway to Heron Island, a nesting site for green and loggerhead turtles, and one of the Great Barrier Reef’s top ecotourism destinations.
6. Wild Cattle Island National Park
Barely a couple of kilometres out of Tannum Sands, Wild Cattle Island National Park feels very remote.
Despite being so close, the island is separated from the town by a creek, and you’ll need to make the crossing at low tide by 4WD or on foot, or by boat/kayak when the water’s up.
The park’s obvious appeal comes from the long and wide sandy beach that runs almost the length of the island.
Go carefully, because this is a key nesting site for loggerhead, flatback and green turtles, while dugongs feed just offshore.
Be sure to bring binoculars too, because Sooty Oystercatchers and Beach Stone-curlews come to peck around between March and October.
7. Boyne Tannum Turtleway Artscape
The award-winning Turtleway is a bikeway crossing the Boyne River and connecting Tannum Sands’ and Boyne Island’s main assets, like Canoe Point, the Millennium Esplanade, the recreation areas at Dennis Park and Boyne Smelters.
To make the journey even more engaging, an art trail has been set up along the route.
So as you shuttle between the towns’ attraction you can pause to admire superb mosaics, sculpture and interactive art.
8. Lilley’s Beach
This sensitive stretch of coast on Boyne Island is looked after by the island’s massive aluminium smelter and the Gladstone Regional Council.
To visit the deserted 7.1-kilometre Lilley’s Beach you’ll actually have to get hold of a permit online, and the only way to get onto the beach is by Four Wheel Drive between low and high tide.
You’ll be glad you made the effort when you get to this secluded place, hemmed by rainforest and delicate dune systems, and with vulnerable seagrass meadows in its intertidal zones.
You can spend the night, camping at the north end.
9. Lake Awoonga
This 6,750-hectare reservoir not far from Tannum Sands is the main water source for the entire Gladstone Region, but is also a recreation honeypot for fishing, boating and nature-spotting.
Lake Awoonga is on the Boyne River, and was dammed in the mid-1980s.
The first thing to mention is the sheer quantity of wildlife, including over 220 bird species and vulnerable mammals like the yellow-bellied glider and the grey-headed flying fox.
The reservoir is stocked with 200,000 fish each year, among them barramundi, sea mullet and mangrove jack, but if fishing isn’t your thing you can hire a boat just to drift around and soak up the peace.
There are two campsites and walking trails ashore, and swimming is permitted.
10. Tondoon Botanic Gardens
About halfway to Gladstone proper from Tannum Sands you’ll arrive at a lush showcase for the plant life of the Gladstone Region and Queensland as a whole.
Over more than 80 hectares you’ll venture through dry rainforest and gardens growing subtropical as well as tropical species from the north of the state.
Walking tracks will lead you up the beautifully landscaped slopes of Mount Biondello, pulling away from Lake Tondoon, which was Gladstone’s main water supply before Lake Awoonga was impounded.
Gladstone’s sister city is the Japanese port of Saiki, which is honoured with a serene Japanese tea garden, centred on a pond-side pavilion.
11. Ocean Breeze Gallery
Somewhere to sample the artistic talent in the Gladstone Region, Ocean Breeze Gallery is a free-to-enter community gallery run by volunteers.
Now permanent, and open Thursday to Sunday, the gallery first appeared as a pop-up at the Beach Arts Music Markets.
This is somewhere for artists to showcase and sell their work, whether it’s painting, watercolours, sculpture, jewellery, rugs, accessories, ceramics, glasswork, the list goes on.
The range is constantly changing, and if you’d like to get involved there’s always a workshop or event on the agenda.
12. Calliope River Historical Village
At this outdoor museum you can go back to the Gladstone Region’s beginnings, exploring buildings that go back to the first half of the 20th century.
These have been moved here piece by piece since the early-1980s and hold a wealth of artefacts painting a picture of daily life and the development of the railways.
A couple of standouts are the Raglan Memorial Hall from 1932 and the Yarwum Railway Station, which serves as the village’s kiosk and ticket office.
Another beautiful piece of railway heritage is a wooden Queensland Rail carriage from the 1940s, alongside two historic camp wagons.
Stay up to date with the village’s calendar as there are regular markets here, hosting traders from as far afield as the Gold Coast.
13. Cedar Galleries
Off the Bruce Highway, not far west of Tannum Sands is Cedar Galleries, a flexible attraction based around a series of arts and crafts galleries.
You can browse work by artists and craftspeople from the region, or come to learn techniques in a whole spectrum of disciplines, from stencilling to sculpture.
Cedar Galleries also maintains a herd of around 30 alpacas, and children will have a fun time meeting them and feeding them by hand.
Keep abreast of the schedule, because the annual alpaca shearing day is always a family-friendly event.
14. Boyne Smelters
With a production capacity of more than 540,000 tonnes per year, Boyne Island has the second-largest aluminium smelter in the country, employing close to 1,000 people in the area.
Boyne Smelters is owned by Rio Tinto Alcan and a consortium of Japanese manufacturing companies, and the gigantic facility was initially completed in the early-1980s, with subsequent expansions up to 2002. Guided tours of the site are offered by the Smelter Visitor Centre, but at the time of writing in May 2020, information was a little scant, and you may need to call ahead some time in advance.
15. Boyne Tannum HookUp
The largest family fishing competition in Australia takes place around Boyne Island on the first weekend of May every year.
This is a casual, fun event, aimed at bringing family, friends and workplaces together.
The Boyne Tannum HookUp has a long list of categories, from catching and releasing tagged barramundi in Lake Awoonga, to a sort of treasure hunt at Gladstone Harbour where you have to solve clues and riddles to find out what fish species has been tagged.
With a prize pool of more than $230,000 there are all kinds of generous payouts, organised by fish species and the age of competitors.