30 things to do on the Southern Great Barrier Reef
From witnessing the circle of life on the beaches of Bundaberg to discovering a gorge-ous secret in the Capricorn Region; fossicking for your (possible) fortune and drinking the best rum in the world, there’s more than meets the eye in this magical stretch of Queensland.
Bookmark this checklist and start planning your trip with these 30 things to do on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
1. The Southern Great Barrier Reef is turtle territory. For an annual migration of David Attenborough proportions, time your visit from November to March anywhere along the coastline from Bundaberg to Capricorn. To witness turtles nesting and hatching up close, book in for the Mon Repos experience in Bundaberg – here’s what you can expect. For more of the best turtle hatching locations in Queensland, read this guide.
2. Discover Queensland’s best-kept secret: Carnarvon Gorge, all 2,980km2 of it. Scenic trails, rugged rock formations, hidden swimming holes and possible platypus and echidna sightings make this the perfect playground for nature lovers. If you’re a first-timer, brush up on this guide before you go.
3. Visit a famous Lady called Elliot. Not familiar with her? Lady Elliot Island is aneco resort island and home to the manta ray. There are 20 incredible dive sites around the island, including the Severance Shipwreck where you’ll find a fully intact yacht resting at a depth of 21 metres, and the Three Pyramids (bommies) offshore on the western side of the island. Want to know more, including what above-water activities the island has to offer? Here are 10 things you should know about Lady Elliot Island.
4. Have a nip of the world’s best rum. Seriously, that’s not an exaggeration: Bundaberg Rum has taken out the World Rum Awards on more than one occasion. See what makes it so special during a rum tour at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery.
5. Discover a city with more cattle heads than human bodies. With 3.5 million head of cattle, earning its reputation as the beef capital of Australia was easy for Rockhampton. Proud of its title, the city even runs a triannual event aptly-named Beef Week. It’s a celebration of all facets of the beef industry, featuring more than 4,500 heads of cattle across 30 different breeds. It’s not all about livestock in Rocky though. Check out the best things to do in Rockhampton while you’re in town.
6. Drive 15 minutes out of Bundaberg to the beachside suburb of Bargara, where the temperate weather will tempt you into swimming 365 days a year. The vibe here is relaxed, and families have their pick between two surf beaches and two still water swimming areas. Golfers, you’d be remiss for not playing around on the beachside golf course.
7. For sapphires that could rival Kate Middleton’s ring, head west to Sapphire– the biggest sapphire gemfield in the Southern Hemisphere – for your chance to uncover your own blue gem. At 900km2, your odds are good to find a place where no one has been prospecting before.
8. Renting an entire island is more affordable than you think on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Pumpkin Island off Yeppoon will set you back less than a penthouse price tag, and have you channelling Sir Richard Branson. Here’s how.
9. Eat at Bundaberg’s Indulge Cafe, which was voted People’s Choice (that’s voted by regular diners, not critics) best cafe in Queensland. Every Saturday, they’ll dish up more than 300 breakfasts made with flair – like sweet potato hash cakes with smoked bacon and hollandaise, and coconut panna cotta on French toasted brioche with tropical fruit. Another favourite is the miso omelette with Bundaberg prawns, tofu and X.O sauce.
10. For a wonderland that looks like it’s reserved for fairies or garden gnomes, take a walk through the Paperbark Trail in Agnes Water. It’s a 30-minute stroll across little stepping stones, surrounded by paperbark trees. Truly magical.
11. It’s famous for its rum,but Bundaberg also has its own boutique distillery, Kalki Moon, serving up gin, vodka, and liqueurs. Find out more about Bundaberg Rum and Kalki Moon with this list of best distilleries in Queensland.
12. Ride the amphibious water vessel,1770 LARC!to see one of the oldest working lighthouses in Australia at Bustard Head. The full-day tour also takes you across four tidal creeks and sandboarding down 35-metre sand dunes at Middle Island.
14. Discover an ancient side to the Southern Great Barrier Reef. We’re talking about the Capricorn Caves, where you can travel back in time to see fossils that have sparked the interest of paleontologists. Jump onboard a guided tour if you want to make sense of what you’re looking at. And don’t forget to try the acoustics of the Cathedral Chamber.
15. Do your bit for the environment by drinking Bargara Brewing Company Beer, made with 100% rainwater. This local beer crew launched onto the scene in 2014 and now offers 14 brews (beer, cider and ginger beer). Their names are a nod to the region’s famous marine residents, like Thirsty Turtle and Drunk Fish. You’ll find their restaurant and brewhouse, ironically, in Bundaberg.
16. The Mount Etna bat caves near Rockhampton is one of the few places you’ll be able to see ghost bats in Australia. Under the guidance of a ranger, you’ll navigate to the entrance of the caves where you’ll witness thousands of tiny winged bats spilling out for a nocturnal feed. They won’t be the only ones hunting – carpet pythons perform mid-air acrobatics as they try and catch their dinner.
17. Want to taste your way around Bundaberg but not sure where to start? Join Bundy Food Tours for a veritable degustation while visiting four or more farms to meet the makers. Start your day with some energy-boosting carbs, sampling sourdough at The Pocket Storehouse, followed by other stop-offs like Redridge Produce so see Australia’s largest fig farm and avocado growers, and Barking Dog Coffee to sip on freshly brewed coffee that’s roasted on-site.
18. See Great Keppel Island from a different angle with Keppel Water Sports on their guided jet-ski tour. This adventurous crew operate island-side and also hire out kayaks and snorkels so you can explore the island at your own pace. For an aerial view of the Keppel group of islands, join Rockhampton Helicopters for a joyride.
19. If you’re not so much a catch-it-yourself kind of seafood eater, set your sights on Grunkse’s By The River in Bundaberg. With a trawler-to-plate philosophy like no other, you can dine out on the freshest seafood caught in the region that day. They’ve been in business for more than 40 years and after a plate of their prawns, it’s easy to see why.
20. Discover the 44-acre coral cay, Lady Musgrave. You’ll find it floating in a lagoon approximately 3,000 acres in size, filled with 14 world-class dive sites: Manta Ray and EntranceBombies, Napoleon’s Wall and the Musgrave Drop Off, to name a few. The calm, crystal clear water and buzzing reef that surrounds the island is perfect for families and snorkelling beginners.
21. Make tracks inland to a 4×4 paradise at Byfield National Park, 30 minutes from Yeppoon, where parabolic sand dune trails and rugged pinnacles lead to long sandy beaches. Pack your tent for a remote camping experience, your kayak to paddle along Water Park Creek, and hiking shoes to explore the area up close and on foot along one of the many trails.
22. For a stiff drink, pay a visit toSaleyardsDistillery – Rockhampton’s only distillery. They brew a spiced rum called Capricorn Spiced and a small-batch gin called Billy Goat, the latter of which was awarded the gold medal at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Pop in for a tour Tuesday to Sunday to see and sample the distillery’s finest.
23. Catch a bright and colourful sunset with 1770 Liquid Adventures. They’ll take you on a fully guided sunset kayak adventure around the 1770 headland and conservation park, guaranteeing you’ll get a bit of exercise with your history lesson.
24. Take a day trip north of Rockhampton to seaside sister, Yeppoon. Packing village appeal, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and cafes to occupy your time when you’re not at the beach. For a spot of history and nature in one, stroll along the boardwalk and foreshore path on the Centenary of ANZAC Walk at Emu Park.
25. If you like your beers born from batch brewers, visit HeadricksLane in Rockhampton. This restaurant by day, bar by night, features a microbrewery and some of Australia’s best brewers. Sample a few with the tasting paddle, then play favourites from there.
27. America has the Grand Canyon, Heron Island has the Coral Canyons. Don your mask and fins and dive down to discover a maze of deep gutters ranging from 15 to 20 metres off Heron Island. While you’re on this World Heritage-listed Marine National Park, fill your day with this guide to Heron Island.
28. Treat yourself to a weekend of peace and quiet at adults-only paradise, Wilson Island. The luxury eco-resort has just nine permanent Reef Safari Tents, so you’ll get that private island feel. Grab your chef-packed picnic hamper and explore the five-acre island, or take advantage of that coral reef just steps off the beach.
29. Sample one of the award-winning steaks at the Great Western Hotel, established 1862, in Rockhampton. If you’re lucky, you’ll time your dinner with one of their rodeos, which always draws a crowd.
30. Get off the beaten track at Cania National Park to see 70-metre high sandstone cliffs and Aboriginal rock art that’s said to point to a settlement here 19,000 years ago. Keep your eyes peeled for the rock wallabies, peregrine falcons and wedge-tailed eagles that have all called the National Park their home for thousands of years.
Want more ideas for what to do on the Southern Great Barrier Reef? Read our ultimate Southern Great Barrier Reef visitor’s guide or island-hop your way around the best islands on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.