It might spring to mind as the home of Bundaberg Rum, but this country-meets-coast destination really has it all: abundant produce that's plated up at great restaurants, stunning accommodation, heritage architecture and a reef teeming with marine life just 50 metres from the shore.
From The Hummock, the highest point in Bundaberg’s otherwise level terrain, the view is of a patchwork of varying shades of green. Alongside the plentiful sugar cane that gave rise to the iconic Bundaberg Rum there are also fields of sweet potatoes and tomatoes, brassicas and blueberries, as well as macadamia, pecan and citrus farms. Bundaberg’s famous red soil and clement weather help farmers grow a quarter of Australia’s fresh produce, meaning local restaurateurs can count food miles in single digits.
And in the middle of this rich landscape is a cosmopolitan Central Queensland city, an hour’s flight north of Brisbane, well-preserved heritage-listed architecture – the 1891 Victorian Italianate Post Office is worth a visit – waiting to be discovered.
Where to eat
Water St Kitchen
Gourmands gravitate to this buzzy suburban spot for owner-chef Alex Cameron’s clever global menu that’s informed by time and tide – think dishes like mackerel sashimi with ponzu, pickled ginger, radish and pink peppercorns, and sweet potato gnocchi with baby Roma tomatoes, rocket and sage butter. Water St Kitchen’s food is heartfelt and hands-on, with Cameron spending early Monday mornings picking ingredients at nearby farms.
Farmers and office workers rub elbows at local favourite Indulge Cafe. Get the day off to a good start with the breakfast menu’s black tiger prawn omelette with soft tofu and Bundaberg XO sauce. Much is made in-house, including bread, cakes, jams, pickles and relishes, while the expertly brewed coffee comes from single-origin Jasper Coffee beans.
The Beach Mill
Tucked beneath the Bundaberg Surf Life Saving Club at Nielson Park Beach, The Beach Mill (2 Fred Courtice Avenue, Bargara) sums up the laid-back Bundy lifestyle. Sister to the close-by Windmill Cafe Bargara (windmillbargara.com.au), The Beach Mill hosts a broad spectrum of diners, drinkers and gelato-lovers, from parents watching their kids being put through their paces at Nippers to gym-junkies and dog walkers. Grab a table on the lawn with its oceanfront views or enjoy your platter of fresh seafood on the sand just metres away.
The top bars to drink at
Kalki Moon Distilling & Brewing Company
There’s not much Rick Prosser, a former Bundaberg Rum master distiller, doesn’t know about rum, yet it’s his gin that’s the talk of the town. Made with local botanicals such as ginger, finger lime, lemon and cinnamon myrtle, it’s often the house pour at the city’s bars. You can taste-test it, along with Kalki Moon’s vodka and white rum, on a distillery tour.
Bundaberg Brewed Drinks
This family-owned company has always followed a “slow food” ethos, taking time to create its tipples, including the well-known ginger beer. Bundaberg Brewed Drinks grows some of its own ginger and uses Queensland sugar, herbs and spices. You can take a tour at the “big barrel” followed by a tasting of the range, including old-school creaming soda and classic sarsaparilla.
The best accommodation
Manta Bargara Resort
Overlooking what must be one of Australia’s most underrated coastal stretches, the Manta Bargara Resort on the Esplanade offers uninterrupted ocean views and generous balconies perfectly positioned to catch the salty breeze. Apartments are roomy and light-filled and the resort is just a short stroll to Bargara’s best beaches, cafés and restaurants.
A great place for communing with nature without roughing it, the verdant Splitters Farm – a safe haven for rescued farm animals – has two glamping tents, each with a fully equipped kitchen and ensuite, with six more launching by the end of February. Spot a platypus or prehistoric lungfish down at the creek, indulge in a glass of wine under the stars on your tent’s deck and say hello to the friendly animals,
The best things to do
Turtle Town Scuba
With the reef just 50 metres from the shore, Bundaberg is an ideal place to get into the water and explore the colourful soft corals and encounter turtles and schools of reef fish. Gordon Evans, owner and diving instructor at Turtle Town Scuba, has 40 years of diving experience and can give instruction if you’re a novice. For more experienced divers, he can arrange private tours of shipwrecks and coral bommies.
Bundaberg Rum Distillery Experience
Bundaberg Rum has produced an impressive number of “bests” in its history. In 2020, it was crowned the “best distillery experience in the world” at the International Spirits Challenge. It also collected gold at the Australian Tourism Awards in 2018 and 2019, while its Master Distillers’ Collection Solera won the best dark rum in the world in 2017. See how they do it with a tour into the heart of this working distillery, including the molasses well and the atmospheric barrel house where the rum is aged, finishing with a taste test of top-shelf drops.
Did you know the Bundaberg region is Australia’s biggest macadamia producer? In March this year, Macadamias Australia will open the door to an immersive new experience on its 800-hectare, 200,000-tree farm. Visitors will be able to take a self-guided interactive tour that explains the property’s history and sustainability initiatives, watch chocolate macadamias being made, walk through the orchards and sample local fare at the café.