Private islands and off-grid escapes meet rum-tasting, great steaks and incredible fishing. Central Queensland’s Rockhampton is full of surprises.
Discover it from the sky
Mount Archer forms a dramatic backdrop to Rockhampton. Take in the view from the top on the Nurim Circuit or tackle the 14-kilometre Zamia Walk from the peak to the base. Graded difficult, the walk wends its way through groves of lemon-scented gums and pink bloodwoods and alongside trickling creeks and fern-lined gullies. See (and hear) vivacious lorikeets and noisy black cockatoos, while a rare sighting of the shy rock-wallaby may be an added bonus.
Take over a private island
Live the indulgent life of a castaway with an isle all to yourself. The tiny six-hectare Pumpkin Island, one of the Southern Great Barrier Reef’s Keppel group, is available to rent in its entirety. Lo-fi activities include snorkelling the coral-fringed shallows, paddling a glass-bottomed kayak or plucking oysters straight from the rocks. Bliss.
Bag a big one
Keen anglers needn’t waste precious fishing hours travelling to remote spots to hook a prize – Rockhampton’s Fitzroy River runs right through the city, meaning you can check in to your accommodation and be wetting a line within an hour. The river, with both fresh and estuarine sections, is renowned for its sizeable barramundi and trophy threadfin salmon.
Climb up into the highlands
West of Rockhampton, the thickly wooded peaks of the Central Highlands rise abruptly from the surrounding plains. Covering almost 50,000 hectares, Blackdown Tableland National Park (pictured top) is a lush oasis with deep sandstone gorges, scenic lookouts and ancient rock art. Walks vary in length and grade, with some leading to rock pools or waterfalls, such as the popular Rainbow Falls.
Claiming to be “Queensland’s oldest tourist attraction”, the Capricorn Caves were discovered in 1882. There are more than 1.5 kilometres of cavernous passages carved out of the limestone ridge by time and nature. Guided tours explain the complex geology in different sections, from the magnificent high-ceilinged Cathedral Cave, complete with church pews and ecclesiastical acoustics, to smaller and more challenging caves such as the aptly named Jack’s Beanstalk and Fat Man’s Misery.
Spot endangered turtles in the wild
Four species of endangered sea turtles nest along the Capricorn Coast so the odds are in your favour for spotting a green turtle or the rarer flatback variety. Turtle Lookout, with views over the Keppel Bay islands, is part of the Bluff Point Circuit. The 1.5- hour walk traverses heathlands and eucalypt forest, with plenty of wildlife to see along the way.
Go off the grid
Coastal scenery, including impressive sand blows cloaked in colourful wildflowers during spring, and off-grid camping opportunities are highlights of a visit to Byfield National Park. Pack all your toys – there are plenty of aquatic activities, from surf beaches to tranquil bays for kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. And at day’s end, you can rinse off the salt in a cool creek such as Findlays or Freshwater.
Dine on the best steak in the beef capital
Where to find the region’s best steak is the subject of good- natured contention among locals but the Bush Inn Bar & Grill Steak House at The Criterion Hotel features on most lists. This heritage pub’s menu offers 70-day grain-finished beef, aged in-house and chargrilled, served in sizes from a petite rump to a hefty, hunger-busting T-bone.
Get your heart racing at Rockynats
For highly charged fun, join auto enthusiasts at Rockynats this Easter. The four-day festival includes street races, burnouts and drifting, as well as hundreds of custom and classic cars and motorbikes, all shined up and proudly exhibited in the heart of Rockhampton’s historic CBD (rockynats.com.au).
Quench your thirst with locals
In 2017, co-owners Catie and Warren Brewer transformed one of Rockhampton’s oldest pubs, The Saleyards Hotel, into a boutique distillery. Three years on, Saleyards Distillery’s spiced rum took out the winning gong at the 2020 World Rum Awards. Book in for a tour and also taste their Billy Goat’s gin, made with botanicals from a nearby permaculture farm. If craft beer is more your speed, try a Fitzroy Ale from Headricks Lane (pictured above) microbrewery – it’s the perfect accompaniment to the ale-battered barramundi.