Sunshine is almost assured but good steak is guaranteed in the Beef Capital of Australia, writes local Anna Daniels.

Straddling the Tropic of Capricorn in Central Queensland, Rockhampton is best known for the statues of bovines along its wide streets and atop the welcome-to-the-city roundabout. It’s impossible to ignore that you’re in the Beef Capital of Australia.

What to do

The region is best explored by car so hire some wheels and give a nod to the Droughtmaster bull statue as you exit the airport. It was installed in 1994 to welcome visitors flying in to Rocky for Beef Australia, a huge triennial expo that returns in 2018. 

Make your first stop The Spire Visitor Information Centre (07 4921 2311) on Gladstone Road, where you can literally “step into the tropics” and take a pic at the Tropic of Capricorn Spire, which marks (roughly) where the temperate zone meets the tropics. Pick up a free map and visitor’s guide and, for two bucks, the locally produced publication Rockhampton’s Heritage Walk.

From here, it’s a five-minute drive into Rocky’s heart. Centred on a labyrinth of laneways and back alleys, the CBD is home to a cosmopolitan mix of galleries, cafés and a shopping mall – the perfect place to park and begin your on-foot exploration along Quay Street.

Running adjacent to the mighty Fitzroy River, Quay Street has about 30 buildings of historical significance, making it Australia’s longest National Trust heritage-listed street. Begin your walk at ABC Capricornia at No. 236.

Built in 1898, the building was originally the gold store and headquarters of the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company before it was kitted out with radio studios in the 1960s.

Other gems include the splendid sandstone and rendered-brick Customs House (208 Quay Street) and much-frequented watering hole The Criterion. End your Fitzroy River meanderings at Rockhampton Art Gallery, which features works by Australian greats such as Sidney Nolan, Charles Blackman and Margaret Olley.

For a spot of high-end retail therapy in laid-back surroundings, head to 32 Upper Dawson Road, in the inner-city suburb of Allenstown, where there is a gorgeous boutique. Something Different (07 4927 3730) sells designer labels from the likes of Twinset, White Label Noba and Camilla, as well as a range of coastal-chic homewares. 

Feel like a breather? Nose your car a couple of kilometres further along Upper Dawson Road then turn right into Spencer Street to arrive at Rockhampton Botanic Gardens (07 4931 1254) and Rockhampton Zoo (1300 22 55 77). Regarded as one of the finest in regional Australia, the botanic garden is an all-ages “choose your own adventure”. Enjoy the tranquil Japanese Garden, relax with coffee and scones under a canopy of banyan trees at the Gardens Tearooms and admire more than 70 species of animals at the zoo. The cheeky chimps are always a hit with the kids, as is the leafy playground.

With more than 300 sunny days a year, Rocky’s climate is the envy of many. But if you need to beat the heat, chill out in the naturally air-conditioned splendour of the Capricorn Caves. Located an easy 30-minute drive north of Rocky, the limestone cave system can be explored through guided tours or caving and abseiling adventures. On the Cathedral Cave Tour, hauntingly beautiful music and a lightshow combine in a spine-tingling demonstration of the cavern’s acoustics.

No visit to the Beef Capital would be complete without some dirt, dust and cowboys so don your boots and head to the famous Great Western Hotel. Time your visit for a Wednesday or Friday evening to see the pub’s indoor rodeo arena in action. You can even dine ringside on a rump steak by the award-winning steakhouse.

Rocky also offers easy access to the coast and Great Keppel Island. Serving as the gateway to the Southern Great Barrier Reef, the Capricorn Coast is a string of secluded beaches and seaside villages, with Yeppoon its main hub.

Begin your coastal adventure 38 kilometres from Rockhampton at John and Lillian Lever’s Koorana crocodile farm. With more than 3000 crocs in residence – and John and his family as your charismatic guides – you’ll be within metres of these saltwater giants. There’s the chance for happy snaps with a baby crocodile at the end of your tour and, if you don’t mind viewing then eating, the licensed restaurant serves croc kebabs and pies. 

From Koorana, it’s a 30-minute drive north to Rosslyn Bay, where you can take a Freedom Fast Cats or Keppel Konnections ferry to Great Keppel Island. With pristine beaches, azure waters and a range of activities and accommodation options, it’s easy to stay awhile. But if you’re on a tight schedule, the Coral Lunch Cruise with Freedom Fast Cats is a winner. 

Back on the mainland, stop at Flour café in Normanby Street (07 4925 0725) in Yeppoon for a coffee before heading 30 minutes north to Byfield National Park and Byfield Conservation Park. Spread over 15,000 hectares, the park varies from rugged mountain ranges to lush rainforest walkways and is known for its waterholes and picnic spots. While in the area, duck into Nob Creek Pottery for pots, plates and cookware crafted by local artisans Sue McBurnie and Steve Bishopric.

Where to eat

Enjoy Grinders coffee and freshly baked croissants under the passionfruit vines out the back at Janine Bell and Gabor Szombati’s café, Birdies Espresso, on Denham Street. The carrot cake is amazing.

The latest addition to Rocky’s latte scene, Coffee Society (07 4961 1405) offers a selection of gluten-free cakes and slices, including Nutella chocolate brownies. 

With sunlight streaming through its streetfront windows, Coffee House Restaurant on Bolsover Street is a laid-back local favourite and the place to get a topnotch toasted sandwich and cup of Merlo coffee. 

Café Bliss (07 4920 4900) has an extensive breakfast menu that includes the always-excellent eggs Benedict and fritters with corn, sweet potato and zucchini 

For a hearty steak and a generous serve of quality pub grub, join the locals at The Criterion, aka The Cri. Think chicken parmi for less than $25. 

There’s a lively vibe in the revitalised heritage building that houses Headricks Lane. Try the small share plates of buttermilk fried chicken, pulled-pork buns and pancetta croquettes with three cheeses.

Above image: The chef at Headricks Lane 

Feast on delicious Italian cuisine beneath chandeliers and Etruscan-style frescoes at Pacino’s (07 4922 5833). The veal, lightly crumbed and served with eggplant, tomato and parmesan, is wonderful. 

At Rosslyn Bay, dine at The Waterline Restaurant alongside the twinkling lights of Keppel Bay Marina. The award-winning grass-fed Banana Station beef is produced in Central Queensland, while locally sourced seafood dishes include Today’s Catch, accompanied with a caperberry citrus salad and lemon aïoli.

Where to stay

Offering a choice of cabins, villas, tropical chalets and shady camp sites, Discovery Parks – Rockhampton is a 10-minute drive from the CBD and has great facilities, including a heated pool, half-size tennis court and jumping pillow for the kids.

The Denison Boutique Hotel is a centrally located romantic getaway featuring open-plan heritage-style rooms with a four-poster bed, high ceilings, balcony views and spa bath. 

Quality Hotel Regent Rockhampton on Bolsover Street has spacious, light-filled contemporary and heritage guestrooms, some with balconies. 

With panoramic views of the Fitzroy River and surrounding hinterland, Empire Apartment Hotel and The Edge Apartment Hotel are high-end lodgings in prime riverfront locations. Empire, which has an outdoor pool and fitness centre, towers above quality restaurants and cafés, while The Edge has a modern-Australian restaurant and a bar known for its boutique beers. 

SEE ALSO: Insider’s Guide to Noosa


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