You don't need a clear diary or a bucket load of cash to enjoy a Great Barrier Reef adventure and a seriously relaxing beach break on the Queensland coast.
Sugar. Rum. Turtles. Three things that immediately spring to mind when one thinks of Bundaberg, or Bundy as it's more affectionately known.
But I like to think of it more as a place where you can be relaxing on white sandy beaches, drinking rum cocktails as the sun goes down, and enjoying an entire beach to yourself – only four hours' drive north of Brisbane. Heck, you can even do it in a weekend if you're feeling daring.
Proud heritage buildings and wide streets lined with palm trees give the town a pleasant country-town vibe with a tropical twist. Everyone has time to stop and have a friendly chat.
After a morning of driving, taste the flavours of the 'salad bowl' region, presented in the form of zesty Asian-style salads accompanying spicy calamari or crispy chicken, and slurp on icy fresh fruit juice blended with the town's famous ginger beer when you stop at Indulge Café for lunch – surely one of the best kept secrets in the diaries of Queensland foodies.
Owners Amanda and Larry are fastidious about using only the best local produce, and create everything on the menu with love. Think smashed macadamia and maple butter, lime and chilli aioli, granola, roasted beetroot, heirloom tomato relish and Tinaberries jam made from local ingredients, traditional handmade breads and pastries from a local baker and locally-made pasta.
I'll have to remember to leave room for dessert next time – their selection of house-made cakes is enough to send any sugar junkie back to rehab.
A trip to Bundy wouldn't be complete without taking a tour of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. After a requisite photo with the Bundy Bear, the slick tour takes you through the production process from a whole lotta sugar – and a vat of molasses that would have had Augustus Gloop as happy as a pig in mud had he lived to star in a Willy Wonka sequel – to the surprisingly compact, bottled-to-order packing facility. When you learn that the taxman takes 60 per cent of all sales once the pungent liquor is capped, it makes sense that they don't keep the warehouse fully stocked.
While we're talking numbers – 20,000 standard drinks – that's the volume of Bundaberg's golden drop that is sold in Australia every. single. hour. You can contribute your part as each tour ends with a chance to sample two drinks in their Bondstore bar – and ladies, the Royal Liqueur coffee-and-chocolate-flavoured rum comes highly recommended.
While the main part of town is definitely where the action is, the beach was calling my name. Nearby Bargara – a short 15 minute drive from town – is an increasingly popular holiday and retirement spot with a couple of great cafes, modern self-contained apartments, sandy beach, and a prime beachfront camping ground.
Travelling with our shell on our backs just like the turtles who return to the region each year to lay their eggs (in the form of a want-for-nothing, deluxe Apollo campervan complete with very welcome air conditioning), we pulled into the almost deserted Bargara Beach Caravan Park overjoyed at the simple grass sites with plenty of room all around us.
Under the tall paperbarks there are great communal BBQ facilities with fridges for those who need them, security access bathroom amenities and they even offer free wifi throughout the whole park.
While you could easily spend your whole holiday here without needing to move the van once, the Great Barrier Reef is more within reach than most people think. After a short scenic flight from Bundaberg's airport, we made a rock star arrival on Lady Elliot Island. Our pilot Tom made handling the light aircraft hurtling down to a stop on the grassy runway seem like the easiest part of his day.
Stepping down off the plane, we spy hundreds of black noddy terns nesting nearby as the sand whips up around them. This stunning coral cay remains pristine with only a few dozen guests staying at the resort at any one time, but the best part is, if you're pressed for time or cash, you can enjoy all the facilities and activities as a day-tripper.
After being fitted with rubbery snorkelling essentials, we hopped into the 'dive limousine' (aka trailer towed by a tractor) to transfer down to the lighthouse to board the glass bottom boat tour.
Emma our snorkel guide from Sweden shows us how to wave our hands to attract the beautiful large green turtles. It seems ridiculous to me, but after diving into the gorgeous royal blue water we're delightedly twisting our hands and smiling like idiots at two beautiful green turtles – their shells over one metre in length.
Have you ever given a dog a back or tummy rub and had it wag its tail and wiggle its behind in glee? Well, what about a turtle?
Rubbing their shells acts like an express wash and wax for these guys after a long ride on the EAC. I dive down deeper to look the big mamma in the eye and rub her algae covered and smooth shell – even going in for a high five from her front flipper.
If you feel like winding down after all that rum drinking, and dancing with turtles, head about another 120 kilometres north and relax into the Discovery Coast, a place that's managed to remain relatively unchanged since the year of its crowning jewel's namesake.
The story goes that Captain James Cook sailed in on 24 May 1770 for a quick stopover, declared the peninsula town be named Round Hill, and proceeded to gift the wetlands with the title of Bustard Bay after shooting and eating one of the local birds.
There's even a cairn at the top of the hill to mark the spot where they stood and admired the view. Someone saw fit to give it a name change three centuries later, and this little slice of paradise became the Town of 1770.
We rolled into Agnes Water – eight kilometres short of the Town of 1770 – just as the sun was kissing the ocean goodnight and backed our van into a rock star spot at the Agnes Water Beach Caravan Park. Despite having the most extravagant house on wheels, I think we were all a little envious of the the permanent safari tents, perched high on stilts and occupying the best of the beachfront real estate.
As I gazed incredulously at the untouched beach, just a few steps from our campsite, the sand and water being enjoyed by only a few families with young children and couples walking hand in hand, I chided myself for not jumping in the car and getting up here sooner.
Agnes Water is designed with the budget traveller in mind. Sure, holiday houses and luxury, self-contained apartments are plenteous but the groove of this place screams camping holiday. There's a Foodworks in town for BBQ supplies, and if you feel like a night out you don't need to go without that sunset drink – most restaurants offer a complimentary pick up and drop off service so you don't have to touch your car keys (or move your behemoth van).
Some would argue the best way to enjoy a break here is to not do much at all, but if you're ready for some action, you can hire a stand-up paddle board or kayak, take a day trip over to Lady Musgrave Island or stretch your sea (and land) legs with a full-day adventure on the amphibious LARC! vehicle, which escorts visitors through Bustard Bay and along the beach all the way to the isolated Bustard Bay lighthouse for a spot of sand tobogganing.
For me, it makes sitting on your butt, enjoying the view from the deck of The Tree Restaurant in 1770 with a drink in hand, all the more sweeter.
Word Count: 1326
Author: Tourism and Events Queensland
This Copyright Free Story is supplied courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland and is for media use. For more information, please go to www.queensland.com or blog.queensland.com. For images, please visit http://teq.lookat.me.com.au/. If you wish to reproduce this content in the online space, please contact the Tourism and Events Queensland Publicity Team.