Hervey Bay, QLD
WORDS BY FRED WRIGHT
PHOTOS BY CARAVAN & MOTORHOME
This must be one of Queensland’s best trips with bitumen all the way from fabulous Hervey Bay through to a rural getaway then back to ‘Mary Poppins country’ at Maryborough.
We set out to plan a trip that would include a visit the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island, and allow us to experience some of the finest marine life museums. All this plus real outback hospitality only 300km from Brisbane! What we didn’t count on was a fabulous Scottish and Celtic Festival and Maryborough’s sunsets.
With Hervey Bay as our base we headed off to discover the wonders of the Fraser Coast where locals say: “nature comes alive.”
A drive-through grassy site at the award-winning Happy Wanderers Caravan Park suited our needs perfectly. Despite the rain, we set off to familiarise ourselves with this rapidly growing region that offers so much for RVers.
The modern information centre has all the maps and pamphlets you will need plus packages outlining how you can see the whales and visit Fraser Island. The staff is eager to please and there’s parking for your rig almost at the door.
Open 7 days a week except Christmas Day, the new Fraser Coast Discovery Sphere soon plunges you into the underwater world of whales. I found their songs to be somewhat eerily appealing. Whales give birth here at Hervey Bay because the waters are warmer for their babies who would not survive the freezing Antarctic waters.
There are interactive displays telling the history of local indigenous peoples and an aquarium with brilliantly coloured coral plus lots of little ‘Nemos’ – clown fish.
When you visit this area, you step into a realm of natural wonders. You’ll be inspired by world-heritage-listed Fraser Island, you’ll explore vibrant ecosystems and then you can enjoy a theatrical experience second-to-none.
Soon we were face-to-face with Vic Hislops’ Great White Sharks & Whale Expo. Be warned, this show is not for the faint hearted! However, you do need to open doors to see actual colour photos of shark attack victims. Known as the ‘Shark Man’, Vic attracts controversy but sticks to his guns with information about the Great White Shark collected during a lifetime spent here and abroad.
There’s evidence here about Great White Sharks you won’t find anywhere else. Vic recommends getting out of the water when you see a shark bigger than yourself, but I can promise you: yours truly would be long gone well before!
Our ‘see and do’ list was so long that we had doubts about whether we’d fit it all in, but off we went, starting with Reef World at the end of the Esplanade. Huge groper, sharks, turtles and an array of other fish stare out from large glass tanks. There’s nothing artificial here, just living coral reef and a placid groper that we learned weighs in at 100kg. You can feed turtles by hand or if you’re feeling truly adventurous, sign up for a swim in a tank with sharks.
Our thirst for museums was satisfied at the Hervey Bay Museum with more than twenty authentic buildings and hundreds of thousands of exhibits. From water-making machines to an original slab building, we learned of local blacksmiths, train stations, early fire fighting machinery, tips on boat building and so much more.
This place reminded me of the Tardis, Doctor Who’s time machine; the size of a police phone box on the outside, but amazingly extensive inside, where you find more than you’d ever thought possible.
What stood out was the attention to detail throughout the complex. We could only guess at the man hours it must have taken to build and find all the fabulous machinery and paraphernalia that takes you back to a different era, when Australians enjoyed a far different lifestyle from today.
With a fond farewell we pointed the Jeep’s bonnet northwest, towards Childers. As you descend into the main street and shops you’ll notice how neat and tidy everything seems to be. Don’t overlook staying here as this is a town where there is so much to explore – the shops virtually beg you to enter. The surrounding countryside is the perfect setting for Childers and certainly adds to the appeal of a longer stay.
We weren’t on the Bruce Highway long before Gin Gin appeared. A long wide nature strip divides the main drag through town and you’ll find the information centre here as well as some public toilets. Parking down either side of the strip offers plenty of places for even the biggest of rigs.
Gin Gin has several petrol stations, a café, and lots of shops and there’s even a dump point as you leave town.
You might drive past but many shops but the chances are you’ll fall victim to the bakery. Fresh breads, pies, sausage rolls, cream buns and tasty coffee attract most RVers and you can sit a while, watch the passing parade of travellers and muse that no diet is perfect!
MY FREE CAMP PICK
About one kilometre out of town on the right-hand side is a free camping area that we would rate highly. There’s enough grass for hundreds of traveller’s rigs, and the biggest at that. You can fill up your water tanks and there are toilets as well as covered areas for a quiet read. Don’t be surprised by the mobile coffee van that always seems to be here, or the truck selling farm-grown vegies, or another that has some of the best honey I’ve ever tried. Remember your stay is limited but this is a great shady spot to let the dust settle and is just a short walk to town.
If you fancy yourself as a barra fisherman or love red claws, we think we’ve got the spot for you. Monduran Dam has a caravan park and its only 20 mins north of Gin Gin.
There are wide expanses of well-maintained grass sites and if you don’t have a boat you can hire one. You’ll see photos in reception of the ones that didn’t get away and you can imagine what family and friends would say if you turned up with a photo of a giant barra or huge red claw. Yes, I keep dreaming that one day it’ll happen to me too.
We began to travel inland in earnest over hilly roads that offered great views before the Mount Berry Road led us to Eidsvold. On the way keep your eye out for stalls beside the road that sell huge juicy mandarins. There’s an honour system and you’re allowed the first one free! The problem is you won’t stop at just one, as experience has taught us.
Eidsvold – named, we believe, by early settlers from Norway – is probably now better recognised as the ‘RM Williams town’ because RM Williams himself lived near here in the latter part of his life. Once a gold rush town attracting 2000 people and 15 pubs it quietly invites you to stop and enjoy clean, tidy riverside parklands and perhaps drop into the town’s café.
We think RM Williams would be proud of the centre built in his honour. You can view his life story often told by the man himself and wonder at the power of one determined man who loved horses and was ‘true blue’. Spend some time at the centre, as there is ample parking and it’s just a short walk. The staff is friendly and keen to talk and make this a memorable event from your trip. None of the many items made by RM Williams are for sale as this is an education centre. You might not be able to buy a belt but you can learn how to make a whip!
From Eidsvold to Mundubbera is a short drive but this is a place that really caught us by surprise. First, you’ll pass the caravan parks as you drive in and the cherry water tank painted with murals significant to the town. Entering Mundubbera’s main street, you’ll see hotels and shops bound to attract even the most discerning traveller.
We explored a place called Bugs for Bugs where good bugs are grown to kill bad parasitic bugs affecting citrus and other crops, thus eliminating the need for toxic sprays. Simply fascinating! The nearby park is well worth a visit; there you’ll find a large steam locomotive from the old days, various bronze figures and even a pit for a ‘hangi’ feast. What caught our attention was the tree grown from seeds found at Lone Pine, a sober reminder of Gallipoli.
Mundubbera is a town with spirit and character and this is evident by the way everyone rolled up their sleeves to help out during catastrophic floods surging from the Burnett, Bogie and Auburn rivers several years ago. Don’t worry though, as this town is well and truly back and open for business – so much so that you’d never imagine the three rivers here had ever combined for a flood.
We were fortunate to come upon the Three Rivers Caravan Park which travellers rated highly for its well-maintained sites – each with a concrete slab – its clean amenities and welcoming pool. There are multiple dump points, a modern camp kitchen and disabled access facilities.
SCOTS IN THE BUSH
Leaving Mundubbera we drove some 80km south to an outstanding festival called ‘Scots in the Bush’. We were made welcome as soon as we arrived by a Sergeant Major dressed in his Scottish kilt who escorted us to our campsite.
We’ve experienced terrific times like these before but none with this particular brand of history, heritage, food, music and most of all, camaraderie by the bucketful. Each night, we were reluctant to leave happy hour – with fires to warm the outer man and single malt scotch to warm the inner man; this festival is a spectacular annual event. You can visit here all year round, though, as it’s a caravan park with rural appeal with plenty of pioneering history to tell.
Our happy hour here attracted not only all the RVers but the mayor and deputy mayor as well! Proud of their region, they welcomed travellers with some good old country hospitality. Gayndah enjoys a good-natured rivalry with Mundubbera, especially when it comes to their footy teams: we actually thought they seemed like peas in a pod! You will be welcomed by buildings straight from the gold rush era, many shops and a beaut museum which you’ll find yourself exploring for countless hours.
The rare QLD lungfish display holds pride of place as you enter the museum but the wealth of rare machinery will hold your attention and surprise you.
Too soon after tasting delicious mandarins, we headed for Maryborough, or Mary Poppins Town, as some might call it. P.L. Travers, the author of the famous novel that became a movie, lived here before finally settling in England, but you can almost feel her presence around town. It’s hardly surprising that the community promotes children’s writing so who knows… The next author to visit Maryborough might pen another timeless story.
There’s a magical Mary Discovery Trail as well as a festival. P.L. Travers adopted a child, one of twin boys. She wrote: “Mary Poppins is the story of my life”.
You’ll spend at least a day following the footsteps of P.L. Travers and never seem to get enough. We appreciated the passport which gave great value access to the customs house interpretive centre, bond store museum and Military and Colonial Museum. Each one has a history of stories from the earliest immigrants to the days when the sending of ships was the highest form of technology. It brought a lump to my throat to learn about so many locals who fought and gave their lives so that we could enjoy the freedom that democracy brings. We could only describe this amazing museum as a real battler with dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers.
Our trip started and ended so close to Hervey Bay but the experiences of some of the world’s best marine environments really saw us slow our pace and thoroughly enjoy ourselves on the way. I think one real standout was that, thanks to the warm climate, we saw whales swimming with their calves; definitely not something I’m going to forget any time soon.
We got to experience true country hospitality and found gems of people and places that you too can appreciate! It’s a trip so close to Brisbane that you’ll wonder why you haven’t done it before. If you want a rural getaway when travelling between NSW and QLD, try travelling from Warialda to Mundubbera, but whatever you do, don’t miss Hervey Bay and Mary Poppins country!
WHERE TO STAY
HAPPY WANDERERS CARAVAN PARK
105 Truro St, Torquay
Ph: (07) 4125 1103
EIDSVOLD CARAVAN PARK
3 Esplanade Street, Eidsvold
Ph: (07) 4165 1168
RIVERVIEW CARAVAN PARK
3 Barrow Street, Gayndah
Ph: (07) 4161 1280
THREE RIVERS TOURIST PARK
37 Strathdee Street, Mundubbera
Ph: (07) 4165 3000
BOONDOOMA HERITAGE HOMESTEAD
8262 Mundubbera-Durong Road, Boondooma
Ph: (07) 4168 0159
BEST FREE CAMPS
Rest area at Gayndah on the east end of town
25 37 43 S 151 37 33 E
Toilets, showers, running water, shade, 24 hour stay, big rig, dump site, pets allowed
CLAUDE WHATON WEIR
A stunning lakeside camp 3km north of Gayndah and just 600m west of the highway. Perfect if you’re travelling with a tinnie or kayak!
25 36 48 S 151 35 35 E
Toilets, running water, shade, picnic tables, 24 hour stay, pets allowed, boat ramp, scenic
BLACK STUMP REST AREA
A great place to pull up and relax, spacious level sites and ample shade make this a really good spot to have handy. 42km SW of Mundubbera, turn west off Mundubbera-Durong Road then south for 7km down a dirt road.
25 34 24 S 151 03 10 E
Toilets, disabled access, water, shade, picnic tables, BBQs, pets allowed
GIN GIN REST AREA (FRED’S PICK)
It might not be the most scenic of spots but the facilities are there and the price is right. The dump point and good clean local water were particularly useful.
151 56 43 E 24 58 36 S
Toilets, disabled access, clean running water, shade, picnic tables, fire pits, BBQs, big rigs, pets allowed, max 20 hour stay
Accommodation right in the middle of Gayndah; a small fee allows access to amenities.
25 37 35 S 151 35 55 E
Toilets, showers, water, big rig, 24 hour stay, no pets allowed
FRASER COAST DISCOVERY SPHERE
166 Old Maryborough Road , Pialba, Hervey Bay
Ph: (07) 4191 2610
HERVEY BAY VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
227 Maryborough-Hervey Bay Road, Hervey Bay
Ph: 1800 811 728
MUNDUBBERA HERITAGE AND INFORMATION CENTRE
Bicentennial Park, Mundubbera Durong Road
Ph: (07) 4165 5700
GAYNDAH MUSEUM AND INFO CENTRE
8 Simon Street, Gayndah
Ph: (07) 4161 2226
RM WILLIAMS BUSH LEARNING CENTRE
A3 Australia’s Country Way (Burnett Hwy), Eidsvold
Ph: (07) 4165 7272
VIC HISLOP’S SHARK SHOW
553 Esplanade, Urangan
Ph: (07) 4128 9137
REEF WORLD AQUARIUM
Charlton Esplanade, Hervey Bay
Ph: (07) 4128 9828
HERVEY BAY HISTORICAL VILLAGE AND MUSEUM
13 Zephyr St, Scarness
Ph: (7) 4128 4804
MUNDUBBERA AND DISTRICT HISTORICAL MUSEUM
Frank McCauley Street, Mundubbera
Ph: (07) 4165 4298
THE GLENEDEN BULLOCK TEAM
111 Slab Creek Road, Gleneden via Gayndah
Ph: 0429 137 224
MARYBOROUGH MILITARY & COLONIAL MUSEUM
106 Wharf Street, Maryborough
Ph: (07) 4123 5900
HOW TO GET THERE
We started at Harvey Bay via Childers bound for Gin Gin and further West to Eidsvold before dropping into Mundubbera. We took a diversion from Mundubbera to Boondooma, some nearly 90km south, to enjoy Scots in the Bush Festival! Heading back to Mundubbera we then travelled east 45km to Gayndah before heading to Maryborough.
You’ll find good secondary roads on this trip but remember to keep your speeds around 80-85km to stay safe and ensure you don’t miss a thing!