The Ultimate ‘Must Do’ Central Queensland Experiences
From past to present, outback to reef, Central Queensland offers a landscape of diverse beauty like no other. It is a hidden paradise boasting pristine beaches, luscious forests, ancient landscapes, barefoot island bliss, the underwater magnificence of some of the healthiest coral on the Great Barrier Reef, rolling countryside mountains and urban cityscapes.
It is those moments where you find yourself fixated, gasping or picking your jaw up off the ground that make them the ultimate ‘must do’ Central Queensland experiences. Those one-of-a-kind encounters that turn your journey from good to great. Here are a few of our favourites…
The Southern Great Barrier Reef is known for its pristine reef, and scuba diving or snorkelling provides unrivalled access to some of the most remote and untouched dive sites within Keppel Bay. World Heritage sites are outstandingly important. They are extraordinary, unique, and irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. The local dive operators based on Great Keppel Island are only a 30 min ferry transfer from Yeppoon, are PADI certified and are also actively involved in reef monitoring programs to ensure your dive is not only scenic, but educational and informative.
Enjoy an island paradise and feel good about it too! One of Australia’s best-kept secrets, Pumpkin Island is nestled in the Southern Great Barrier Reef’s Keppel Group of islands only 14 kilometres off the coast of Yeppoon. The tiny gem – just six hectares in total – offers eco-friendly accommodation that is powered by the wind and the sun. Join the dolphins, turtles, mantarays, and whales on this ultimate ‘get away from it all’ holiday.
It’s time to ramp up the romance. Pack up your loved one, some cheese, olives and bubbles and take a private transfer to a remote beach on Great Keppel Island. Leave the crowds behind and spend time on your own exclusive white sandy beach surrounded by crystal-clear sub-tropical water. After your picnic, you can explore the land and water before heading back to your accommodation. If you ever dreamed of being a castaway, this is your chance!
It’s big, it’s beautiful and it’s FREE. Welcome to a place where you can you spend your days basking in the sub-tropical sunshine while immersing yourself in a resort-style pool, soak up the stunning views over the Keppel Islands via the infinity edge and while away your day. The Yeppoon Lagoon is the jewel in the crown of the Yeppoon foreshore precinct. Aside from swimming, the surrounding parklands offer barbeques and shady areas great for picnic. And you read correctly – entry to the Lagoon is free!
You might find yourself feeling a little small amongst the towering sandstone cliffs of Carnarvon Gorge. Over millions of years, water has eroded a deep and remarkable gorge, creating superb cliffs that change colour with the movement of the sun. This oasis in the semi-arid heart of Central Queensland is home to 2,000 Aboriginal artworks including engravings, ochre stencils and free-hand paintings adorning the 62m long sandstone wall. With over 20km of walking tracks leading to magical places and explorations range from short, easy trails, to difficult, remote tracks.
Immerse yourself among the serenity of Byfield State Forest and be wowed by these precious hidden gems. The picturesque scenery together with the clear and brisk freshwater creeks of Stony and Waterpark will take your breath away. Keep your eye out for the resident turtles. Nestled among picnic and campground facilities, both Stony and Waterpark creeks are accessible via a standard vehicle. Don’t forget your camera – Byfield’s freshwater creeks are instaworthy!
Coastal volcanic headlands with intriguing rock formations, scenic lookouts and a variety of short walks through diverse landscapes are just some of the reasons to visit Capricorn Coast National Park. When visiting Yeppoon, take time to discover Fan Rock and Rosslyn Bay lookouts at Double Head’s 700m return trail and enjoy views to the Keppel Bay islands and other volcanic plugs along the coast. From here, head up to Bluff Point Circuit to soak up the panoramic views of the Capricorn coastline. Take the climb to ‘Turtle Lookout’ and spot turtles swimming in the water beneath you. Allow yourself about 1.5 hours to make the most of the 2.3km moderate hike.
120-million-year-old thunder-eggs are waiting to be discovered at Mount Hay Gemstone Tourist Park, just a 30 minute drive from Rockhampton. Nestled at the base of Mount Hay, on what was once a rumbling volcano, the thundereggs you admire today are the fruits of its violent eruptions – ‘Volcanic Birthstones’. Ordinary on the outside, these geo treasures are stunning inside and their layers tell the story of an incredible geo journey.
The spectacular nightly emergence of over 100,000 bats from Mt Etna Caves National Park provides a jaw-dropping experience and is thought to be the only one of its kind in the world. Guided ranger tours operate between December and February and allow you to witness the tiny bent-wing bats take flight from their roosting site. You will feel and see them flash past you in their thousands. The park’s caves are the breeding site for more than 80 percent of Australia’s population of bent wings. Mount Etna is also a popular year round hiking spot and boast spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, dotted with volcanic plugs and limestone ridges.
Epic 4 x 4 Sand Adventures
There is something about beach driving that soothes the soul and makes you feel one with nature. Byfield National Park & Five Rocks, located north of Yeppoon, is one of the most pristine sections of the Central Queensland coastline. Massive sand dunes and rugged headlands are iconic for this area and provide a challenge for even the most experienced 4×4 enthusiast. The most famous dune, known as ‘Big Sandy’ must always be treated with respect. The 1km long uphill run in your 4WD leaves no room for error and will surely test your skill in the sand. Tracks lead to the spectacular Stockyard Point lookout, boasting 360-degree views of the coast and the famous ‘5 Rock’ headland. Getting to this destination is challenging, but oh so worth it, when rewarded with Nine Mile Beach – you guessed it – nine miles of unbelievable beach driving.
Seeking adventure? Spend the day island hopping around the Keppel Bay Islands on a scenic boat tour and discover some of the most incredible cave systems within the Southern Great Barrier Reef. On low or high tide, these caves are awe-inspiring. Add in some secret beaches, surf, snorkelling and seclusion and this memory will not be forgotten quickly. Your exhilarating and scenic adventure around the islands awaits.
Camp on an island all to yourself
There’s camping… And then there’s remote island camping, and for just a few dollars a night, you can have an island all to yourself. Surrounded by sheltered bays, white sandy beaches and peace, there are four completely off-grid islands to choose from offering isolation and social distancing at its best. For completely self-sufficient campers with a desire to live out their Robinson Crusoe fantasy, these hidden gems offer a special location to experience the tranquil life of a castaway. With campsites just metres from the beach, your temporary backyard is filled with the excitement of snorkelling, fishing, diving and hiking, straight off your doorstep! So, toss away your phones, iPads and watches; fuel up the boat, grab your tent, torch and tucker, and prepare to become fully immersed in island life, where the rising sun and falling tide will be your guide.
Nestled within Blackdown Tableland National Park is a gorgeous little spot where you will find a rainbow and its pot of gold. Follow the Capricorn Way, just west of Rockhampton and you will find a hidden oasis unlike any other… Rainbow Falls (Gudda Gumoo Gorge) is the highlight of Blackdown Tableland. Follow the 4km return trail leading to the gorge and you will find a clear rock pool fed by a trickling waterfall reflecting a shimmering kaleidoscope of colour when the light is right. The surrounding sandstone gorge and cliffs, together with the abundance of fern fronds and towering palms make Rainbow Falls a truly memorable sight.
The volcano is a rumbling beast and from the depths of its belly spews hot molten rock. The glow of lava sprawls across the landscape devouring everything in its path, while ash falls like ebony snow and the smell of gas chokes the air. Welcome to largest sapphire fields in the Southern Hemisphere – 50 million years ago! The Sapphire Gemfields in Central Queensland Highlands are a product of incredible time and drastic changes in climate and environment. Nowadays, you can fossick to find your very own precious or semi-precious stone.
Overlooking the entire city of Rockhampton, 604 metres above sea level and offering the most spectacular views, is a 500-metre boardwalk that extends 25 metres off the side of Mount Archer National Park. Nurim Circuit Elevated Boardwalk is particularly popular at sunrise and sunset and is completely accessible to suit all ages and abilities. If you have time, enjoy a picnic with a view, or if you have some energy to burn, check out the hiking and bushwalking trails throughout the national park.
Central Queensland is without a doubt, Queensland’s premiere net free destination and one of the best Barramundi fisheries in Australia for recreational anglers. You can snag a catch right in the heart of Rockhampton in sight of your accommodation, either with a charter or BYO boat, or go east towards Yeppoon and Rosslyn Bay and try your hand at some epic deep-sea fishing. Head west towards Emerald and check out Lake Maraboon, stocked with eight different kinds of fish along with a healthy population of red claw crayfish.
Just 30-minutes north of Rockhampton, you will discover Queensland’s first tourist attraction and one of the finest, most remarkable, multi-award-winning advanced ecotourism attractions. The above ground magnificence of the Capricorn Caves will leave you awe-inspired and fascinated at the sheer power of nature. Once an ancient reef, the limestone site is now a living laboratory as daily discoveries on ancient and modern-day ecosystems make this one of the region’s most unique attractions. The guided tour options will have you zigzagging through passages and crevices and learning about the ancient geographical history, early explorations, cave acoustics and the unique wildlife that call this natural wonder home.
Minerva Hills National Park, near the small town of Springsure, is one of the lesser-known National Parks in Central Queensland but we are predicting that its quieter days are numbered. Born of blazing volcanic eruptions over 30 million years ago, today you will be in awe of the spectacular jagged peaks, incredible panoramic views, sheltered gorges, open woodlands and pockets of dry rainforest. Keep an eye out for curious eastern grey kangaroos and several different species of wallabies throughout the park. Minerva Hills is also home to the locally rare fawn-footed melomies and the little-known pebble-mound mouse. There are picnic areas with barbeques, toilets and shelter. A visit is not complete without a wander along Skyline lookout track for close-up views of Virgin Rock.
We know they say you should never smile at a crocodile, but would you hold one? The Capricorn Coast is home to Queensland’s first Crocodile Farm, Koorana. Here you can take a tour to visit the Farm’s prehistoric giants before taking the opportunity to have a hold and snap a picture with a youngster. Stay for lunch and delight in a croc meat kebab, pie or steak. Between February and April, you can also witness crocodile hatchlings as they enter the world.