100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

100 things to do on the Southern Great Barrier Reef

So, you’ve found yourself on the doorstep of where the Great Barrier Reef begins, but you’ve no idea what to do or where to start. So, what’s next?

From witnessing the circle of life on the beaches of Bundaberg to discovering a gorge-ous secret in the Capricorn Region, fossicking for your (possible!) fortune and drinking the best rum in the world, there’s more than meets the eye in this stretch of Queensland. 

Print or save this checklist and get going with 100 things to do on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

1. This is turtle territory and for an annual migration of David Attenborough proportions, so time your visit from November to March anywhere along the coastline from Bundaberg to Capricorn. If you want to catch the babies, use this guide to the turtle hatching season.

2. Now that we’ve established you’re here to see turtles – secure box office views to the nesting and hatching show by booking in for the Mon Repos experience. Here’s what you can expect.

3. Despite the name, it’s not all about the reef here. Leaving the coastline and heading for Emerald could improve your financial bottom line greatly – at least if you follow this 48-hour guide to fossicking the gemfields. If you don’t want to fossick alone, join 7000 other prospectors during Gem Fest.

4. Discover Queensland’s best-kept secret Carnarvon Gorge, all 29,80km2 of it. If you’re a first-timer, you’ll want to brush up on this guide before you go.

5. Visit a famous Lady called Elliot. Not familiar with her? You can get acquainted with these 10 things you didn’t know before you go.

Lady Elliot Island | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

6. Visit a town named after an Australian native, Dingo. Speculation is rife about whether early pioneers saw or heard Australia’s only semi-domesticated animal in the area, but either way, there’s a statue of a dingo as you enter the town that’s well worth seeing.

7. Celebrate the landing of Captain James Cook and the birthplace of Queensland with a festival held in his honour held each year in Bustard Bay.

8. Visit the Pyramids. We’re not talking about Gyza but the Three Pyramids (aka bommies) offshore at Lady Elliot Island.

9. Even though Bundaberg is known for its sugar production (which, coincidentally, led to a pretty damn popular rum), there’s plenty more than just sugarcane in these fertile soils. Have yourself a food trail adventure with this guide.

10. Discover a city with more cattle heads than human bods. With 3.5 million head of cattle, earning its reputation as the beef capital of Australia was easy. Get in the moo(d) with this guide to Rocky.

The Great Western Hotel Rockhampton | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

The Great Western Hotel Rockhampton

11. It’s famous for its rum but Bundaberg also has its own boutique distillery, Kalki Moon, serving up gin, vodka, and liqueurs. Find out more with this list of best distilleries in Queensland.

12. Take a detour off Bruce Highway to Gin Gin, a town that’s just as more-ish as a double shot of the clear stuff with this self-guided driving tour.

13. If you ever needed proof they build things bigger and better up here, get your dose of vitamin C with a visit to the Big Orange in Gayndah. There are more big things where that came from with this list.

14. Like to dive? Why not scuba the Severence Shipwreck off Lady Elliott Island. You’ll find this fully intact yacht resting at a depth of 21m in the big blue.

15. Drive 15 minutes out of Bundaberg to the beachside ‘burb of Bargara where the temperate weather will tempt you into swimming 365 days a year.

Bargara Beach | 100 things to do in Southern Great Barrier Reef

Bargara Beach

16. Climb Bundaberg’s most famous rocky outcrop – Mount Wash, rising 733m out of the ground.

17. Pitch a tent at a beachside campground in Woodgate with 16km of white-sand beach at your tent flap and 20,000 hectares of national park out the back.

18. Fancy a good old-fashioned road trip? Why not take Australia’s Country Way and explore the inland side of the Southern Barrier Reef. Need a step by step guide? Jump over here, mate.

19. If you thought winemaking was reserved for the southern states, think again. Check out the fine wines at Hill of Promise, a cork’s throw from Childers

20. Discover both sides of the Capricorn Region with an itinerary that takes you to the beach and bush going from Heron Islands to the Gemfields

Heron Island | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Heron Island

21. Are you an aviation buff? Walk (or should that be fly?) in the footsteps of Australia’s first solo aviator, Bert Hinkler at the Hinkler Hall of Aviation. Snap a selfie sitting in a replica Avro Baby aircraft, which Bert used in his record-breaking 1921 flight. 

22. Have yourself a Crocodile Dundee moment at Snakes Downunder Reptile Park  Zoo. Your ticket includes plenty of hands-on action with cute and not-so-cute critters.

23. Are you angling for a good time? Get hooked on Rockhampton and drop a line into Lake Maraboon for your chance at reeling in a fresh Murray cod.

24. For sapphires that could rival Kate Middleton’s ring, head west to Sapphire – the biggest sapphire gem field in the Southern Hemisphere – for your chance to prospect your own ball of blue. At 900km2, your odds are good to find a place no one has been prospecting before.

25. Catch a sunset over the water (a rare treat in Queensland) on the headland of 1770 while musing about what must have been running through Captain Cook’s head before he came ashore. You’ll want this handy guide up your sleeve. 

Agnes Water | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Agnes Water | Photo by @juliemergard via IG

26. Test the theory that inland fishing is better than offshore by casting a line at Gladstone’s famous four fishing holes. We have a guide to keep you on track.

27. Eat from the salad bowl of Queensland – Bundaberg – over 10 delicious days at Winterfeast, which dishes up the best of Bundy on a plate (or 10!). 

28. Have you ever seen a national highway shut down just for a festival? You will at Childers Festival which bans traffic from the Bruce (Highway) in the name of good food, markets, and live entertainment. 

29. Do your bit for the environment by drinking Bargara Brewing Company Beer made with 100% rainwater. This local beer crew launched onto the scene in 2014 and now offer 14 bevs (beer and cider) to choose from. Their names are a nod to the region’s famous marine residents, like Thirsty Turtle and Drunk Fish. You’ll find their restaurant and brewhouse, ironically, in Bundaberg.

30. Rent an entire island like the rock star you are. No kidding! Pumpkin Island off Yeppoon will set you back less than a penthouse pricetag, guaranteeing your own Richard Branson feels. Here’s how

Pumpkin Island | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Photo by @_markfitz via IG

31. Conquer the Tropic of Capricorn with four days, a tank of petrol and this guide

32. Sure you can stay on a tropical island resort, but with $6.95 in your pocket, you can also score waterfront views without that pesky resort price tag at one of these island camping hot spots.

33. Make like David Attenborough and dive these sites on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. 

34. Eat at Indulge Cafe, which was voted People’s Choice (that’s voted by regular diners, not critics) best cafe in Queensland. Every Saturday, they’ll dish up more than 300 breakfasts made with flair – like sweet potato hash cakes with tomato relish, spinach, Chop Shop’s smoked chicken sausage and Fig Tree Farm’s scrambled eggs. Another favourite is Tu’s local black tiger prawn omelette with soft tofu, Bundaberg X.O sauce, nuoc mam cham, kewpie mayo, pickled ginger, bean shoots, coriander, gomashio and Bundy lime and toast.

35. For a wonderland that looks like its reserved for fairies or garden gnomes, take a walk through the Paperbark Trail in Agnes Water. It’s a 30-minute stroll across little stepping stones, surrounded by paperbark trees. Truly magical.

Paperbark Forest | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Paperbark Forest | Photo by @thatsvee via IG

36. Riddle me this: Where can you sleep under canvas, right on the beachfront without having to succumb to a blow-up mattress? Agnes Beach Waters Holiday’s Treetop Glamping tents, of course.

37. If you want to up the ante of a regular fishing weekend, time your visit for The Boyne Tannum HookUp. There’s $300,000 up for grabs at this family-friendly fish-off.

38. Get your GoPro or AquaTech housing ready – you’ll want to be waterproof to grab the ultimate selfie with a turtle.

39. Grab your hiking boots and get an aerial view over Gladstone by climbing 632m above sea level atop Mount Larcom.

40. Tick off the Gladstone island trifectaLady Musgrave, Wilson, and Heron Island if you can, all in one trip.

Lady Musgrave Island | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Lady Musgrave Island

41. Ride the amphibious water vessel, LARC! to see one of the oldest working lighthouses in Australia at Bustard Head.

42. Say goodbye to school holiday boredom in the Capricorn Region with this guide

43. Discover an ancient side to the Southern Great Barrier Reef. We’re talking about the Capricorn Caves where you can travel back in time to see fossils that have sparked the interest of palaeontologists. Jump on board a guided tour if you want to make sense of what you’re looking at. And don’t forget to try the acoustics of the Cathedral Chamber… echo, echo, echo!

44. When in Bundaberg, drink like a local. Best known for their ginger beer, knock back one of the famous drinks after the True Brew tour at Bundaberg Brewed Drinks

45. Get off the beaten track at Cania National Park to see 70m high sandstone cliffs and Aboriginal rock art that’s said to point to a settlement here 19,000 years ago.

Cania Gorge National Park | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Cania Gorge National Park

46. For a stiffer drink, pay a visit to Saleyards Distillery – Rockhampton’s only distillery. They brew a spiced rum called Capricorn Spiced and a small-batch gin called Billy Goat. Both will put hairs on your chest (in a good way) and you can pop in for a tour, sample and bite to eat at the onsite cafe.

47. Have a Batman experience and visit Mt Etna bat caves near Rockhampton. Under the guidance of a ranger, you’ll navigate to the entrance of the caves where you’ll see thousands of tiny winged bats spilling out for a nocturnal feed. They won’t be the only ones hunting – carpet pythons perform mid-air acrobatics as they try and catch their dinner.

48. Take a wander in the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens. There are 27 hectares of lush, subtropical gardens to lose yourself amongst.

49. They say the best view of the beach is above it. Put that to the test with Skydive Capricorn and plummet (safely) to the sandy white beaches of Yeppoon. You’ll freefall at speeds up to 200km/h… so you’ll definitely cure your need for speed.

50. Compare your arm span to the wingspan of a manta ray at Lady Elliot Island by swimming with them.  The mantas treat the western side of the island like their own personal B&S ball – where males and females come together to find themselves a mate. Tip: You will need Go-Go Gadget arms to beat the three metres of these oceanic wanderers.

Manta Ray At Lady Elliot | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

51. Cementing the fact that Rockhampton really is the home of cattle, the city runs a triannual event aptly-named Beef Week. It’s a celebration of all facets of the beef industry, featuring more than 4500 heads of cattle across 30 different breeds.

52. Discover the scenic backdrop of Rockhampton with a hike to the summit of Mount Archer. The canopy walk at the top, which extends 25m outward and 7.5m high, gives a bird’s eye view of the beef capital.

53. Step back in time – to 1850, to be precise – with a visit to the Rockhampton Heritage Village. You’ll find horse-drawn buggies, blacksmiths and vintage machinery amongst this nod to the town of yesteryear.

54. Cash in some annual leave and have a long weekend island escape with this guide to Heron Island.

55. Tick a few of the Great Eight marine encounters off your bucket list. With the exception of the potato cod, you should be able to catch them all on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

Turtle Lady Elliot Island | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Turtles at Lady Elliot Island

56. Get your lavender fix with a visit to Amandine Lavender. This farm started like most Bargara farms did – as a sugar cane producer – before diversifying into lavender. One thing’s for certain, you’ll leave much calmer than you arrived.

57. For three nights of back-to-back free entertainment, join the 60,000 other revellers who line the banks of the Fitzroy River for Rockhampton River Festival each year.

58. It’s worth dropping your proverbial anchor at Anchor Bommie off Lady Elliot Island to dip below the surface and see this tower of coral. Riddled with ledges and caves, you’ll find it swarming with fish… the hunters and the hunted.

59. Want to taste your way around Bundaberg but not sure where to even start? Join Bundy Food Tours for a veritable degustation while visiting 4- 5 farms to meet the makers.

60. See if the song “Never Smile at a Crocodile” was good advice or not with a visit to Koorana Crocodile Farm. You can have your photo taken with a crocodile at this commercially-operated crocodile farm with over 4500 crocs in its care. (Psst! For more crocodile encounters, jump over here).

Koorana Crocodile Farm | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

61. Wrap your laughing gear around one of the best-kept secrets of the Southern Great Barrier Reef: mud crab sandwiches. You’ll find some of the best ones served in Miriam Vale – and you’ll be happy to know they’ve perfected the recipe over more than three decades.

62. Don’t let the name Turkey Beach beach fool you – while the brush turkeys are in abundance this is the place to head if you want to reel in a mangrove jack. You can fish straight from the jetty but we recommend you BYOB (that’s ‘bring your own boat’) so you can head further afield.

63. Appreciate the work of local artists at The Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery (BRAG). 

64. How do you fancy 18 holes accompanied by fresh Great Barrier Reef breezes? Pop along to Yeppoon Golf Club to have a swing. You may just find your only other company on the course is the friendly grey kangaroos.

65. Sample one of the award-winning steaks at the Great Western Hotel, established 1862, in Rockhampton. If you’re lucky, you’ll time your dinner with one of their rodeos, which always draw a crowd.

The Great Western Hotel Rockhampton | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

The Great Western Hotel Rockhampton

66. Calling all budding photographer and Instagrammers  – work your way through these must-get photos on the reef. 

67. You don’t have to be a train buff to love Mount Morgan Historical Railway Museum. Here, it’s all about history and you’ll see railway equipment that was used in the 1800s to haul trains up and down steep inclines. It’s enough to make you very grateful for Uber.

68. Take your morning walk on Capricorn Coast Pineapple Rail Trail, stretching 4.5kms from the Yeppoon town centre through bushland to the golf course.

69. If you’re looking for a souvenir for mum, visit The Pip Stop between Bundaberg and Gin Gin for homemade jams and preserves made from local produce.

70. America has the Grand Canyon. Heron Island has the Coral Canyons. Don your mask and fins and dive down to discover a maze of deep gutters ranging from 15-20 metres off Heron Island.

Heron Island | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

71. Visit a place that’s as cute as its name suggests and check out Fairymead House, which overlooks the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens. Inside this building, which dates back to the 1890s, you’ll find the Sugar History Museum.

72. Just outside of Bundaberg you’ll find the Gin Gin Mystery Craters – 35 oddly shaped craters which were discovered in the early 70s.

73. So straight to the (water) source with a visit to Lake Awoonga near Gladstone. You can throw in a line or have a picnic while taking in the view.

74. Wine not visit Childers? Seriously, you should! Pay a visit to Vintner’s Secret Vineyard, Cellar Door and Cafe. Here you’ll find homegrown red and white varieties served out of their cellar door.

75. See Great Keppel Island from a different angle with GKI Adventures on their guided jet-ski tour. This adventurous crew operate island-side and also offer guided kayak tours and snorkel trips. 

Great Keppel Island | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

76. In case you’re not so much a catch-it-yourself kind of seafood eater, set your sights on Grunkse’s By The River in Bundaberg. With a trawler-to-plate philosophy like no other, you can dine out on the freshest seafood caught in the region that day. They’ve been in business 40 years and after a plate of their prawns, it’s easy to see why.

77. Discover the 44-acre coral cay, Lady Musgrave. You’ll find it floating in a lagoon approximately 3,000 acres in size, filled with 14 world class dive sites: Manta Ray and Entrance Bombies, Napoleon’s Wall and The Drop-off, to name a few.

78. Camp in paradise – that’s Paradise Dam to you. You’ll find it 80km south-west of Bundaberg with the choice of foreshore sites or ones with elevation and a view.

79. Catch an outrageously bright and colourful sunset with 1770 Liquid Adventures. They’ll take you on a fully-guided sunset kayak adventure around the 1770 headland and conservation park, guaranteeing you’ll get a bit of exercise with your history lesson.

80. Have a nip of the world’s best rum. Seriously, we’re not exaggerating. See what makes Bundaberg Rum so damn tasty with this neat post.

Bundaberg Rum | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Photo by @lotte_goes_to via IG

81. If you find yourself in Gin Gin on a Saturday, bring your cash and pop into the Wild Scotchman Country Markets for local produce and handmade treats.

82. Dive deep for good karma – MV Karma that is. North of Bundaberg city, this 42m gravel barge sank in 2003 and now rests 26m below the water. The two-level structure, crane boom, cabins and engine room remains intact and the fish have moved into their underwater mansion.

83. It would be remiss to come to Rocky and not get a photo with the Big Bull, right? There’s six in total s0 make a game out of getting a photo with them all.

84. Wine(d) down with friends at RiverFeast Bundaberg. You’ll find this street food and craft beer market located on the riverfront in the Old Marine Tafe College Building in East Bundaberg.

85. Take a day trip north of Rocky to seaside sister, Yeppoon. Packing village appeal, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and cafes to occupy your time when you’re not at the beach.

Yeppoon | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef


86. Learn the difference between your cone shells and your fan shells with a visit to Shell World Yeppoon. You’ll find over 20,000 shells in this display.

87. Check out the beating cultural heart of Rockhampton with a visit to the Walter Reid Community Centre.

88. For pottery that goes beyond dipping bowls, pay a visit to Nob Creek Pottery, which is a three-generation affair. Master potter, Steve, is an esteemed artist with his works on display in international galleries. Their three galleries have the work of over 45 craftspeople and artists on show – many of who come from all corners of the world.

89. If you’ve heard of a vertical garden, you’re going to love this coral garden which follows the same principle. Find the Musgrave Drop Off on the southern side of Lady Musgrave Island where the reef drops from 10m to 25m.

90. If you like your beers born from batch brewers, visit Headricks Lane in Rockhampton. This restaurant by day, bar by night, features a microbrewery and some of Australia’s best brewers.

Headricks Lane Rockhampton | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Photo by @headrickslane via IG

91. Brush up on your marine research at the Heron Island Research facility. This area is utilised by over 60 institutions to conduct ground-breaking research. Be part of the action.

92. Learn a history lesson from the most unlikely of places… the telephone poles in Capella. There are over 30 poles which detail the area’s history via murals. Take 30 minutes out of your holiday schedule to see them all.

93. Get an aerial view of the Keppel group of islands by joining Rockhampton Helicopters for a joyride.

94. Like birds? Don’t own binoculars? That’s why you should check out Flying High Flora and Fauna Bird Habitat, on the corner of the Bruce Highway and Old Creek Road. The owner is a bit of a bird-lover and has created the largest walk-through free-flight aviary in the country.

95. Make tracks inland to a 4×4 paradise at Byfield National Park where parabolic sand dune trails and rugged pinnacles lead to beachside bliss. 

Byfield National Park | 100 things to do in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Byfield National Park | Photo by @dvaughan007 via IG (no longer current)

96. Try and spot a dugong while you’re diving the Barolin Rocks Dive site. This is one of the only places in Queensland where a dugong has been seen in a reef environment. It’s also metres from the shore making this one convenient site to discover.

97. Jump aboard Bundy Belle and Burnett River Cruises to spend 2.5 hours on the water exploring the Burnett River.

98. Discover why there’s a town called Emerald (the clue is in the name) with a trip west.

99. For boating, camping and fishing aficionados, get off the beaten track proper with a visit to Curtis Island off Gladstone.

100. Take in the whole Southern Great Barrier Reef with four wheels and journey the Pacific Coast Way. We have you covered from Brisbane to Cairns and Cairns to Brisbane.

Phew! How many have you done?