Cowabunga! Here’s how to see nesting turtles under 5 hours drive from Brisbane
From November to January, female turtles return to their birth-beach to lay their own nests of up to 150 eggs.
And, although you’ll find nesting turtles on various beaches along the Queensland coastline, Bundaberg (a.k.a Bundy) is home to the Mon Repos Turtle Centre which supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland.
Bundaberg is also home to Lady Musgrave Island, the southern-most coral cay of the Bunker Group in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. In peak nesting season, Lady Musgrave Island can accommodate an average of 120 nesting turtles in just one night. *jaw-drop*
Between the Mon Repos Turtle Centre and Lady Musgrave Island, you’ll be sure to tick off your first, second and third turtle encounter in just hours of arriving in good ol’ Bundy.
So, if you’ve brushed up on all your turtle knowledge, what are you waiting for? The nesting season is almost here!
First things first; How far is Bundaberg from Brisbane?
Answer: It’s about a four-and-a-half-hour drive. So, it’s far enough to be classed as a “holiday” if you’re looking to escape the big smoke without the hassle (and cost) of booking flights.
And, if you hit the road nice and early on a Saturday, you’ll have enough time to stop in for brekkie (and a knick-knack shop) at the Eumundi Markets on the Sunshine Coast, which are in full swing from 7am.
The tough decision: Mon Repos Turtle Centre or Lady Musgrave Island?
Loggerhead, green, flatback and leatherback female turtles lay in the Bundaberg region. Some return for what can be their first visit back, to the beach they were born on, up to 30 years before.
If you’d like to rough it up and camp just metres away from nesting turtles, head straight for Lady Musgrave Island. Or, join a guide at the Mon Repos Turtle Centre if you’d prefer to spend your evenings with turtles and your days grazing through Bundaberg (and tasting world-class rum).
Mon Repos Turtle Centre
The Mon Repos Turtle Centre is in the Mon Repos Conservation Park in Bargara. It’s open 24 hours a day, all year round. However, to protect nesting turtles and hatchlings, access to some of the park is restricted from mid-October to the end of April between 6pm and 6am.
Operated by rangers and volunteers, the centre focuses on educating guests on the turtle lifecycle. And its nesting and hatching conservation has become critical for the survival of the endangered loggerhead turtle.
During nesting season, it’s essential to book your Mon Repos Turtle Experience in advance and arrive no later than 6:45pm. Don’t forget to pack water, a headlight (or torch), comfortable shoes, a rain jacket and mosquito repellent because you’ll spend a few hours on the beach in open weather.
After registering at the gates, take a walk through the information centre or watch turtle-y awesome educational videos in the amphitheatre while rangers patrol the beach for mama turtles.
It can be a bit of a waiting game, but as soon as your group is called, your heart will start pounding and you’ll get a rush of excitement. This is where the fun starts!
Following your guide, you’ll walk to your designated nesting turtle. This walk is usually done in complete darkness as lights can disturb other turtles making their way up the beach. Your guide will tell you when to turn on your torches and take photos, so please follow their instructions.
Once your turtle has dug her nest and begins to lay, your guide will let you take pics and move in a little closer to witness the miracle. If you’re lucky, you might even get to help the rangers relocate the eggs to a much more suitable nest if the mama has laid too close to the water’s reach.
This experience can take a while, so be prepared to pull an all-nighter. And, don’t forget to purchase a certificate ($2) that commemorates your experience and includes important details about your turtle.
Lady Musgrave Island
While most people tackle an all-day adventure, departing Bundaberg at 7am and returning at 5pm, there are a few who opt for the complete experience and camp under the stars, with nesting turtles for company.
Tip: If you do camp on Lady Musgrave Island in turtle nesting season, be sure to place logs or backpacks in front of your tent door to prevent unexpected turtle visits.
Lady Musgrave Experience transfers campers from Bundaberg to Lady Musgrave Island (with return) from $440 per adult. Only 40 guests (with permits) can camp on the island at any one time, therefore, bookings are essential.
First-time campers are discouraged because you need to be really organised and self-sufficient. There’s no mobile reception, no fresh water and no shops on the island. You’ll need to bring all of your gear with you. And remember, whatever you bring must also leave with you (that includes rubbish).
Framed by 1192ha of reef, Lady Musgrave Island is a National Park and World Heritage zone and she offers an underwater eco-system to explore. You’re bound to swim by a turtle or two (plus see the rest of the Great Eight crew), so keep your GoPro and underwater cameras close by.
At night, your turtle nesting experience is self-guided. Just be mindful that turtles can become disoriented with strong beams and flashes, so be sure to keep your lights to a minimum. Also, keep a safe distance to avoid spooking or disrupting the turtle’s nesting process.
More things to do in Bundaberg
- Fill your tum with some rum. Visiting Bundy and not doing a Bundaberg Rum Distillery Tour is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eifel Tower. You’d be crazy to miss it.
- Treat yo’self to a gift from the Gods a.k.a Mammino Gourmet Ice Cream. The secret family recipe has been handed down through generations and perfected into an award-winning delight of rich macadamia flavours.
- Catch a spectacular sunrise at Christensen Park and then refuel at The Windmill Bargara. This snazzy little café sits under a quaint windmill surrounded by cute outdoor furniture and a porch swing.
- Visit the Big Barrel a.k.a the Bundaberg Ginger Beer Factory where you can taste your way through the variety of fizzy-goodness on offer. If you’re around in December, you’ll even get to try the holiday special; Spiced Ginger Beer (yum).
- Try the tasty truffle pork burger at Indulge Café Bistro on Bourbong Street.
- Head to The Brewhouse stationed in the heart of Bundaberg. Here, the Bargara Brewing Company make and sell craft beer of their own designs. The flavours are local to the region and they work directly with farmers for their ingredients.
- Looking for more things to do? Here’s a 48-hour itinerary we prepared earlier.