Your 5-day family road trip to swimming with turtles in Bundaberg
Turtles are one of the most majestic creatures to roam both our oceans and our coastline, and we’re lucky enough to have them in our very own Queensland backyard.
The beauty of taking a Turtle Tour family road trip in the Bundaberg North Burnett region is that you’ll experience them both swimming alongside you in the beautiful Southern Great Barrier Reef, and also on land as they lay eggs and hatch to make their way out into the ocean.
Pack your bags, grab the kids, and go on the ultimate Turtle Tour adventure, where you’re sure to see not just one turtle, but many.
Day 1: Brisbane to Bundaberg
Ready for the experience of your lifetime? To kick off the Turtle Tour road trip adventure you’ll need to pick up your campervan in Brisbane.
The experience at Apollo is easy, simply organise all the paperwork inside in the office, then spend around 30 minutes to an hour setting up your van ready for the trip outside. They provide all the linen, outdoor seating, as well a full kitchen, depending on what van you’ve chosen. We went for the Euro Deluxe Camper and it was perfect for our little family of four.
Tip: Pack soft bags, not suitcases, so that you can easily store your bags when you’re travelling and living in the campervan.
The road to Bundaberg is an easy drive, snaking its way through beautiful Queensland towns. The temptation to go off track and visit beautiful Noosa or Hervey Bay is real, but the desire to get to Bundaberg and start the Turtle Tour is stronger. You’ll appreciate the roadside trivia questions as you drive and make your way north.
Once you’ve arrived at Bundaberg, you can stop and set up camp or you can start exploring right away. Head to the coast, at Bargara, and pull out your picnic blanket. The view is beautiful, the turtle park is great for the kids to run off their energy (especially after a long drive), and the local fish and chips is a delicious choice for dinner.
The turtle hatching experience happens every year from January to March, while the nesting season happens around November to January.
Tip: Wear comfortable shoes for walking on a sandy beach, and bring a torch for the experience too. You will be asked to keep it off for most of the night, as the turtles are attracted to light and it can confuse them. But there will be times when the ranger asks you to turn it on, and you’ll be glad you brought your own to use.
Watch the turtles slowly surface once the sun has gone down and the sand is finally cool enough for them to make their way up the beach. The ranger will answer all your questions and guide you through the whole experience. You’ll then watch as the baby turtles make their way down to the ocean and to start their new lives.
You might be asked to form a line and shine your torch, making a track for the turtles to follow, guiding them to the ocean.
Once you’ve finished your beautiful, life-changing turtle hatching experience, you can make your way to your BIG4 Cane Village Holiday Park in Bundaberg and settle in for the night.
Day 2: Lady Musgrave Island Experience
Rise and shine early for a day-long adventure out at stunning Lady Musgrave Island. Enjoy a quick breakfast in the campervan, and then head out to Bundaberg Port Marina to board your boat for the adventure.
Tip: Arrive early in order to grab a table and seat for your family. The boat is spacious and has plenty of space, but you’ll be using the boat as a base for all of your experiences, so it’s good to have a table for everyone sorted early.
The boat ride from Bundaberg Port to Lady Musgrave is a little over two hours, and if you’re lucky you’ll see dolphins as you make your way through the ocean.
The Lady Musgrave Experience includes a delicious morning tea, and afternoon tea, as well as a buffet lunch as well, with fresh salads, prawns, and other delicious offerings. Not only do you get fed well, you also get to enjoy three experiences as well.
Firstly, you will make a trip over from the boat to Lady Musgrave Island and take a walking tour through the uninhabited island.
Tip: Wear reef shoes, or other shoes appropriate for sandy, and coral beach conditions.
Lady Musgrave Island is home to many varieties of birds, and your guide will take you through the experience as they fly around you, while she tells you the history of the island.
After your island walk, you’ll experience a glass-bottom boat tour, where you’ll get to see the beautiful underwater life, including stunning coral and turtles. During our trip, we were lucky enough to experience a few turtles hanging out in the coral, being cleaned by other fish, as well as various types of colourful coral. It was a great introduction into just how beautiful the reef really is.
The rest of the day is yours to spend snorkelling and swimming about, enjoying the Southern Great Barrier Reef, as well as lunch back on the boat. You might even be able to spot some of the turtles you saw earlier in the glass-bottom boat like we did.
Tip: Snorkelling gear is provided on the boat, so are life vests, swimming noodles and fins, so you don’t need to pack your own. Just bring a towel and your sense of adventure.
The boat will make its way back to Bundaberg Port, and you can head back to your caravan park to enjoy dinner and a well-deserved rest.
Day 3: Bundaberg to Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort
Make your way to nearby Bundaberg Airport, where you’ll board a small plane to fly over to Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort. It’s a short flight of just 25 minutes, but it provides the most beautiful view of the island.
Each plane will circle the west side of the island on arrival to give you a great view (and photographic opportunity!), and upon leaving you’ll do a flyover of the east side of the island, to complete your aerial experience.
Tip: Watch for turtles and manta ray as you fly over the island. They’re easily spotted just off the coast.
Lady Elliot Island is the most southern island in the Great Barrier Reef, and home to some of the best snorkelling you’ll ever experience, as well as furthering your turtle tour a little more. I’d go as far as saying that this might be the experience of your life when it comes to turtles because it most definitely was for my family!
Upon arriving you’ll be given a quick tour and chat about the island, and then shown to your room. You’ll be keen to get out into the water, though, so dump your bags and head over to the dive store to pick up your gear and get snorkelling.
Tip: Reef shoes are provided on the island at no extra cost, or you can pick up some inside the small island store for less than $20. You’ll need them for walking to and from the beaches, and around the island.
The water clarity here is phenomenal and within seconds of entering the water, we were swimming with turtles, and there’s a good chance you will be too.
The island restaurant serves a buffet breakfast and dinner, with the option of choosing from a lunch menu or diving back into a buffet then too. You’re on holidays, after all!
The east of the island features a beautiful lagoon that is perfect for snorkelling in at high tide or exploring at low tide. Simply plan your day around the tides and make the most of the snorkelling on offer.
At night, you can watch the sunset over the water after dinner, and then wait for the turtles to hatch from the sand. When visiting in January and February you might get the best of both worlds and see turtles lay their eggs and turtles hatch as well. The kids will love watching the magic of turtles, both on land and in the ocean.
Tip: Bring a torch to see after the sun goes down. Watching turtles hatch on Lady Elliot Island is self-guided, so you’ll need light to be able to explore and see any turtle action.
Day 4: Lady Elliot Island to Sunshine Coast
On your last day in this beautiful paradise, you’ll want to get up early to squeeze in as much last-minute snorkelling as possible. You’ll come face to face with reef sharks, turtles, and brightly coloured fish, as well as various types of coral.
On your flight back to Bundaberg, you may shed a tear as you say goodbye to one the most magical experiences of your life (as I did).
Hit the road in your campervan and head south to BIG4 Rivershore Resort on the Sunshine Coast, which will take you around about three hours.
Rivershore is located right on the Maroochy River and opened mid-2016, making it the first brand new caravan park to be built in Queensland in over 30 years.
The amenities are modern and beautifully designed, but it’s the pool and cooking areas that will knock your socks off. The pool features not one huge waterslide, but two, and there’s a baby paddle pool for the smaller children too. Best of all, there are pods for the parents among us to relax in after enduring exhausting things like snorkelling, and watching baby turtles hatch.
There are stand-up paddle boards available for those that way inclined, as well as a popular restaurant and bar for nighttime, and a bustling cafe and playground for during the day. For the kid in all of us, there’s a giant jumping pillow as well.
Day 5: Sunshine Coast to Brisbane
Enjoy the morning at your leisure (I suggest in the pool, after indulging in coffee and cake) while the kids have a blast in the pool and exhaust themselves on the jumping pillow.
Then, it’s time to take the 90-minute drive south to Brisbane and say goodbye and farewell to your much-loved campervan.