Here’s how to see nesting turtles under 5 hours drive from Brisbane
In a delightful circle of life, from November to January female turtles make the pilgrimage back to their birth-beach to lay their own nests of up to 150 eggs. Some return for what can be their first visit back to where they were born up to 30 years before to hatch their babies. And even more delightfully, it’s possible to actually witness these nesting turtles near Brisbane.
Although you’ll find nesting turtles on various beaches along the Queensland coastline, Bundaberg (Bundy to the locals) is home to the Mon Repos Turtle Centre. This globally significant site supports the largest concentration of nesting loggerhead, green, flatback and leatherback female turtles on the eastern Australian mainland.
Bundaberg is also home to Lady Musgrave Island, the southernmost coral cay of the Bunker Group in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. In peak nesting season, Lady Musgrave Island is teeming with an average of 120 nesting turtles in just one night.
Between the Mon Repos Turtle Centre and Lady Musgrave Island, you could well experience your first, second and third turtle encounter in just hours of arriving in this iconic coastal city.
So, if you’ve brushed up on your turtle knowledge, what are you waiting for?
So, just how near to Brisbane can you see nesting turtles?
Answer: it’s about a four-and-a-half-hour drive. Not arduous, but far enough to feel like you’re escaping the big smoke. The perfect road trip, really.
And, if you hit the road early on a Saturday, you’ll have enough time to stop in for brekkie (and a few treasures from local makers) at the famous Eumundi Markets on the Sunshine Coast, in full swing from 7am.
The decision: Mon Repos Turtle Centre or Lady Musgrave Island?
Want to immerse yourself into the natural world of these endearing creatures? Head straight for Lady Musgrave Island, where you can camp just metres away from nesting turtles. 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 life cycle. Its nesting and hatching conservation work 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. You’ll need 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.
While rangers patrol the beach for mama turtles, stroll through the information centre or watch educational videos in the amphitheatre to absorb all you can on the marvel you’re about to embark on.
It can be a bit of a waiting game, but that can add to the thrill. 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 is usually done in complete darkness, as lights can disorient other turtles making their way up the beach. Your guide will tell you when to turn on your torches and take photos, and it’s important to follow their instructions to disturb this poignant process as little as possible.
Once your turtle has dug her nest and begins to lay, your guide will let you take photos and move in closer to witness the miracle. If you’re lucky, you might even get to help the rangers relocate the eggs to a 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. It can be tiring, but it’s more than worth it. And, don’t forget to purchase a certificate ($2) that commemorates your experience and includes important details about your turtle. It’s a special memento of the unique bond you now share with her.
Lady Musgrave Island
Most people tackle an all-day adventure, departing Bundaberg at 7am and returning at 5pm. However, 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. Most importantly, 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 be joined by a turtle or two (plus the rest of the Great Eight if you’re lucky), so keep your GoPro and underwater cameras close by.
At night, your turtle nesting experience is self-guided. Keep your lights and flashes to a minimum and yourself at a mindful distance will avoid flustering, spooking or disrupting the turtle’s delicate nesting process.
More things to do in Bundaberg
- Get ready to rum-ble. Visiting Bundy and not doing a Bundaberg Rum Distillery Tour is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower.
- Treat yourself to a gift from the gods, or rather, Mammino Gourmet Ice Cream. The secret family recipe has been handed down through generations and perfected into an award-winning delight resplendent with rich macadamia flavours.
- Drink in a spectacular sunrise at Christensen Park and refuel at The Windmill Bargara. This picturesque 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. Around in December? Get festive, Queensland-style, with the holiday special: a piquant Spiced Ginger Beer.
- Bliss out on 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 makes and sells its own craft beer. The locally-inspired flavours and directly farmer-sourced ingredients make for a truly authentic drop.
- Looking for more things to do? Here’s a 48-hour itinerary we prepared earlier.