Your 5-day family road trip swimming with turtles in Bundaberg
Turtles are one of the most majestic creatures to roam both our oceans and our coastline – or what we call our very own Queensland “backyard”. The beauty of taking a turtle tour family road trip in the Bundaberg North Burnett region? It’s here you can experience both swimming alongside them in the beautiful Southern Great Barrier Reef, and bonding with them on land as they lay eggs and the hatchlings venture into the ocean.
Pack your bags, round up the kids, and take a deep breath. You’re about to come face-to-face with more than one of these awe-inspiring animals.
Day 1: Brisbane to Bundaberg
To kick off the turtle tour road trip adventure, you’ll need to pick up your campervan in Brisbane.
Simply organise the paperwork at the office, then spend around 30 minutes to an hour setting up your van ready for the trip. All linen, outdoor seating, as well a full kitchen will be provided, depending on what van you’ve chosen. Apollo’s Euro Deluxe Camper is perfect for a family of four.
Tip: Pack soft bags, not suitcases, so 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 strong, but the desire to get to Bundaberg and start your turtle tour is stronger. You’ll appreciate the roadside trivia questions as you drive and make your way north.
Once you’ve arrived in Bundaberg, you can stop and set up camp, or start exploring right away. Head to the coast at Bargara, where the turtle park is great for the kids to run off their energy after a long drive. Pull out your picnic blanket – the local fish and chips and golden afternoon views are both well worth your attention.
Nesting season happens around November to January, while the turtle hatching experience happens every year from January to March.
Tip: Wear comfortable shoes for walking on a sandy beach, and bring a torch for the experience too. You’ll 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. It’s now that 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 might be asked to form a line and shine your torch, making a track for the turtles to follow, guiding them to the ocean. It’s hard not to feel a surge of emotion as these precious hatchlings make their way down to the ocean and start their new lives.
Once you’ve finished your life-changing turtle hatching experience, you can head 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 the sublime 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, but you’ll be using it 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. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot dolphins frolicking in their ocean playground along the way.
The Lady Musgrave Experience includes a morning tea, afternoon tea, and buffet lunch of fresh salads, prawns, and other local treats. Good thing too, because you’ll work up an appetite over the three experiences throughout the day.
Firstly, you’ll make a trip over from the boat to Lady Musgrave Island and take a walking tour through the uninhabited coral cay.
Tip: Wear reef shoes, or other shoes appropriate for sandy and coral beach conditions.
As you walk, you’ll learn about the history of the island, and your guide will point out the many varieties of bird life joining you overhead.
Next, be taken from land to sea for a glass-bottom boat tour. Now it’s your turn for the birds-eye view, as you bob along the surface of this ethereal underwater world. Glimpse turtles gliding underneath, sea life ranging from huge schools of tiny fish to cruising reef sharks and rays, and various formations of intricate coral. It’s a comprehensive introduction to just how fascinating the reef really is.
The rest of the day is yours to spend snorkelling and swimming, earning that hearty lunch back on the boat. You might even be able to spot some of the turtles you saw earlier in the glass-bottom boat.
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. Head back to your caravan park to enjoy dinner and a no-doubt deep slumber.
Day 3: Bundaberg to Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort
Travel 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 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). 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 rays as you fly over. They’re easily spotted just off the coast.
Lady Elliot Island is the southernmost island in the Great Barrier Reef. Home to some of the best snorkelling you’ll ever experience, it’s a turtle-seeker’s wonderland.
Upon arriving, you’ll be given a quick tour and introduction to the island. You’ll be keen to get out into the water, though, so ditch your bags and head to the dive store to pick up your gear.
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: there’s a good chance that within seconds of entering the water, you’ll be swimming with turtles.
The island restaurant serves a buffet breakfast and dinner. You can choose from a lunch menu or diving back into a buffet then, too. (You are on holidays, after all…)
The east of the island features a tranquil lagoon. Here, simply let your day be guided by the tides. Snorkel when it’s high, and explore when it’s low.
Later, watch the sun set over the water after dinner, and wait for the turtles to hatch from the sand. Visiting in January and February? You might get the best of both worlds and see turtles lay their eggs as well as turtles hatching. The kids will love witnessing 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. Just be mindful with your use of bright lights.
Day 4: Lady Elliot Island to Sunshine Coast
On your last day in this marine paradise, you’ll want to get up early to squeeze in as much last-minute snorkelling as possible. Who knows when your next opportunity to come face to face with reef sharks, turtles, and electric-hued fish darting in and out of labyrinthine coral gardens will be.
On your flight back to Bundaberg, you wouldn’t be the first to shed a tear reflecting on this magical experience.
Hit the road in your campervan and head south to BIG4 Rivershore Resort on the Sunshine Coast. It’ll take you around about three hours.
Rivershore is located right on the Maroochy River. Opened mid-2016, it was 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. There’s not one huge waterslide, but two, and a baby paddling pool for the littler ones. Best of all, there are pods for parents to relax in. Snorkelling and watching baby turtles hatch is a tough gig, after all.
Wind down your day with a leisurely stand-up paddle board and a lively shared dinner at the popular on-site restaurant.
Day 5: Sunshine Coast to Brisbane
Enjoy the morning at your leisure (we recommend in the pool, after indulging in coffee and cake). Let the kids have a blast on the playground and exhaust themselves on the giant jumping pillow.
Then, it’s time to take the 90-minute drive south to Brisbane and say farewell to your trusty campervan companion.
This post was created in September 2018 and updated in 2019.