The Bruce Highway is the main road route spanning the length of Queensland, named after Harry Bruce, Minister of Works in the 1930s. It starts in Brisbane and finishes in Cairns, a total of approximately 1,670 km. Bundaberg is about 50 km east of the Bruce but we had to join it to travel to Brisbane so knew that southern 350 km section well. Andy’s work took him to Rockhampton often, so that section was also well travelled. However, we’d never driven further north on the Bruce until this trip when we will be following the road to its northern conclusion.
It seems that visitors to Queensland have a bit of a romantic preconception of driving from Brisbane to Cairns and imagine that the road trip might be similar to the Great Ocean Road. Unfortunately, and with the greatest respect, we don’t think that the Bruce lives up to that. If you imagine you’re going to be driving along the ocean, you’ll be disappointed as the majority of the road is a fair way inland from the coast. There are places where you travel through some spectacular scenery but on the whole, it’s a fairly monotonous drive. Also, dual carriageway only extends to Gympie, about 200 km north of Brisbane, so you can end up stuck behind a lot of slow moving traffic. Having said all of that, The Bruce did provide our means of reaching the first destinations on our road trip, Tannum Sands, Gladstone and Mackay.
We left Bundaberg on Tuesday 17thApril 2018 and had a few chores to complete in town before heading off. We also wanted to stop for a final brekkie at Leaf & Bean. Kellie, who owns and runs the café with her partner Trevor kindly gave Andy a bottle of his favourite cold drip coffee for the road.
We decided not to travel too far on that first day so booked a room in Gladstone, just under 200 km north. Before arriving there, we stopped just before at Tannum Sands for a walk along the esplanade. Despite it being fairly close we’d never visited Tannum before and discovered a beautiful little township with sculptures along the ocean front walk.
After our night in Gladstone we set off for Rockhampton, approximately 100 km north for a brunch stop in the CBD. We then started the first part of the drive which we’d never travelled before, taking the Bruce Highway up to Mackay. We’d been warned that this section of the Bruce which is over 300 km long was one of the least exciting, with very few communities punctuating the road. This proved to be the case, so we just shared the driving and pushed through with only a brief stop at Clairview, one of the few places where the road comes close to the Ocean. 436 km north of Gladstone we arrived in Mackay at our home for the next two nights, The Riviera Apartments. These were very handy for us as with full kitchen facilities it allowed us to cook rather than eat out. They’d normally have been a bit beyond our budget but we booked them with Qantas Points so no effect on the bank balance.
After a day in the car we were in need of a walk so were pleased to find that the apartments fronted onto the Bluewater trail alongside the Pioneer River which flows through the city. The trail is aptly named as The Pioneer is one of the few blue rivers in Queensland, most being shades of brown. The trail extends quite a long way past the swimming lagoon and on to the Botanic Gardens but we just had a 3 km return stroll and were ready to get our dinner underway and enjoy a glass of wine.
We know a few people from Mackay so had some recommendations of things to do. First stop the next day was the Tourist Information office where we picked up the self-guided heritage trail of Mackay CBD. There’s some great architecture in the city and good examples from the Art Deco era. This is partly due to damage caused by a cyclone in 1918 which resulted in a lot of rebuilding in the years following. As is often the case, the buildings have been masked by modern frontages so it’s always a good idea to look up. Part way through the walk we came across a tour group also admiring the buildings. It turns out that they were Mackay Regional Council staff being trained on the local history and they kindly invited us to join them on their tour. We ended up learning even more about Mackay than we would have on our own, but would still recommend the self-guided tour if you stop by Mackay.
Alongside the heritage buildings, we also found some interesting modern sculptures, and a mural that seemed particularly pertinent to us.
In the afternoon we’d been recommended to visit Eimeo just north of the city. The Eimeo Pacific Hotel, known locally as The Eimeo pub is on the top of the headland there and has great views along the coast and across to the Cumberland Islands, named by James Cook. The views didn’t disappoint us, and we also stopped at another lookout on Lamberts Beach on our way back to the apartment. We realised that this was our last night and we hadn’t yet visited everywhere we’d intended to. We therefore decided to book another night, this time in a motel, just down the road from our apartment. This is how we wanted to approach our trip. Although we have some advance bookings, we wanted to have enough flexibility to stay longer if we wanted and to change our itinerary as we go.
The extra day gave us time to have an explore of the Botanic Gardens. We particularly enjoyed the woodland section where we saw several butterflies and tried to guess, with our limited ornithological skills what the wetland birds were called. In the afternoon we paid ArtSpace Mackay a visit. One of the exhibits, Libris, celebrated books as an art form and we got to tag an award winning piece of art by Jamian Stayt – bridgesontheroad in perpetuity.
Before leaving Mackay we had time to have coffee with one of Jane’s ex colleagues, Fonda. We then got some provisions together for the first camping portion of our trip, 50 km north in Cape Hillsborough National Park.