You might just be passing through Bundaberg, in Queensland, Australia, but you should really consider stopping for a while. Photo from http://cloud.pleasetakemeto.com.
It’s a funny kind of place, Bundaberg; occasionally pretty, depending on what mood you’re in or how exhausted you are, sometimes full of surprises if you can keep your eyes open for long enough to spot them, and in the fruit and veg picking season, chock full of backpackers looking for work.
I saw Bundaberg, or Bundy as it’s affectionately known as, through the eyes of one such over-worked, under-paid and malnourished backpacker. Not exactly cut out for manual labour, I toiled and sweated myself into a state of exhausted oblivion while there; stumbling along in the heat of the Australian sun trying to pick enough snow peas to fill my seemingly bottomless bucket, sorting sweet potatoes into size categories on a conveyor belt that I swore sped up when it got to me, or plucking tomatoes from vines under the watchful eye of a sexist farmer who seemed to love his job just a little bit too much.
If, like me, you don’t have qualifications or specific skills that mean you might be able to apply for a job while you’re backpacking around Australia (and providing you have a work visa, naturally), when your funds begin to dwindle and the bank of mum and dad appears to have run dry, you might consider similar work to mine in a place just like Bundaberg. In the picking season, work there is plentiful and reasonably reliable, and there are many hostels that will arrange the work for you and often allow you to stay with them at discounted rates. It’s back-breaking labor and you’ll definitely feel as if you’ve really earned every dollar that you’ve made, but it’s money at the end of the day, and your memory bank will thank you for it.
But whatever I may have felt about Bundy at the time, I now feel I must pay homage to it, as without such a place, I may not have been able to save up enough money to explore the rest of Australia, and it really does have more to offer than pea picking.
365km north of Brisbane (a 4 hour drive or 6 hour bus journey), and only 10km from the ocean and it’s beautiful beaches, Bundaberg, split in two by The Burnett River, is the southernmost access point to the Great Barrier Reef. If wanting to visit the Reef, both Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrove Island are accessible from Bundaberg or the town of 1770 and both offer amazing opportunities to spot turtles, dolphins, and various other species of marine life, not to mention some beautiful examples of coral and abundant sea birds. The waters are pretty clear all year round and if you’re there at the right season, you may see turtle hatchlings emerging from the sand or migrating humpback whales.
Also reknowned for its population of Loggerhead, Flatback and Green turtles, Mon Repos Conservation Park is situated on a mainland beach, and from November to March you can take a night tour to see the turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs, or you may be privvy to the hatchlings emerging from their nests and heading seaward.
There are several remaining wetland areas in the Bundaberg locality; Baldwin Swamp Conservation Park provides the local waterbirds and other wildlife with a popular breeding ground, and Burrum Coast National Park is an area of protected coastal lowland with swamps, wallum heaths and mangroves. From here you can go canoeing, birdwatching, fishing, or simply pitch up a tent at Burrum Point and camp out under the stars.
Often associated with Bundaberg Rum, visitors to the town can spend time at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery and learn more about the production of Australia’s most famous spirit, the first barrel of which was rolled out in 1888.
As I sit and write this, I find myself wishing that I’d had the energy to explore more of Bundy when I was there, and hadn’t just seen it as a place to stay until I’d earned enough money to continue on my travels. So if you find yourself at Bundy, most likely as you’re making your way up or down Australia’s East Coast, by all means stay there and earn yourself some dollars to support the rest of your travels, but do try and see it as more than just a pea pickers paradise.