While Captain Cook sailed past in 1770, and Matthew Flinders had a brief glance in 1802, it was Colonel George Barney who steered the Lord Auckland into the port of Gladstone and started a penal colony in 1847. The colony only lasted two months and a few years later in 1853, the area was looked upon again for the beginnings of a new settlement. By 1863, Gladstone was declared a town of free settlers.
These days, Gladstone has a population of over 35,000 people and is the launchpad for tours of the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding islands. Goondoon Street is the main street through town and it is rich with heritage and beautifully preserved buildings.
Our visit to Gladstone was supposed to be brief – get in, fuel up, restock the fridge and get out. After a quick visit to the Information Centre to get a few maps of more southerly regions, we decided to stick around for the day and check out a few of the attractions, before popping into Dan Murphy’s to see if they had any specials. Not only did they have a slab of Sail and Anchor for half price, we also got to sample a few ports and muscats at the tasting station and got a bit toasted before heading to Benaraby.
Things to See and Do
Auckland Hill Lookout
Just a few hundred metres from town is Auckland Hill Lookout, which provides awesome views of the marina and Auckland Point, where calcite is stockpiled for shipment to Geelong in Victoria, where it will be used for a variety of things like plastics and toothpaste. There is also what seems to be a manmade waterfall.
The local kids call it the Hogwarts Lookout because of the QAL refinery. Queensland Alumina is one of the world’s largest alumina plants, refining 9 million tonnes of bauxite a year to produce nearly 4 million tonnes of alumina.
Gladstone Marina and Spinnaker Park
The Gladstone Marina is a popular spot for boat owners and is the home of the Visitor Information Centre. It’s a great place to start your time in Gladstone. Nearby is Spinnaker Park, which is the official finish line of the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race. The park has great picnic areas, BBQs and walking tracks.
Tondoon Botanic Gardens
Specialising in native plants, the Tondoon Botanic Gardens covers 107 hectares and includes a Japanese Tea Garden and a gum forest, as well as picnic and BBQ facilities.
Gecko Valley Winery
This multi-award winning winery is popular with both locals and tourists for a very simple reason – their wine is good! Made onsite with local ingredients, they offer a selection of reds, whites and sweet wines. Because Gladstone is along a similar latitude to the Mediterranean, it makes the climate perfect for growing grapes. Unfortunately, a recent fire torched Gecko Valley and they lost all of their vines. They’re waiting for the perfect season to start again, and once that time comes, they will be back to full production within two years. We did a quick tasting session and these were our favourites.
- Lightly Oaked Chardonnay – this was our favourite. The smell is very much like apricot and almond cream cheese, which reflects the fruity flavours and smooth finish with toasty oak and a citrus finish.
- Special Reserve Verdelho – this was another delicious wine with plenty of tropical melon flavours and a smooth sweet finish.
- Lightly Oaked Shiraz – this sweet red was very easy to drink and had a delicious port aftertaste.
- Muscat Liqueur – floral, sweet and slightly viscous, this was just like drinking Turkish delight laced with rosewater.
- Liqueur Mead – made with honey from the property, it didn’t have a strong scent but once sipped, sweet honey bloomed in the mouth.
Tannum Sands and Boyne Island
About 20km south of Gladstone you’ll find Tannum Sands and Boyne Island, two communities separated by the Boyne River. The combined population is around 12,000 people.
We rolled in to Tannum Sands on a Sunday morning and drove straight to the Millennium Esplanade, but we couldn’t find a parking spot – it was only 7:30am! What’s going on? A little further down we found out that they were holding a Mothers Day Classic fun run. That explains why we couldn’t find a park so we went back to town to get a coffee.
We found a fantastic little coffee place called Say Espresso Bar, and it was packed! Lots of lucky mums were being treated to well made coffee and delicious breakfasts in the warm sun. By the time we finished our coffees, we went back to the Millennium Esplanade, checked out the beach, saw an amazing seahorse sculpture and turtle-shaped speed humps that made us laugh.
Agnes Water and the Town of 1770
Considered to be the birthplace of Queensland, it was here that Captain James Cook and his crew from the Endeavour came ashore on the 24th of May 1770. The exact point is called Monument Point, and a big cairn is there to mark the spot. Nearby is Joseph Banks Conservation Area with a few lookouts over the headland and deep blue water.
The area has been hyped as the New Noosa because of the area’s beauty and lack of commercialism. It’s become a popular place for locals and visitors for holidays and draws in the fishing enthusiasts. Because it was Sunday, we got to go to the markets and picked up some unpollinated avocadoes for $2 a punnet. Also known as cocktail avocados, they look like little cucumbers and have no pit.
Deepwater National Park
From Agnes Water, the road along the coast leads to Deepwater National Park. It was a great opportunity to get some sandy 4WDing in before getting to Fraser Island. There are three stops along the track. The first was Flat Rock, which was barely visible under the tide. Middle Rock and Wreck Rock were the next two destinations that also have nearby campgrounds. They looked much the same as each other, except the beach at Wreck Rock had shells.
On our way out, we crossed Deep Water Creek and were amazed at how still the water was. It was almost a mirror, eerily still and stained with tannin.
We stayed at two rest areas near Gladstone – our favourite was the Calliope River Campgrounds. Despite the mozzies, the camping area was spacious, free for 48 hours and campfires were allowed. The other rest area was near Benaraby. It was much smaller and crowded, but at least it had a toilet block with cold showers.