Published on 03 April 2018
Famously known as the Beef Capital of Australia, Rockhampton’s reputation is slowly changing from country town to must-visit Queensland destination.
Trophy fishing, mountain biking, fine dining and heritage tours are all on offer as the region embraces its strengths from Outback to Ocean.
Rockhampton is not the typical town you’d expect to get lost in exploring. Located along the Fitzroy River on the Tropic of Capricorn in Central Queensland, it was once a thriving service hub between Brisbane and Cairns as the halfway point for shipping goods. As that industry fell away to modern transport, Rockhampton took on the title of the ‘Forgotten Port City’. At the same time its reputation for cattle farming grew – these days it’s more widely known as the Beef Capital of Australia.
There’s a feeling though that this reputation is about to change again. A quiet transformation over the past few years has seen Rockhampton go from farming town to something else: a place where country life meets city living and offers a truly unique experience for visitors. It’s the middle of winter but you wouldn’t know it strolling through the Riverside Precinct. Blue skies and temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius make t-shirts and summer dresses the rule rather than the exception.
Stopping at a trendy new eatery, the Boathouse for breakfast, stunning panoramas of the Fitzroy River are offered from the balcony as you sit down to a meal which wouldn’t be out of place in Sydney or Melbourne. Just metres away on the water, fishermen are casting lines in their quest to snare one of Rockhampton’s legendary Barramundi, which can grow more than 1.3 metres long and are well sought after as both trophy and menu items. The popularity of the famed fighting fish is now spreading far and wide, with a number of charter companies running tours for amateurs and experienced anglers to chase that perfect catch.
In this regard, Rockhampton offers something truly special for visitors. As the Fitzroy River winds directly through the CBD, travellers can fly in, check in and be on the water in less than an hour. The charter companies offer a gentler experience along the calm waters inland or, for those who are seeking a bit more adventure, a trip to the mouth of the river at Port Alma to target another sought after species – King Threadfin.
If fishing isn’t enough to get your blood pumping, a short drive over the river will land you at Mount Archer, a National Park with a peak over 600 metres above sea level. Here you can find everything from heart-stopping mountain biking to gentle skywalks and trails that wind through the clouds. Bushwalks range from 200 metres along the summit to around five hours if you want to travel from the peak to the bottom. Before you go, make sure you check out the maps and advice to be properly prepared – with 300 days of sunshine a year, it pays to pack that extra bottle of water no matter the season. After a full day of exploring the region, Rockhampton at night is the perfect place to wind down. Along the Riverside Precinct, families picnic on the grass as children play in a plaza lined with pop jets. Art installations leap out of garden beds at each turn – here a series of to-scale bronze sculptures of iconic local buildings, there a stone rainbow serpent undulates next to a playground.
Each year this area is transformed as the Rockhampton River Festival takes over. The three-day food, art, culture and music festival attracts around 100,000 people who will head to the CBD for an extravagant experience. The increasingly popular annual event has the smell of wood smoke hanging over the crowds as the aromas from scores of different foods compete in the cool night air. Vendors sell food which showcases the region’s strengths – fall apart smoked Brahman hump melts in your mouth, and crispy sweet potato chips are chomped by the handful to a satisfying crunch. From neo-vaudeville cabaret shows to massive sensory art installations and wandering street performers, the Rockhampton River Festival has quickly grown into Central Queensland’s premiere annual cultural event and is well worth planning a trip around.
Rockhampton is truly coming into its own. New shop fit-outs spill seamlessly into the heritage of softly lit laneways lined with street art. Letting the history of the region shine through is something Rockhampton does extremely well. A visit to Mount Morgan while you’re in town is an absolute must. Once home to Australia’s most successful gold mine, the hinterland town gives a fascinating glimpse into Australia’s gold rush days. While there make a trip to the hot bread shop in Morgan Street, home to Australia’s best cream buns. The perfect place to enjoy them is just down the road at the town dam, a pristine stretch of water with plenty of picnic facilities and playgrounds.
No matter where you go in Rockhampton, there’s something to do and see. From the outback to the ocean, there’s an experience to be had, a place to be visited and a memory to make. Given how much has been done in just a few short years, there’s no telling what the future holds for Rockhampton –the heart of Queensland is starting to beat again, if to a different tune.
Article as published in Fiji Times July 2018.