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“So, what’s the best place you’ve ever taken your family?”
A question I like to ask other parents I meet, particularly other travel writers, and see what they respond with.
I hold my breath and wait for them to rattle off exotic places far away that we’ve never been to, but there is one place that gets brought up most often; The Southern Great Barrier Reef.
A place that I say is mine and my family’s favourite, and the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced.
Just a four-hour drive north by car from Brisbane is beautiful Bundaberg, a vibrant city and the gateway to the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, and some truly beautiful islands.
It’s where you’ll find the most vibrant coral reefs, uncrowded beaches, delicious food, Instagram-worthy tropical fish, and best of all, you definitely won’t leave the Bundaberg region without having a turtle encounter, or two.
You will come away from this short break refreshed and full of priceless family memories.
The worst part? The kids are likely to spend the entire trip home begging you to take them back. Seeing turtles in the wild will do that.
AM: HELLO BUNDABERG
Stretch the legs, and exhale, because you’ve arrived in Bundaberg, or as the locals like to call it, ‘Bundy’.
Bundaberg is easy to get to from wherever you are in Australia.
Live in Brisbane or the Gold Coast? Jump in the car and get here in just a few hours. Load up the iPad for the kids with a couple of movies and the trip up is guaranteed to be a breeze.
Or if you live further afoot, Bundaberg has an airport so hop aboard a plane and make your way here.
Home for the night is the family-friendly Bundaberg Tourist Park, which offers cabin accommodation and camping facilities.
Bundaberg is a great base for visiting islands, the coast and the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s also a destination in itself, with an emerging foodie scene and a host of immaculate beaches.
PM: TURTLE TIME
Now, get ready for the turtle experience on a lifetime. Ever wanted to see cute turtles hatch and make their tiny little way to the ocean? Of course you do!
This is that experience.
But first, dinner.
Head to the little coastal town of Bargara, grab some fish and chips, and some Bundaberg ginger beer (it’s the right thing to do) and settle in on the grass to enjoy. There’s also a great playground by the beach – a great spot to let the kids stretch their legs and burn some energy.
Mon Repos is a stretch of beach notorious for turtles coming to nest each year. Turtles return to the same spot they were born to nest their own young, so this is a beautiful, continual nesting spot for many young to be born.
Mon Repos Turtle Centre runs guided tours, where you will break into small groups and watch on as turtles hatch, make their way to the sand’s surface, and then head down to the ocean to begin their life. It’s an incredible experience suitable for all ages.
TIP: Turtle season is generally between November to March. If you have a head torch, or even a small torch, bring it along for the tour. While you’ll be asked to keep it off most of the tour, there will be times you’ll need it, including guiding the baby turtles to the ocean (most of the time they use the moon as a guide, but sometimes a torch helps make the job easier for them).
AM: OUT TO THE REEF
You’ll need to pack towels, fill up your water bottles, grab your sunscreen (reef safe, of course!), hats, and underwater camera, because you will see things today that you’ll want to remember forever.
The Lady Musgrave Experience is, quite simply, an amazing experience.
It’s a whole day of fun, with loads of snorkelling, but also more options to keep you busy.
Departing from Bundaberg, the trip out to Lady Musgrave Island takes a couple of hours on a luxury catamaran.
It’s a comfortable trip my kids have always enjoyed and there are movies and documentaries to watch while you cruise along (if you can peel your eyes away from the view).
Once you arrive, you can take a glass-bottom boat tour, or do a walking tour of the island, getting to know the wildlife and history of the island.
Most of all though, you’ll want to loll about in the water which is a protected lagoon, experiencing some of the best snorkelling that Australia has to offer.
The lagoon is home to turtles, manta rays and over 1,200 fish species.
If you’re lucky you may even see migrating whales in season.
If the little ones are really into their marine wildlife, they can even take part in Lady Musgrave Experience’s marine biologist for the day program, where they will learn more about reef health and the creatures that live in the area.
You’ll arrive home exhausted from a full day out at sea, but also with a heart full of amazing new memories from the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
Head to dinner at one of Bundaberg’s most popular eateries, Canecutters Kitchen (they have some great meal specials for kids), or if you happen to be in town on a Friday, the RiverFeast street food market is always a good choice.
Follow up with a local favourite: a Mammino handmade ice cream.
For more options, check out our guide on where to eat and drink in Bundaberg.
AM: HELLO, PARADISE
You’ve had the time of your life so far, right? Well, you are about to step it up a notch. Life is about to get a-mah-zing.
Think migrating whales, turtles aplenty, starfish, brightly coloured tropical fish – all just 100 metres from the shoreline of Lady Elliot Island, the place you’re about to call home for the next two days.
After a quick and very scenic 25 minute flight from Bundaberg airport, you’ll be in paradise.
Lady Elliot Island is an eco-resort, leaving as little a human footprint as possible.
With cabins, a bar and a delicious restaurant, Lady Elliot Island lets the reef be the star of the show.
With limited guest numbers on the island, there are plenty of spots to snorkel and get an up close and personal experience with the marine life.
PM: EXPLORE AND SOAK IT IN
You can spend the day exploring, swimming, and snorkelling, and then at night you can grab a drink and snack from the bar, and watch the most exquisite sunset.
Or spend your time learning more about all that Lady Elliot has to offer.
Kids will love the Junior Reef Rangers program, which involves fun educational activities indoors and outdoors with a focus on conservation. They will also meet other youngsters in this program which means more time at the bar for the adults relaxing. Winning!
Once the sun has gone to bed, and if it’s the right time of year you can watch turtles come to nest, or baby turtles hatching and heading out to sea.
AM: ONE LAST SNORKEL
Wake up in paradise and jump straight into your swimming costume, because after breakfast you’re going to want to jump right into the ocean and hang out with the turtles and the thriving coral reef.
Enjoy your last hours on Lady Elliot taking it all in.
Don’t forget that on one side of the island, which happens to be a coral cay, you can snorkel and dive, but on the other it’s great for exploring while wearing reef shoes during high tide. Look out for sea cucumbers and other interesting sea life.
PM: UNTIL NEXT TIME…
As you fly out of Lady Elliot Island, the pilot will circle the island giving you one last look at paradise and a chance to look for turtles and manta rays below.
Take it all in, and if you’re like everyone else, you’ll vow to be back.
Head back into Bundaberg, and end your trip… (or if you have some extra time up your sleeve, here’s a few more family friendly ideas!)
And the next time someone happens to ask what your favourite place your family has ever visited is, you’ll know what to answer them with.