Rocky packs a surprise punch as a regional Australian travel destination.
This historic city of 80,000 people is probably best known as the capital of central Queensland’s cattle country – a status attested to by the six ‘Big Bulls’ that mark the major throughfares into the city, and the upcoming uber popular Beef Australia triennial event in May. But getting your chops around a great steak and, let’s face it, the ability to step out in a cowboy hat, are just two of the attractions of a visit to Rockhampton. Its relaxed location by the Fitzroy River, a cache of heritage architecture, engaging historical attractions and a revitalised dining scene are all playing their part to pull more travellers to this highly hospitable part of Oz.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Rockhampton. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.
8am: Have breaky at Boathouse
Perched above the Fitzroy River and the transformed Riverside Precinct, Boathouse is a blast at any time of day. But the eastern aspect, awesome menu and great coffee make this a top spot for breakfast. Bolt down the breaky bruschetta or bacon, egg and halloumi burger. And don’t worry, we’ve got a lot to do; you can afford the carbs!
10am: Stroll through the Riverside Precinct
Rocky’s $36 million redeveloped Riverside Precinct opened in 2018 and is an absolute credit to the city. The first thing you’ll notice is the morning light glinting off the exquisitely maintained facades of the period gems that line the precinct along Quay Street. Learn more about them by flicking through the Rockhampton Regional Council’s online heritage brochure. Take note of the honey-coloured splendour and Classic Revival form of Customs House. Completed in 1901, it’s actually the third customs authority to stand on this site and is testament to the city’s past as an important river port. Down in the Riverside Precinct itself, you’ll discover trim boardwalks, manicured gardens, dancing fountains and free Wi-Fi.
12pm: Meet the modernists
If you’re reading this in late 2021, you could be in luck. The Rockhampton Art Gallery closed to the public when the pandemic struck in 2020, but is scheduled to move into its new state-of-the-art digs in the Riverside Precinct at the end of 21. It will reopen as the Rockhampton Museum of Art and enjoy seven times the display space it previously had. That’s certainly warranted when you consider that this gallery holds one of the country’s most significant collections of modernist/mid 20th Australian art. See works by Fred Williams, Albert Tucker, John Brack, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan. The new complex will include a bistro, so head there for lunch. Raise a toast to former mayor Rex Pilbeam, who orchestrated the acquisition of the collection back in the 1970s.
2pm: Be a trainspotter at Archer Park
When you’re done in the Riverside, head across town to the Archer Park Rail Museum on Denison Street. Trainspotters of all ages will love this experience, which is housed in the original Archer Park railway station. Staffed and maintained magnificently by volunteers, the museum houses a number of locomotives alongside fabulous displays of rail related relics. The digital soundscape brings the once bustling platforms back to life. Enjoy a ride in what is believed to be the world’s only still operating Purrey Steam Tram.
6pm: Do drinks and/or dinner at Headricks Lane
Occupying a heritage warehouse on East Street, Headricks Lane incorporates an upscale laneway-style eatery and a more relaxed microbrewery and brew bar. The fit-out is amazing and both sections have their own dining menu. Think peri peri wings and steak sangers in the brewhouse, and duck breast and baked asparagus, or pork fillet with fennel puree, in the laneway. Our bet is that you’ll end up here more than once!
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9am: Enjoy a morning in the gardens
Today we’ll be exploring a little further afield, starting at the glorious Rockhampton Botanic Garden on the southern side of the city. This tropical oasis has plenty of lovely features, including a tranquil lily-padded lagoon, traditional Japanese garden, desert garden, rainforest precinct and more. The Garden Tearooms do a bang-up all day breakfast (ooh, those sweetcorn, zucchini and fetta fritters!). From there, head off to explore the Rockhampton Zoo. There are around 60 animal species in residence, and entry to the zoo is free!
11am: Take in the views from Mount Archer
From the gardens, backtrack across the city to the eastern side of the Fitzroy River and head for nearby Mount Archer. The drive will take you around 30 minutes. Set in a scenic reserve at the peak, and weaving its way through the leafy tree canopy, the stunning and award-winning Nurim Circuit Elevated Boardwalk offers epic views of the city, Fitzroy River and surrounding region. Interpretive boards explain aspects of local Darumbal First People culture. It’s well worth the drive.
1pm: Go below at the Capricorn Caves
You’ve conquered the heady heights of Mount Archer, now prepare to enter a subterranean world of wonder at the Capricorn Caves – located about 40 minutes’ drive north of Rocky. The privately owned caves are one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions, and a range of tours and experiences are offered. The Cathedral Cave Tour is suitable for all levels of fitness and mobility (it’s even wheelchair accessible), and will allow you to experience the amazing acoustics of the namesake cave firsthand. Keen singers have been known to bust out a tune, while some visitors even bring instruments!
5pm: Get a great steak
After a hard day of sightseeing, you will have worked up quite an appetite. And it would be remiss for carnivores to come all this way without tucking into a great steak. You can’t really go wrong at any of the pubs around town, but The Bush Inn Bar and Grill is a popular option.
Need a place to stay?
Quality Hotel Regent Rockhampton occupies a fully restored former TAFE college (circa 1914), and no expense has been spared upgrading the interior to 21st century standards. The hotel has 49 spacious rooms and suites.
Close by, Denison Boutique Hotel, Ascend Hotel Collection is a traditional luxury guest house in every sense. Be transported back to yesteryear, while enjoying all the conveniences that modern travellers expect.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.