Saturday, 21 November 2015

Bundaberg, more than just rum

Bundaberg. When you mention this town, many Aussies will think of Bundy Rum, but Bundaberg has more to offer than just rum. There is The Bundaberg Barrel where the iconic ginger beer is brewed and if you're happy to cruise 15 Minutes east of Bundy you'll find the Mon Repos Turtle Centre.

The town is surrounded by farm land, and it is located about 4 1/2 hours north of Brisbane. The coastal town of Bagara is only 15 minutes to the east. To get to Bundaberg you must turn off the Bruce Highway. If you are travelling north from Brisbane turn right at Apple Tree Creek onto the Isis Highway and if you are travelling south turn left at Gin Gin onto Gin Gin Road. There are signs from both directions, and both routes will take about 35-40 minutes to reach Bundaberg.  

Our day started at the Gin Gin Rest Area where we caught some shut eye the night before. This rest area was much appreciated as we had been on the road from Townsville leaving at 8:30am that morning to 10pm when we pulled in that night. I say much appreciated because despite the frequent add campaigns telling you to stop, revive, survive, it is becoming more common that you pull into these 'rest areas' and the sign says 'No overnight camping/ stay'. Gin Gin Rest Area was a lovely big rest area that had two separate toilet blocks, a separate area that trucks could pull into, lots of grassy areas suitable for tents, plenty of picnic tables, some of which were sheltered, even some BBQs. We left here in the morning refreshed and ready to head east to Bundaburg.

One of the reasons I had wanted to visit this area was to visit the Mon Repos Turtle Centre where the giant sea turtles come and nest. You can visit the centre during the day free of charge every day from November-March (excluding Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve) from 8am-5pm. During the rest of the year it is open Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays) 8am-3:30pm. There is a lot of interesting information here that you can read about the turtles, where they live, how they develop and how they are definitely better navigators than the common GPS. Night tours run from 9th of November to 20th of March where you get taken down to the beach to see the excitement of the nesting or hatching of the beautiful creatures. The nesting season is usually November to January, and hatching is from January to March. We visited in late October. I knew that the season was from November onwards, but I had heard from fellow travellers that the nesting season had started early. Sadly what I didn't know was that the beach  is closed at night from October onwards. Despite our disappointment of being 1 1/2 weeks too early to go on a tour, we were there in the morning so took advantage of going down to the beach ourselves to take a look (the beach opens back up in the day). We found the place where the turtles nest, and we could see drag marks in the sand where the big turtles had been the night before which was cool to see. We will definitely have to come back another time to see the turtles, and to see the hatchlings!

As mentioned above, Bundaberg is surrounded by farm land and there is much variety of produce. So much so that there are markets every weekend. We do love our fresh produce! Whilst on our way to Mon Repos we saw signs for a lavender farm so we decided to visit afterwards. It is called Amandine Lavender. There is a little gift shop there selling a variety of lavender products including bath and beauty products, candles, books, massage oils and it all smelt wonderful but two things that caught our attention was the lavender tea, and lavender chocolate. The ladies in the shop thought Cameron was just the sweetest Grandchild ever when he said he was buying the lavender chocolate to share with his Nanna, which we enjoyed the following week whilst watching the Melbourne Cup with her. (Yes we managed to have chocolate in our possession for just under a week without eating it!)

Following our visit to Amandine Lavender, we went back into Bundaberg to visit the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. If you wish to learn about rum, the history of it and how it is made there are two options of tours to choose from: "The BDC Story" (9:30 am - 3:30 pm) or "The BDC Distillery Experience Guided Tour" (first tour at 10am, last tour starts at 2pm) or you can just skip it all and head straight for the gift shop (open 10am-5pm or 10am-4pm on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. The Bundaberg Rum Distillery is closed Good Friday, ANZAC Day, and Christmas day. If you book your entrance on line through the Bundaberg Rum Distillery website, you can save yourself 10% of the cost too!

The first option, "The BDC Story" is just a self guided tour allowing the customer to read through the story of rum, and the distillery. The second option, "The BDC Distillery Experience Guided Tour" includes this, but it also includes a guided tour of the rum distillery itself which uses all of the 5 senses, sight, touch, sound, smell, and of course taste as two samples of your choice are given at the end! These tours leave on the hour and go for about an hour, then finish off with the complimentary tastings of two per adult. During this tour you are taken to parts of the distillery that are highly flammable because of the high percentage of alcohol in its raw state. Due to this fact cameras or anything that can cause a spark are not permitted on tour. Electronic car keys, wallets, phones, cameras, even watches all had to be put into a large locker to which the guide has the only key so rest assured that your belongings will be there after the tour. In honesty I would rather the safety of my life then a few happy snaps anyway.

Rea at reception was a lovely lady as were our two tour guides Bec and Chantelle who were both very well informed. On tour there are two words they encourage you to say every so often. HUZZUH if you agree with what they say, or POPPYCOCK if you think what they say is rubbish. Both are said with a british accent and it certainly adds fun to the tour. An extra thing that was included on our tour was it just happened to be the time of year that bottling was occuring so the group was also taken to see this. Just in time for Christmas! HUZZUH!

We finished off the day by visiting The Barrel opened Monday - Saturday, 9 am - 4:30 pm. Bundaberg Brewed Drinks are most famous for their ginger beer, but now have quite an extensive range. We were greeted by Katarina who has such a bubbly personality. The tour at the Bundaberg Barrel is self guided, and we were given an audio remote just like at Coffee Works. It is also a hands on experience and would be great for kids as well as adults. There is a blindfold smell test which has an assortment of herbs and spices some of which are included in the drinks. There is interactive screens upon which you can test your skills as a brewster, but don't put the incorrect quantities or let it sit for too long and your ginger beer will explode! Or perhaps you like to make your own bubbles. If the hands on, interactive tour is not for you but you would still like to see how the drinks are brewed you can walk to the factory part Bundaberg Brewed Drinks (the next building up from The Barrel), and take a look through the large windows to see the production line. You can do this for free, and quite interesting as it is not often you can look through to a factory production line.

One thing very interesting about Bundaberg Brewed Drinks as opposed to other soft drinks or sodas is that these days most use a cordial base to their drinks, however at Bundaberg they are still brewed as they were originally. You may be asking well why is it not alcoholic then? The answer put simply is it is evaporated out, then gotten rid of. This is the reason that the Bundaberg Brewed Drinks have sediment in them because it uses real ingredients not just a sugar mixture with carbonated water. Before you drink, simply invert the bottle so that the sediment, aka flavours, go through the rest of the it.

After the self guided part of the tour we came back to the main entrance area of The Barrel time for samples! If you have kids, it is at this point where you realise that you had better head to the beach or a park afterwards because they are about to get a sugar overload. Bundaberg Brewed Drinks now have a selection of 14 drinks to choose from and you get to sample all of them! One thing that quite surprised Cameron and I was that the diet ginger beer tasted better than the ordinary ginger beer. Normally we steer clear of diet drinks because we aren't a fan of that substitute sugar. With Bundaberg Barrel ginger beer instead of using substitute sugar, they just use less sugar but more ingredients such as ginger. It makes for a very refreshing drink as it is not as sweet, but pack more of a ginger bite. It is safe to say we are converted to the diet ginger beer. Some of the other flavours we enjoyed were the creaming soda, passionfruit, and the peach. Not all of the flavours are available at the supermarkets as it is up to the individual sales reps to purchase and order, but Katarina, who is very passionate about it, was the last person to do the tasting with the reps so there are some more flavours popping up in stores near you. One drink that you can only get at The Barrel though is their own cola product. Instead of sugar, caramel is used and it was quite a delicious drink.

Over all we had a lovely day visiting Bundaberg.

 - Jeni