It’s known as one of Queensland’s tourism sleepers – a small, idyllic coastal precinct near a regional town renowned more for its Bundaberg Rum than being a port of call to one of the world’s most renowned natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef.
But the region’s most unheralded asset – the pristine waters which are the gateway to the southern reaches of the reef – are re-shaping the region’s future.
While the area has been somewhat overshadowed by the majestic Whitsunday Islands to the north and Australia’s premier whale watching location at Hervey Bay to the south, savvy boaties have known the secrets underpinning this region for many years.
So much so, amazingly, Bundaberg receives the largest number of leisure craft customs clearances from international destinations than anywhere on the east coast of Australia.
Vessels currently travel up the Burnett River to the Bundaberg Port Marina for processing. The facility handles between 10 and 15 transient vessels a day during the peak of the coastal cruising season.
“Bundaberg is the logical port of entry from the South Pacific because people don’t have to navigate through the reef, but they are so close to being able to access all points of the reef when they want to,” says Simon Harvey, who is leasing marina berths in Queensland’s newest master-planned marina precinct, the Gateway Marina.
“It’s common knowledge that there is no bleaching in the southern reaches of the reef – the area is arguably more idyllic because it hasn’t had the volume of tourists over the years in areas like Cairns and the Whitsundays. This is certainly very appealing to international boaties who tend to do their research before arriving on our shores.
“The region has one of the top five climates in the world, it’s outside of the primary cyclone zones, and within close access of islands and the less untouched elements of the reef.
“The locals and boaties know this and that’s why we are seeing demand for short-term marina berths, not only from the traditional Sydney and Melbourne visitors who like to head north for the winter months, but from international boaties who see the convenience of berthing on the southern reaches of the reef.”
The new integrated marina and resort precinct is located at the mouth of the Burnett River.
Approval for 273 marina berths has already been granted and work is well under way by BeauGroup to deliver the first 58 marina berths by early next year.
Construction of the marine village, including a short-stay accommodation facility, is expected to begin in early 2020, pending council approvals.
The first stage of Gateway Marina will be supported by a marine village and resort complex with a resort hotel featuring a lagoon pool, a conference centre, boutique waterfront apartments, 16 lakeside eco-villas, a yacht club, office space, and a retail and dining precinct. A major residential component is also proposed.
“There is already very strong interest in the marina berth lease opportunity from southern boaties,” says Mr Harvey.
“They see the opportunity to keep coming north in the winter months and then renting the berths during other times of the year to the growing number of transient visitors berthing in the area.”
Gateway Marina will also cater for the increased number of leisure craft recorded in the region. The latest figures show that marine vessel registrations for Bundaberg and the Fraser Coast have risen 7 and 8 per cent respectively in the seven years between 2011 and 2018.
The marina is expected to create hundreds of jobs in the region and become a major tourism hub servicing the southern Great Barrier Reef.
The region is already a popular launch zone for tourism operators providing a range of services including whale watching, reef tours to Lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot islands, helicopter sight-seeing tours to the Reef, sailing and fishing charters, diving charters to the recently scuttled HMAS Tobruk and educational tours to the Mon Repos turtle attraction.
When completed, Gateway Marina will become one of the largest marinas in Queensland, and bigger than its nearest rival, Gladstone Marina, located to the north.
“There just isn’t the capacity in Queensland to build too many more marinas and we believe we are tapping into an incredible opportunity to create something special that might not be repeatable in the future along the Queensland coastline,” says Mr Harvey.
“Eventually it will be home to one of the largest master-planned marina developments in Queensland, and we’re very excited about delivering this over the coming years.
“We believe in the potential of the area, and the latest tourism numbers give us tremendous confidence in the area’s future.
“We plan to deliver world-class tourism and leisure facilities in multiple stages over many years to support jobs and help grow the region’s share of a strengthening tourism market.”