Sampling Bundaberg

Category: Ships Log
  NewCal2Aus00 sunset 150x  

November 17th - November 20th

Clearing in to Australia, Port Bundaberg Marina, abundant birdlife, sampling the fine brews of Bundaberg.


After almost 13 months of cruising, we arrived at the final “island” on our itinerary, Australia. Although excited to have made it here, we were also a bit worried. Throughout the year we were cruising, we heard time and time again about the horrors of clearing into Australia.  One cruiser told us how a couple years ago Biosecurity spent over 2 hours going through every single item on their boat and took away a couple large bags of stuff. Other stories tell how you are not allowed to import wood carvings, seashells (including ones collected from the beach), and most food.  For the food we heard that besides the standard no fresh food, additionally all tinned meat products and anything that might contain seeds including cereals, bread, rice, oatmeal and popcorn kernals, would be confiscated. Then there is the termite inspection; if your vessel has over 10% wood, you could be subjected to a costly termite treatment.  In addition, we heard the officials are terribly unfriendly.  Thus, although we were grateful to be towed into the marina Monday morning, it was not without some trepidation that we waited for the Customs and Biosecurity officials to arrive.


Getting towed into the marina.


Customs arrived first, and to our surprise, they immediately started a friendly conversation about our trip and asked about our previous sailing experiences.  After a cursory search of our boat for hidden firearms or drugs while we completed the paperwork, they were done. They wished us a pleasant stay, said Biosecurity would be along next, and left to go check in the next boat.  So far, so good.  A couple hours later, Biosecurity arrived.  “Now we are in for it,” we thought.  After introducing herself, the Biosecurity official said some of the rules had recently changed, and she would be mostly concerned with looking for evidence of insect infestations.  I had laid all our tinned meat on the table in anticipation of it being asked for and inquired if she needed to take it.  She just glanced at it and replied “Oh no, not anymore.  All food [apart from fresh food], is fine as long as it doesn’t have bugs. So, how long will you two be staying here?”  And with that we had one of the most pleasant Biosecurity experiences we could have imagined. As she poked through our cupboards and food lockers looking for insects, she told us about great camping spots along the Coral Coast and close to Brisbane, and about the amazing marine life on Ningaloo reef in Western Australia. Turns out she received her degree in marine biology and spent a few years working at a marine station in Western Australia before becoming a Biosecurity agent.  In the end, everything we had was okay and the only item confiscated was a head of garlic.  I could even keep the beach seashells I’d collected over the last year! Our clearing-in experience was nothing like the tales we’d been told; the officials were among the friendliest we’ve encountered on our travels.  It seems stories got blown out of proportion, or recent rule changes have made clearing into Australia much easier than in times past.  Either way, we were sure relieved!


By afternoon, we could finally set foot on Australian soil. We checked in to the marina, and again the marina staff could not have been nicer.  For one, they did not charge us for the tow into the marina (we were only towed about 1200ft (400m), but still, this could have been quite pricey in the US)! They also called the auto parts store in Bundaberg for us to see if they could find the belt we needed for our diesel engine.  After a few minutes of calling around, they managed to locate one in Bundaberg and drew a map of the store’s location for us.  And they loaned us $20 in laundry tokens (until we could get to an ATM) so we could start on the pile that had built up (laundry was a bit too pricey in New Caledonia, and it rained there too much for us to do it ourselves).  The marina really went out of their way to help us, and all with a laid back, “no problem mate” attitude.  It was a really nice welcome to Australia.


The Port Bundaberg Marina.


A couple hours later, after the laundry was finished, we took an evening stroll to the nearby town of Burnett Heads to visit the grocery store and ATM.  We hoped to see kangaroos (we were told there is a group that resides in the area), but unfortunately they were nowhere to be seen. We did, however, see the most amazing assortment of birds.  As we walked along the grassy headland, we saw oystercatchers, ibises, some type of quail-like ground birds, a kingfisher (perhaps a kookaburra?), a small group of red and gray parrots, and a whole flock of multi-colored parrots! Once we get to Brisbane, I’ll need to get a bird book for Australia.


This was the first ibis we'd seen since Mexico, but now that we've been here a bit, we've learned these guys are like the Canada geese of Oregon (they are everywhere!).


Some type of ground bird - maybe the mohawk cousin of a quail?


Some type of kingfisher. Perhaps a kookaburra?


Red, white and gray ground parrots.


A flock of muti-colored parrots in a tree.


The next morning, we took the marina’s courtesy shuttle into Bundaberg, which is about 12 miles from the marina. We found the auto parts store with our diesel belt easily, and then walked around town a bit.  We heard from friends that Bundaberg’s two main claims to fame are the Bundaberg Rum Distillery and the Bundaberg Brewhouse where they make Bundaberg ginger beer, so we made sure to pay a visit to both places and taste the fine concoctions they both produce.  At the rum distillery you get to try two shots of quite a large selection of rum.  We happened to be at the bar when no one else was around and got a couple of great bartenders. They explained the differences in the rum to us, and let us have half shots so we could try more types. They had us try the 2 year, 5 year and 7 year aged rums side by side so we could taste the difference, and then had us try the rum with coke, which surprisingly helped bring out more of the flavor.  It was a great education on rum tasting! Half an hour later we stumbled out of the rum distillery, and followed directions from the bartender to a great local fish and chips place called Gruntskies. We enjoyed fish and chips while overlooking the Burnett River before heading for our next stop, the Bundaberg Brewhouse, or “the Barrel” as the visitor’s center is called. One note about the Brewhouse in case you are unfamiliar with Bundaberg ginger beer, all the drinks are non-alcoholic; they brew the fruit (or roots) with yeast and sugar for 2 days, then take out the alcohol and use about 5% of the brew in their drinks.  The rest of the beverage is just carbonated water, sugar and juice concentrate so the place is basically a glorified soda factory (no high fructose corn syrup though!). The self-guided tour at the Barrel is nice, but mostly tailored to kids.  After the tour you can try every flavor of soda they make. This was fun, but all their sodas are pretty high on the sugar scale, so after tasting all thirteen varieties, we were feeling a bit sugared-out.  Although we did have plenty of energy to run down the road afterwards to catch our bus back to the marina!


The post office building in downtown Bundaberg.


At the Bundaberg rum distillary.


Sampling the rum under the tutelage of our awesome bartenders.


At the Bundaberg Brewhouse.


Getting ready to sample the soda. We had an enthusiastic "bartender" here; he told us his favorite drink in the
place was the water. He also had a class of 50 kids arriving shortly to look forward to.


Back at the marina Chris replaced the engine belt and our engine was humming in no time (see "Changing the drive belt on a diesel engine"). Except then Chris noticed some fluid leaking around the engine. It turned out our coolant hose had a crack in it!  Of course, the hose was a couple sizes smaller than anything we had on board, and the marine store was closed already, so we were stuck until morning.  That evening, we had a spectacular thunderstorm; lots of baseball cracking thunder vibrating our boat and coinciding with streaky lightning flashes.  We were sure happy we weren’t out sailing!


The next morning, we found the correct sized hose and Chris had the coolant hose replaced by mid-morning.  Our original plan was to leave early that morning for Brisbane, but the closest anchorage on our route was 40 miles away, and with our average speed of 4 kts, we would need at least 10 hours to get there. The area we will be traversing is called the Great Sandy Straits, and true to its name, it contains numerous shallow sand bars, thus it is not recommended to sail this area in the dark.  Because it was a bit late to start, and the weather report was predicting another bout of severe thunderstorms for the evening, we decided to just anchor in the river next to the marina and leave for Brisbane the following morning. 


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