Tell someone you’re visiting Rockhampton, located in the heart of Country Queensland, and you may just be met with an inquisitive look and the question, “Why?” But, rather than being a backwater country town, Rockhampton is fast becoming a little-big-city well worth visiting for its burgeoning cultural scene, rich heritage and fantastic food game. Yep, you read that right, Rockhampton has one heck of a food game and, what’s even better, we’re talking about top-quality food and culture served up with a side of good old-fashioned country hospitality. If you’re planning a trip and need a little inspiration on how to make the most of your time, here’s my guide on how to spend a fantastic two days in Rockhampton.
Eat a delicious breakfast
Start your day off right by making a visit to Coffee Society on East Street. The owners are lovely and the service is fantastic with the cafe offering up a really cool, relaxed and welcoming vibe. The coffee is absolutely delicious and for the soy drinkers among you (me) they use Bonsoy – Yasssss! Most importantly, the food is divine and the menu is stacked with tasty treats like chilli scramble, ricotta hotcakes and carrot and sweet potato rosti served with haloumi, perfectly poached egg and relish. If all this wasn’t enough, the cake cabinet is adorned with too-good-to-pass-up like the signature Nutella brownie or blueberry, lime and white chocolate sweet treats. Not only are they delicious, they’re also gluten-free, something I didn’t realise at first because they were soooooo good.
Get cultural around town
Head down to Quay Street and explore the area on foot, wandering the rejuvenated Riverside area past gorgeous heritage buildings and pausing to soak in the morning sun and fresh air along the Fitzroy River. If you happened to pick up those aforementioned cakes from Coffee Society this would be a great spot to sit for a little while for a spot of morning tea. Continue on along the waterfront, walking down to the Rockhampton Art Gallery. The quality and range of works on display here are exceptional, especially given it’s a regional gallery. A chat with staff reveals the fantastic works owned by the gallery are due to the hard work of Rex Pilbeam, who acquired them during his time as Mayor. View pieces by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Ben Quilty, Sally Gabori, Charles Blackman, Russell Drysdale and more of Australia’s premier artists, emerging and developing local artists and fantastic rotating exhibits too.
Wander the gardens and zoo
Head out to the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens and Zoo, making a visit to the Gardens Tearooms. If you’re particularly hungry you can grab a yummy bite to eat for lunch or, for something a little lighter, try the delicious scones with jam and cream, perfectly accompanied with a pot of tea or cup of coffee. Make the most of the location by grabbing a seat out the back, underneath the sprawling canopy of ancient Fig Trees, thought to be planted around 1895. You’ll likely be joined by a few cheeky birds including a gang of Rainbow Lorikeets who may try to rob you of your strawberry jam.
Afterwards, spend some time exploring the gardens. At a minimum, make time to explore The Arid Gardens, home to cacti and succulents, and The Japenese Garden, a tranquil oasis and beautifully manicured space. Next, head down to the Rockhampton Zoo and say hello to kangaroos, emu, otters, chimpanzees, dingoes, brightly coloured macaws, crocodiles, koalas and more. Best of all – entry to both the gardens and zoo are free!
Explore the area
If you have a hire car and some extra time up your sleeve in the afternoon, consider a visit out to the Capricorn Caves where you can explore a world of limestone caves, stepping back millions of years in time, learning about the area’s fascinating history. If you’re more in the mood for a waterside escape, you might like to make the short drive out to beautiful Yeppoon with its sparkling blue waters and friendly, laid-back vibe. Take a stroll along the beach, feel the sand between your toes and breathe in the fresh, sea air. If you need some inspiration what to do while you’re there, peep my guide on 23 awesome things you absolutely must do in Yeppoon.
Go to the Rodeo!
Make the most of being in Country Queensland by visiting The Great Western Hotel. The old-world exterior, an abundance of denim and cowboy hats will definitely have you fooled until you step inside the huge undercover arena and realise you’re in for one heck of a night at the rodeo. Amazingly, entry is completely free so you’re most welcome to pop in, grab a seat in the stands and stick to a couple of beers or soft drinks while watching the bull riders in action. That said, I’d definitely recommend you book yourself a table and enjoy a delicious dinner, chased down with a nice cold schooner of the Great Western’s very own Lager. The Rodeo goes down on Wednesday and Friday evenings with other special events, like live music, happening at other times. A big shout out to amazing bar manager and all-round legend, Abbey!
Get your hands on a seriously good coffee
Head directly to The Two Professors. Forget what you think you know about Rockhampton because their food scene is on point and Two Professors are just one of the great places repping for Rocky. The coffee here is absolutely fantastic with a great, open fit-out, awesome service and delicious food to boot. I’d recommend nabbing a seat along the window if you can so you can watch the world go by as you munch down your brunch. The menu includes yummy bites, creative cook-ups and a few of your favourites too. The coffee though… did I mention the coffee?!
Time to go shopping
If you love op-shopping, Rockhampton is a treasure trove of thrift stores just waiting to be explored. I visited a few and absolutely cleaned up, scooping up bargains on a few beautiful dresses and gorgeous skirts. I’d recommend doing an internet search for local op-shops then doing the rounds or, you can do what we did, which was just to drive around town and pull over when you see one. If you’re out to experience a more local type of shopping you might want to plan a visit to the CQ Livestock Exchange. Held at the Gracemere Saleyards a short 15-minute drive from the heart of Rocky, it’s a great way to see how business is done in Central Queensland, true cattle country!
Lunch along the river
Given you’re in cattle country it makes sense to try the very best local produce. Grab lunch along the Fitzroy River at either Ribs and Rumps or The Edge Restaurant. Both spots are located under hotels, with Ribs and Rumps sitting beneath Empire and The Edge taking up residence under the hotel of the same name. Boasting hearty menus that pay tribute to the finest local produce, you’ll find both restaurants offering the authentic Rockhampton beef experience of your dreams.
Catch the sunset
For the very best views of the sunset, head up to Mt Archer for sunset. Don’t let your GPS take you into the heart of the National Park, make sure you take Pilbeam Drive via Frenchville all the way up to the top, then take the short 250 metre walk out to the lookout spot. Get there a little early to nab a seat on the wooden beam or BYO chair for a little more comfort then settle in and watch the sunset turn the sky brilliant shades of pink, yellow and orange. It’s a pretty magical experience and will give you a new appreciation for the area’s natural beauty.
Dinner at Headricks Lane
Finish your stay with a feast at Headricks Lane, a fancy but welcoming space that oozes fine-dining cool. Grab a spot in the brewery and share a few small plates or crowd favourites over a few cold beers or very nice glasses of wine. Alternatively, settle into the Laneway’s main dining area for the full Headricks experience, indulging in their concise and carefully thought-out menu that showcases Rockhampton’s very best seasonal, fresh produce, like Queensland Barramundi, lamb rump and eye fillet, just to name a few. (P.S the lemon tart for dessert is fantastic! The toasted marshmallows are so good I could eat a whole bowl of them).