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Lake Awoonga (photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland)
Lake Awoonga is a great spot for a picnic

The city of Gladstone elicits a mixture of responses from grey nomads making the effort to turn off the Bruce Highway on Queensland’s Discovery Coast to have a look-see. While it is fair to say that not everyone falls immediately in love with the place, there’s enough history, interest and beauty here to make it well worth a visit. Certainly, the islands and national parks in the area, not to mention the gorgeous nearby villages like 1770 and Agnes Water, should be high up on your not-to-be missed list.
It was in the 1960s that Gladstone really started to expand dramatically as an industrial centre, thanks in large part to its impressive port that now handles 10% of Australia’s exports. But aside from hosting the country’s largest aluminium smelter, Queensland’s biggest power station and Australia’s largest cement operation, Gladstone has a softer side.
It is helped of course by a fantastic climate, with warm and dry winters and not-ridiculously-hot summers. The sunny days count here is right up there with the big boys. But it’s not just the weather. You can enjoy spectacular views over the city, explore the waterfront, and visit the genuinely impressive 83-hectare botanic gardens on the edge of the city. Oh, and then there are the wineries, the museums and a fine art gallery. Not bad for a city with growing population of 30,000 odd.
But truth be told, it is the magnificent islands, national parks and seaside villages nearby that really make this area sparkle.

Lake Awoonga, about 30 kilometres from Gladstone, is a favourite playground for locals and visitors alike. It boasts spectacular mountain views and picturesque waterfalls, and the Gladstone Area Water Board supplies free recreation facilities.

Enthusiastic anglers come to Lake Awoonga to catch the famed barramundi of which over two million have been released into the lake. It is also one of the few dams in Queensland to have been stocked with mangrove jack. All in all, it’s a top spot to sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery and wildlife. The lake hosts more than 210 species of birds and there is no shortage of bandicoots, rufous bettongs, kangaroos, wallabies, greater gliders, yellow bellied gliders, and brushtail possums, either … not to mention platypus and turtles.

There are some other top fishing and camping spots if you want to venture across to islands like Curtis Island and Facing Island with your tent. And then, of course, there is the iconic Lady Musgrave Island, which is part of the Capricornia Cays National Park. The island has some unbelievable flora and fauna and is just a great for bird watching and bush walking. Oh, and if you think you need to go right up north to places like Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, you’re wrong. You can see it right here.

Other nearby national parks that won’t require a boat to access include Kroombit Tops, some 80 kilometres south-west of Gladstone which boasts, subtropical rainforest patches and palm-fringed waterfalls. A four-wheel drive is recommended to access the park and there are no facilities at the camping grounds. For those of you not keen to rough it, a day trip is perfectly achievable.

Deepwater National Park near Agnes Water is another 4WD-recommended park due to its sometimes sandy entry roads. Again bushwalking, and birdwatching are the big draws and, like Lady Musgrave Island, you may also see turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests between January and April.

Eurimbula National Park is also close to Agnes Water and it has got everything from sandy beaches and paperbark swamps to spectacular wildflower displays and mangroves. There are some truly amazing views here and it’s well worth a camp of a few days.

The town of 1770 has almost become part of grey nomad folklore in the same that Mission Beach and Broome have. It got its unusual name from the fact that 1770 was the year when Captain Cook made it his second stop (after Botany Bay) on the Australian mainland. It’s an impossibly beautiful seaside village with a well-located van park and a relaxed air.

There are great views from Heritage Headland and you can find the exact location of Cook’s anchorage in Bustard Bay. Every May/June, the town re-enacts Captain Cook’s landing and the Captain Cook Re-Enactment Festival includes market stalls, entertainment, fireworks as well as the re-enactment of Cook’s coming ashore.
Eight kilometres to the south is the equally evocative Agnes Water township which is slightly bigger and has a small shopping centre but still has those magnificent sandy beaches.

You certainly won’t be the first grey nomad to discover and fall in love with this part of the country … and you sure as sure can be won’t be the last either. Enjoy.

Take a free tour from the Gladstone Information Centre to learn more about Gladstone’s impressive industries, including a look at Australia’s largest smelter; go back in time to the town of 1770; nail that elusive barramundi at Lake Awoonga; see the waterfalls at Kroombit Tops National Park.

There are some good commercial van parks in the Gladstone area. Out at Agnes Beach, the council-run camping area at Workman’s Beach is highly popular and relatively affordable. There are only two places to camp on Lake Awoonga … at the Lake Awoonga Caravan Park or the Boynedale Bush Camp.

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