There is more than rum in Bundaberg

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Oceania » Australia » Queensland » Bundaberg
October 11th 2015
Published: October 12th 2015
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The Bruce Highway is the main North/South route in Queensland and once we left Mackay it has been the road we have travelled. As we move further south the density of traffic has increased and the frequency of overtaking lanes has kept pace. Initially the ratio of road trains to cars was very high and the overtaking lanes were few and far between.

The truckies are pretty good but they do get a bit frustrated when stuck behind slow vehicles. We saw an instance when two very slow camper vans, doing all of 70 kph, were closely followed by a string of three road trains. We had slowed down in an overtaking lane to let them past – and had told them what we were doing over the radio so they could take advantage. They obviously appreciated this. Then we sat back a bit and watched and listened to the radio as they planned how to pass the two vans. The first road train got past in an overtaking lane but as he moved down the road he then kept a watch down the road for traffic as the other two road trains passed the vans up blind hills. We knew this was safe but without hearing them taking over the radio it would have looked hugely dangerous. We were quite impressed at their level of cooperation.

A massive amount of work has been done in recent times to improve the Bruce Highway and it is obviously still going on. Hills were cut and valleys filled to make the gradients easier. We crossed many large rivers, demonstrating how it is getting wetter as we move further south.

Approaching Bundaberg we passed through cane fields, but also fields of many different fruits and vegetables. We saw strawberries, rockmelons, mangos, pineapples, macadamia nuts, tomatoes and zucchinis. Apparently 80% of Australia’s chillies come from here. This is a bountiful area.

After setting up in a beautiful tropical caravan park we went to visit Bundaberg brewed soft drinks. There was an interesting interactive self-guided tour that finished with tastings of their products. They might be known for their ginger beer but they have many other products.

While checking in Greg had been told of a market on the following morning, so after breakfast and a review of the fridge off we went. The market was huge and very well patronised. The diversity of stalls and products was brilliant. We stocked up on lots of vegetables and fruits. A Ray’s stall we filled half a bag with Zucchinis and got a bunch of Lady Finger bananas. Naturally ripened lady finger bananas were impossible to resist but the big winner was the strawberries. They were large, deep red all the way through, totally ripe and smelled fantastic. These are some of the best strawberries we have ever eaten. A Ray’s stall we filled two thirds of a bag with Zucchinis and got a bunch of Lady Finger bananas. The Zucchinis were $3 a bag and the bananas $1.60 a Kg but Ray only charged us $2 for the lot!

After dropping off our goodies we head to the Bundaberg distillery. The guided tour seems the way to go and we head through the interactive tour bit until our guide arrives. First we have to remove every source of potential flame or spark. All watches, phones, car keys and cameras are removed and put into lockers. Why? We will be walking through areas seeped with alcohol fumes and the danger of fire is very real. OK, this does tend to focus the mind. The downside is – no photos.

The first stop is the molasses well. This is five metres deep and housed in a huge shed; it is massive. However it is only one of five such wells. The smell is sweet and rich and inside it is surprisingly warm – suppose that they need to keep the molasses liquid.

The molasses is mixed with water and yeast before fermentation. We get to look into the fermenters. Next comes a huge distillation column that produces 50% spirit. The result is then put into pot stills and 75% rum is produced. 100% spirit is initially produced but it is pure methanol and is diverted for use as industrial spirits.

The rum is put into large oak vats where it matures for two years, gaining its colour and flavour. Then it is ready for bottling. 5% of ‘Bundy” is sold in Australia, 4% goes to New Zealand and the last 1% goes to the rest of the world. Obviously there is potential for a larger export market.

Next we are shown all of the products. Normal “bundy” is the main one but there are many small batch special rums, usually matured for significantly longer and in much smaller oak barrels.

Finally we get to taste a couple of these. We each get two tastes, but they are full 30ml shots, so we decide to spread our options and share. When drinking neat rum mid-morning on an empty stomach sharing seems a very good idea. But the top shelf rums are very good indeed and it is a lot of fun.

After all that rum lunch seems like a very good idea so we head off to the marina for seafood. Hmm, it is a tough life!

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