Destination: Hervey Bay, Queensland

By: Ben Keys, Photography by: Ellen Dewar & supplied

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Hervey Bay, Queensland, was the ideal location for the Australia’s Greatest Boats 2017 trailerboat shootout.

It was just after touching down on the sun-drenched shores of Hervey Bay that our team began asking: "What took us so long?"

Trade-a-Boat’s Australia’s Greatest Boats project is now in its sixth edition, so the decision to hold our boat shootout in the watery wonderland of the Fraser Coast was an easy one, really.

All the elements were there: nice sheltered waters for launching, offshore conditions to properly test the vessels, idyllic islands to shoot images from and against, and a better-than-even chance of landing a few fish. Tick!

Throw in spectacular Fraser Island beachscapes, the biological diversity of the Great Sandy Strait and the region’s resident whales and you’ve got the perfect spot for a big ol’ boat test.

 

Hervey Bay fishing destination

Hervey Bay Queensland

Hervey Bay might be any water-lover’s paradise but it’s the fishing that is really making a name for the region. The Fraser Coast’s unique geographical position means the waters here enjoy a mix of cold southern currents with warmer tropical streams.

What does this mean for fishing? Well, it’s a crazy grab-bag of southern and northern fish species, all in the one spot; you can catch pink snapper on one drop and pull up a golden trevally the next – pretty cool.

Tucked between Fraser Island and Hervey Bay, the Great Sandy Strait is recognised as a significant nursery ground for many species, where its abundant seagrass beds provide shelter and safety for the little guys as they mature.

Add to this the protection from prevailing winds afforded by Fraser Island and the net result is one of the country’s premier fishing destinations.

The fishing action isn’t limited to boat owners, either. The 800m Urangan Pier means land-based anglers can tangle with pelagic species that regularly haunt the end of the jetty, while the local marinas offer great rock fishing from their breakwaters.

Hervey Bay’s sheltered beach also turns up species such as whiting, flathead and tailor, or you can always venture just offshore to the beach-fishing wonderland of Fraser Island’s eastern shore.

The opposite (western) side of Fraser offers awesome fly fishing in the flats for species such as golden trevally and queenfish. Recent years have also seen a surge of interest from anglers targeting baby black marlin in the shallows – this is one of the few spots in the world you can sight-cast to these hard-fighting gamefish.

For boaties, you’ve basically got the keys to the castle in this region. You can reasonably expect longtail tuna, Spanish mackerel, coral trout, estuary cod, threadfin salmon and more, anytime you make a drop over one of the region’s bountiful bommies.

 

Hervey Bay boat ramp facilities

Hervey Bay boating facilities

There are plenty of facilities that make it easy for trailerboat owners to get amongst the action, plus marinas if your rig is a little larger. The handiest public ramp is at Urangan, inside the boat harbour and home to Hervey Bay’s Volunteer Marine Rescue. There are a number of smaller, shallower ramps scattered throughout the Great Sandy Strait and Maryborough and Burrum Heads, but some of these are restricted by tides and draft so check with the locals if you have a large offshore-capable boat to launch.

If you’ve arrived at Hervey Bay in your own sportsfisher or even sailed up the coast, then you’ll need to head for Great Sandy Straits Marina.

Deb and Bob Rafter offer personalised service to all boaties, beginning from the time they catch your docklines to when you sail off into the sunset again. They’re happy to provide info on local conditions after they hand over your welcome pack and there’s even cheap car rental available for marina customers.

Many tour operators use Great Sandy Straits Marina as their base, so there’s a wealth of knowledge to hand.

 

Great Sandy Strait

Fishing boat in Hervey Bay

The Great Sandy Strait is an ecological utopia, tucked between Fraser Island and the mainland. This boating playground rivals the Whitsundays for diversity, mixing coastal wetlands with white beaches and dense rainforests.

Sheltered bays, sand flats and mangrove-lined creeks will have fishos frothing at the mouth in anticipation of their next session and this peaceful, beautiful region is served by the charming villages of Tin Can Bay, Poona, Rainbow Beach and others.

The sheltered waters are ideal for sailing, too. Boats from tinnies to comfy houseboats and luxurious 50ft catamarans can be hired nearby and there’s every chance you’ll meet some locals – dugongs, manta rays, dolphins and turtles all call the Straits home.

 

Gateway to Fraser Island

Fraser Island

If the fishy waters around Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Strait don’t already have you booking flights to this region, there’s another big sandy surprise waiting just offshore.

Hervey Bay is the gateway to Fraser Island – the world’s largest sand island – and one of the few places you’ll find rainforest growing right on the beach. This heritage-listed beauty cries out for serious exploration, either using your own car (there’s a legitimate beach highway) or on board one of the many guided tours that operate across Fraser.

This unique 123km-island covers 166,000 hectares and is a favourite destination for 4WD-enthusiasts, campers and anglers alike. Along with the chance to spot one of Fraser’s iconic dingo population, there are also more than 100 freshwater lakes to explore, along with the photogenic Maheno shipwreck that has rested on the beach since 1935.

In recent years, anglers from all over Australia have been drawn to Fraser Island’s shores, chasing baby black marlin as they move up and down the east coast. Sandy Cape – Fraser’s most northerly point – is a local hotspot for sight-casting to marlin in the flats.

Elsewhere on Fraser it’s easy to catch a feed of whiting, bream, tailor or flathead by fishing the miles of gutters that stretch along the beaches.

There’s a wide range of accommodation available on the island too, ranging from comfortable resorts at Kingfisher Bay and Eurong Beach to holiday houses, or you can discover a remote campsite in the rainforest.

 

Whale watching in Hervey Bay

 Whale watching in Hervey Bay

No article on Hervey Bay would be complete without a mention of the region’s most famous visitors – migrating whales. But Hervey Bay has a little secret that sets it apart from the rest of the east coast; it turns out the Fraser Coast is the only spot in the world where whales pull in for a relaxing stopover on their way back and forth from the Antarctic feeding grounds. And they do it year after year.

More than two decades of research has confirmed that 95 per cent of the whales spotted off Hervey Bay are repeat visitors. The area is such a hit with whales that one in particular, named Nala, has been observed annually since 1998, often returning with a new calf each year to her favourite coastal resting spot and nursery.

The shelter of Fraser Island forms a naturally protected playground that the whales love so for whale watchers this massively increases the chances of a memorable encounter with the gentle giants of the deep.

Hervey Bay’s professional whale-watching fleet operates from July through to November and offers everything from 360-degree outdoor platforms to underwater viewing rooms and even hydrophones so you can hear the whales sing to each other.

It’s also one of the few spots in the world where the public are permitted to get in the water alongside the humpbacks – either in a boom net, on a submersible platform, or towed behind the boat on a ‘mermaid line’.

Because the whales of Hervey Bay are relaxing and socialising during their break rather than racing up and down the coast, they are more likely to interact with whale-watching vessels due to their natural curiosity. Wide-eyed whale watchers often report stunningly intimate encounters with humpbacks as they breach and play, even surrounding the boats in groups – known as ‘mugging’ your vessel.

 

Fraser Island tours

Turtle at Fraser Island

Adventures on the Fraser Coast aren’t just limited to tangling with baby black marlin or eyeballing a curious humpback. Many operators run tours to Fraser Island’s remote west side, for a rare chance to escape the crowds and enjoy untouched wilderness that few people ever see.

Then there’s the locals’ favourite, Pelican Bank. This tidal island 7nm offshore from Urangan can be visited via jetski tours that also take in Moon Point on Fraser Island and a few other local secrets.

Pelican Bank offers sheltered swimming and snorkelling for just you and a few hundred pelicans.

As an alternative approach, you can skydive with a local operator and land your parachute on Pelican Bank. Apparently the birds don’t mind, though they probably disapprove of your flying style.

 

Maryborough

 Hervey Bay Marina

Once you’re done exploring the coast, it’s likely that historic Maryborough will be the next destination.

A thriving river port in the 1800s, Maryborough’s boom days might have passed but the town retains much of its original charm around the Portside heritage district.

Interpretive centres, museums and interactive displays help visitors discover what life might have been like in colonial times and the grand federation-style buildings now house an eclectic collection of galleries, antique stores, hotels and cafés.

The Mary River also offers the chance to try some freshwater fishing while you’re in the area.

Closer to town, there are twilight markets every Friday at Hervey Bay Marina, while the Torquay Beachside Markets, full of local produce and handicrafts, are held every second and fourth Saturday on the Esplanade.

A wide nature strip and bike path offers the perfect opportunity to familiarise yourself with the town as it follows the sandy coastline from Urangan Pier to Point Vernon.

There are a number of small jetties all along the Esplanade to tempt fishos, or you can try your luck off the iconic Urangan Pier where big golden trevally and even Spanish mackerel make regular appearances – if you walk out far enough.

Accommodation-wise, there’s something to suit every taste and budget in town. For our team, the lure of Fraser Lodge Holiday Park, with eight acres of gardens, not to mention the ample boat-parking space, proved too strong to resist.

Fraser Lodge has all the bases covered, from modern units and villas, through to caravan, RV and camping sites. There’s even a special Couples Retreat, with a big balcony overlooking Sanctuary Lagoon.

Kids will also find plenty to keep them busy, with two swimming pools, a games room, jumping pillow, basketball hoop and more, plus there’s free WiFi access throughout the park. 

 

Fraser Coast travel information

How to get to Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay is around 3.5 hours’ drive from Brisbane, or 1.5 hours from Bundaberg. Qantas and Virgin fly there direct from Sydney and Brisbane, several times each day.

 

Great Sandy Straits Marina

Tel (07) 4125 3822

Web gssm.net.au

 

Fraser Lodge Holiday Park

20 Fraser St, Torquay, Hervey Bay

Tel (07) 4124 9999

Web fraserlodgeholidaypark.com.au

 

Hervey Bay Volunteer Marine Rescue

Call sign VMR 466

Tel (07) 4128 9666

Web vmrherveybay.com.au

 

More information on the Fraser Coast

Web visitfrasercoast.com

 

See the full version of this review in Trade-A-Boat #484, on sale November 3, 2016. Why not subscribe today?

 


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