Every year thousands of tourists from across the globe flock to the Bundaberg region, to get up close and personal with turtles - and it's more than worth the journey.
A swim with the majestic creatures at either Lady Musgrave Island or Lady Elliott Island is nothing short of life-changing. Watching their off spring hatch at the Mon Repos Turtle Centre left me ohh-ing and ahh-ing for months.
What few people know about the region, and what many discover as a by-product of their eagerness to see the turtles, is that Bundy, as it's affectionately known by the locals, is also a food lover's paradise.
An effective way to get a broad picture of what the area has to offer food-wise is by joining one of Suzie Clarke's Bundy Food Tours. Clarke, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, has worked in kitchens around the world. Seconds after she picks me up from my accommodation, the Zen Beach Retreat, Clarke is giving me the produce history of the region. Did I know sugar is what put the region on the map and that it still produces about a fifth of all of Queensland's sugar each year? She then starts telling me about macadamia nuts - apparently 2016 saw the Bundaberg Region grow more than anywhere else in Australia, and somewhere between 70 and 90 per cent of all Australia's sweet potato comes from Bundy.
Her fascinating monologue is interrupted as she stops the car and we meet farmer Anthony Rehbein, who grows ginger. That hasn't always been the case. He's a fourth generation farmer, whose family started out with sugar cane. But, as Rehbein tells us - to be a good farmer you have to be able to adapt. Over time the family grew a variety of food and in the early 2000s they moved on to ginger. His passion for the stuff has seen him make a number of products under his own brand Bunda Ginga - some of which I get to sample. Never in a million years would I have thought of pairing pickled ginger with cheese, but my taste buds are singing. Rehbein tells me it goes with almost anything.
One of Clarke's other stops is a strawberry farm called Tinaberries. The berries are luscious and it's one of the few places in the region allowing the option of buying straight from the farmer. We visit Windhum Farms, growers of sweet potato. I'm amazed to learn there are more varieties of sweet potato than I can count on one hand. Clarke also takes us to the home of Queensland's best bacon, and the second best in all of Australia - Bagara Meats. Between stops. Clarke is the perfect link - chiming in with tidbits about the region.
By the time my tour comes to an end, I'm overwhelmed with the amount and variety of food the area produces. But what is more apparent is the passion everyone has for their products, and Bundy as a whole.
This passion doesn't stop with those who produce the goods - it extends to a number of cafe owners and operators around Bundaberg. There's no better example of this than at the exquisite Indulge Cafe, which is known for its motto: "We know where it came from and how it was made". After studying Indulge's menu, I choose the Eden Farms Raspberry studded doughnut. It is heaven. Nonna's Gelateria is also worth a mention, and not just because they produce the best salted caramel gelato I've ever had. They use Baffle Milk - a family owned and run company from nearby Baffle Creek - for their gelato.
To match the impeccable food offerings Bundy has, there's a wide variety of beverage options that are equally tantalising.
A trip to Bundaberg Brewed Drinks' barrel is great for kids and adults. Here, I learned all about how the company's famous ginger beer, and other drinks, are made. At the end, the Sampling Bar offers free product tastings of their entire range of brewed drinks - refreshing, to say the least.
Ohana Winery and Exotic Fruits, is set against a backdrop of red, rolling hills - it looks like a painting. A trip to the cellar door allows tasting of their unique range of tropical fruit wines, think mango, starfruit and dragonfruit.
But, perhaps what the region is best known for, long before turtle tourism, is rum.
Still on its original site, Bundaberg Rum has been operating since 1888. It's a haven of fascinating activities that are fun and even educational. There's the option of going on a tour of the museum or distillery, or simply just taking the time to look through their impressive shop. I recommend the Blend Your Own experience - where you get to handcraft your very own blend of rum. At $250 it may seem a little steep, but it's certainly great value for money. The experience begins with a guided tour through the distillery's museum - never did I think the history of a brand of rum would be so rich. Just a few metres away is the operational distillery then the doors to the special brewing lab.
After sampling about six different rums, it's time to get mixing. Even with no knowledge of rum production, it's still possible to conjure up something satisfying. I went in with no idea what I was doing, only to walk out with "Christina's Blend" - a true delight. First, there's a taste of berry and plum, and finishing with a distinctive, lingering taste of salted caramel. The masterpiece is then bottled and sealed, allowing for boasting to friends and family of your unique flavour. Your blend is also kept on file, meaning should supplies run low, a couple of clicks on the internet and new bottles can be delivered to your door, anywhere in the world.
If you're heading to Bundy to swim with the turtles, you will enjoy it. But, stay a little longer and sample all the fine food and drink the region has to offer. Your taste buds will thank you.
Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to Bundaberg, via Brisbane, with one-way Seat fares starting from $398.
Zen Beach Retreat is in Bargara on the coast of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, 20-minutes' drive from Bundaberg Central.
Further information: queensland.com