Whitsundays Region Guide

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Updated: 04-Jul-2016

Bowen is still one of the undiscovered treats of Queensland, and an ideal location to experience a laid back beach holiday...

Situated 40 minutes drive northwest of Airlie Beach,  90 minutes' drive north of Ayr on the Bruce Highway, Bowen is the oldest town in the state north of Rockhampton.  It boasts 7 beautiful beaches, most offering non-tidal, clear waters, snorkelling a few metres offshore, rock pools and coastal walking paths.

Bowen is home to a giant replica of the delicious 'Bowen mango' the town is famed for.   This is situated next to the Bowen Visitor Information Centre on the Bruce Highway.  The Centre stocks a range of Mango souvenirs and preserves as well as the famous locally produced 'Mango Ice Cream'.

Must see & do:

  • Relax at the beautiful beaches
  • Taste the tropical delights of a Bowen mango
  • Try your hand at ocean fishing
  • Explore the fringing reefs of horseshoe bay
  • Hike to the top of Flagstaff Hill for amazing views
  • Have a beer at The Grandview Hotel where Baz Luhrmann's epic Australia was filmed
  • Have a pie at the now famous 'Jochheim's Pies'
  • Take in a movie at the historic Summergarden Cinemas

Bowen was used to portray Darwin in the 1930s in the Baz Luhrmann movie "Australia" starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. 

For seven weeks in mid-2007 
Hollywood celebrities come to town.  Bowen hosted a cast and crew of hundreds, including Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, for the filming of Baz Luhrmann’s $100 million 20th Century Fox production, 'Australia'.  Read on to discover all the gossip from the set, including the places in town the stars loved to visit, why Baz Luhrmann chose Bowen as the location for filming, and the many encounters that the locals had with the cast and crew.

 Bowen matriarch Merle Jochheim, a descendent of the town’s founding father and owner of Jochheim's Pies, played a pivotal role in Baz Luhrmann’s decision to film Australia in Bowen.  One day Merle spotted Luhrmann outside the pie shop taking photos of the wide streets. Assuming he was a tourist, Merle started telling Luhrmann about Bowen’s history and the things to see and do in the area. She then showed Luhrmann and his wife Catherine Martin (Academy Award Winner for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design for Moulin Rouge) the walls of the bakery, which are decorated with old black-and-white photos depicting the town's past, and the rest is Bowenwood history!  Catherine Martin said she was inspired by those very photos when designing the costumes for Australia.

 Nicole Kidman celebrated her 40th birthday while filming Australia in Bowen and her husband Keith Urban went to great lengths to ensure she had a night to remember.  They began the celebrations at Bowen’s Summergarden Theatre for a private screening of a premier movie, which was flown up especially for Nicole from Sydney.  From there it was up to the restaurant on Flagstaff Hill, the aptly named Three Sixty, for a private dinner (Keith had hired out the whole restaurant for the two of them) complete with a spectacular fireworks display thanks to Baz Luhrmann.

 Hugh Jackman and his family were often spotted at Horseshoe Bay, one of Bowen’s eight award-winning beaches. Featuring a white sandy beach and azure waters, the small bay is surrounded by large granite outcrops and is one of the few places in Queensland where you can snorkel right off the beach. The rock formations provide a haven for many fish species and Hugh and his son Oscar, were often seen surfing the waves off shore when the winds picked up. The popular swimming spot is patrolled by the local Surf Life Saving Club during summer and it has a paved parking area and licensed café/restaurant. An abundance of wild-life frequents the area, including nesting turtles.

 A gem of Bowen's heritage, the Summergarden Theatre was the cutting room floor for Baz Luhrmann and his editing and photographic crew while they were in Bown.  Every few days, the movie's head prodcution team would use the 1940's theatre to privately review raw footage, referred to as 'rushes' in movie lingo, for mistakes and inaccuracies.  Theatre owner Ben De Luca said one time they had to refilm a scene when they noticed a jet skier and tugboat accidentally in the background of a shot!

 Approximately 600 extras were cast in the movie Australia, and around 100 local volunteers worked on the set as tour guides for visitors during the seven weeks of filming in Bowen.

 Hugh Jackman and his son Oscar were one of Jochheim’s Pies most frequent customers for the seven weeks they stayed in Bowen. The bakery claims to have the best pies in Australia, and after owner Merle Jochheim’s brush with the stars she added a Hunky Hugh Jackman pie, a Baz Luhrmann baguette, and a Nicole Kidman Mango Cheesecake to the menu. The bakery staff happily tell visitors about their frequent encounters with Hugh and recall Oscar’s daily visits to help ice cakes and fill pies. The walls of Jochheim’s Pies adorn the historical Bowen photos that inspired Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, alongside a feature wall of photos of the stars, cast and crew.

 Country music legend Keith Urban (and Nicole Kidman’s husband) played a concert for the cast and crew of Australia at the Grand View Hotel to celebrate the end of filming. While the hotel’s new beer garden provided the perfect modern setting for the celebrations, the hotel’s exterior was still disguised as a typical 1930’s building for its starring role in the movie. Look out for the hotel as Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman led cattle droves through the town. The Grandview also hosted many of the cast and crew for daily meals during their seven week stay, as well as thousands of tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the set! If you’re in Bowen, make sure you pop into the Grandview for a meal, a drink with one of the friendly locals, or an overnight stay.

 The ‘Darwin Police Station’ is the only location of the original Australia movie set still standing in Bowen. The large flat grassy area in front of the Police Station was where the Darwin Harbour was recreated for the filming of the movie, and the 16ha set is believed to be one of the largest outdoor sets ever made.

 Built in 1948 and styled on the classic movie houses of southern California at that time, the Summergarden Theatre provided some of the props for Australia. If you look close enough in the movie, you’ll see patrons at the ‘Pearl Theatre in Darwin’ using the very same tickets as the ones that movie-goers receive at Summergarden.  The seats used in the Pearl Theatre were replicated on the ones from Summergarden and the theatre’s historic projector was also used in a number of movie scenes.  Theatre owner Ben De Luca is happy to show patrons the theatre’s projection room so visitors can see how a movie works.

 Many of the cast and crew of Australia including Hugh Jackman and Baz Luhrmann were often spotted mingling amongst the locals to catch a new release movie with their family and friends at Summergarden Theatre. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban hired the entire cinema for a private screening of a movie on Nicole’s 40th. 

Photo Opportunities:

  • The big Mango
  • You will also notice on there is a large Hollywood style sign painted on Flagstaff Hill saying 'Bowenwood'
  • While in town take a drive up to Flagstaff Hill for views of Cape Edgecombe Bay, the North Island Lighthouse and Whitsundays bays and islands as far as the eye can see.

Bowen is surrounded by hills to the west and islands to the east.  Local growers produce a bounty of fruit and vegetables, the most famous being the Bowen mango.  The mango season runs from late September to April. 

The Australian Kensington Mango history:

In the latter half of the 19th century Bowen, was the centre of a thriving horse trading business between North Queensland and India.  The crews of the ships coming in from India bought many items back with them, including mangoes.

The Bowen Harbourmaster and Customs Officer at the time, Mr GE Sandrock, collected a quanity of mango seeds from the sailors and planted them on his property “Woodlands” just outside Bowen. As this initial stock came into fruit, seeds from the better quality and better producing trees were separately collected and Mr Sandrock gave these to a friend of his, Mr McDonald, who planted them on his property at Adelaide Point near Bowen.

A local farmer, Mr Harry Lott, selected a good stringless type of fruit from McDonald’s harvests and used the seeds to start a small orchard on his property, “Kensington”, in the late 1880’s.

Mr Lott found that his mango variety sold well at the local markets due its smooth stringless flesh, and attempted to monopolise the variety.  Other local growers unfortunately got hold of seeds by fair and foul means, and within a few years this style of mango was widely distributed through the Bowen and Burdekin regions.

The name “Kensington” has remained although this variety is also called “Bowen Special”. It is easily identifiable by its large, bright orange colour, often with a red blush, and its deep orange flesh that is free of fibrous strands

  • Mangoes are harvested from September to March with the peak of the season being from November to January.
  • A mango tree doesn’t produce fruit until it’s about four years old
  • Mangoes belong to the same family as the cashew and the pistachio nut

Storage tips for Mangoes:

  • Unripe mangoes should never be refrigerated. Store them out of direct sunlight at room temperature for a few days until they ripen.
  • Once ripe, they can be stored in the fridge for 2 to 3 days before use.
  • Mangoes need to breathe - so never store in plastic bags.
  • Mangoes freeze really well. They can be sliced and bagged, or pureed and placed into ice cube trays. The Bowen Tomato Factory produces 17 tonnes of tomatoes each day. Over 300,000 kilograms of live reef fish are exported each year, with a total of 3000 tonnes produced locally.

Health Benefits:

US Natural Health Research claims that a mango contains 1-3 times your recommended daily intake of Vitamin C and beta-carotene – a cancer fighting antioxidant. Mangoes also contain all 4 recognised anti-oxidants (namely vitamin A, Vitamin C & E and Selenium) that aid in the prevention of Heart Disease, Cancer and Diabetes – the three biggest killers in the Western world.

Additionally, Mangoes contain a water soluble fibre which helps prevent cancer of the digestive tract along with all the important B complex (anti–stress) vitamins and the all important minerals such as Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Folic acid, Selenium. When ripe mangoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, Beta-Carotene and other related Carotenoids. The deeper the colour of our flesh, the higher the Carotenoid level

And for the weight conscious - An average 200g mango (weighed with skin and stone) has 330kJ. 100g of the flesh has 235kJ.  Containing about 3.5 mg of Vitamin E in each average Mango this nutrient helps the hormonal system to function efficiently.

Visitors will find a mix of 'old meets new' in Bowen, with traditional colonial pubs and art deco facades of the town's streetscapes alongside modern styles of today. Bowen's history is respresented in a collection of 24 historical public murals, including one by Ken Done.

The Golden Pride Winery is located just 10 minutes North of Mareeba and 1 hour west of Cairns on the Cairns Highlands region of Tropical North Queensland.  This winery has an online shop and it is possible to buy Mango wines, or Cello or gift packs.  Visit their website for interesting recipes for cooking with Mangoes and also for cocktail recipes.

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