Turtle Toddlers

Tracey Spicer and her kids marvel at one of nature’s miracles – the migration of the tiny turtles at Mon Repos.

“I love beer!” my son Taj announces within minutes of arriving in Bundaberg. Our destination is Mon Repos – one of the few places you can see mother turtles lumbering up the beach to lay their eggs. (Actually that’s how I felt when I was pregnant: like a fat, wrinkly turtle. But I digress.) On the way, we taste Bundy’s other delights. Not rum, but ginger beer. Inside the Bundaberg Barrel is a high-tech lab where you make and taste your own ‘kids beer’. Our experiments go awry, singeing our avatar’s eyebrows. If you don’t have the right combination of sugar and yeast – kaboom! This is followed by a holographic film about the history of Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, which now exports to more than 30 countries around the world.

Bert – come back and do the ironing!
Another proud Bundy export is Bert Hinkler, the first person to fly solo from England to Australia after creating a glider at the age of 19 using his mum’s ironing board. (Frankly if I was his mother I would have said, “Why don’t you try doing some ironing Bert?” But I guess he wouldn’t have become a famous aviator that way.) At the Hinkler Museum, you can steer your own ironing board glider over a video screen featuring Mon Repos beach. The kids’ cries of “A museum? How boring!” soon became, “Mum, can we spend all day here?” The museum is inside the Botanic Gardens, where you can also hop on a lovely old steam train.

A whale of a time in Hervey Bay
From planes and trains, we head two hours south in our automobile. Hervey Bay is like Noosa 20 years ago, with funky cafés and an endless array of watersports. Aquavue offers delicious beachfront dining, as well as jet skis, kayaks, kneeboards, water skis and catamarans. Our skipper turns out to be an ex-teacher who now runs childcare centres. In between tickling the kids, he teaches them the finer points of sailing. We vow to come back to this spectacular spot for one of the renowned whale-watching tours during the winter months.

Night of the living dead
The time has come for the highlight of our trip – the turtle trek at Mon Repos. You can either watch mummy turtles laying their eggs (November to January) or hatchlings scurrying across the sand towards the ocean (January to March). It’s the largest concentration of nesting turtles on the east coast, and the most significant loggerhead site in the South Pacific.

We wander around the ultra-modern visitors centre and amphitheatre, where they show turtle documentaries until the real things rear their heads. Wildlife officers scour the beach for signs of the hatchlings, using walkie-talkies to radio back to the centre. The excitement is palpable as our small group is ushered down to the beach. We must stay two metres behind the guide, so we don’t squash one of the precious creatures, and turn off our torches. The light confuses the hatchlings, which aim for the white caps of the ocean waves. A full moon hovers overhead. Suddenly the guide stops: “Form a circle here,” she whispers.

Like pagans at Stonehenge, we encircle a sacred site.
It is a mound of sand no bigger than a salad bowl.
Then, in a scene from Night of the Living Dead, one tiny flipper emerges. Then another. One hundred and seventy minor miracles make their way out of the mountain of sand, corralled by the ranger.
He hands one around so the kids can stroke its skin.
“His flippers are so strong!” my daughter Grace marvels.
It is a magical moment.

We form a guard of honour, with six children standing in the middle shining torches between their legs lighting a pathway to the sea.
The race begins! It’s the 100-metre sprint at the Turtle Olympics.
Who will come first? It’s Flipper! No, it’s Snake Head! What about Crush, dude?

A wave of sadness washes over us as we’re told only around one in 1,000 will survive. Incredibly, the female survivors use their internal GPS to return to the same spot 30 years later to nest.