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Tour the Bruce Highway

Updated on May 1, 2014
Bruce Highway
Bruce Highway | Source

Residents along the Bruce Highway love to tell visitors about all the changes that they have witnessed to the highway over many years. The highway has gradually been widened to six lanes in many areas starting at Gateway Motorway and ending at Bribie Island Road, but in other places, it remains a two-lane highway that sees about 15,000 cars pass along at least part of its 1,652-kilometer route each day. Tourists, especially backpackers, will find much to explore along the Bruce Highway, which begins near Gateway Motorway and continuing until it stops near Caims. Originally built in the 1930s, developers named the highway after Henry Adam Bruce, the Minister of Works during its construction.

Bruce Highway

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Brisbane to Maryborough

The original highway started at Brisbane and ran through Caboolture, Nambour, and Gympie before arriving at Maryborough. In 1966, the government rerouted Bruce Highway to bypass Caboolture and in 1990, the government again changed the route to bypass Nambour.

Caboolture Australia

Caboolture | Source

The original settlers in Caboolture moved there to make their living cutting timber, and these settlers used boats to haul the logs to Brisbane. Around 1868, during the Gympie gold rush, the town saw great growth when it served as one of three stops on the stage route from Brisbane to Gympie. The rerouting of the Bruce Highway around Caboolture does not appear to have hurt Caboolture, as new residents arrived regularly due to the availability of inexpensive land. Many residents continued to work in downtown Brisbane, which they could reach on the railroad within an hour.


The Bruce Highway did not bypass Nambour until 1990, 120 years after the town was first established as Petrie's Creek. In 1891, the railroad changed the town’s name to Nambour in 1891, upon its arrival. Visitors to Nambour can see the Nambour to Coolum Tramline in the middle of this city of just over 10,000 residents. The tramline was originally part of the Moreton Central Sugar Mill Cane Tramway, which was vital to the development of the entire region, once the large trees were cut down, leading to the demise of the logging industry. In 1893, developers built many sugar mills in the area through funding provided by the Sugar Works Guarantee Act. In 1894, 120 people voted to construct the mill at Nambour to crush 36 000 pounds of sugar cane. The legislature also approved the tramway during that same year, so that growers could take sugar cane from nearby Dulong to Nambour, as there was no railroad at Dulong to haul the cane to Brisbane.

Despite the growth of the sugar cane industry, many people were still using horse and buggies to haul produce and logs from the nearby countryside to Nambour. On average, 40 inches of rain fell in the area annually, making the hilly roads almost impossible to navigate. Therefore, in December 1909, the board operating the tramline decided to start offering public rides. What started as a two-month trial proved very profitable and for many years to come before it was finally discontinued in 1944, as more people than ever before were enjoying the prosperity following the war and owned automobiles, preferring to use the newly constructed Bruce Highway.

Gympie Australia


The Bruce Highway continues from Brisbane to Gympie today. While other towns were prosperous early in their history, Gympie did not enjoy this prosperity until October 1867 when James Nash reported finding gold in the hills near Gympie. Tourists to Gympie today can learn more about the discovery of gold at the Gympie Gold Rush Festival held during the second and third weeks of October each year. During the festival, organizers hold a gold panning championship, along with a parade, a barbecue, an art show and fireworks.

Tourists especially enjoy riding on the train known as Valley Rattler pulled by a steam engine during the festival allowing visitors a chance to step back in time to when the railroad first arrived in Gympie from Maryborough. The railroad would not reach Brisbane for another year. In order to ride on the train, visitors will need to go to the Old Gympie Railway Station on Tozer Street. This depot is the original station built when the line arrived from Maryborough.

Backpackers in this area will want to make sure to visit the Woondum National Park and Tin Can Bay, where Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphins can be hand fed. Visitors will also want to see the largest dairy farm in Queensland, and learn how the dairy industry has led to the development of the area.

Maryborough Australia


Continuing down the Bruce Highway brings drivers near Maryborough. Prior to the outbreak of the pneumonic plague in 1905, memorialized by a fountain in the city, the first railroad reached Maryborough in 1882. Developers built this railroad to connect the major seaports, such as Maryborough, with cities in other parts of Queensland, although the early railroad was never very profitable. Because of the lack of finances, the railroad would not reach Brisbane until 1930. In 1990, developers built the bypass around Maryborough to alleviate the huge amount of traffic seen into the city.

Childers, Australia


The next stop along the Bruce Highway is Childers. Those wanting to see sugar cane operations in production today enjoy visiting this region along the Bruce Highway. Backpackers enjoy staying at the hostel located in Childers and harvesting the local crops throughout the year usually according to the following schedule:

  • Mangoes from January to March
  • Citrus from March to July
  • Tomatoes from April to September
  • Avocadoes from July to April
  • Zucchinis from October to January
  • Lychees from December to February

Gingin Australia


Gingin is often a stopping point for those traveling the Bruce Highway from Brisbane and Rockhampton. The name Gin Gin comes from the original inhabitants of the area and means red soil thick scrub, perfect land for growing sugar cane. The area around Gingin has some of the largest sugar cane plantations in the world, although the city itself has less than 900 inhabitants. Trains frequently transport the sugar cane to the warehouses along the Bruce Highway and to the nearby ports.

Kolijo Australia


The railroad reached Kolijo on March 9, 1923. The small community takes its name from the original inhabitants. In that language, the word means possum. Backpackers will also want to visit the nearby Mount Jukes mine. The railroad reached Mount Ossa National Park, in 1917. Historians credit William Charles Borlase with naming Mount Ossa after the Greek Mounts Ossa in mythology. Visitors to the Kolijo area will enjoy visiting with the 50 residents of Cameron’s Pocket.

Proserpine Australia


When settlers built the first sugar cane mill in this area in 1890, residents organized the town of Proserpine. Settlers built the Proserpine Mill in 1897, and despite some financial difficulties in the early 21st century, the mill has returned to being a viable venture and is one of the most modern sugar mills in the world.

Bowen Australia


Visitors to Bowen, along the Bruce Highway, often visit the area’s nine beaches. They are:

  • Coral Bay
  • Front Beach
  • Greys Bay
  • Horseshoe Bay
  • Kings Beach
  • Murrays Bay
  • Queens Beach
  • Rose Bay
  • St. Helens Beach

Home Hill Australia


Like at Childers, backpackers come in large numbers to Home Hill looking for work planting and harvesting fruit and vegetables. The area is also home to Inkerman Sugar Mill, which began operations in 1914. Located on the banks of the Burdekin River, the mill is capable of producing over 2.07 million tons of sugar each year. Horseracing enthusiasts will want to visit Burdekin Race Club to enjoy fantastic racing, especially in April.

Ayr Australia


The area around Ayr produces more sugar cane than any other area in Australia per square kilometer. Kalamia Mill located near Alva Beach is capable of producing over 1.88 million tons of sugar each year. Nearby Pioneer Mill is capable of producing more than 2.16 million tons of sugar each year.

Townsville Australia


After exploring these ancient communities, backpackers and tourists will want to continue down the Bruce Highway to Townsville, which has a little over 196,000 residents. Established in February 1866, city founders named the city after Robert Towns who financially supported early Townsville. On Christmas Day 1871, settlers discovered a goldfield near Townsville. Soon, miners discovered gold in three other nearby mines leading to a population explosion with the population of 4,000 people in 1882, expanding to 13,000 residents in 1891. The major reason for the town’s growth was the arrival of the railroad in 1882, which serviced the goldfields. The peak of the goldfield industry in the Townsville area occurred in 1899. After gold was no longer being mined in large amounts, and with the construction of the Bruce Highway, the railroad started a slow demise.

Today, the city of Townsville enjoys great tourism, due to its location next to the Magnetic Island and the Great Barrier Reef. Historians believe James Cook explored the area in 1770, and that his compasses went crazy as he was nearing Magnetic Island giving the island its name. Robert Hayles Sn built the first resort at Magnetic Island in 1898.

Cairns, Australia


In 1876, William Wellington Cairns founded the city of Cairns as a port to get gold from the goldfields near Townsville to a facility where shippers shipped the gold to points across Australia and around the world. Today, the city of Cairns welcomes many visitors each year who stop here on their way to explore the Great Barrier Reef.

Ingham Australia


Named after William Ingham, the town of Ingham is home to the world’s largest sugarcane mill, Victoria Sugar Mill. This mill is capable of producing more than 3.74 million tons of sugar each year. Now, many people come to the area to see the gorgeous waterfalls.

Cardwell Australia


Originally known as Port Hinchinbrook, Cardwell is one of the oldest settlements north of Port Denison. Visitors will want to stop at this small community off the Bruce Highway to visit the Cardwell Bush Telegraph Heritage Centre where visitors can send a message using Morse code and learn about the race between Queensland and South Australia to construct the earliest telegraph lines. In addition, visitors will want to visit the Cardwell Railway Station, where visitors can secure a ride on the tilt train, an alternative to seeing the country from the Bruce Highway.

The history along the Bruce Highway fascinates many people. After clearing of the land for the early freight railroad, settlers quickly developed large sugar cane mills. The availability of water helps the area produce much sugar. Even though the route of the Bruce Highway has changed many times, the highway is still responsible for the demise of the freight railroad. Many people love to visit this area of Queensland for the beautiful scenery, while backpackers love to visit the area because of the availability of work planting and harvesting crops.


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      4 years ago

      Excellent hub! I adore Australia and have traveled the Bruce Highway from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast and also around Cairns. I would love to road trip the whole length one day.

      Thanks for the extensive info which will no doubt help me on my next visit!


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