Do yourself a flavour and visit Bundy festival
When I hear the name Bundaberg, sugar cane, rum and ginger beer come to mind.
Having lived in the city for a decade, I thought I had a good knowledge of what the large country town and district had to offer but my already high regard for the people and the place I called home during the '90s was boosted - as was my waistline - after spending a long weekend in the area for the Taste Bundaberg Festival, a celebration of everything grown, caught, distilled, brewed and nurtured in the region.
It's probably best known for its iconic Bundaberg Rum - a spirit that has been bottled since 1888 - but there is so much more to this river city, as I was to discover over three food and beverage-fuelled days.
Walk down the main street of this Queensland country town and you will see that a foodie culture has well and truly established itself. Numerous cafes buzz with lunchtime crowds.
Indulge is a good example of the connections that local cafe owners and chefs are making with the local food producers. Mitchell White, of Indulge, takes the fresh produce from the district and makes award-winning food - a tasty start to an indulgent weekend.
I have lost count of the number of times I have driven north to Bundaberg. I always knew I was close when I hit the rolling hills of Childers, travelling along roads flecked with red soil, flanked by fields of sugar cane. But this time was different. The landscape had changed.
The rich tapestry of fields signifies the abundance of fruit and vegetables being grown alongside cane crops.
Avocados, figs, macadamias, sweet potatoes, zucchinis, tomatoes, chillies, pumpkins, limes and ginger are some of the locally grown produce for which the region has become renowned.
And the chefs are embracing the year-round availability the primary producers are providing by using the top-quality fruits and vegetables in their dishes.
Sitting down to a long lunch at the Water Street Kitchen - a five-course tasting menu matched with cocktails and wine - highlighted the wonderful collaboration that is going on in the city between paddock and plate.
Owners Alex and Jen's sophisticated elegance in suburban Bundaberg reflects what is good about the region's culinary options. From the stuffed zucchini flowers to the ginger panna cotta, the menu showcases what can be created from the fresh local produce.
Bert's (named after the famous Bundaberg aviator Bert Hinkler) and Burnett Riverside's H2O restaurants also incorporate in their menus what local farmers grow and what the seasons have to offer.
The best news is that whether you're a local or a visitor, you can pick up locally grown produce from roadside stalls and markets such as the Alloway Farm Market and make your own culinary delights.
Combining food and drink on a night out at Kalki Moon was another ultimate experience.
The "patron saint of gin”, Belinda Bowman, was the special guest at the cocktails and canapes evening. She created sensational drinks by mixing Kalki Moon's gin range with different flavours.
These complemented the tasty morsels from Water Street Kitchen.
The event epitomised what Taste Bundaberg is all about. I was sated.
DRINKS THAT SAY CHEERS
It is no surprise that Bundaberg produces some of the best brewers and distillers - Bundaberg Rum has been around for 131 years. Alongside the award-winning spirit, there are several other tipples to taste.
The Bundaberg Brewed Drinks family-owned company has been brewing a non-alcoholic range of premium craft-brewed drinks for more than 40 years.
The distinctive brand is probably best known for its ginger beer but a trip to the Barrel shows not only the unique brewing process that creates the distinct flavour of their most popular drink but gives you a taste of the range of other sparkling flavours.
Located in what I remember as Schmeider's Cooperage is another exceptional award-winning business creating unique products. Ohana cider house and tropical winery crafts a selection of small batch ciders and boutique wines and liqueurs.
In a behind-the-scenes look at how they brew their range, owners Josh and Zoe typify what's good about the region.
Their positive no-nonsense approach to creating something great from Queensland produce paints the picture of what Taste Bundaberg is all about. Cheers.
It's a festival of food and drinks held over four weekends throughout the year.
If you missed the first of the great feasts in May then do yourself a favour and head to Bundaberg for a degustation of delights on June 7-9, July 5-7 and August 16-18.
There are free events, behind-the-scenes experiences and signature functions so make Bundaberg a destination on your calendar. Your taste buds will love you for it.
The writer was a guest of Bundaberg Tourism.