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Bowen, QLD

Charming tropical town known as "Top of the Whitsunday".

Bowen is unlike the other North Queensland coastal towns and cities. There is something about the town - the impossibly wide streets, the easiness of the lifestyle, the rural unpretentiousness - which makes no concessions to would-be developers or visitors from the south. There is an image of the languidness of a city slowly melting under a hot tropical sun. This is a charming old-style town in an area where the rest of the world has moved on. For complex reasons the constant stream of travellers and backpackers heading north tends not to pause in Bowen. In 2001 it was found that only 6% of the one million travellers on the Bruce Highway turned off to go to Bowen. Yet part of the area's appeal lies in the unspoiled bays to the north which boast some of the most beautiful beaches in the tropical north. There is Horseshoe Bay, Murrays Bay, Rose Bay, Grays, Kings and Queens Beaches, the Town Beach and Dalrymple Point. Bowen's biggest selling point is that it is genuinely different ... and genuinely delightful.


Bowen is located 1160 km north from Brisbane via the Bruce Highway. It is 192 km north of Mackay and 205 km south of Townsville.


Origin of Name

The harbour at Bowen was named Port Denison, after the Governor of NSW, by the explorer Henry Daniel Sinclair in 1859. Two years later a second explorer, George Elphinstone Dalrymple renamed it Bowen after the first Governor of Queensland, Sir George Bowen (1859-1868).


Things to See and Do

The Big Mango
The town's visitor information centre is a good place to start an investigation of local attractions. Located on the Bruce Highway, at Mount Gordon, South Bowen, it is also the home of the Bowen Big Mango. Mangoes have been grown in the district since the late 1880s. The Big Mango was a community initiative and was unveiled on 25 May, 2002. It was hoped that it was lure travellers to the town. In the years prior to its installation only 6% of the one million travellers on the Bruce Highway were diverting to Bowen. The Big Mango cost $90,000 ($60,000 over budget) and to this day the locals argue as to whether it is the right way up.

Bowen's Beaches
To the north and east of Bowen lie a series of eight remarkably peaceful, and often unoccupied, beaches where the water temperature rises to 28°C in summer (although beware of the stingers) and drops to 22°C in winter.
Horseshoe Bay is the most beautiful of the Bowen beaches. It is characterised by white sand and a coral reef which is ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving.
Grays Bay is recognised as one of the most beautiful bays in north Queensland. It has large shady trees with picnic facilities, a children's playground and a boat ramp.
Coral Bay is the local nudist (clothes optional) beach. It is nestled between Horseshoe Bay and Grays Bay.
Murray Bay is secluded and a cliche of the tropics with coconut trees, protection from the wind and beautiful waters that are ideal for snorkelling and fishing.
Front Beach lies at the bottom of the town's main street. It has both a replica of the Big Mango, a visitor centre, lots of grassy play areas and the town's wharf.
Rose Bay has a fringing reef and is ideal for families with its good picnic facilities and children's play area.
Kings Beach - this glorious arc of sand is often virtually uninhabited. It is quiet and peaceful and ideal for walking and for beachcombing.
Queens Beach - is 5 km long and suitably quiet. It is ideal for walking and for sunbaking.
There is a pleasant walking trail which runs from Horseshoe Bay via a lookout to Murray Bay (870 m away) and Rose Bay (2.5 km).

Flagstaff Hill
Bowen has a number of lookouts (some are rather ordinary) and Flagstaff Hill is the best of all. It offers panoramic 360° views down the coast, across to Gloucester Island and across the town and Front Beach. It is the best place for an overview of the town and its surroundings.

Bowen's Murals
Bowen has 27 murals. There is an excellent map contained in the local Visitor Information brochure which can be downloaded at http://www.tourismbowen.com.au/BTG15-16-Web.pdf. The map identifies all of the murals around the town - most of them focus on historical aspects of Bowen (Transporting a boiler to the coalfields, Pioneer women, the Newspaper history etc). Some were painted by artists of some renown, including Ken Done who painted the mural "Coal Loading from Jetty" at the Centrepoint Shopping Centre in Herbert Street.

Bowen Jetty and Bowen Wharves
The signage at the jetty and the wharf points out that "Bowen Jetty was completed in 1866 and first ship docked was ASN Company's ship the Tinonee. The jetty eliminated laborious unloading of ships as they laid out in the harbour. Prior to the jetty, ships were unloaded by smaller boats which were in turn met by drays being driven out as far as possible at low tide. The jetty and rail line, of which some relics remain, have played an importannt role in the mining and agriculture industries for the Bowen region. The coal loading facility on the land adjacent to the pier was operational through until the 1980s."

Catalina Interpretative Centre
The Catalina Interpretative Centre is located beside the display on Australia and incorporates the historical significance of the site. It’s located near where in World War 2, Catalina flying boats were maintained and serviced. Information about Bowen’s involvement in World War II and images of the Catalinas are etched into large glass panels. It also includes a modern war memorial wall.

Bowen Historical Museum
Located at 22 Gordon Street is the Bowen Historical Museum, regarded as one of the best local history museums in Queensland. It contains a fine collection of memorabilia and historical artefacts relating to geological, Aboriginal and industrial history, as well as shipwreck relics, a restored 1873 slab cottage with period furnishings, Captain Sinclair's waterman's badge, photostats of early maps relating to the township and a map of the arduous Old Bowen Downs Road over the Leichhardt Ranges, which took up to three months to traverse. The Bowen Downs route was blazed by Nat Buchanan who pioneered and opened up the area.

The Bowen Courthouse
Built between 1880-1913  the Bowen Court House is a large and impressive building which dominates Williams Street. The Queensland Heritage Register explains: "The Bowen Court House is important in demonstrating the early prominence of Bowen, being considerably more grand than other early courts at Townsville and Charters Towers; both of which towns were to eclipse Bowen. As the first Supreme Court outside Brisbane, it also illustrates the way in which a legal system was established and government services provided in the developing north of the colony." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600044.

Walks Around Bowen
There is a page in the Bowen and Collinsville Visitor Guide (it can be downloaded at http://www.tourismbowen.com.au/BTG15-16-Web.pdf) which outlines six walking trails around town.
1. Hansen Park to Horseshoe Bay Walk - a pleasant 2.6 paved track makes its way around the coast from Hansen Park on Queens Bay to Horseshoe Bay, the prettiest of all the beaches in the district.
2. Kings Beach Walk - a 1.8 km along Kings Beach with views up to Flagstaff Hill and across to Gloucester Island.
3. Queens Bay Walk - a 1.6 km beach walk from the Don River estuary south along the beach.
4. Front Beach - a pleasant walk along the beach. The town has planted thousands of trees and the parkland is pleasant and ideal for a picnic.
5. Mullers Lagoon to Queens Bay - a longer walk of 3.8 km around the beautiful lagoon with its rich birdlife and across parkland to the beach at Queens Bay
6. Cape Edgecumbe Walking Trail - a 2.5 km walk which includes Horseshoe Bay, Murray Bay and Rose Bay which includes a number of lookouts.

Mullers Lagoon and the Bowen Botanic Gardens
Mullers Lagoon is a 23 ha botanical gardens and wetlands situated in the centre of town. It consists of 12 ha of land and 11 ha of lagoon. There is a playground, picnic area with toilets, barbecues and shade trees. A walking track around the lagoon features interpretative facilities, seating and bridges with displays of dry climate palms, native and exotic shrubs and perennials. There is also a collection of Cordylines, Heliconias, Cannas and palms; a rustic bridge framed by Golden Cane palms; a rockery displaying xerophytic plants; and there are Aloes, Adeniums and Euphorbias from Africa; cacti, Agaves, Nolinias and Yucca from America; and Cycas and Pachypodiums (Latin for elephant’s foot) from Madagascar. There is a detailed description of the plants in the Botanic Gardens which can be downloaded at http://www.tourismbowen.com.au/BTG15-16-Web.pdf. The lagoon is home to 176 bird species.


Other Attractions in the Area

Yasso Point and the Kanakas
If you want to learn about the harsh lives of the South Pacific Islanders (Kanakas) who were enslaved and brought to the area to cut cane, there are a series of information panels at Yasso Point which is located at the northernmost end of Queens Beach near the mouth of the Don River.

Abbot Point
Abbot Point is situated 19 km north of Bowen. It is Australia's most northerly coal-shipping port. It  was opened in 1984 and has direct rail links with the inland coal mining towns like Collinsville.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Bowen was occupied by the Juru people

* The first European to sight the area was Captain James Cook who named Cape Gloucester after William Henry, the Duke of Gloucester. Cook passed within 9 km of the coast and wrote in his journal "on the west side of Cape Gloucester the land trends away S.W. and S.S.W. and forms a deep bay, the land in the bottom of this bay we could just see from the mast head. It is very low and is a continuation of the same low land as it is at the bottom of Repulse Bay."

* In 1859 Captain Henry Daniel Sinclair sailed from Rockhampton in the 9-ton ketch Santa Barbara  in search of a suitable port north of Rockhampton. He found a good harbour which he named Port Denison (after the Governor of New South Wales).

* In 1860 the explorer George Elphinstone Dalrymple reached the area having travelled overland from Rockhampton.

* In March 1861 the Queensland government declared Port Denison an official port of entry, allowing for the future development of the region. It was decided to establish a town on the shores of the port.

* In April, 1861 Sinclair was appointed harbour master and chief constable of the new township. Dalrymple was made commissioner of crown lands and magistrate. Sinclair set off by sea and Dalrymple travelled overland with supplies including 140 horses and 120 cattle.

* Dalrymple arrived on 11 April, 1861 and raised the Union Jack and declared Bowen (named after the first Governor of Queensland) the northernmost town in Queensland.

* Dalrymple set up his tent on the site where the Power House would later stand and James Gordon, who had been appointed collector of customs, set up another tent nearby. Gordon wrote to Moreton Bay announcing 'that the Customs House was now ready for business'.

* By 1862 there were 20 cattle stations in the area, and hotels, stores and public services had been established in the infant settlement.

* 1862 saw the North Australia Hotel obtain its liquor licence. It now has the longest continuous liquor licence in North Queensland.

* In 1863 James Morrill appeared out of the bush and announced "Don't shoot mates, I'm a British object". He had been shipwrecked seventeen years earlier and had spent the intervening time living with the local Aborigines. He went to Brisbane where he became something of a celebrity but eventually returned to Bowen and worked in the customs house. He died in Bowen in 1865 and is buried in the local cemetery.

* In 1863 Bowen was declared a municipality. That year the town's first building, the gaol, was burned down. Afterwards prisoners were chained to logs or fence posts. There is a story of one prisoner carrying his log to one of the local pubs, fronting up at the bar, and ordering a drink.

* In 1865 the town's jetty was built. A tramway was built out as far as 12 feet of water at low tide.

* By 1869 Bowen was connected to Townsville by telegraph.

* The Sisters of St Joseph established a school in the town in 1873.

* The SS Gothenburg sank near Bowen in 1875 with the loss of more than 100 lives.

* In 1875 the jetty was found to be worm-ridden. A new jetty was built in the 1880s.

* A cyclone decimated the town in 1884.

* In 1910 a Bowen-Proserpine tramway was opened.

* Collinsville was linked to Bowen by rail in 1922.

* In 1925 a local saltworks comprising 170 ha of salt ponds was established.

* During World War II Bowen was an important air force base for Catalina flying boats.

* In 1984 a purpose built coal port at Abbot Point was opened.

* In 2007 Baz Luhrmann used Bowen to portray Darwin in the 1940s in his movie Australia.


Visitor Information

Bowen is unusual in that it has two Visitor Information Centres. Outside of the town, on the Bruce Highway to the south of the CBD, is the Bowen Visitor Information Centre, Bruce Highway, Mount Gordon, tel: (07) 4786 4222 and at the water end of the main street, is the Bowen Visitor Information Booth on Santa Barbara Parade, tel: (07) 4786 2602.


Useful Websites

The official local website is http://www.tourismbowen.com.au. The official town brochure can be downloaded at http://www.tourismbowen.com.au/BTG15-16-Web.pdf.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

25 suggestions
  • Need information of theatre fire 1945. I remember seeing it. I was only three years old.
    Dad was there with flying boats.

    Neil Banning
  • You need more history on Mullers Lagoon – especially in the 1860s and the 1960s.

    Bob Stone
  • Ken Done painted the previous mural on the Centepoint Shopping Centre, not the Coal Loading from Jetty one that is there now. The Ken Done mural was acquired from the 1988 Expo in Brisbane. It fell into disrepair and was replaced.

    Debbie Hillier
  • Well done. I am originally a Bowenite, born and bred and am impressed and proud of your efforts on Bowen’s behalf.

    Yvonne Buckley (nee Small)
  • Bowen has one of the best beach front golf courses you will find. Visit an original movie theatre the Summer Garden at Queens Beach.

    Cliff Sexton
  • Please mention Mother Beddock walk over the hill from Horseshoe Bay to Murray Bay. The scenery is stunning.

    Desma Munro
  • I have a friend that lives in Bowen I have been 3 times and I love everything about it. Hoping to return.

    Angela coleman
  • Two town water tanks are painted and looking amazing, come and visit. Came to Bowen in 1984 we never left. Love this beautiful town, great for fishing, beautiful beaches, crabbing and lots to do. Bowen mangoes are the best.I Love Bowen

    Atelaite Quirke ( Bui)
  • Spent 20 wonderful years there. 1986-2005. Raised my 4 kids there. Great place, lovely people.

    Keith Parker
  • Are there any fishing charters in Bowen please?

    Terry smith
  • Love Bowen been going there off & on since 1971. Last visit in van August this year. 8 van parks most full booked. Great Bakery, seafood co- op also. Only prob for vanners there is only 1 drop point in town near the boat harbour but kept looked. For boaties ??

    John Trace
  • We worked in the Bowen area after cyclone Debbie and we resided at Queens Beach and found the townsfolk to be we obliging and helpful and welcoming.
    I have been back since and will stay again once we get on the road with our van – top laid back spot.

    Trevor Grieve
  • Why are the streets so wide?

  • Perhaps someone can add to the profile of Bowen with a fishing section in the things to do paragraphs. IF this is updated in the 4 seasons periodically, it would make visiting more attractive. THAT SAID, visiting Bowen is always a pleasure.

    Mike Verney
  • Any idea when wool first started being shipped out of Port Denison rather than Port Curtis ? – I am trying to find where I read that to the mid 1870’s it was all through Pt Curtis for places like Aramac/Barky? Or am I totally off track.

  • Is Bowen a good place to bring up children ?

    Also is there much work in Bowen my wife is a nurse and I’m a solid plasterer , we are based down south but are looking for a change in lifestyle.

  • The golf course has beautiful views … It’s quite awhile since it first opened.

    Vicki Brogan
  • HAPPY MEMORIES – I was a teller at one of the five banks in Bowen in 1966 when decimal currency arrived. Lived in Elsie Allison’s Scott St boarding house with three other blokes. It was close to ‘suicide bend’ at Soldiers Rd (Plaza corner) where there was always a weekend accident. Elsie later relocated further up Herbert St closer to town after I left.

    Had my 21st at Murray’s Gap, offering to put on a keg, and being a dumb city slicker, left it to the local boys, who ordered an 18 gallon.

    Was also treasurer of the Rugby League during my 12 months in the town. Teams were Railways, Queens Beach, Grand View Hotel and All Whites and of course our meetings were held at the Grand View.

    I loved my time in Bowen, and have been back for holidays on three occasions since. When next you are travelling in North Queensland, make sure that you are not one of the 94% who pas by Bowen. Go in, you won’t be disappointed.

    Ian Woodroffe, Narangba, Qld 4504
  • Who is Hansen Park named after?
    My father was in charge of the rebuilding of Bowen in the 50’s.

    Jenny Miller
  • There is no mention of the sealed off and hidden WW2 underground bunkers. Apparently it housed many Catalina planes, along with a chemical lab. As a child I came across what I now believe to be the sealed off bunkers, entryways and shelters. These are located on a small hill near Drays Rd Bowen. Used to be bushland but now has been developed on. My sister and I found heaps of coloured glass bottles in many places up there, especially near the top of the hill where there was a huge round cement structure emerging from the ground. I wonder why no one has been able to uncover this and find out more about what is underneath the there.. it would be a huge tourism drawcard and to learn more about the huge part Bowen played in WW2. Imagine what has been hidden from the locals for so long. Almost like it has been kept a secret for some reason.

    Amanda Moriarty
  • Need information for support and crisis centres if any in Bowen

    Julie Gregory
  • As an ancestor of the AV and JF Murray of Bowen, it is guite offensive that you only talk about the Catalinas during WW2, there is great history of 101sqn mapping the great barrier reef and test the first Australian seaplanes and comunications between HMAS Albatross and HMAS Moresby.

  • Which was the first Hotel built in Bowen.

    Gwenda Shaw
  • Hi, Do you have a copy of the local Aboriginal language? Thanks my name is Douglas Kyle