The Capricorn Caves (tel. 07/4934 2883; www.capricorncaves.com.au), 23km (14 miles) north of Rockhampton at Olsen's Caves Road, off the Bruce Highway, have been a popular attraction ever since Norwegian pioneer John Olsen stumbled upon them in 1882. The limestone caves originated in an ancient (380-million-year-old) coral reef and today are a maze of small tunnels and larger chambers. The 1-hour tour, which winds through large caverns with stalactite and stalagmite formations before entering the 20m-high (66-ft.) Cathedral Cave, is A$27 for adults, A$14 for children 5 to 15. It departs daily (except Christmas and New Year's Day) on the hour from 9am to 4pm (closing time is 5pm). Spelunkers over age 16 can squeeze through tunnels and chimneys and rock climb on an adventure tour that costs A$85 for 2 hours; minimum of two people required. Book 24 hours ahead for this. In December and early January, the only time of year when the sun is directly over the tropic of Capricorn, a ray of pure light pours through a hole in the limestone caves. This is known as the Summer Solstice phenomenon and tours departing every morning at 11am highlight it. The caves are also home to thousands of small insectivorous bats, which leave the cave at sunset to feed. Plan enough time here to walk the 30-minute dry rainforest trail, watch the video on bats in the interpretive center, and feed the wild kangaroos. There are cabins, a motor-home park, and a campground.
The Dreamtime Cultural Centre (tel. 07/4936 1655; www.dreamtimecentre.com.au), on the Bruce Highway opposite the Yeppoon turnoff, 6km (3 3/4 miles) north of town, showcases Aboriginal culture. There's a sandstone cave replica, a display on the dugong (manatee) culture of the Torres Strait Islanders, and an Aboriginal crafts shop. The center is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 3:30pm. Admission, plus a tour, is A$14 for adults, A$6.50 for children, and A$11 for students and backpackers. Tours of burial sites and rock art, with didgeridoo demos and boomerang-throwing, start at 10:30am.
Rockhampton has two free public botanic gardens, both nice for a stroll and a picnic. The Kershaw Gardens, which display Aussie rainforest, wetland, and fragrant plants from north of the 30th parallel, also have a monorail and a pioneer-style slab hut where Devonshire teas are served. Enter off Charles Street. The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens (tel. 07/4936 8254) have an impressive collection of large palm trees, cycads, heliconias, and giant banyan fig trees. The gardens are open 6am to 6pm daily, with free guided tours at 10am and 2pm Monday to Friday. Admission is free to Rockhampton Zoo (tel. 1300/225 577 in Australia; ww.rockhamptonzoo.com.au), which features cassowaries, koalas, 'roos, lorikeets, and a range of other creatures. The zoo is open daily from 8am to 5pm, with feeding time at 3pm. Enter off Ann St. or Spencer St.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.