Roshan Lewis was a visitor to the Bundaberg Region in January 2022 and details her experience seeing the turtles at Mon Repo for the first time.

Two years ago, I put in a request to volunteer at Mon Repos Turtle Centre in Bundaberg. I had recently become unemployed and thought that spending some time with these beautiful and wise animals might be good for my soul, and my head. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit right about the same time and they weren’t taking on any new volunteers.

So when the opportunity presented itself to visit Mon Repos in January 2022, I jumped at it. The trip did not disappoint.

Mon Repos Turtle Centre is part of Queensland National Parks and is run by rangers as a turtle research, protection and education facility. This means that tours are cheap and they are run ethically, with as little disturbance to the animals as possible. Nesting season runs from November to March and tour groups are held from 7:30pm to 2am.

On my first night at Mon Repos Turtle Centre, I was concerned at having to stay up until 2am, but was determined not to leave until a turtle event occurred. I waited three hours and five minutes before my group was called.

We headed down the beach on dark paths, over shadowy dunes, to meet Ranger Elisha, who had found a nesting Loggerhead turtle. We all approached cautiously, forming a semi-circle behind the nesting turtle. Ranger Elisha explained that once the turtle has laid her first 30 eggs, she was committed, and would not be scared away by people, while she continued to lay the rest of her eggs – up to 120 in total. Our turtle was at the end of her first breeding season and this was her fourth clutch of eggs!

It was an amazing sight to watch this turtle lay her eggs, although it did feel a little intrusive, like I was watching a friend give birth to a human child. I was surprised at how big she was at 102cm, and can’t imagine how hard it would have been for her to go from gliding through the water to lugging her large body filled with eggs up the sand. The best part was watching her flick sand over all of the kneeling children as she covered her eggs. “Don’t get too close,” she seemed to say.

We let her finish laying, then watched, as much as you watch a turtle on a dark beach at night, make her way back to the waves and disappear back into sea.

I left the centre feeling mystified and privileged to have been able to see such a miraculous, yet commonplace, activity for Mon Repos beach.

The next day, I decided to take a tour of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. Although I am not a rum drinker, the tour was fantastic. It was well run by friendly tour guides and interesting to see all the facets of the rum making process.

Bundaberg came up with the idea of making rum when they had left over molasses from the sugar cane refining facilities. What a brilliant solution! I got to taste molasses from the enormous and hot room that it was stored in, and it tasted good.

I learned that 96% of the rum made at Bundaberg Rum Distillery is sold in Australia. Of this, 50% is sold in Queensland. I guess it really is Queensland’s favourite spirit. Although not mine, I left with the coffee liqueur, which is only sold at the distillery door, and tastes like molasses; with a shot of coffee.

Determined to see hatchling turtles, I returned to Mon Repos Turtle Centre on my last night in Bundaberg.

This time, I only had to wait 35 minutes before our group headed down to the beach and saw 96 hatchlings emerge from underground. Gorgeous and magical doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.

We formed two lines on either side of the beach and watched as the tiny turtles made their way to the sea. The one on the bottom, who we named Lucky, struggled to make the trip. Being on the bottom, she had a mangy back leg, probably because all her brothers and sisters had been on top of her!

As Lucky finally made it to the water’s edge, I made a wish for her to the starry sky, that she make it to the current that would carry her away, and then back in 35 years to this very beach to lay her own eggs.

You never know, maybe I’ll be here then, to watch her return.