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Mmm.... I love Rum and Turtles

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Quick! What do rum and turtles have in common? They’re both made in Bundaberg!

After our hairy experience in Fraser Island, both of us were pretty fried and needed some alone time before heading to our next social experiment in the Whitsunday Islands, so we decided to stay in a smallish town called Bundaberg. We stayed in an awesome little homestyle hostel run by a really nice older couple, and it was nice to have a quiet place to chill out for a few days. We used the downtime to catch up on our personal affairs – responding to long overdue emails, shopping for new clothes (our summer clothes in Canada suck compared to what they have down here. I just threw out a few shirts and shorts in favor of the awesome new style we got down here), and trying to fix our dead camera (update: our camera came back from the dead miraculously! We almost sent it in for warranty repair, but they wanted to charge us $100 just to look at it, so we kept it and hoped that it recovered. And it did!)

Our turtle laying eggs

Our turtle laying eggs

But the coolest thing we did was go down to a place called Mon Repos, where little baby turtles hatch on the beach and mothers lay their eggs at night. Without knowing, our mom-and-pop hostel was actually a pretty sweet hookup, as the guy who ran it was also a researcher at the Mon Repos hatchery, and the hostel did VIP tours there. So, the night we arrived, we hopped in his little van and headed down to the hatchery, all the while getting lectured on everything there is to know about turtles. The type of turtles we were about to meet were Loggerhead turtles, which we were told have a shell size of about 94 cm. That’s a big turtle! This beach also hatched Green Turtles and Flatback turtles, but in fewer numbers. All three of these species are endangered (actually all seven species of turtle in the world are endangered), but this research center helped their numbers by increasing their survivability and birth numbers.

We arrived at the hatchery and were put into group 1 because of our sweet hookup, which was good because that meant we got to see turtles first. They had to cap the number of people seeing turtles every night because they were getting over 800 people every night. They now cap it at 300, in groups of 50, and we were the first group.

All night long, there are rangers and volunteers patrolling the beach looking for turtles either hatching or laying eggs. This isn’t to allow tourists to see it (though it helps), but turtles actually require a lot of help and their ancient instincts are fairly retarded. Turtles are over 100 million years old, and it doesn’t seem their instincts have evolved much since then, as turtles routinely lay their eggs in dangerous places that won’t survive higher-than-normal tides. The rangers will actually dig up their nests and replace the eggs in a better location, safe from high tides. Also, upon hatching, all the baby turtles have to work together to dig themselves out of the nest, and if they hatch too late, many get left behind to suffocate in the nest under the sand. So after a major hatching, rangers will carefully dig up the nest and make sure all the little turtles make it into the sea, and to count the number of shells that actually hatched, so that they can monitor birth rates over a long period of time.

After waiting for about an hour, we got the call that a turtle was sighted heading up the beach to lay eggs. We had a random chance of seeing either an egg-laying or a hatching, and Kenna was delighted as she was secretly hoping to see a mother laying eggs. We headed down to the beach and came upon the mom who had already dug her hole and was leaned over the back, dropping little white ping-pong balls into the hole. We all huddled around her backside, watching the eggs being laid. Turtles have no peripheral vision and hear sound on a different frequency than human voices, so she didn’t even know we were there. After covering up her hole, the large turtle finally started slowly lumbering back into the sea, exhausted, taking long breaks on the way.

Our turtle was a bit above average, at 96 cm. The rangers tag and measure every single turtle on the beach, and compile a massive database that has been compiled over 30 years. To Kenna’s delight, the turtle had laid its eggs too far down the tide line, and the nest had to be relocated. The rangers dug up and counted the nest and then let every member of the audience relocate a couple of the eggs into the new nest further up the beach. It was pretty cool to hold a freshly laid egg and help a new little turtle survive. The egg felt a lot like a rubbery ping-pong ball.

A baby turtle!

A baby turtle!

After the relocation, we headed back to the amphitheatre and tried to avoid mosquitoes. Our in-the-know hostel guy told us that if we stayed long enough we could probably also witness a hatching, so we stayed right until they closed at midnight. We were pretty disappointed that we had waited almost 5 hours and they hadn’t spotted a single hatching. No baby turtles for us… and then, as we lost all hope, a ranger came over and asked us if we wanted to see a hatching! Excitedly, we hurried back to the beach where we met another ranger, who was holding 6 baby turtles. And this time there were only about 8 of us who had stayed to the bitter end. It wasn’t a true hatching, but the ranger had came upon an empty nest and dug it up, to find these few baby turtles who hadn’t made it. We held a few of them, then watched as he dropped them on the sand and watched them scurry back into the water. Apparently, this short time on the sand is incredibly important, as somehow their brain imprints their exact location of the Earth’s magnetic field, so that they can return to breed. Incredibly, a turtle will hatch on this beach, head straight for the East Australian Current which will take them all the way to South America, and after 30 years when they reach sexual maturity, they return to the exact same beach they were born on to reproduce.

Though we wanted to get to bed early after our crazy Fraser ordeal, we didn’t get back until about 1:30 am. Time for sleep.

Rum!

IMGP5065The other cool thing we did was head to the pride of Australia, the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. Here, they make just enough rum to support the massive drinking habits of the Aussies (they produce 600 million 700ml (26 oz.) bottles of rum annually, and 600 million cases of premix (Rum and Coke), and they only export 4% of it globally. That’s a lot of booze. Incidentally, 3% gets exported to New Zealand, and the other 1% goes to the Polynesian Islands and… randomly… Alberta. We tried to find the store in Alberta that sells it but if our guide found out, she left before she told us. A few years ago, they tried to increase production by 30% and enter the American market, but Aussies suddenly decided to drink 30% more rum, so they still don’t sell it anywhere in North America besides Alberta).
The factory itself is located next to a sugar refinery, which until 2000 used to own Bundaberg (they sold out to a massive conglomerate that owns Captain Morgan’s, Smirnoff, and about 500 other brands of booze). The sugar refinery refines all the sugar cane that grows in the area, and is the basis of what rum is made of.

It was really cool to see how they made rum, as I’ve been fascinated with the chemical process of how they make so many different types of booze from pretty much my first drinking days. First, they start out with molasses, which gets fermented for only about 36 hours, which is a really quick fermentation process. Then, they put it into a distillation vat, where most of the ethanol is distilled, and then into another distillation vat to further purify it, which produces immature rum with about 78% alcohol content. The rest of the fermented molasses and other biproducts are sent away for the sugar cane farmers to use as fertilizer, and to industrial alcohol plants for further refinement. Only about 10% of the flavor of this rum actually comes from the sugar cane, which really surprised me.

IMGP5070The real flavor actually comes from the aging process, where they store the rum in huge 75,000 L vats made of White American Oak (the same oak they use for aging wine) for at least 2 years. Apparently they’re the only rum that uses American Oak in their process, which gives it the distinctive flavor that we so much enjoy. The distillery has 22 million liters (300 vats) of this high-proof rum aging at any given time, and they’re expanding production, adding one new vat a week at $75,000 a piece. The oak for the vats is actually imported from the US (from the Appalachians on the border with Canada) and made into vats at a shop down the street, by the same family business that’s been building them for the last 80 years. The vats are made using no glue, only wood and steel beams that wrap the boards like they used to make wine barrels from. Oddly enough, they also don’t ever retire any vats – our tour guide claimed that their 80 yr old vats would age rum to the same quality that a new one would, which seems odd to me, since the flavor is derived from the tannins coming from the wood. You’d think the wood would run out of tannins, but I guess not.

We went into the warehouse where the rum was aging, and the smell was amazingly delicious, like thick sweet molasses, oak, and a tinge of alcohol. The whole area was surrounded by a tall electric fence, since each vat was worth $6 million, for a total of $1.8 billion of inventory at one time. Not all that is profit though – the government takes $4 million in taxes per vat right off the bat, and that’s even before they put it in bottles; consumers pay the tax every time they buy a bottle too.
So then they showed us the bottling plant, which would have been really cool if it had been working, but it appeared there was a glitch in the system cuz there were workers frantically checking equipment everywhere and nothing was moving.

Bar time!  Kenna sipping a nice Bundy liqueur

Bar time! Kenna sipping a nice Bundy liqueur

After that – bar time! We got two free drinks, where we could sample the product. They made a rum liqueur that was awesome – sort of like Kahlua but way better. We were going to buy a bottle but, as much as we’re drinking on this trip, there’s no way we’d go through it in the two weeks we have left in Oz. They also make a few premixes, our favorite being the Dark and Stormy, which is a mix of rum with ginger beer (also made only in Bundaberg by a different company down the road. Ginger beer is kind of like ginger ale, with a lot more ginger, and it’s one of our favorite non-alcholic drinks in Oz).

All in all, it was super cool and I’m a big fan of Bundaberg for the awesome experiences we’ve had here. I’d highly recommend both tours if you’re ever in Bundaberg.

Now we’re on our way on a 10 hour drive to Airlie Beach, where we’ll spend a few days preparing for our Whitsunday Island tour. Let’s hope this tour is less of a reality show! The drive right now is incredibly boring, akin to driving across Sasketchewan, with probably even fewer small towns (we’ve passed exactly one small hamlet in the past 3 hours). At least they try to keep you entertained with funny road signs – “How long to go Dad?”, and “Are we there yet?”, “Still a long way to go, kids!”, and a while back we passed our personal favorite – “Little Beefy Milkers” for a dairy farm (that was back when we were somewhat close to civilization.) Mm fun.

7 comments to Mmm…. I love Rum and Turtles

  • Scott

    Sorry I disabled comments on this by accident! Comment away!

  • Available at 30 liquor stores and behind the bar at the blackdog.

    Handy site: http://www.alberta-liquor-guide.com

    (780) 452-7770 CHATEAU LOUIS HOTEL & CONFERENCE CENTRE 11727 KINGSWAY T5G 3A1 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 439-1082 BLACK DOG FREEHOUSE 10425 82 AVENUE NW T6E 2A1 EDMONTON Liquor Primary (Minor Prohib.)
    (780) 469-1122 MILLBOURNE LIQUOR STORE 190 MILLBOURNE SHOPPING CENTRE NW T6K 3L6 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 413-8988 CROWN LIQUOR STORE 7617 ARGYLL ROAD NW T6C 4A7 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 701-0088 TOPS LIQUOR STORE 10768 82 AVENUE NW T6E 2A8 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 440-3171 TOPS LIQUOR 7440 82 AVENUE NW T6B 0G2 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 472-7250 DELTON LIQUOR MART 6-8103 127 AVENUE NW T5C 1R9 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 455-3007 KINGSWAY LIQUOR STORE 11459 KINGSWAY AVENUE NW T5G 3E8 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 455-4556 SHERBROOKE LIQUOR STORE 11819 ST ALBERT TRAIL NW T5L 5B5 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 421-0015 CITY CENTRE WINES & SPIRITS 203 EDMONTON CITY CENTRE EAST T5J 2Y9 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 434-9444 VINES OF RIVERBEND 2331 RABBIT HILL ROAD NW T6R 3L6 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 426-0304 LIQUOR DEPOT AT JASPER AVENUE 10164 109 STREET NW T5J 1M7 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 469-3377 LIQUOR DEPOT AT BONNIE DOON BONNIE DOON SHOPPING CENTRE T6C 4E3 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 438-9463 LIQUOR DEPOT AT WHYTE AVENUE 8204 109 STREET NW T6G 1C8 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 488-6000 LIQUOR DEPOT AT OLIVER SQUARE 11724 104 AVENUE NW T5K 2P3 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 438-4071 LIQUOR DEPOT AT SOUTHGATE 11011 51 AVENUE NW T6H 5T1 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 468-5888 LIQUOR DEPOT AT MILLWOODS 5638 23 AVENUE NW T6L 6N2 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 444-2121 GRAPES & GRAINS WEST TERRA LOSA CENTRE T5T 5R6 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 474-3500 CROWFOOT LIQUOR STORE – FORUM 11836 WAYNE GRETZKY DRIVE NORTHBOUND NW T5B 4L3 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 426-0199 OLIVER LIQUOR BARN 11354 104 AVENUE NW T5K 2W9 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 944-8097 CALLINGWOOD LIQUOR BARN 6611 177 STREET NW T5T 4K3 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 944-9994 LIQUOR DEPOT AT ELLERSLIE ROAD 11146 ELLERSLIE ROAD SW T6W 1A2 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 420-1650 123RD STREET LIQUOR STORE 10505 123 STREET NW T5N 1N9 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 455-8888 GRAPES & GRAINS CRISTALL’S 5854 111 STREET NW T6H 3G1 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 938-8989 CROWN LIQUOR STORE 379 91 STREET SW T6X 0C5 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 483-1083 ALIGRA WINE & SPIRITS 1423-8882 170 STREET NW T5T 4J2 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 432-6320 LIQUOR DEPOT AT MAGRATH 14175 23 AVENUE NW T6R 0G4 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 757-1289 BLUE ON WHYTE LIQUOR 10058 82 AVENUE NW T6E 1Z3 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 483-8281 LIQUOR DEPOT AT GLASTONBURY MARKET 6242 199 STREET NW T5T 2K4 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private
    (780) 468-9520 LIQUOR DEPOT AT THE MEADOWS 2334 24 STREET NW T6T 0G9 EDMONTON Retail Liquor Store – Private

  • Scott Montgomerie

    Thanks Reg!

  • Scott Montgomerie

    By the way… the turtles image is just a funny picture to go with the title, Turtles candies are NOT made in Bundaberg!

  • Dave

    Wow so much for me telling you about the one place I have seen it. Have a wicked time in airlie and on the boat. Bring on the goon!!!

  • Terri Eagle

    I was just searching for info re the Mon Repos Turtle Hatchery and came upon your enjoyable “Rum & Turtles” travel blog – Do you recall the name of the Homestyle Hostel (run by the older couple) that you stayed in in Bundaberg? I’d like somewhere friendly and welcoming to stay when I take my two little kids in January 2011.

  • Scott

    Hi Terri, the place we stayed at was Footprints Feeding grounds, it was quite nice and the owners were very friendly.

    http://www.hostelbookers.com/hostels/australia/bundaberg/18244/

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