Home of the Big Mango

I’ve spent the past two days in Bowen, Australia. When you come to town, you are first greeted by this unusual structure:

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Yes, that’s exactly what it looks like: a statue of a giant mango. Bowen is ground zero for the Kensington Pride, also known as the Bowen Special Mango, which — according to the sign — is the “most dominant commercial variety of mango grown in Australia.” This area and the surrounding regions are known as “the salad bowl of the north.” If you go there during growing season (not, as I did, in mid-spring during a drought), this is the place to come for fresh fruits and vegetables.

I came to Bowen not for the mangos — though that would have been nice –but because this is one of the only places in Australia where you can walk right in from the beach and snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef.

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This is Rose Bay, where I did exactly that.

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The coral isn’t great, but if you want to see reef fish without paying a boat operator a lot of money, this is the best way to do it. And the views — this is what I saw from my hotel room — can’t be beat:

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Bowen boasts many lovely beaches (some of which are entirely deserted), fun beach-combing, fantastic boulders and rock formations, and some great walks. What else is there to love about Bowen? There’s a lighthouse that you can walk to during super-low tides …

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… quiet fishing scenes …

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… sunsets …

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… and sunrises (this is is what I saw from my balcony on my first morning in town):

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Bowen also has a few lovely businesses that are worth a visit. The one to which I returned the most often was Meraki Whitsundays, a beachside cafe that sits just off the parking lot on Horseshoe Bay.

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Meraki Whitsundays is very casual, a good place to sit and read a book and relax (service is slow, so you need to be pretty zen anyway). It’s also the only place I’ve ever been that has served me an iced chai latte that looked like this — with ice cream!

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I also made two trips to Bowen’s old-time theater:

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The Bowen Summergarden Cinema was built in 1948, and in the early 1970s, it was expanded to house two screens. But it holds all of its old charm.

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The theater is still being run as a labor of love by the same gentleman, Ben, who has been at the helm since 1962 (he still works there, too — he took my ticket!). I saw two movies: A Simple Favor (a riveting if ultimately forgettable noir film) and Ladies in Black (an Australian period piece about women working in a 1950s Sydney department store that had me smiling from start to finish).

What else does Bowen have to offer? Well, it appears to bear the title of “Mural Capital of Australia.” I’m not sure how you earn that crown, or what the competition looks like, but my Bowen: Top of the Whitsundays brochure gave me a list of twenty-eight murals that dot the center of town. I didn’t make it to all twenty-eight, but I was curious, so I visited a good number of them. They all seem to have been painted in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and they take a look at Bowen’s history. You can see depictions of farming …

… commercial enterprises (including fruit export, a cartwright, and salt harvesting) …

… municipal organizations (printing presses, the fire department, and the local band) …

… and pioneer women!

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I just loved this unsettled-looking lady:

IMG_5494I also appreciated the shire heraldry:

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But my very favorite mural was this one:

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It’s called: ‘Togo’ the Goat with Nancy, Lil, and Joe Case fetching water from Muller’s Lagoon. There’s something about that specificity, the naming of the goat, that’s simply wonderful.

By far the strangest thing I saw in Bowen was the outsider art in the yard of a private residence along one of the town’s long, wide streets. A train stretches across the length of the front wall:

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You’re welcome to walk in and admire the creatures that dwell in the yard (interspersed with flower plantings and laminated comic strip panels).

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It is strange and wonderful all at the same time (there’s also some lovely pottery for sale out back).

What’s not to love about Bowen? Once you leave the shoreline, it’s not exactly a charming town from an aesthetic perspective (though it does have a few buildings that throw you right back in time, like this one).

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Also, though Bowen is in farm country, you have slim pickings in the restaurant department. But those two things aside, Bowen is well worth a visit. It’s quieter than most beach towns — it’s not on any beaten path — and the beaches themselves are lovely. If you can find a way to get there, I would highly recommend it.

 

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