Burnett Heads $250 million luxury marina development to transform fishing village

A humble village at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef could become a Whitsundays look-alike, with luxury apartments and a “cyclone safe” marina. 

Burnett Heads in the Bundaberg region is 4.5 hours’ drive north of Brisbane, but with a population of just 2,900 it seems a world away from the hustle and bustle of any major city.

Residents wave to each other along the harbour-front bicycle tracks and are happy to strike up a conversation with an unfamiliar face, especially if it’s about fishing.

But the big talk around town these days is the $250 million Gateway marina development, with dredging work signalling the start of the first stage of the project this month.

An artist's impression of a harbour development with an apartment building in the foreground.
The first stage of the development will include 318 marina berths.(Supplied: Gateway Marina)

BeauGroup director Simon Harvey said his Sydney-based firm had taken on the project in 2016.

“It’s taken this long to get to a point where we’re comfortable and we’ve got that confidence to now break ground,” he said.

The first stage includes 46 residential apartments and 318 marina berths, which Mr Harvey said were difficult to secure across Australia’s entire eastern seaboard. 

An aerial shot of a large marina near the open ocean.
Dredging has started at the Burnett Heads marina.(ABC Wide Bay: Johanna Marie)

“We’ve got a safe sheltered harbour here, outside of the cyclone belt,” he said.

“It’s an ideal location, ideal climate, water temperatures are great, no stingers and no cyclones, it ticks all the boxes.”

Construction of the apartments is expected to start in the second quarter of 2023, with marina berths to be delivered before then.

An artist's impression of an apartment building near a waterfront footpath.
Construction on the apartments is expected to start in 2023.(Supplied: Gateway Marina )

The next stages include plans for hospitality, retail and tourist services, which Mr Harvey said would transform the area into a vibrant lifestyle and leisure precinct.

Big change for fishing village

There are mixed feelings in the community about the development plans.

“We don’t want it, we don’t need it, it’s no benefit to us,” said one fisherman who did not want to be named. 

A woman stands in the street in front of a home.
 Peggy Chashen has welcomed the development.(ABC Wide Bay: Johanna Marie)

But Peggy Chashen, who relocated from Brisbane earlier this year and lives across the road from the marina, said she was looking forward to more amenities.

“The berthing for the boat, more shops and more attractions to Burnett Heads,” she said.

Fellow resident Dennis French said change was inevitable.

“I hope they do a good job, we’ll be able to ride down here and go to a coffee shop,” he said.

A man sits on a pushbike near the shore.
Dennis French is looking forward to seeing the end product.(ABC Wide Bay: Johanna Marie)

Impact on turtles a focus

Mr Harvey said minimising the impact on turtles was the biggest environmental consideration.

He said that included adopting conditions such as turtle-friendly lighting and choosing a paint colour that reduced reflection from the buildings.

“We actually ourselves created a whole range of conditions for our development that is related around turtle preservation and protection of turtles,” Mr Harvey said.

A man stands in front of an excavator at a construction site.
Simon Harvey says turtle conservation is a top priority.(ABC Wide Bay: Johanna Marie)

Sea Turtle Alliance president Ainsley Gatley said the group wasn’t opposed to the development but wanted Bundaberg Regional Council to ensure light reduction initiatives were implemented.

“Light pollution is the biggest concern, we need to make sure we minimise light pollution,” she said.

“But also educate the people that will be staying or living [there] that their everyday use of lights can actually have an impact on turtles.”

An artist's impression of a marina development.
The next stages of the development will include a hotel and retail precinct.(Supplied: Gateway Marina)

Mr Harvey said he believed the climate and proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island would interest many buyers.

“Byron [Bay], northern New South Wales, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Noosa, they’ve all now become extremely expensive,” he said.

“We can provide a product that’s of equal quality, if not better, in some ways, at a better price point.

“You’ve got two World Heritage listed assets that are accessible, the reef and Fraser Island. But you’ve got just a beautiful climate and it’s accessible to a major capital city in Brisbane.”

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