Rockhampton straddles the Tropic of Capricorn and is, thus, not only the main hub for the Capricorn Coast area of the southern Great Barrier Reef but also, technically, the beginning of Tropical Queensland: an area that stretches all the way north towards Cairns and further to the truly wild Cape York Peninsula.
Rockhampton is not necessarily a must-see destination, but it certainly warrants a stop on a route of travellers passing by, especially those interested in seeing "the real Australia" rather than just soaking up the sun and sea at the beaches.
Rockhampton lies on the Fitzroy river, about 40km inland from the river mouth, 600km north from Brisbane and 1,100km south of Cairns. Despite a population of less than 80,000 in the whole district, Rockhampton is a major regional centre, a terminus for many of the trains from Brisbane, with a university, a spanking new library and a self-proclaimed status as a beef capital of Australia. The latter is born by larger-than-life bull statues greeting visitors from all approaches.
Rocky, as it's locally known, has only a few attractions worth seeing, but it's certainly worth a couple of days just for the experience of real, authentic, provincial Australia.
What hits the visitor first, especially if coming from the south of the country, is the truly tropical character of the town. It might be the vast expanse of the slow-flowing, wide, dark green river (complete with crocodile warnings). It might be the wide and often empty streets, low raise colonial buildings with rusting ironwork verandahs. It might be the light at noon, sharp and merciless with hardly a shadow. Coconut palms line the streets (with special baskets to catch the fruit and prevent it injuring people below). Slow, dank, soporific air raising from the river. A noticeably higher proportion of Aboriginal people in the local population.
Rockhampton is, in some imprecise ways, reminiscent of one's imagined appearance and feel of other tropics; Brazil perhaps, Vietnam or even Congo.
Local sights in the city include fine examples of colonial architecture, especially along the Quay Street; good art gallery with a decent collection of Australian painting; attractive Botanic Gardens with a free, small zoo (including pattable koalas). In the suburbs you can find Rockhampton Heritage Village (more a nostalgia for Aussies than an attraction for European visitors) and a very good Aboriginal and Torres Strain Islander cultural centre (Dreamtime, located about 6km out of town beyond the university). The attractive, modern new library provides air-conditioned respite from the heat, free Internet and wifi access and even has a café for drinks and snacks.
If you have ace's to a car, it's worth driving up to Mount Archer National Park, a hill rising over 600m above the coastal plain for good views of the area and a nice little bushwalk in a quintessentially Australian woodland.
Public transport in Rockhampton is provided by a rather erratic network of city and regional buses it's worth getting a timetable from the tourist information centre on Quay St to avoid unnecessary waits.
The area around Rockhampton has several attractive locations, of which the Great Keppel Island (accessed from Yeppoon), Yeppoon-Emu Park coastal strip and the mining town of Mt Morgan are all worth considering.