The hairy biker looks my wife up and down and asks her, “So what’s it like having a red devil between your legs?” Our eyebrows vault in unison at the quip, though before I’m obligated to defend her honour, Rod Sheridan, our guide for the afternoon points to the bright red petrol tank of our motorbike with a cheeky grin. It’s the kind of wry sense of humour you’d expect in a 1770 Queensland, like the sign below.
Motorbike tour in 1770 Queensland
Looking for a few days of fun in the sun that is a little more interesting than the standard sunbathing holiday we are lined up at the front of the grid on Rod’s Scooter-Roo chopper tour of the Queensland Discovery Coast.
10 years ago Rod was looking to add an element of ‘cool’ to the tourist experience around the towns of Agnes Water and 1770 Queensland so he bought 65 mini-chopper motorbikes.
He takes groups out on the modified 50cc motorbikes to explore this coastal strip that is renowned for being Captain Cook’s second landing spot in Australia in 1770 Queensland.
Rod flicks on his sunnies and half-face helmet and gives us the nod to start our engines.
There isn’t the attitude of the kick-start as these are push-button bikes, though when the engines grumble to life and settle into a low pulsing groan it’s still enough to elicit a smile from Rod as he strokes his handlebar moustache and leads us onto the road.
I recline as if in a barber’s chair, sitting back with my feet splayed wide on the chopper and hands high on the handlebars.
We start out slow and steady before we’re allowed to open the throttle once we’re out of town and the traffic is scarce.
The centipede of modified motorbikes roars around the bends startling grazing kangaroos and wallabies minding their own business in the fields.
Our bikes with attitude are painted with black and orange flames, Union Jack emblems and lashings of retro pink for the ladies.
I watch the speed click up in increments of ten, however, my Easy Rider fantasies are mellowed by the 70km/h max I hit on a downhill stretch.
In reality, we are a closer resemblance to Lloyd and Harry on their scooter in Dumb & Dumber rather than the leather-clad Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda on the open road.
The Tree at 1770 Queensland
When we stop for the sunset at ‘The Tree’ pub in 1770 Rod notices that my wife is looking a little frazzled at our outdoor adventure and he asks her if she’s ever seen anyone flying a small plane.
She nods, unsure where the conversation is heading. “And you know what pilots do if they need to slow down?”
She nods again, “They pull back on the joystick?”
Rod smiles and looks at me. “Well, now you know what to do if this fella is driving too fast ehh!”
Town of 1770 Queensland
Not wanting any sudden braking requests from my passenger I take it steady as we ride up towards the headland.
Rod’s advice to keep my mouth shut is taken as we take the back roads away from the 1770 Marina watching a swarm of eyeball sized cicadas zip through the air past our bikes.
We switch on our lights and ride back into Agnes Water behind Rod for the finale of our chopper tour. Rod picks up speed along the open road and I watch his red taillight fading into the dusk.
Looking further up the coast the deserted beaches lead to the Bustard Head Lighthouse, our next destination.
It’s impossible to get there by road so we hand our bikes back to Rod for the slightly larger transportation we’ll need to navigate the inlets and swampy shallows.
Bustard Head Lighthouse
Early the next morning I get a look at the vehicle that’s taking us to Bustard Head. It resembles a giant pink bath toy, though what it lacks in good looks it makes up for in ruggedness.
The LARC or Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo vessel was originally built for military use in the Vietnam War and now it ferries tourists across the 24kms of shallow sandbars and inlets that would be otherwise impassable.
We are heading to the Bustard Head Lighthouse, one of Australia’s most notorious coastal watch houses. Sting Rays flap through the water below as we head out from the 1770 Marina bouncing along with the suspension-less LARC.
We are tracing the path that Cook’s Endeavour took 240 years ago. Despite the glorious beaches and unspoilt sand, I’m amazed at the lack of development up here.
A few camping spots dot the beaches though otherwise, I imagine it is much the same as Cook would have found it.
I ask our guide Paul why the area was named Bustard Head Bay and he tells me that when Cook’s crew came ashore they shot a bush turkey for food and Cook said it was, “the best bird we had eaten since England”, and he named the bay in honour of the bird they ate for dinner.
The water around the headland is littered with submerged rocks and after Cook in 1770 and Matthew Flinders again in 1802 nearly came aground on Bustard Head, a lighthouse was built on the headland to guide ships along the route to Gladstone.
The LARC shifts into low gear and we plough straight through an inlet that is close to 2m deep.
Off the beach, Paul points to a shark thrashing through the waves close to shore, though before we can get a closer look we’re on dry land again and negotiating up the rutted red track to the lighthouse.
There to meet us is Dudley Fulton, a former lighthouse keeper here who now looks after the buildings on a volunteer basis.
Dudley has the passion of a man whose hobby became his life’s work; he was Queensland’s last lighthouse keeper and spent time here in the 1970s manning the lights.
He takes us around the refurbished keeper’s quarters and the re-painted lighthouse telling us that the Bustard Head Lighthouse was the first in Queensland, and while the job of keeping ships safe from the unseen reefs and rocks was their reason for being here, it is the human stories that make this place infamous.
Back in 1887 assistant keeper Nils Gibson lived at the lighthouse with his family. While off on an errand one day his wife took his cutthroat razor and wandered off into the scrub, committing suicide and leaving Nils alone with his four daughters on Bustard Head.
The story didn’t end here though as Nil’s daughter drowned soon after when a dingy overturned in nearby Pancake Creek.
A young girl died from hot water scalding in 1898 and to compound the curse of the lighthouse the cottages burned down in 1932 when a rat ate a paraffin matchbox and ignited, setting the buildings on fire.
We tour the nearby graveyard that contains the headstones and stories of those that lived in isolation on the headland for more than 100 years.
After the light was automated in 1986 the Bustard Head complex fell into disrepair.
In the last few years it has recaptured something of its former glory, undergoing an epic renovation by Dudley and a band of fellow lighthouse keepers.
We watch the flat blue Pacific Ocean from the verandah and the beaches that lead back towards 1770 Queensland.
We board the LARC and head back through the water. Wind burnt and foot-sore from our mini-motorbikes, lighthouses and pink Vietnam era transporters we’re exhausted.
There are still a few hours of daylight left and I think its time for a vacation from our vacation, an afternoon of sunbathing sounds perfect.
Ben Stubbs travelled with assistance from Vroom, vroom, vroom.
Discover 1770 Queensland
Getting There: Gladstone Airport is the closest to Agnes Water and 1770.
Vroom, vroom, vroom have car hire facilities available in Gladstone and all over Australia for locations and details.
1770 accommodation: Sandcastles 1770 motel and resort has range of motel, garden villa and luxury self-contained beach apartments for hire with barbeque facilities, Jacuzzi and en-suite bedrooms, resort pool and a path to the beach. Call 1800 890 072
1770 activities: Scooter-Roo tours are available to anyone over 16yrs with learners driving license. Book an afternoon tour on 07 4974 7697
1770 Environmental Tours operate various LARC itineraries throughout the year including the full-day lighthouse trip. 07 4974 9422 for bookings.