Queensland’s Capricorn Coast is an agreeable location – a convenient midway point between the Gold Coast and the Whitsundays. Positioned on the Tropic of Capricorn, it is pleasantly sunny, without the tropical stickiness of northern Queensland, and tourist-friendly, without the crowds of the Gold Coast.
Rockhampton to Yeppoon
From the legendary town of Rockhampton, it’s a short drive to Yeppoon, which provides the first glimpse the Capricorn Coast.
Yeppoon is an archetypal Australian beachside town, colourfully lined with juice bars, surf shops and ice-creameries.
Think Portsea or Batemans Bay, except warmer throughout the year. It is a growing town, as much of Rockhampton’s workforce is moving to these coastal climes. It is also the place to catch the ferry to Great Keppel Island.
Keppel has faced a few trials. Not so long ago, it was one of the jewels in Queensland’s crown, as a highly successful tourist campaign inspired scores of people to “Get wrecked on Great Keppel Island.” Recently, it has seemed less inviting.
One problem was that Keppel’s famous resort, which accepted the bulk of visitors over the years, was closed for redevelopment in 2008.
The renovations were delayed for various reasons, so it lay dormant for years, like a ghost resort. Soon it will be replaced by new accommodation, including a 250-room beachfront hotel and enough rooms for 2,000 people.
Great Keppel Island
“You tell people in Melbourne or Sydney that you’re going to Keppel Island and they say ‘What are you going there for? It’s closed,’” says Geoff Mercer, proprietor of Great Keppel Island Holiday Village, and one of the last operators left on the island.
Mercer has been on GKI (as it is often abbreviated) for 28 years. His holiday village caters for a different market to the resort travellers.
They can stay in a tent (complete with beds) or a cabin, for $40 a night. “It’s not flash, but it works.” Still, he relies on school groups and European hikers. “Australians haven’t heard of this place,” he laughs. “It’s not really on their radar.”
The resort life has been on hold, but the 17 beaches are still there. GKI also has plenty to offer bushwalkers – though parts of the bushland have been left in disrepair, teeming with lantana and feral goats.
No, GKI is not what it once was – but even without the resort, is had enough accommodation for 700 people, plus shops and an excellent pizza bar.
As I write this, the island – including the Greg Norman-designed, 18-hole golf course – is up for sale, and a few Asian buyers have been eyeing it with interest.
Agnes Water and The Town of 1770
Back on the mainland the next day, we drive south along the coast, heading to the twin towns of Agnes Water and The Town of 1770. Well, “twin towns” if one of the twins is on steroids.
The combined population is 2,500, but one Agnes Water local believes that a total of 79 people live in 1770. Some are retirees; most of the others, it seems, are in the tourism business.
Unlike GKI, The Town of 1770 hasn’t let down its guard with visitors. Technically, this is south of the Capricorn Coast, part of a region known as the Discovery Coast.
Captain Cook indeed visited this region in 1770, and it now has plenty of activities that he was probably too busy to enjoy at the time.
Surfing, kayaking, dolphin watching, scooters, golf, electric bicycles, camping, kiteboarding, even the Joseph Banks Conservation Park, named after the Endeavour’s resident botanist. Why isn’t this place more famous?
Answer: I have no idea. Perhaps it helps to be close to Brisbane rather than Bundaberg. Tour operator Neil Mergard takes us for a tour in his LARC (Light Amphibious Resupply Cargo) vessel, a 1965 US Army vehicle that negotiates both the waters of Bustard Bay and the uphill climbs of Eurimbula National Park.
We drive along what must be one of Queensland’s great “unknown” beaches, so sprawling that, even if it became as popular as Noosa, it is unlikely to be crowded.
We stop for sandboarding on one of the sand dunes, billy tea in one of the bush areas, and views from an apparently haunted lighthouse. You can’t say there’s nothing to do in 1770.
It won slightly more fame in 2011, when the annual Captain Cook Festival (in which Cook’s landing is re-enacted in historic garb) was the starting point of the Best Expedition in the World, British environmentalist Ben Southall’s 2,600 km kayak trip of the Great Barrier Reef (which he promoted as the “best-managed reef in the world”, something that might amuse environmentalists).
Which brings up another reason why the Capricorn Coast, and 1770 in particular, should be more famous. Here is where the Reef begins.
The coral has a different look to the rainbow brilliance surrounding the Whitsundays, but the green outposts around Lady Musgrave Island have their own attraction.
Yes, it’s a wonder this area isn’t more famous. On a good day along the Capricorn Coast, you can party like it’s 1770.
Mark Juddery visited the Capricorn Coast with the assistance of Queensland Tourism.
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