November, 26th 2013
Still on the road to South Queensland, we leave Airlie Beach for a new region, the Southern Great Barrier Reef. But what does that mean? This is global name for a great region including the Capricorm region with Rockhampton as a capital, the Gladstone area and also Bundaberg. Fisrt stop is Rockhampton, 500 km south of Airlie !
Rockhampton is our overnight stop and we quickly understand that this is the beef capital of Australia ! Bull statutes are located all through the town and at the University there is a weird challenge : stealing the bull’s testicular ! More than 2 million heads of cattle are grown in a circle of 200 km around Rockhampton! And I thought than my home town was full of cows, I found somewhere where this is totally true to say that there are more cows than human beings!!
This is not the cattle we are amazed by but…the sky! The sunset is just the most exceptional we have ever seen in Australia : purple, orange…no need to “photoshop” this one! And this is not it…a thunderstorm follows the sunset and this is a spectacular show, Rockhampton in one word: “electric”!
By the look of my itinerary, this area seems surprising….unknown from the majority of the French people (I’m not an exception…) I decide to explore and let the magic works!
Southern GREAT Barrier Reef
A region full of surprises
1. marvellous islands and turquoise lagoons
which will take your breath away
A. Keppel Islands
Who has already heard about Great Keppel Island and its surrounded 13 islands...?
To be honest, I hasn’t…but believe me, they are worth the visit!
Reachable by ferry from the little harbour town of Yeppoon, we arrive on Great Keppel after a quick 30 minute cruise. A whole new world is awaiting us! Calm, peaceful and turquoise!! The way I like it!
The accommodations are simple, cabins at Hide Away Holiday Village and comfy tents for Great Keppel Holiday Village. Don’t look for a tv or a shop, here all you need is an hammock ! All you want is relax and have a swim in the pristine turquoise water!
And you know what we saw in the bay? A dugong (NDLR a large marine mamma which swims in tropical waters) !! This is just very special and it makes my day as a ranger.
Fancy paddling, going for a canoe ride or simply snorkelling? All that is available on the island for you to explore the backyard.
I particularly recommend this island to all the people who are looking for an easy stay in the nature and without artifice.
B. The jewels of the Southern Great Barrier Reef
Did you know that the Great Barrier Reef is spread over more than 2000 km from the top of North Queensland to Gladstone, north of Brisbane? Not everything is concentrated around Cairns as many people think…and actually some beautiful islands and cays lay in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Heron Island, Lady Musgrave, Lady Eliott Island…
Let’s go to Heron Island, a very tiny island: only 800 meters long for 300 meters large!
This “big” coral cay was discovered in 1843 by European explorators, its history is quite interesting. In the 1920’s, the island was famous for soup turtle production! 10 years later the factory left the place to the tourists and in 1951 a scientific research station was opened. Heron Island had been gazetted as a National Park in 1943 and nowadays the researchers of Queensland University are sharing the island with the tourists staying at the resort.
Very well-known destination for the locals, Heron Island is not to be missed for all the sea-coral-marine life lovers. Heron Island is situated on a fringing platform reef of significant biodiversity, supporting around 900 of the 1500 fish species and 72% of the coral species found on the Great Barrier Reef!
I spent 3 days head in the water, amazed by everything I could see around here! Numerous reef sharks, giant green sea turtles, massive eagle rays and all the colors, shape and size of fish you could ever dream about! I swam through a school of bait fish, unbelievable!
And the best part is that all of this above is accessible from the jetty, the beach or even in front of your bungalow! Here forget about going on a boat for hours before taking the plunge, more than 20 dive sites are found just at your doorstep. Is that not magical?
But this is not all, there is a large population of green sea turtle coming to nest on the island between November to February.
I could observe many big females coming ashore for laying their eggs. What an unforgettable experience to wake up early in the morning and see the turtles digging the nest, laying the eggs and returning to the ocean.
This was the first time I could get that close from a turtle (a new post will be posted soon about this).
There is also Wilson Island for those who want to experience a private luxury camping (only 12 people can be accommodated at the same time in spacious and luxuous tents).
North West Island is the largest island of the area and here you can camp in the national park. Last but not least, Lady Musgrave and Lady Eliott Island are also very pretty and famous for their turquoise lagoon. I will never get bored of diving and snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, every time is different and we never know who we are going to meet under water!
More info about this National Parc here
2. A stunning coast :
Once again, I didn’t know what to expect with the Capricorn Coast. We headed to Byfield National Park for the day and I decided to wait and see what this country had to offer.
What a great surprise! In the 4WD with Paul, the ranger in charge of the area, we started the journey crossing a forest which grows… in sand! We experienced the challenge of driving on sand tracks and please be aware that not everyone can do it! Better have a reliable 4WD vehicle and know how to handle the sand driving as well, otherwise you get bogged pretty quickly…like these 4 German backpackers met along the way…fortunately the rangers were equipped with straps and we towed them! Unfortunately…they had to turn back; they would not be able to go any further with this car anyway…!
We kept driving until reaching the stunning coast and we stopped at Stockyard Point: the best lookout to enjoy uninterrupted coastal views to the north and out over the Keppel Islands, wow! I was amazed by the Five Rocks, a little version of the 12 Apostles in Victoria!
Great point to stand, we spotted more than 8 turtles in 5 minutes coming at the surface to breath, so cool! But this was not it, Paul showed me Nine Mile Beach on my right and said this was our next stop, let’s go driving on the beach!
The playground was vast, we drove along the wonderful long beach (gold sand, deep blue ocean ) and watch for the big waves, we crossed freshwater creeks… wait a minute this reminded me of a far way more famous place…the mythical Fraser Island! But without all the crowds so even better
Emu Beach Resort
A very comfy hostel like we like it, here no big dorm and bunk beds, but nice rooms, a pool and a huge kitchen area. The friendly staff makes you feel at home...
Plus, check out their packages to get up close with crocodile, visit the Capricorn caves, or sail the Keppel islands.
From $25 per person per night
More info about this National Parc here
B. Agnes Water / 1770
A long way south of Rockhampton and Gladstone, I arrived in a nice quiet place called Agnes Water and 1770. This is the birthplace of Queensland, where Captain Cook first anchored in 1770. Easy name for this unique city named with numbers! isiting these little towns for a few days, I was surprised by the quality of the touristic excursions on offer. Here is a short selection.
Embark on the LARC! An original US Army LARC built in 1965. But what’s a LARC? It stands for Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo and this has been a wonderful complete touristic experience since 1994, year that the Mergard family started to share the beauty of Bustard Bay with visitors. In the sea, on the sandbars, climbing hills: nothing is inaccessible for the LARC! All the ingredients of a perfect tour: History of the town of 1770 (Birthplace of Queensland) , Fun with sandboarding, Natural beauty and Heritage with exclusive access to the only operating lighthouse in Queensland opened to the public (Bustard Head Lighthouse), Wildlife spotting and good tour guides! It was just LARCalicious !
More info: here
If you prefer staying just on the ground, come in & join the “bad ass bikers”! Dress up in a flamed leather jackets and helmets, put on your tattoo and choose your chopper for the ride of your life through the hills of Agnes Water! Say Hi to the roos and watch the sunset. A nice moment of freedom with your hair blowing in the wind!
More info: here
Or if you are more into watersports, then you must meet Simon & Janina from 1770 Liquid Adventures! Go on a sunset kayak tour you won't forget. The view is beautiful, the life is good, just enjoy the moment!
More 'info: here
C. Bundaberg: rum and turtles !
Keep driving South and after 2 hours, you reach Bundaberg, the capital city of rum in Australia.
Visit the Bundaberg Distilling Company, the rum of the famous polar bear and discover the secrets of its production. A good tour which finishes with a great rum tasting! Some rums are only found here.
More info: here
But the Bundaberg region is also world known for its turtle encounters. From nesting to hatclings, this is the place to be and this is only in Queensland from November to March.
A unique and very special moment I shared with you in a dedicated blog post, where I tell my story about this night spent with the rangers at Mon Repos Conservation Park.
Where to sleep the feet (almost) in the water ?
Town of 1770 Beach Shacks
Welcome to Bali ! Wow surprising, we have the feeling to have left Australia at Beach Shacks , in the town of 1770. Beautiful Balinese apartments, with hammock & barbeque on the terrace without forgetting the stunning view of the beach. Nothing is missing, enjoy your holiday in these stunning beachfront apartment :-)
...Or in the middle of a lush tropical garden?
Such a beautiful place, I love it! To spend a few nights or just to have a healthy and juicy lunch, it's definitely worth a stop at 'Elvis & Carla's paradise.
Kellys Beach Resort
Next to the beach, full contained cabins, ideal for a family stay. Only 10 minutes from Mon Repos and the turtles.
3. An authentic country to feel like a cow boy! :
In my opinion, a trip to Australia can’t be complete without a few days in the Outback!
1 hour 30 from Rockhampton, I found the perfect place to live the Aussie Outback lifestyle: Myella Farm Stay. Lost in the gum trees and where the earth is red lives a nice family. Lynn and her parents, Olive and Peter, run a genuine cattle farm. For a few days, we shared their daily life: bottle feeding two little kangaroos which lost their mums, talking to Pink Floyd the funny cockatoo, taking care of the 21 horses and taking them for a ride…without forgetting milking the cows and riding the motorbikes to watch the magnificent sunset. What an agenda! I loved it! Feeling like relaxing after all? No worries just take a nap in the hammock or go for a refreshing swim in the pool! Observe the emus and play with the roos! No need to go to the zoo
At Myella it is all about simple and true things, no fuss and bother and this is exactly what I like! Forget your concerns, put away your fancy clothes and put on a jean, shirt and boots to live at best the Outback way of life!
This country is majestic and I felt very little in these great outdoors! One thing is sure, I will remember this place for a long time to come.
So just a word of advice :
take your time to explore the Capricorn Region and you won’t be disappointed!