MY face is encrusted with sea spray and my lips are salty and swollen in what can only be described as botox beauty. People pay big bucks for this, I think, smiling slyly to myself as we surf the waves back from Great Keppel Island, my hair all messy and full of mischief. A sneaky south-easterly, east coast Australia’s archetypal trade wind, has whipped right up the coastline, swirling all the way north to Capricorn. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride. But on this fair day out on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, if the Keppel kiss is my only problem, I reckon I’m doing OK.
I’ve launched my day at the Keppel Bay Marina feasting on a heart-starting Cowboy’s Benedict including Banana Station beef at The Waterline Restaurant. Turns out, it’s one of the best brekkies I’ve ever had. Then, it’s a wild catamaran ride out to the island and a glass-bottom boat tour of the reef. One little girl on the boat claims she can see Frozen’s Elsa lazing along the Great Barrier Reef. Her older sister loudly proclaims that “sand is boring” as we cruise to the reef drop off, through this tiramisu ocean, spotting staghorn coral and giant clams. There’s few fish today in this windy weather but it doesn’t matter. Great Keppel Island is a bold beauty.
I’d arrived in Rockhampton, and the northern point of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, the previous day, engulfed in a flurry of interviews and activities. So much up here has changed. There’s a new riverfront precinct in town, the Yeppoon Lagoon is set to open, and there’s craft breweries and uber cool cafes galore. Like a character out of an Enid Blyton novel I do something I haven’t done in 40 years…sit in the crook of a tree, where I just happen to admire some street art. There’s plenty of that here too.
Late on my first afternoon I wander Yeppoon Main Beach, in a bid to catch the dying shards of sunlight and some feet-in-the-sand spirituality. Time to catch my breath, gather my thoughts, and admire the intricate Aboriginal art-like patterns the soldier crabs have crafted in the sand. There’s a lone jogger, a couple of fishermen, sea debris, shells and driftwood. It all smells sublime.
I head south to the Town of 1770 and Agnes Water, pausing for a cheeky crab sandwich at Miriam Vale. It’s early and I’m hoping to catch a LARC tour of the region in these perky pink amphibious army vehicles. We drive through creek crossings and along remote stretches of sand, learning about the area’s history and looking for wildlife. The LARC does the impossible and climbs a steep hill to the Bustard Head Lighthouse. I fantasise about becoming a lighthouse caretaker for a month, wondering whether I could embrace the soul-searching solitude.
The next morning, I tip-toe over the carefully plonked stepping stones in the Paperbark Forest, determined not to lose my balance into the wetlands below. I pat one of the trees, drawing on its strength and energy. Later, I visit a remote beach and remember the days I would plunge into rock pools such as this and swim with the crabs. I walk the 1770 headland and try to catch a beautiful butterfly, but only end up capturing it on my phone. I feast on fish and chips at a beachfront café, daydreaming about a return visit where I will learn to surf on this tame wave on what is Queensland’s most northerly surf beach.
On my penultimate afternoon, I paddle out on a kayaking adventure which starts with my guide pointing out deep rivets in the sand. Turns out they’re holes made from stingrays in the shallows. We head out of the harbour and towards a sandbar where we pause to catch our breath. Onwards we paddle towards the ocean, in hunt of jumping eagle rays and dolphins. But not today. Never mind, we surf the waves back into shore and Butterfly Beach which is awash with oysters. If only I had a sharp knife and a glass of champagne. My guide produces a knife and some cask wine. It’s good enough for me, who has found the best dining destination in town. We glide back into the sunset.
It’s my last day and I can’t resist another peek at the beach before heading south. Cattle country eventually concedes to cane country as I head over the Burnett River bridge into Bundaberg. I was here the same time last year, watching the turtle hatchlings emerge from their shells at Mon Repos Beach, feasting on regional produce and snorkelling Lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot islands. It’s hard not to be a parochial Queenslander when the Southern Great Barrier Reef sits on your doorstep. Back in Brisbane I sip on a Billy Goat’s gin, gifted from a new brewer in Rockhampton. It could just as easily be a Bundaberg Rum or a Baffle Creek beer. The Southern Great Barrier Reef is alive and thriving, but don’t take my word for it, go and see for yourself.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Southern Great Barrier Reef Tourism http://www.southerngreatbarrierreef.com.au
•Try the award-winning Banana Station beef dishes at The Waterline Restaurant, Keppel Bay Marina – http://www.thewaterline.com.au
•Gladstone’s Lightbox Espresso and Wine Bar serves a colourful charcuterie menu along with French champagne, bespoke cocktails, premium wine and spirits and local and imported beer. http://www.lightboxgladstone.co
•Join Suzie Clarke, a former commercial cook, on one of her three Taste of Bundaberg food tours of the region. So successful are these tours, that Suzie has recently added a Drinks Tour to showcase the innovative drops, including that world-famous Bundaberg Rum, which are being produced here.
•Freedom Fast Cats to Great Keppel Island – https://freedomfastcats.com
•Keppel Connections from Great Keppel Island – http://www.keppelkonnections.com.au
•LARC! Paradise Tour – http://www.1770larctours.com.au
•Liquid Adventures kayaking tours – http://www.1770liquidadventures.com.au
•Mon Repos Turtle Encounter – https://www.bundabergregion.org/turtles/mon-repos-turtle-encounter
•Bundaberg Distillery Tour – https://www.bundabergrum.com.au/distillery?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIi5mnp6762gIV1QorCh1fegFUEAAYASAAEgKsFfD_BwE