The Capricorn Coast

I started early, took my dog,
And visited the sea;
The mermaids in the basement
Came out to look at me.

By the Sea by Emily Dickinson

I particularly enjoy the poetry of Emily Dickinson. A mid nineteenth century American poet Dickenson was a bit of an eccentricand and hermit – a way of life we would probably have a name for today! I find her poems simply written but with strong themes. Have a look at “By the Sea”. It is a good example of her preoccupation with death.

We have not explored this part of the Central Queensland Coast much before opting to race through on our way back to the Sunshine Coast or heading north to warmer climes. The region straddles the Tropic of Capricorn after which it is named and is centred around the seaside towns of Yeppoon and Emu Park near Rockhampton. The southern Great Barrier Reef and islands run along the coast including the Keppel islands. Great Keppel offers accommodation and a near reef experience just a 22 kilometre and 30 minute ferry ride from Yepoon. The region also offers numerous tourist experiences including crocodile and wildlife farms, As with most of the Queensland coast many of the names including the Keppel Islands and the Capricorn Coast were given by Captain Cook. Mathew Flinders spent time exploring the region in 1802 on one of his trips mapping the central coast up to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The rich alluvial lands around Rockhampton attracted European farmers from the 1850s along with the usual copper and gold prospecters further inland and the region is still a major beef growing area today.

But first we went north from Airlie Beach to go south. Only 50 kms but it was worth it. We had heard of Dingo Beach and Hideaway Bay from some friends we met in Karumba. John and Pam had bought a beach house at Dingo Beach after travelling there in their caravan many years ago. It appears to have not changed much with old wooden and brick bachs, a general store and Post Office and old wooden pub set along side the beach. It reminded me a little of Waikanae Beach township from my youth – the white sands and blue water aside of course. It has now obviously been “discovered” as our walk along the beach took us to several new, grand and ostentatious houses that dotted the hill at the northern end. The contrast between these million dollar homes and the bachs on the flat told us that the wealthy second home buyers most likely from Townsville have arrived. Progress eh! You cannot stop it even though Dingo Beach as it is now seemed pretty nice to me. We stayed in the caravan park at Hideaway Bay ten minutes walk over the hill and one bay north of Dingo. This is more your Pauanui with modern beach houses built on the hill overlooking the deep blue waters of the bay. These hidden gems are quite breathtaking but surface impressions sometimes disguise less attractive traits. The summer waters are stinger waters and low tide exposes mudflats and a rocky foreshore. Nevertheless we swam in warm waters at high tide and clambered around the rocks and along the beaches under teal blue skies. The area is also a turtle breeding ground and as the seagrass is returning so are the dugongs. It is also a fishing and crabbing paradise with many of our neighbours in the campground there for the winter with their boats. We know what they were catching as well as they told the rest of the camp in loud voices over beers deep into the night. Hideaway Bay Resort is some seven kms of gravel road north along the bay and boasts cabin accommodation and a lovely little bar and restaurant on the beach. They told us they were booked out every weekend from now until February. We could see why.

An idylic night at Hideaway Bay campground

We were destined for Yeppoon or more precisely Island View Park at Kinka Beach but had a nights stop at Seaforth in the council camp and one more at the aptly named Barracrab Campground in Clearview. Seaforth is another beach township that has sprung up along this coast as retired cane farmers spend their money on beach homes then retire there. Most properties that are permanently lived in boast enormous fishing boats and are catered for by a general store, including takeaway bar, P.O. and service station. All you need when the city of MacKay is only 45 minutes away. We were a bit disturbed that our campsite was on the side of a hill but with a bit of manouvering we managed a flattish spot and with some plastic chocks under the left wheels were able to ensure everything didn’t roll out the door. The coast here is dotted with these little beachside towns of a few hundred permanents. Fishing and the quiet life is the attraction as the beaches whilst on the surface look lovely are really tidal mudflats full of nasties in the summer months. No one we spoke to came for the swimming.

Our final stop before the final drive home to the Sunshine Coast was four days in Bargara. We had a one night stop in one of our favourite free camps at Calliope River. We scored a great spot overlooking the river itself and enjoyed walk around the camp – really a big park and along the river. School holidays have just arrived and even this off the road camping area was overflowing. Then Bargara. There are close to 300 sites here, powered and unpowered – and it is full. There must be a 1,000 people here. Caravans, motorhomes, camper trailers and all manner of tents and rudimentary camping gear are all over the park. We are a 100 metres from the beach and a ten minute walk into Bargara town. The campground is grassed and set under groups of gums and paperbarks. The amenities are groaning with people and kids biking, running, yelling, squealing and generally enjoying their holiday. Not really our first choice but we like Bargara and we needed to kill a few days as we had struggled to book a camp site on the Sunshine coast for the week before we can get back into our apartment at Twin Waters.

Bargara campground – here we all are crammed in under the trees. Lovely atmosphere.

Bargara is really a seaside suburb ten kms from Bundaberg. It is part of a coastal area growing with new builds. One of the earlier beach developments Bargara’s coast road is lined with three and four story apartment blocks overlooking the rocky foreshore. There are some beachy areas, even the Bundaberg Surf Club. A major attraction is the Mon Repos Turtle Centre a twenty minute walk from the campground. Mon Repos beach is a major green turtle nesting area from November to March. The bike path system is great and it is possible to bike up 30 kms along the coastline on concrete paths often under the shade of casuarinas and paper bark forest. We did a 25 kms return ride for lunch at Burnett Heads in the midday sun.Mad Dogs and Englishmen really because I am regretting it today.

Bargara to Burnett Heads cycleway

Bargara’s population is near 7,500 but as with the Sunshine Coast the coastline has become a series of seaside villages merged into each other. Either way it has become a popular holiday area and with its cafes, restaurants, nice golf course and retirement options and is growing. A pity the village itself doesn’t seem to have kept up with some ordinary cafes and restaurants and several empty shops on the main street. It is however only four hours drive from Brisbane and with Bundaberg becoming a very popular regional city will no doubt only continue to grow. We had four hectic but lovely sunny days here before the final days drive home.

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