Cast your mind back to the second place you discovered after arriving in Australia. Sydney CBD? Bondi? Jelly wrestling at the Oxford Tavern? Oh, sorry, that was just me!
Back in 1770, after first discovering Botany Bay and with the whole of this sun-drenched land to choose from, Lieutenant James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour landed on a magical stretch of sub-tropical surf coastline between Bundaberg and Gladstone – which he named 1770.
Known as the ‘Birthplace of Queensland’, 1770 is an undeveloped, picturesque seaside village and a welcome retreat from the hordes of travellers migrating along the east coast. The scenery and natural environment is worth a whole roll of film, and includes golden sandy deserted beaches, coastal rainforests, dramatic sunsets over the ocean and pure, clean air. But the biggest draw card of all is that 1770 is the closest southern access point to the Great Barrier Reef, enabling you to take full advantage of frequent, and relatively cheap day reef cruises. And that’s exactly what I did.
Setting off on a sun-bleached morning from the nearby township of Agnes Waters, located just eight kilometres south, I arrived in 1770 to take a much-anticipated cruise to Lady Musgrave Island – an idyllic 14-hectare national park paradise. Making my way to the departure point for the day cruise, I was surprised to find the tiny fishing village abuzz with trawlers setting off for a day on the ocean waves – all hoping to be the early bird that catches the worm. I acknowledged the sheer task ahead of these able seamen, whilst pulling my underpants from between my arse cheeks, and then boarded the boat for a day of R&R.
Things were going swimmingly enough until around an hour into the one-and-a-half-hour journey, when the crisp, sea air was suddenly replaced by a sickly sweet stench. The repetitive lurching of the boat had taken its toll on most of the other passengers. So it was with the smell of freshly squeezed puke still melting my nostril hairs that I caught my first sighting of ‘The Lady’. A real bittersweet moment, but nethertheless, she was a stunner.
Clambering ashore the coral cay, I took in the aqua-blue lagoon island covered in a dense pisonia forest – which looks incredible against the turquoise water – and discovered the uninhabited national park brimming with white-capped noddies (as opposed to the foul-mouthed hoodies of my home town). Coasting from tree to tree, the vocal birds took it upon themselves to welcome their new visitors in their own unique way. And in the process, the forest and the island appeared to come alive.
In less than half an hour I had pretty much explored most of the island, but even more remarkable was the fact that I had remained bird-shitless throughout my exploration. The west side of Lady Musgrave has a hidden camping ground which provides campers with their very own Survivor-style environment, complete with a bush toilet. Unlike the reality TV show, you will need to be totally self-sufficient – even bringing your own water, but if you’ve always dreamed of being a shipwrecked sailor on your own deserted island, this one’s just for you.
With my land adventure complete, it was time to slip into a pair of fins and snorkel to meet the island’s amphibious neighbours. Diving the shallow coral outcrops was a blissful experience, as its inhabitants read like a who’s who of the marine world’s gilled and famous. I even managed to find Nemo, well, his stunt double anyway (both fins were in proportion, dah!).
Coming up for air and eager to share my experience, I was met by an equally excited loggerhead turtle, who had breached only a metre away from me. We looked into each other’s eyes (yeah, we shared a moment), and I suddenly realised October is mating season. But before I had a chance to do anything with my hair, it ducked under the water and swam away rather shellfishly (sorry), leaving me feeling even more insecure.
Both green and loggerhead turtles are common during October, when females will struggle up the sand to lay their many eggs in deep sandy holes. And if you come about 10 weeks later, you may even be lucky enough to catch the baby turtles hatch. Still, I was more than happy with my chance encounter and swam back to the shore.
I had just enough time to walk around the island once more before boarding the boat and heading back to 1770. Yep, Lady Musgrave is quite a gal, and IÕm sure we’ll meet again – don’t know when. The return journey wasn’t as eventful as the first, with many of the passengers feeling the effects of a day’s fresh sea air. But not me. No, I was looking forward to discovering 1770 for the second time.
The experience: 1770 is approximately six hours’ drive from north of Brisbane. Lady Musgrave Barrier Reef Cruises depart from 1770 and Bundaberg.
That’s the spirit
The rum down on Bundaberg and Gladstone…
A sticky, dark, liquid that heats the blood and fires the spirit, made from sweet molasses comes to mind when you mention the name Bundaberg. Famous for the dark rum that’s distilled there, fruit picking, beaches and diving, Bundaberg and Gladstone have plenty to offer us travellers. Close to the Great Barrier Reef there is also the opportunity to take trips to Lady Musgrave, Lady Elliot and Heron Islands (closer to Gladstone than Bundy). Bundy, is also famed for its rock bottom priced dive courses.
Mon Repos beach (Turtle Sands) near Bundy is home to one of the two largest Loggerhead turtle rookeries in the South Pacific Ocean. Nesting turtles – flatback and leatherback turtles also plonk their eggs here – are best viewed after dark (one hour before and two hours after high tide) from mid-November to February. Baby turtle hatchlings are best viewed from January until the end of March (between 7pm and midnight).
Whales meanwhile can be seen frolicking offshore from July to October.
Making a buck in Bundaberg and Gladstone is easy pickings when the fruit and vege harvest is ripe for collection. Citrus, tomatoes, zuccines, mangoes, avocados, snow peas, squash, custard apples, capsicum, you name it, all are grown around the area. There are various hostels that accommodate and organise harvest workers. Nearby Childers also has harvest work.
And of course you might want to taste the famous local spirit while you’re here. The Bundaberg Rum Factory has been warming the hearts of sailors and outback swaggies (the original backpacker) since 1888. This explains the polar bear on the logo (signifying warmth).
Tours cost from $12. For info, visit www.bundabergrum.com.au