Sunday, 16 May 2010

Island life

Thanks to that Stupid Volcano zapping a week off our travel time, the Boyfriend’s first and my second experience of Australia’s east coast has been a rather hurried affair. Not wanting to miss the good spots, but being on a tight two week schedule; we were realistic about how far we were going to get before having to turn around. So knowing that the usual stop offs were too ambitious (a 4WD adventure on Fraser Island, sailing cruise around the Whitsundays and drunken debauchery / scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns), I had to rack my brains and dig up memories from my 2003 adventure for the lesser known spots further down the Queensland Coast.

I wanted to show off the side of Australia that got me hooked on my first visit in 2003. The huge expanses of nothingness bordered by some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen, the unusual wildlife which hops, laughs and slithers its way across the barren landscape – or if you’re unlucky – in front of your car. I wanted to take him to the best surf beaches, then go further north and underwater to the beginnings of the world’s biggest coral reef.

What I got was beaches packed with tourists, towns where Hugo Boss shops sat next to expensive cafes and signs to zoos fronted by the children of a deceased Aussie legend, which cost upwards of $50 per person to enter. Drivebys included Surfer's Paradise, which still looked like something out of a bad 70s film: all garish high rises which block the sun from the beach after 3pm. We stayed on the highways for hundreds of kilometers, dipping in and out of campsites, roadside rest stops and friend's houses, waiting for Australia proper to come through.

Eventually, it did.

I can't pinpoint exactly when the road became a dividing lane between yellowing fields which stretched out for miles, when regular towns and petrol stations were replaced by roadhouses and obscure localities, or when refuelling while you still had half a tank became essential if you didn't want to get stuck mid-journey.

Our destination was a place which had been one of my favourite stops in 2003. It was quiet, secluded, and for reasons utterly unfathomable to me, didn't attract the hoards of backpackers which other East coast beauty spots seem to. It was stunning back then, and all I could hope was that after 1,587km of driving and big ups on my behalf, it hadn't turned into a touristy compost heap in the meantime.

The minute we stepped off the boat onto Great Keppel Island and were met by the hostel's 4WD, I was all 'woo yeah, Jo done good'. Being two of the only guests at the holiday village, we were immediately upgraded from the bunks we'd booked into a permanent canvas tent housing a double bed with our own little wooden veranda. Then we went to the beach. The Boyfriend had never been snorkelling before, so after showing him the ropes we went underwater and found ourselves swimming over coral reef with multicoloured fish and on our last day, alongside the biggest turtle I've ever seen.

If this all sounds like a bit of a plug for the place, then yeah - it is. Because this island is deserted. We were the only people on huge stretches of beach, the only paying guests at a simple but comfortable sandy little holiday village, run by some of the friendliest hostel staff I've met so far. Not that I want hoards of people there, no no no, but I want the place to still be running the next time I come for a visit. So if you're heading to Australia's east coast, then for gods sake - get the boat over to Great Keppel. Give Geoff at the Holiday Village some moolah in exchange for a room. Chase food theiving possums off the kitchen table, laze in a hammock, shit yourself at lizards, get the free snorkel equipment and go find my turtle. Or grab your boyfriend, take him to the beach, watch the sunset, get bitten by mosquitoes and dig dams for the incoming tide to flood. Then leave a few days later and begin the long journey back to Sydney, utterly chilled out.

East Coast of Australia? Possums, kangaroos, deserted beaches, crystal clear waters and err, sunburnt skin (him)?

Almost done.


Grump said...

Stayed on Kepple a years ago after Ansett airlines had sold it. As you say beautiful beaches and the tropical fish are I think better than a lot of what you see further north.
Grump x

Anonymous said...

it look like heaven....jealous

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Grump - It's a stunning little place, and the owner was at a bit of a loss as to how to get it on the map a bit more. The main resort had shut, and the media issued news reports saying 'Great Keppel closed' so most people don't even know you can stay there any more. It's a shame.

PJB - It was prettttttty nice :)

Grump said...

Yes and in winter when I visited it is soooo good to be in warm waters. I walked across the island to a cove where I swam out maybe a quarter mile and there were some beautiful tropical fish that I watched. Magic. Back in the 1980s it was advertised all the time. I think when I went in the first time back then I almost bought a pizza shop there. Probably long gone now.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, that looks idyllic.


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