It was when leaving Bundaberg that the full horror of my situation made itself clear to me. I’d spent a happy few days in southern Queensland visiting vineyards, trekking in national parks, whale watching and sampling Australia’s finest rum. In doing so, I’d used up half the available days of my road trip to Cairns. Even if I went the most direct route, I still had 1,400km of the journey to complete.
I wasn’t planning on taking the direct route. This left two options, abandon all hope, change my onward flight to Perth and return to Brisbane; or, accept that I was going to have a couple of very long days of driving. North of Bundaberg, things start to get a little remote, distances are impossibly large, the trucks seem bigger as they hurtle past, and there was more than one occasion that I wished I’d opted for option one.
The only thing that drove me onwards was my campsite booking on the spectacular Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Even that was 800km of driving and a two hour boat ride away. I told myself it would be worth it when I could feel the fine white sand between my toes, and was swimming in the aquamarine water of the Cumberland Islands. North it was, but not before I’d visited the curiously named, Town of 1770.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot if you were once an overlooked, out-of-the-way place known to almost no one as Round Hill. Everything changed for Round Hill in 1970 when, on the bicentenary of the landing here of James Cook and the crew of HMS Endeavour, the town voted to change its name to reflect this momentous piece of Australian history.
Cook’s landing at Round Hill was only the second time he’d set foot on Terra Australis, as Australia was known before his voyage of discovery. It was his first landing in what is modern-day Queensland, hence its rebranding as the ‘birthplace of Queensland’. The town is tiny, just a few houses and a marina, but the name seems to have worked to attract tourists, who flock here for the laid back atmosphere.
The area is surrounded by national parks and is a jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef. I would have stayed for a few days, but time was short and I needed to cover more ground towards Cairns. I did a lovely hike along trails with views over the ocean in the Joseph Banks Conservation Park – Banks was the botanist who sailed on the Endeavour – and strolled along the beach before heading off again.
Before arriving in Town of 1770, I’d stopped for lunch on the beach at Agnes Water, one of the region’s nicest and most accessible. On the drive between the two something uncanny happened. I drove past a kangaroo signpost, stopped and took a photo of it. 200m further on there was an actual kangaroo by the side of the road, looking like it might hop right in front of me.
Compared to Town of 1770, the sleepy hamlet of Agnes Water is a thriving metropolis. There’s some uncertainty whether the town is named after a ship, the schooner Agnes, that sank off the coast near here in 1873, or for the daughter of the first European settlers to arrive in the area, Agnes Clowes.
It’s a popular place and, thanks to the Great Barrier Reef blocking the waves north of here for the next 2,300 kilometres, Agnes Water can claim to be Queensland’s most northerly surf spot. After a long walk down the beach, which stretches for over 5 kilometres, I sat down on the sand and had lunch. Small sand dunes behind me, crashing waves in front. Perfect.