The perils of arriving unprepared after dark in a small Australia town couldn’t have been better illustrated than my arrival in Yeppoon. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I hadn’t even intended to visit Yeppoon. The decision to go there was made for me by the fact that I’d been driving for what seemed like forever, and was desperate for somewhere to spend the night.
I hadn’t booked accommodation, but Yeppoon is a popular destination and a jumping off point for the Keppel Islands. It has its fair share of motels, hotels and B&Bs, plus it was hardly high season. The first place I tried was closed for the night, but there was a number to call. I called, there was no answer. I could see another hotel and went off to see if they had a room.
Their office was also closed. I called the number provided and someone answered. Despite the evidence of my eyes, they said they were full. I tried other places with similar results until, finally, I found a B&B willing to answer the phone and give me a room for the night. It was a little out of town, but it was now after 9pm and I no longer cared.
The next morning I woke to discover my B&B was right on the wide arc of beach that stretches for over twenty kilometres north of Yeppoon. It was a beautiful day so I set off for a walk. Other than a few dog walkers, the beach was empty and so peaceful that I lost track of time. A couple of hours later I returned to the car and set off on the next leg of the journey to Cairns.
My landlady had given me a map and told me about a route along the Capricorn Coast to Emu Park, home to something called the Singing Ship. It was in the wrong direction for Cairns, but a Singing Ship was too good to miss. The road to Emu Park is along the Coastal Scenic Highway, with sweeping vistas of the Capricorn Coast. It takes you past small harbours, sleepy communities and empty beaches.
South of Yeppoon the road climbs to a cliff top called Wreck Point. In 1848, the Selina sank off the coast here, giving the point its name. In 1849, the Selina and its cargo of cedar logs was raised by another ship but couldn’t be moved. Instead, they left a crew member, Evan Owens, at this isolated spot to keep the wreck afloat. He had enough food for six weeks and a promise of their return.
They never returned. At a time when no European settlers lived in the area, this was a potential death sentence. Abandoned to his fate, Owens survived five months before being rescued by another ship. Setting off again, I passed through the oddly named Cooee Bay and Rosslyn, stopped at Keppel Bay Marina and had stroll on Kemp Beach. Finally, I arrived in the village of Emu Park.
The famous Singing Ship is a monument to Captain Cook, who sailed past here in HMS Endeavour in 1770. It sits on top of a headland where, exposed to the ocean winds, concealed organ pipes create eerie, atmospheric music. From here you can walk down a boardwalk to the recently built and poignant World War I Anzac Memorial.
The trip set me back even more time and I now faced a 500km drive to Airlie Beach, the departure point for Whitsunday Island. I decided to break the journey at Cape Hillsborough, famous for kangaroos and wallabies that visit the beach – photos of which adorn Queensland’s tourist literature. Another diversion, but I’m a sucker for a kangaroo on a beach…