Queensland: Twin towns

By Pamela Wade

The oddly named Town of 1770 also specialises in quirky transport, finds Pamela Wade.

Once US Army vehicles, LARCs now tour 1770's unspoiled beaches and bay. Photo / 1770 Environmental Tours
Once US Army vehicles, LARCs now tour 1770's unspoiled beaches and bay. Photo / 1770 Environmental Tours

Of course a military vehicle isn't going to blunder straight through an army of foot soldiers - even when they each have six feet.

Our expedition in the incongruously bright pink LARC (Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo) along the shores of Bustard Bay is reduced to a snail's - actually crab's - pace as Neil eases through a huge swarm of soldier crabs scuttling around the stingray wallow-hollows in the low-tide sand.

We've come to the quaintly named Town of 1770 to try out a couple of novel forms of transport, and to explore a beautiful corner of central Queensland that's been a well-kept secret for years. Located on a peninsula halfway between Bundaberg and Rockhampton, a special feature of 1770 is that, although it's on the east coast, the sun sets over the sea.

That's only one of the attractions of the LARC tour, which starts by driving down the boat ramp and splashing into the water. A sturdy metal boat on even more rugged wheels, the Sir Joseph Banks is named after the botanist who came here with Cook in - you guessed it - 1770, when they made their first landfall in Queensland in this very bay.

"He put ashore in a pinnace and they shot a bustard for food," Neil informs us, taking great care in enunciating the key words.

It's just one snippet of information from a generous hour of cheerful chatter as we trundle along the beach, both in and out of the water. "Don't worry," Neil sings out as we head into the waves. "If we capsize, this thing will just keep going round till it's the right way up again."

This is curiously unreassuring, but fortunately it's also entirely academic, as the LARC's propeller takes over and we plough uneventfully through the water.

Neil also takes day trips to Bustard Head Lighthouse at the far end of the bay, but our outing is more of a taster - of the unspoilt beach, the bordering Eurimbula National Park where curious kangaroos watch from the trees, and the bay itself, where dolphins sometimes come to join the fun.

Our treat this evening is a glorious double rainbow over the point as a squall sweeps past it, the dark grey cloud dramatic in the low sunlight. Neil, for all his manly enjoyment of the LARC's macho qualities, is ecstatic about the rainbow's beauty, and we stop for photos.

The tyre marks on the sand are remarkably faint for such a big vehicle, and Neil boasts about its eco-credentials: despite being an original US Army vehicle built in 1965, the LARC is environmentally friendly in all respects - apart, perhaps, from that shocking pink paint-job.

The sun disappears in a subtle display of sepia and gold, and Neil turns philosophical, quoting an impressive list of statistics about the universe and our small place in it, finishing with a heartfelt, "We're lucky to be here!"

This is a man who's happy in his work. Then, to put the icing on his cake, he indulges in a couple of steep downhill splashes into the water before we chug sedately back to base in the dark.

We join other sunset-viewers at The Tree on the point, a rather classy but friendly bar and bistro, sitting on the deck to watch the blinking of lights in the bay and the lighthouse beyond. Dinner's so good that we're back again the next night after exploring 1770's twin village.

Agnes Water is a dinky little place tucked behind an excellent surfing beach where in the morning a cliched surfer with bleached dreads and a leathery tan takes a class through its paces on the sand.

"Paddle, paddle, push up, jump, stand!" I watch until my muscles ache in sympathy and I head up the beach to where kite-surfers offer less tiring entertainment.

At Scooteroo later, the action is all hands-on. Rod is in charge, looking like another cliche in his tight black jeans, red bandanna, drooping moustache and ponytail, but he's the real deal, efficiently sorting everyone out until we're all astride our mini-choppers.

These are 50cc wannabe Hogs, right down to the ape-hanger handlebars and petrol tanks painted with flames or the Stars and Stripes. It's Easy Rider, literally: key ignition, automatic gears and low point of gravity. "Compared with a bicycle, riding one of these choppers is a breeze," Rod tells us, and we modestly rev the bikes in reply.

We're all kitted out with helmets - more painted flames - and leather jackets, and some of the girls have plumped for the pull-on tattoos. We do a test circuit in the driveway before rumbling out on to the road where Rod and his outriders escort us.

It's a blast. There's nothing technical to worry about, just following the bike in front and enjoying the scenery in the late-afternoon sunshine. We grind up a hill, the 30-plus of us such a sight that kangaroos stand by the road to watch.

The 50cc engines sort us out like a set of bathroom scales and the skinny riders reach the top first; but when we turn to roar back again, greater mass comes into its own and we swoop down the hill at a heady 80km/h, vibrating like a tuning fork and hoping no roos choose that moment to cross. One does, but the dramatic swerve it causes just adds to the thrill.

We stop for photos, and Rod shows us how to make the scooters look like the real thing by sprawling on the road and pointing the camera upwards: "This is how to frighten your mothers, girls!" he says. Then it's away along the back roads to 1770, where we perch on the rocks with boxes of hot wedges from The Tree as the sun sets over Bustard Bay.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: Drive six hours north from Brisbane. You can rent a car from Avis.

Where to stay: Mantra Pavillions Mirage on 1770 is conveniently placed between 1770 and Agnes Water.

What to do: Go out in the LARC; release your inner biker: with Scooteroo.

Learn three sorts of surfing, go kayaking or take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.

Further information: See queenslandholidays.com.au.

Pamela Wade visited 1770 on a Reef to Outback tour courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

- NZ Herald

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