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Capricorn Coast rides wave of success

COVID actually helped this region because Queenslanders discovered paradise in places such as Bargara, Yeppoon and Seventeen-Seventy

When Hollywood hero Chris Hemsworth rode the waves at Surf Lakes Yeppoon last year, he made Queensland’s Capricorn Coast world news. Now it’s a region experiencing an accommodation and tourism business boon with so many Aussies discovering this paradise in their own backyard.

While some say the COVID pandemic devastated the world tourism market, it actually increased visitors to places such as the Capricorn Coast and the neighbouring Wide Bay-Burnett region as border closures forced Queenslanders to holiday at home.

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The Surf Lakes site has been operating as a prototype to test and develop a unique wave-making technology since 2018. Hemsworth, Marvel Comic’s real-life Thor, carved up the best breaks in surf park innovation when he visited the site last year. After his visit, Hemsworth said: “My eight-year-old’s first ever tube – something he and I are going to remember forever.”

The wave pool research and development site will finally open to the public in 2024, almost certainly guaranteeing a whole new wave of visitors to the area.

Mary Carroll, the CEO of Capricorn Enterprise, the region’s peak tourism organisation, said it would prove a boon for an area already experiencing great visitor numbers.

Ms Carroll said: “Accommodation and tour operators on the Capricorn Coast reported a very strong Christmas and New Year holiday period with popular attractions such as Capricorn Caves, Koorana Crocodile Farm and Cooberrie Park Wildlife Sanctuary reporting very busy trade.

“Koorana Crocodile Farm had to cap their bookings at 200 and ran two tours per day.”

Ms Carroll said while most visitors to this destination were domestic (about 90 percent), both Koorana and Cooberrie Park Wildlife Sanctuary reported that self-drive international visitors from Europe, India and Asia were among their guests.

“This is an encouraging trend.

“Cooberrie Park Wildlife Sanctuary had higher visitation than previous years, reporting that their international visitation has returned to pre-COVID numbers during this time,” she said

“Great Keppel Island businesses enjoyed an exceptionally busy time over the festive holiday season with over 1000 visitors to the island every day, with Freedom Fast Cats increasing their ferry timetable to accommodate. All other cruising and tour charters and island accommodations were also booked out over this period which was fantastic.

“Whilst there were a few vacancies in the higher-end accommodation properties on the mainland, most rooms were booked out during the season.”

Adam and Sinead Stokje are the resident managers of the luxury beachfront resort Pavillions on 1770.

Adam and Sinead Stokje

The superb apartment complex is located midway between Agnes Water and Seventeen Seventy, about 90 minutes north of Bundaberg on the Discovery Coast.

“This location here is so picturesque,” Mr Stokje said: “and while it’s never overcrowded, we get very busy at holiday times because everyone in Australia is now discovering the area and what it has to offer.”

Pavillions on 1770

Paul Grant is the Noosa-based finance broker from Mike Phipps Finance, who is said to have settled more management rights and motel contracts than anyone in Australia and has recently helped to finance some motels in Bundaberg, he said the accommodation industry was “going very strong”, in both the Capricorn Coast and the Wide Bay-Burnett areas. 

“Bundaberg is kicking massive goals in the motel business at the moment. They’ve got the hospital there that drives a lot of business, and they have a population of around 100,000 people, which makes it a significant city,” he said.

“People forget how big Bundaberg and its surrounds are for a regional centre. It has its own economy there and one of the guys we’ve helped with finance is a motel owner who (in his words) says it’s just a licence to print money these days.

“The motel business is super strong there. Bargara (13km east of Bundaberg) is a beautiful coastal area that’s very desirable and it generates a great deal of holiday business, too.”

Mr Grant said a lot of the corporate travellers who come to Bundaberg for business decide to stay at Bargara because it is only a short drive from the city and it is situated in “a beautiful holiday atmosphere”.

“They can really enjoy the time when they’re not working,” Mr Grant said.  “They can go to the beach after work so that is great for the whole Bundaberg region because we’re seeing accommodation properties filling up, not just on the weekends but during the week as well with business travel.”

The Wide Bay and Capricorn Coast areas have some of the most stunning coastline in Australia. In January, Rainbow Beach, 70 km north-east of Gympie, was named by Tourism Australia as the third best beach in Australia after Stokes Bay on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, and Boomerang Beach in NSW.

“COVID actually helped tourism in the Wide Bay and Burnett region because people were forced to stay in Queensland for holidays and they began discovering places such as Bargara, Yeppoon and Seventeen-Seventy. They are doing great business for the same reason that our clients in Hervey Bay have gone really well too,” Mr Grant said.

“The challenge of course will be what happens when travel gets back to normal. Is that area going to stay on its lofty highs, or is it going to drop off? We can only wait for time to tell.”

Accommodation industry lawyer Trent Pevy, from Pevy Lawyers, agreed that Wide Bay and the Capricorn Coast had done well from the invigorated drive market over the COVID period.

He said: “We act for a lot of moteliers and management rights operators in the Bundaberg and Bargara areas in particular.

“I think those areas became much more popular through COVID because they offered the option of not having to jump on a plane.

“So many places along those coastlines offer great family holiday options.

“I think the visitor numbers may come back a little now that international travel is opening up and people have more choice for holidays, including overseas.”

However, the recent take-off of flights from affordable Airline Bonza, has made regional Queensland connections from Australian cities much easier and drastically reduced travel times.

Just last month Rockhampton Airport welcomed its first-ever commercial Bonza flight from Townsville.

Bonza touch down

About the historic flight, Mayor Tony Williams said: “We are so thrilled to finally welcome Bonza to sunny Central Queensland, and to be able to directly connect more travellers to the Rockhampton region is a massive win.

“Residents and visitors have been calling out for more flight options. We are very excited to now make it possible for people to travel on a budget to previously un-serviced routes.”

In addition to the direct Townsville to Rockhampton route (three times per week) Rocky is set to welcome direct flights from Cairns Sunshine Coast and Melbourne.

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