Twenty-six years ago, Simon Young packed up his young family and spent six weeks camping along an idyllic stretch of coast near the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
- Agnes Water Holiday Park says tourists book up to a year in advance for school holiday periods
- Simon Young is renting his future retirement home near Agnes Water with strong bookings for the Christmas and New Year holidays
- Gladstone Area Promotion and Development says that at peak times an additional 1,500 people visit the small communities
Mr. Young and his wife Janette were so taken with the small towns of Agnes Water and 1770 in central Queensland that they bought a property a few years after their first visit and plan to spend their retirement there.
“We literally camped on the beach, it was so beautiful,” said Mr. Young about his trip in 1996.
“It was the real Queensland experience and we just loved it.
“The closest it can be compared to is Bermuda.
“The softness of the temperature, the air, it has that mild, soft feel about it.”
In the two decades since the Young family first visited, they have seen the towns’ popularity rise.
They decided to take advantage of the booming demand for holiday homes in the coastal towns by renting out their holiday home, set in bushland a few minutes’ drive from Agnes Water, to tourists in 2018.
Demand is increasing
Mr. Young said bookings this year had been “very good”, with Christmas and early 2023 already booked out.
Liza Thompson manages Agnes Water Holiday Park on the beach, catering for caravans and families.
“Every school holiday for us we’re just booked, booked, booked,” she said.
“They tend to book a year in advance for the school holidays, so that’s what makes it difficult to get in here.”
When the caravan is full, it can accommodate up to 600 people.
Ms Thompson said the park had no vacancies until the end of November, which was traditionally a quiet month for the accommodation provider.
“There are a lot of people who are starting to open up [their] properties going into Agnes Water, with lovely shrubbery so people can still come and experience the beauty of Agnes Water and 1770,” she said.
The cities were once considered hidden gems, unknown to most tourists.
“It has been found, it says so,” said Mrs. Thompson.
Call for better roads, boat ramp
Gladstone Area Promotion Development chief executive Gus Stedman said the region had seen exponential growth in visits.
Sir. Stedman said there were about 3,000 inhabitants between Agnes Water and 1770, but in peak season another 1,500 people could live in the towns.
“It puts a lot of pressure on the infrastructure … we don’t have an abundance of water down there, we have a desalination plant and they are very expensive to run,” Mr Stedman said.
He would like to see improvements to meet increasing demand, such as an “all-weather” road for people driving in and out of towns and better boat ramp facilities.
Sir. Stedman said that while there has always been a high number of holiday homes, online booking sites made it easier for more people to advertise their properties for short stays.
“If you want to go and can’t get somewhere to stay, just take a day trip and come and have a swim and a bite to eat somewhere, enjoy the tranquility,” he said.
‘It’s like the postcards’
Tourist Jenny Bogue walked along Agnes Water’s main beach as the waves lapped at her feet.
Mrs Bogue flew thousands of kilometers from Kokomo, Indiana in the US to visit and travel with her daughter, who lives in Hervey Bay.
“We were finally able to come since the world opened up again … it’s unreal, it’s like the postcards and pictures you see online,” she said.
Yeppoon local Rebecca Dietz was also visiting the region with her family.
She said she planned to book for her next trip in January before returning to Yeppoon to make sure she could secure accommodation.
“When we wanted to come last year sometime, it was really booked out,” she said.
The community is booming
Mr. Young said when he first visited, Agnes Water did not have bitumen roads or a supermarket.
“There was a pub, a grog shop and that was about it and now you have a school, fire station, police, good supermarkets, a few good shops and restaurants,” he said.
He said despite the development, the community had retained the same charm that dazzled him decades ago.
“I think what really sets Agnes Water, 1770 apart, is that it’s a very cool, very happy place and people relax,” he said.
James Spicer, on the executive committee of the Discovery Coast Tourism and Commerce group, said both towns were desperate for staff in the tourism industry, with a shortage of backpackers still a problem.
“There’s a huge opportunity for young kids, or anyone out there who wants to ditch the boring nine-to-five office and shoot up the coast here,” Mr Spicer said.
“We’re clamoring for staff and we’re willing to train and you’re living in paradise.”