Twenty-six years ago, Simon Young packed up his young family and spent six weeks camping along a stretch of idyllic coastline near the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
- The Agnes Water Holiday Park says tourists book up to a year in advance for school holiday periods
- Simon Young rents his future retirement home near Agnes Water, with strong bookings for Christmas and New Year holidays
- Gladstone Area Promotion and Development says during peak periods, an extra 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, 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 gorgeous,” Mr. Young said of his 1996 trip.
“It was the real Queensland experience and we just loved it.
“The closest it compares to is Bermuda.
“The softness of the temperature, the air, it’s got that balmy, soft feel to it.”
Over the two decades since the Young family first visited, they have watched as the town’s popularity soared.
They decided to capitalize on the booming demand for holiday accommodation in the seaside towns, renting out their cottage, which sits amongst bushland a few minutes’ drive from Agnes Water, for tourists in 2018.
Mr Young said bookings this year had been “very good”, with Christmas and early 2023 already booked out.
Liza Thompson manages the beachfront Agnes Water Holiday Park, catering for caravanners and families.
“Every school holiday for us we are just booked, booked, booked,” she said.
“They usually book a year in advance for the school holidays, so that’s what makes it tricky to get in here.”
When full, the caravan park caters for up to 600 people.
Ms. Thompson said the park did not have any vacancies until the end of November, which was traditionally a quiet month for the accommodation provider.
“There is a lot of people that have started opening up [their] properties on your way into Agnes Water, with lovely bush settings so people can still come and experience the beauty of Agnes Water and 1770,” she said.
The towns were once considered hidden gems, unknown to most tourists.
“It’s been found, put it that way,” Ms. Thompson said.
Call for better roads, boat ramp
Gladstone Area Promotion Development’s CEO, Gus Stedman, said the region had experienced exponential growth in visitation.
Mr Stedman said there were about 3,000 residents between Agnes Water and 1770, but during peak season an extra 1,500 people could be staying in the towns.
“It puts a lot of strain on infrastructure … we don’t have an abundance of water down there, we do have a desalination plant and they’re very expensive to operate,” Mr Stedman said.
He would like to see improvements to cater to the growing demand, such as an “all-weather” road for people driving in and out of the towns and better boat ramp facilities.
Mr Stedman said while there had always been a high number of holiday homes, online booking websites 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 do a day trip and come have a swim and a bite to eat somewhere, soak up the tranquility,” he said.
‘It’s like the postcards’
Tourist Jenny Bogue walked along Agnes Water’s main beach, waves lapping at her feet.
Ms. Bogue flew thousands of kilometers from Kokomo, Indiana in the United States to visit and travel with her daughter, who lives in Hervey Bay.
“We were finally able to come since the world opened back up… 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 was planning on booking for her next trip in January before she returned to Yeppoon, to make sure she could secure accommodation.
“When we wanted to come last year sometime it was really booked out,” she said.
Mr Young said when he first visited, Agnes Water didn’t have bitumen roads or a supermarket.
“There was a pub, a grog shop and that was it more or less, and now you’ve got 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 he was dazzled by decades ago.
“I think what really separates Agnes Water, 1770 is that it’s a very chill, very happy place and people relax,” he said.
James Spicer, on the executive committee for the Discovery Coast Tourism and Commerce group, said both towns were desperate for staff in the tourism industry, with a lack of backpackers still a problem.
“There’s a massive opportunity for young kids, or anyone out there who wants to ditch the nine to five boring office and shoot up the coast here,” Mr Spicer said.
“We’re crying out for staff and we’re willing to train and you’re living in paradise.”