If you’re familiar with the town of Yeppoon on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast and haven’t visited for a while, you may be bowled over by what greets you today.
After taking a battering in Cyclone Marcia in 2015, Yeppoon’s foreshore has been entirely revamped with parks, picnic areas, a fantastic water playground for kids and a state-of-the-art pool with an infinity edge.
Tracking the waterfront on Anzac Parade are modern apartment blocks footed by a long row of shops, cafes and restaurants.
Yeppoon is a gateway to the Southern Great Barrier Reef and the paradisiacal Keppel Islands, while strewn across the local landscape are volcanic landforms going back some 70 million years.
1. Great Keppel Island
One of the great island getaways of the Southern Great Barrier Reef lies tantalisingly close to Yeppoon.
This is the largest of the 18 islands in the Keppel group and fits with most people’s idea of a tropical paradise.
With rugged, forest cloaked terrain that rises suddenly from the coast, Great Keppel Island covers a little more than 1,300 hectares.
Yet somehow there’s room for 17 of the most alluring white sandy beaches you could hope to set eyes on.
These are bathed by transparent waters made for swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and scuba diving.
You can traverse the island via a tangle of walking tracks, ushering you through tropical forest inhabited by brilliant rainbow lorikeets, kookaburras, possums and blue-tongue lizards.
The ferry from Yeppoon takes no more than 30 minutes and drops you right on the perfect white sands of Fisherman Beach.
2. Yeppoon Foreshore
To coincide with Yeppoon’s 150th anniversary, the foreshore has recently come through a complete revitalisation following almost $30m of investment.
This was partly a response to the damage left by Cyclone Marcia in 2015, and now the town is linked to the water by parkland with verdant and accessible landscaping, constant views of Keppel Bay, playgrounds, a skate park, boardwalks, promenades and eateries.
The mainstay is the Yeppoon Lagoon, which we’ll talk about below, and there’s a new amphitheatre over the beach for outdoor performances.
You could get up first thing to see the sun riding behind the islands and spend a whole day, never needing to stray far from this green haven.
3. Yeppoon Lagoon
Not many towns can claim to have a public outdoor pool with a swim-up infinity edge.
And even better than that, this pool has unbroken views across the Keppel Islands.
Opened in 2018, the Yeppoon Lagoon is the standout attraction of the foreshore precinct, catering to all comers.
There’s a safe shallow area for children, a space for people who want to swim laps, while you can retreat to the shade of Pandanus palms for picnics.
The curving design of the pool was inspired by the pattern of sand drifts on shallow beaches, looking like something you’d find in a high-end resort.
4. Keppel Kraken
Something else that looks like it should be at an exclusive resort is the water playground tracing the shore along Anzac Parade.
The zero-depth Keppel Kraken has a load of interactive elements like jets, water cannons, fountains and the only umbrella bucket to be found in Queensland.
All these features are colourfully painted in indigenous styles and centre on a tentacle belonging to mythical sea creature emerging from the ground.
Surrounding the Keppel Kraken are timber decks and custom-designed picnic benches beneath swaying palms.
5. Cooberrie Wildlife Sanctuary
For a fun and educational family outing this nearby animal attraction offers all sorts of hands-on wildlife experiences.
Relying entirely on donations, Cooberrie Wildlife Sanctuary looks after sick, injured and orphaned species, and has many residents that can’t be safely returned to the wild.
Here you’ll be able to hand-feed kangaroos and emus, cuddle a koala, have a macaw perch on your hand and interact with mischievous monkeys.
For braver visitors there are snakes, baby crocodiles and lizards to hold.
A lot of these experiences take place during the daily animal show at 13:00, and for an extra fee there are special VIP encounter packages and a junior zoo keeper program.
The sanctuary also has an on-site swimming pool, paddling and barbecue facilities, included in the entry fee.
6. Capricorn Coast National Park
This protected space is found at five distinct sections, all within a half-hour drive of Yeppoon.
There’s a startling contrast of habitats at Capricorn Coast National Park, comprising steep volcanic outcrops, beaches, mangroves, eucalypt forest, tussock grassland and dry rainforest.
There’s a majestic trachyte plug at the Bluff Point day use area, which we’ll cover in more detail in the next entry.
Closer to Yeppoon are the twin outcrops of Double Head, which can be explored on a sealed walking track.
The Fan Rock Lookout here gives an up close look at a basalt cliff with radiating geometric patterns, all framed by the Keppel Islands.
7. Bluff Point Walking Track
A treasured part of the Capricorn Coast National Park is the Bluff Point section, where the rugged headland grants awesome panoramas of the Keppel Islands, the coastline and Yeppoon’s hinterland.
Bluff Point happens to be the largest trachyte plug on the Capricorn Coast, and is covered with a wide variety of vegetation from eucalypt forest to heathland.
The Bluff Point Walking Track, zigzags around the summit and deposits you at wonderful lookouts with picnic tables and barbecues.
The most memorable of these has to be the lofty Turtle Lookout where you can survey the Keppel Group but also catch sight of sea turtles at the foot of the cliffs.
8. Wreck Point Scenic Lookout
Five minutes away at Cooee Bay there’s a great vantage point atop a headland.
This is Wreck Point, commanding a perfect panorama of Keppel Bay and the Capricorn Coast.
The name, Wreck Point, comes from a maritime mystery.
At this very place in 1848 the transport schooner, Selina, was found waterlogged and without a crew or mast.
Fifteen months before, the vessel had set sail from the Pine River, bound for Sydney, but was not seen again until it washed up at this spot.
The fate of the crew is unknown, but the conclusion of one expert in the 1950s was that Selina had capsized in a storm, and then righted itself before being pulled by currents east towards New Zealand and then back to the Capricorn Coast over the course of several months.
There’s a scenic trail at Wreck Point, as well an interpretive panel telling Selina’s story and the haunting sculpture of a shipwreck.
9. Yeppoon Main Beach
With so much to see and do on the foreshore it’s easy to overlook the beach itself, especially at high tide when the sea covers the sand entirely.
At other times, especially at dawn, it’s a scenic spot for a walk and to gaze out at the islands in Keppel Bay.
The sand is firm and perfect for walking on, and dogs can come along provided they’re on a leash.
Bearing in mind that daily winter highs still peak well above 20°, you may have the beach to yourself if you come between May and August.
The Yeppoon Surf Lifesaving Club is towards the north end and patrols the beach on weekends and during public holidays.
10. Freedom Fast Cat Cruises
The port of departure for the Keppel Islands is Keppel Bay Marina in the shadow of Double Head at Rosslyn Bay.
There you can set off on a cruise, sailing trip, fishing charter or simply catch a ferry to Great Keppel Island.
The main ferry operator is Freedom Fast Cat Cruises, which has a service departing in the morning and then returning from Great Keppel Island in the afternoon, as well as an earlier “early bird” transfer.
And if you’d like to make your Keppel Island experience as convenient as possible the company arranges a timetable of cruises.
A wide choice is available, including an eye-opening glass-bottom boat tour, a snorkel tour and an “adventure tour”, which involves boom netting.
11. Shell World
This endearing museum in Merv Anderson Park presents more than 20,000 shells belonging to molluscs from the sea, land, as well as fossils.
Shell World is surprisingly informative, meticulously labelling all of its specimens.
The collection has been gathered from all over the world, but also gives a hint of the amazing natural diversity that lies offshore at the Great Barrier Reef.
There are also coral samples, as well as more playful examples of arts and crafts using shells.
If you’re building your own shell collection there are shells for sale here, alongside pieces of shell craft.
12. Capricorn Caves
Head inland and within half an hour you’ll be at a limestone cave system that was opened to the public as long ago as 1884. This makes Capricorn Caves one of Queensland’s oldest visitor attractions.
The main tour, departing on the hour from 09:00 to 16:00, takes you on a kilometre long walk through the caves to view their surprising dimensions, bizarre concretions, the roots of fig trees and perhaps the insectivorous bats that inhabit the system.
The highlight has to the nave-like Cathedral Cave, which has been installed with pews and has superlative acoustics.
For intrepid sprits, the Capricorn Explorer and more advanced Capricorn Adventurer tours take you to chambers off the main tour for a caving odyssey in the dark.
13. Emu Park
The cute seaside village of Emu Park, is a brief drive south of Yeppoon and developed at the turn of the century as an upmarket resort.
At that time Emu Park was linked to both Yeppoon and Rockhampton by railway.
Now you can come to wander the foreshore, made up of a series of parks dotted with picnic areas and playgrounds for children (Kerr Park has the best one). The main beach to the south has a slender curve of white sand, lined with palms and lapped by knee-high waves.
The waterfront has been revamped lately with the Centenary of ANZAC Memorial, made up of a sandstone cenotaph and plinths, a boardwalk, viewing platform and silhouettes of Australian soldiers.
You’ll also never be more than a few strides from the town’s cafes, bars and fish & chip shops.
14. Singing Ship
Set above the Centenary of ANZAC Memorial Boardwalk is Emu Park’s signature monument, paying tribute to Captain James Cook.
In 1770 on his first voyage of discovery, aboard HMS Endeavour, Cook became the first European to chart Keppel Bay.
The work of public art couldn’t have a better location perched on a scenic rise above the cobalt blue sea, with the outline of Great Keppel Island on the eastern horizon.
The monument evokes HMS Endeavour with a sail, mast and rigging, and its name comes from the integrated tubes producing notes in the breeze.
Try to visit on a windy day when the Singing Ship is in full voice.
15. Baga National Park
Ten minutes into Yeppoon’s hinterland the plain is interrupted by a steep trachyte plug, another vestige of an extinct volcano.
Mount Baga’s peak is 221 metres above sea level has a treacherous surface of loose shale under a layer of dry rainforest on the lower slopes and hoop pines further up.
This landform has long held significance for the Aboriginal Darumbal people, as part of their dreamtime stories.
Now, although hiking to the top isn’t recommended, many people do just that.
If you’re planning an ascent you’ll need to be an experienced hiker, in good shape with a good pair of shoes.
Your efforts will be rewarded with an exceptional view over the coastal plain, littered with similar trachyte formations.