Queensland: Life's a Breeze
Author: CHRISTINE MCCABE
Photography: prue ruscoe
As the electric gates leading to the glamorous development, Sunrise at 1770, swing silently open and kangaroos bound across the road, the vista is one of unspoiled forest, slender eucalypts and spiky grass trees. There's the occasional house here and there, and a neatly paved road with handsome street signs of the sort one associates with ritzy Californian suburbs. Our house, Sea Breeze, perches above the turquoise Coral Sea. Wrapped in bush, the two co-joined timber pavilions seem barely there.
With Australia's eastern seaboard groaning under the pressure of seachangers scrabbling for beachfront property, Sunrise feels like it might be at the end of the world and a continent removed from the mock Tuscan villas and McMansions sprouting like weeds in other coastal communities.
This ecologically savvy residential enclave lies just south of
the Town of 1770, an easy 90 minutes' drive north from Bundaberg,
on the last stretch of Queensland coast to be 'discovered' by
holidaymakers and well-heeled seachangers.
This is a place of extraordinary natural beauty, deserted surf beaches tucked into bush-lapped coves, the entire area cosseted by national park and a nature reserve with whales cruising by in winter and turtles nesting over summer.
The vegetation is diverse, from mangrove-stitched estuaries to paperbark swamps and rainforest. Botanist Joseph Banks made particular note of the palms lacing the coastal forest, signifying that Cook's expedition had hit the tropics. The Endeavour made Queensland landfall in what is now 1770 (arriving in May of that year) and anchored in the broad Bustard Bay, named for a bustard (a breed of turkey) the crew shot and promptly ate - supplementing their dreary on-board provisions of beef, beer and bread. Cook was impressed both by the bird and the bay, noting there was room for "a few ships to lie in great security".
It's taken a couple of centuries, however, for coast view-obsessed settlers to cotton on to the region's potential. The sleepy Town of 1770 and nearby Agnes Water (the state's northernmost surf beach) still retain that old Queensland feel (stubbies, thongs and a loud shirt for dinner), although development has arrived and growth is gathering pace.
The 78-apartment Mantra Pavillions Mirage on 1770, developed by CKG Properties and partly owned by former Australian ironman champ Grant Kenny, opened recently at Agnes Water. On the outskirts of town, new family-friendly apartments and self-contained villas are cropping up. And a redevelopment sign has appeared in front of The Tree Bar, a retro local hangout and preferred sundowners' venue. It's easy to understand the attraction. Among other things, the 1770 headland is one of only a handful of eastern seaboard locales where one can view the spectacular sunset looking west over the sea.
Down the road is the town's small marina, the jumping-off point for the southern Great Barrier Reef, Lady Musgrave Island and the Fitzroy Reef Coral Lagoon.
On the drive from Bundaberg (with a stop at the vast and rather terrifying Sugarland supermarket to provision the beach house), and after clearing the broad cane fields, we're into cattle country with humped beasts grazing among the trees and plumes of smoke indicating back-burning in preparation for the bushfire season.
The landscape is heavily vegetated but dry nevertheless and the narrow road comfortingly lonely, with only the occasional ute, barely pushing 80, to be spied. The closer to the coast we drive, the slower life seems to become (even the cows have nodded off), so that first glimpse of the astonishingly blue Coral Sea is as exciting as a childhood memory of the start of summer.
The next big surprise is Sea Breeze. Okay, at around $2500 per
night we knew it was no fibro shack, but nothing prepares you for
how smart this house is and how effortlessly it blends with its
environment. Two east-facing pavilions, one living, the other
sleeping six, are linked by a breezeway; a lap pool juts out over
the bush and a broad deck, with spa, commands 180-degree views of
the sparkling sea.
Conceived by Dellarose Swanson-Baevski of Awaken Designs, the house reflects her passion for this glorious stretch of central Queensland coast and her commitment to ecologically sustainable beachside living.
With 14 years in the spa industry, Baevski hopes Sunrise will demonstrate how an environmentally sustainable community can work; how responsible design can still result in a "home with heart".
The light-filled house has the feel of a tropical resort: warm,
laid-back colours, dark timbers with splashes of lime green, Philippe
Starck Ghost bar stools and vivid Kartell dining
chairs. The living area steps down to the deck with comfy sofas and
a sensational kitchen with Italian benchtops and a gargantuan
Liebherr fridge (accommodating 200 bottles of wine). Kitchen
implements and tableware are seriously chichi, making for stylish
self-catering (although a chef is on call for the culinarily
We devise a kitchen roster and fill half a shelf of the enormous fridge with our Sugarland booty before tackling the requisite barbie and trying to locate a bottle opener among the many designer (and generally unidentifiable) kitchen implements. Fortunately one of our party is an interiors writer and she is sent ahead on reconnaissance at mealtimes to locate the necessary utensils.
The sleeping wing is equally glamorous with three bedrooms and media suite replete with Bose surround sound, big flatscreen telly and incredibly comfortable feather-down lounge and day bed. A small DVD library of the Breakfast at Tiffany's chick-flick variety takes care of post-prandial entertainment.
The front bedroom is the pick of the crop with bi-fold windows opening onto bush and a glass-walled bathroom enabling one to ablute while gazing through the trees (under the gimlet eye of a kurrajong tree). Fittings are state-of-the-art (and pricey) but understated and the whole effect is very Zen; a big breath out and all that city stress dissipates. Yoga mats are on standby and the breezeway area is sited to afford sunrise views for devotees.
The house is a perfect pin-up for the Robinson Crusoe-style Sunrise development attracting well-heeled, and well-known, investors from far-flung climes (such as Rip Curl founder Doug Warbrick and winemaker Brian Croser, who is building a house next to Sea Breeze). Only 2.5 per cent of the 625 hectares will be developed and a large parcel has been handed over to Bush Heritage, a national non-profit that protects private reserves. Land owners must adhere to strict building guidelines (clearing only a construction footprint - no lawns here) and deploy world-best environmental practices. Sunrise management also backs various environmental initiatives, including the preservation of rare vine forests and a turtle rookery.
Two stylish public areas (for Sunrise residents only), also designed by Baevski, are the centrepiece of the development. Below Sea Breeze on China Beach there's a swimming pool, charming change rooms and pretty picnic pavilions (all accessed via sun-weathered boardwalks) affording glorious views through cabbage palms and twisted paperbarks to rose-coloured rocks lapped by a gentle surf.
Sea Breeze is so beguiling and the view so completely mesmerising it's almost impossible to tear yourself away from the house unless it's to pop down to the beach complex with a bottle of wine and some curried egg sandwiches.
But the sightseeing near here is wondrous and worth every ounce of effort it takes to haul yourself off that too-comfortable day bed. The southern Great Barrier Reef offers world-beating snorkelling and diving as coral further north near Cairns is gradually leached of colour (not to mention overrun by tourists). Book a berth on the Fitzroy Reef Jet, a comfortable 40-seater catamaran that makes the two-hour journey to this remote coral lagoon three times weekly.
Located south of Heron and sprawling over 800 sheltered hectares, the lagoon affords some of the best snorkelling on the Reef (Lonely Planet ranks it among the top six sites) and as the eco-certified Reef Jet is the only tourist vessel licensed to visit you can be sure of having it all to yourself.
After a fast flying sea voyage, with manta rays and turtles skimming just below the water's surface, the Reef Jet slows to navigate the narrow entrance to the lagoon before dropping anchor near a waiting glass-bottomed boat. A mammoth morning tea of scones and lamingtons is laid out on deck before guests get down to the serious business of snorkelling or dozing in the sun.
The long reefs and mushroom-shaped outcrops contain an astonishing array of fish and the colours are almost psychedelic, from the humbug-striped sergeant majors to the neon-blue and grass-green gropers. Great forests of skeletal coral, shimmering opal, are laced with sunshine-yellow fish. Reef after reef, it's one long remake of Finding Nemo, replete with surfer turtles but minus gravel-voiced sharks (thank heavens).
The boat returns to 1770 cruising by the broad Bustard Bay where children fish on the beach as the sun begins to dip. Cook's town peeps from the bush and I imagine this was how Queensland must once have been.
Other worthwhile diversions include the LARCs (Landing Amphibious Reconnaissance Craft), which carry visitors towards the Bustard Head Lightstation through the Eurimbula National Park visiting beaches normally only accessible by boat.
But most regulars to this bewitching stretch of coast stick with the tried and true: swimming, surfing and fishing. Excellent bushwalks for experienced hoofers are available in the Eurimbula and Deepwater National Parks.
Twitchers are well rewarded with sightings of the rare glossy black cockatoo, trailing a dirge above the trees, or at night the endangered powerful owl (capable of devouring a possum's head in 'one great bite').
One can only imagine Banks's enchantment with this place, where the temperate south meets the tropical north. The Endeavour's stay was short with just enough time to renew water supplies. Even so, Banks managed to collect 33 plant species from just behind the beach.
For modern-day explorers, the Discovery Coast holds many pleasures, from deserted beaches and high sand dunes to paddling Pancake Creek in search of estuarine coral, having fish and chips on the as-yet undeveloped foreshore or, if you're very lucky, mixing cocktails with a swizzle stick at Sea Breeze while drinking in a view that defies any notion of fashion.
The Fine Print
Qantas operates daily flights from Sydney to Brisbane. QantasLink operates daily services from Brisbane to Bundaberg, www.qantas.com. From Bundaberg it's about a 90-minute drive north to 1770. For general travel info, visit www.townof1770-agneswater.com.
House rental is $1900 per night in low season and $2500 per night in high season (December, January and Easter). 86 Bloodwood Ave South, Sunrise at 1770, Qld, (08) 8354 2723, www.seabreeze1770.com.