You could drive it in an hour without stopping, but exploring one of Australia’s most scenic coastal road trip routes shouldn’t be rushed.
The 60-kilometre stretch of Queensland’s Capricorn Coast hugs the shores of Keppel Bay, meandering through the towns of Emu Park, Rosslyn Bay – the jumping-off point to Southern Great Barrier Reef islands – and Yeppoon, before cruising into Byfield’s rainforest. There’s plenty to discover along the way; think cute cafes, animal sanctuaries, hidden beaches, farm gates and coral reefs.
Named for its location on the Tropic of Capricorn, this beautiful coastline route starts around 665 kilometres north of Brisbane and 45 kilometres north-east of Rockhampton. Leaving the Bruce Highway behind, head first to the seaside village of Emu Park.
The Singing Ship gleams white and bright in the Queensland sun on the headland looking out to Great Keppel Island, south of Emu Park’s main beach. As it catches the onshore sea breeze, this remarkable sculpture ‘sings’ through fluted pipes, a haunting sound that celebrates seafarers and honours British explorer Captain James Cook, who named Keppel Bay in 1770.
The Singing Ship in Emu Park.
Below the Singing Ship, a coastal boardwalk leads to the Centenary of ANZAC Memorial. Art installations commemorate Gallipoli and a gatehouse honours the region’s soldiers who served in the First World War.
Don’t miss the bathing pavilion at Main Beach, painted with beach bathing scenes from earlier times. For an extra dose of vibrant street art in Emu Park, stop off at the Emu Park post office.
Lest we forget at the Centenary of ANZAC Memorial.
Rosslyn Bay & Keppel Bay Marina
Keppel Bay Marina at Rosslyn Bay is the jumping off point for boat trips to the islands and their fringing reefs. Just 30 minutes away by boat – 13 kilometres offshore – is Great Keppel Island, the best known of the 27 islands in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Reserve. With 17 beaches, snorkelling and diving, bushwalking tracks and accommodation for all budgets, it’s easy to linger for a day or two at least.
From the marina, take the ferry with Keppel Konnections, then kick off your shoes and prepare to relax. Great Keppel Island Hideaway has cabin accommodation, a bistro and bar, and offers plenty of water sports and touring options.
There’s much to do at the Keppel Bay Marina.
Keppel Explorer offers sightseeing boat tours that island-hop in the bay, giving you the chance to snorkel with the turtles that inhabit these azure waters and colourful coral reefs. With only 12 people aboard, you’ll be whisked to secluded areas away from crowds.
Other day tours visit secluded coves and beaches on the islands, spotting turtles and dolphins. Freedom Fast Cats offers boom-netting and a glass-bottomed boat tour, and Keppel Charters will whisk you away to a private island or tailor a bespoke itinerary just for you.
Great Keppel Island is the best known island in this part of the Great Barrier Reef.
Another island well worth visiting is tiny Pumpkin Island, about 10 kilometres north of Great Keppel Island. You can stay in one of the stylish cabins or rent the whole island – maximum 30 guests – and revel in this oasis built with sustainability in mind.
The rustic Pumpkin island is as close to Robinson Crusoe as you can get in Australia.
Continuing north, Yeppoon is an increasingly sophisticated destination with smart restaurants and accommodation options, as well as a relaxed vibe that says this is a place to watch.
Street art enthusiasts will be richly rewarded in Yeppoon, where colourful murals bring walls to life. Check out the art around the Yeppoon Lagoon (look for the pink turtles) and a nearby skate park on the foreshore; while you’re there, take a dip in the infinity edge lagoon. This foreshore precinct is popular with families, offering water fountains and a children’s play zone, as well as dining areas and sunset views of the islands. Afterwards, wander along to the nearby Keppel Kraken water park.
The Yeppoon lagoon.
Continue the street art hunt at the Keppel Bay Sailing Club – grab a sunset cocktail and find sailboats, Kombi vans, a stand-up paddle-boarder and other beach scenes depicted in the blues and yellows of the coast. Other spots for street art include the Barry Street wall near the Yeppoon foreshore, Queen Street’s Town Centre car park (check out each level), and Pie Alley, where you can duck into an atmospheric laneway to catch live music and cool drinks.
Duck into Pie Alley to catch live music and cool drinks.
But there’s more to Yeppoon than just its street art, as it’s also the gateway to many producers, eateries, markets and farm gates. Follow the Taste Capricorn Coast food trail to treat yourself to an array of local delicacies.
Beach-lovers are spoiled for choice, too, and apart from Yeppoon’s Main Beach, the most popular are Lammermoor, Cooee Bay and Kemp Beaches. From Kemp Beach, take Bluff Point Circuit to Turtle Lookout for panoramic views and whale watching (July to October). For those with a 4WD, Farnborough Beach, north of Yeppoon, has 17 kilometres of sand to explore.
A cassowary at Cooberrie Park, Yeppoon.
Artists, craft workers and nature lovers have made the village of Byfield their own. On the outskirts of Byfield National Park, this charming rainforest hamlet has a cafe and numerous retreats, including the rustic Ferns Hideaway Resort, which lives up to its name.
Don’t miss the renowned Nob Creek Pottery. This working studio, run by potter Steve Bishopric and ceramic artist Sue McBurnie, is set on 10 hectares in the heart of Byfield State Forest. It’s also a wonderful place to see the rare and protected Byfield fern, a common decorative motif in the gallery.
Don’t miss Nob Creek Pottery in Byefield.
In the forest, cool water holes and freshwater creeks offer delightful picnic spots and the chance to take a dip or paddle a canoe. Stony Creek has a 4.3-kilometre rainforest circuit track, and the boardwalk at Water Park Creek is popular with day-trippers.
Experienced 4WD adventurers can explore Byfield National Park’s massive sand dunes and long stretches of beach. There’s great fishing and surfing on offer, too.
Go on a 4WD adventure when you visit Byfield National Park.
No matter where you stop along this beautiful coast road, you’ll find plenty to see and linger over. To plan your trip, go to visitcapricorn.com.au.