Written by Lizzie Macaulay
In my seven years of being a Hervey Bay resident, I have spent many happy days and nights over at Kingfisher Bay Resort. From watching the glorious sunset at the cocktail bar, to splashing with my kids in the luxurious Lake-McKenzie-inspired main pool, every memory I have of this magical place is an incredibly happy one.
So imagine my joy when the assignment I got for this month’s column was to visit one of my favourite places on earth and take a teeny peek behind the curtain, complete with my very own, very special ranger, Ranger Annie.
A woman of incredible substance, humour and insight, Ranger Annie gave the sort of warm greeting that tells you you’re in for an amazing day – the tone was set. It may have only been 6.45am, but she had already made my day (we hadn’t even left the mainland yet, but there we are…)
We spend the ferry ride over exchanging pleasantries and getting to know each other a little. Little clips of her keep popping up on the telly in the barge cabin. I nudge her and tell her she’s famous (she’s met royalty, you know).
She scoffs, smiles and gets on with the job at hand. You can see she is calculating the next steps in her mind once the barge lands, as it’s go time as soon as we disembark.
And boy do we go…
First we scurry to the office to prepare for incoming guests. I take a beat to reacquaint myself with the iconic architecture that lets you know it’s OK to relax as soon as you see it.
We have a quick chat about the day ahead then we meet Geoff, the world’s friendliest porter, who drives the iconic ‘guest train’ down the jetty for only the second time ever. It’s a bumpy ride, but that’s not Geoff’s fault. Just quietly though, I’m glad my breakfast was well and truly digested by then!
We greet the day’s guests off the barge and escort them up to the resort. I’m honoured to get a seat in the front to witness the marvel that is about to unfold…
As Ranger Annie starts up the train, she is somehow achieving the impossible ‘guest train’ equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy as she warmly greets her guests, operates the train, steers, navigates hazards and still manages to check on me as she goes. What a woman…
Once we’re safely back at reception, we prepare for a bush tucker walk, which is an absolute, unequivocal, non-negotiable must-do if you’re going to stay at the resort.
Without it, I would never have known just how many amazing edible and medicinal plants were growing just within the first hundred metres surrounding reception, let alone what else is inhabiting the world’s largest sand island – K’gari.
I see plant, plant, plant, Ranger Annie and her trusty sidekick, Ranger Emily see cure for dimensia, numbing agent and a tree whose fruit will both cause and cure explosive diahorrea… impressive… and gross… and impressive… Just in time for lunch, too.
We sit down to lunch at the newly-renovated Sand & Wood Restaurant and shoot the breeze a little more.
Annie shares a bit more about herself, her time in the army, as a tour guide here on K’gari, as a bus driver for a mining operator up in Gladstone and then her last five years (and counting) here again as the Senior Ranger for the resort.
A mother of three and a sister of seven, you can see the glint in her eye as she talks about her family – a similar glint to when she speaks about her work… so much love, devotion and patience goes into each of these facets.
She hand-selects her team of equally dedicated eco-warrior ranger juniors and instils in them the same work ethic and enthusiasm for the job that she shows in everything she does.
They are all truly interested in getting to know their guests, sharing the insights of the island’s original inhabitants, the Butchulla people, and encouraging a strong eco conservation message.
Our final adventure of the day is the eco tour with Rangers Emily and Cassie. We start in the loft of the reception, which my inquisitive toddler had discovered thanks to her love of stairs a few months earlier.
Emily discusses the two potential options for what was to become the resort complex, and I thank every deity going that they didn’t go for the ‘Miami multiplex’ pitch.
Instead, we have this thoughtful, environmentally sensitive, soulful set of buildings that is nestled into its unique environment. Crafted from wood sourced purely from the island and nearby Hervey Bay, every inch of the space feels like your home away from home. Relaxing. Inviting. Safe.
We tour around the grounds and learn about the various creatures that we may encounter, their habitats and how the resort was built around the flora and fauna, rather than in spite of it.
We see natural remedies for ant bites, street lights that don’t scare the night critters and even the home of a mini scorpion (who knew we even had those here?!).
On our way back to reception, Ranger Emily stops in her tracks and gasps the kind of gasp that can only mean one thing – danger. In this instance, it was a false alarm, thankfully. Having said that, right in the middle of that path in front of us was an injured baby tree snake in desperate need of assistance.
The eco metaphor was so strong in this moment – how humankind and nature are not always on the same side, and how it is our responsibility to tread carefully (even metaphorically, but sometimes literally).
Emily and Cassie were visibly affected by the encounter, and their compassion was infectious. As they found a comfortable place for our snake friend’s last moments, it was an opportune time to reflect on the day.
I had thought I had been reasonably familiar with this special corner of the world, but as usual, I had no idea. There were so many highlights. From the warm welcome of every member of staff to the unusual wildlife found only on the island (which Ranger Annie knew the names of every. single. time.)
My favourite part, though, had to be the dingo pawprints I found pitter pattered across the deserted beach after lunch. It filled my mind with an entire narrative of this sole, curious creature with so many stories to tell of this exceptional natural wonderland.
I never saw it, but I could feel its story as I followed the trail. I loved my day as a ranger. I am so honoured to have been a part of this incredible process even just for a day.
I would encourage anyone who hasn’t been for a while, or possibly ever at all to make the time to get over to K’gari and familiarise yourselves with the stories of the people, places, creatures and environment that make this island so special.