We spent an afternoon with Neil Mergard, owner of the LARC in 1770…. This is his story.
On a cool factor, from 1 to 10, what is it like to drive the LARC?
That’s a pretty obvious one isn’t it? Straight up. It has to be a 10 for sure. What else does it? Nothing – nothing else does it like we do with the Larc. There are a few other amphibious adventures but they are always tamed down a bit due to the constraints of the machine. The LARC is full tilt, going anywhere, awesome.
The splashdows – driving into the water flat out are really cool. But the coolest thing is driving up the hill to the lighthouse.
What are the comments that people make most often?
Why did you paint it PINK! It’s man’s favourite colour, it blends in with the environment. The fact is that we bought it off a guy whose theme for his car yard was pink and it was an excellent paint job! He had painted it pink to draw people into his car yard. So we bought it of him and thought why not!
To add to that – people ask if we ever get a flat tyre. Sometimes! but we have measures in place to deal with that. We do have spare tyres but you can drive into the water and just drive home via the water.
Are they fun to drive? oh gosh yes. It is a wonderful way to showcase the environment. It is such a privilege to drive the LARC. Not many people can just drive around, look at the environment and talk about it.
What do you personally like to do most?
I love to introduce people to birds. The diversity of the birds, the facts that the birds are the personality of the landscape.
Tell us about the birds called “little terns”…
The largest nesting population happens in Bustard bay. Over the last 10 years they have been in massive decline. This year we closed down 2 areas of beach they were interested in nesting in. We had support of parks and wildlife. The Burnett…. group supplied us with massive signs (I am not talking about 15cm square but 1m x 900cm so they are BIG signs. So we have managed to close the beaches and protect the habitat that they are breeding on. As they are an endangered species they are on the brink and we want to protect them. Their young who have bread at the end of the bay have now moved to this end of the bay so it is working! We have doubled the population – 100 pairs and we estimate about 200 chicks.
What do you believe people like most about the experience?
Sometimes on the tour I talk about astrophysics, where we are situated in the universe. People are raving about it and asking more questions when I stop for morning tea.
The kids especially like slashes, the adventure of being amphibious.
Largely our clientele are elderly and they love it as there are very few activities of a marine nature that older people can do without going out on the boat or walking !
We offer sand boarding, lighthouse watching, views, birds, turtles, stingrays. We even saw emus with 7 chicks on the Eurimbula piece of beach. I have gone wondering up with my iPhone filming and if anything had happened it would at least have been a good movie!
It must be very satisfying that you and the lard have contributed to the conservation of the lighthouse. How was the LARC involved over the years?
First of all, Bustard Heads lighthouse is on a remote part of the coast. No one knew nor cared about it. Vandals thrashed it. 1994 we bought our first machine (Sir Joseph Banks) and put a link from civilisation to the lighthouse! Before that, it had no hope.
We started the tour, started engaging people with the story. Stuart Buchanan (the lighthouse keeper) wrote his story and had really solid information to work with and really good credibility. He wrote the following books, the interest grew.
We then drew the government into the equation. they contributed with a heritage grant. We also got the lease out of the government and we able to restore it. The crowning moment was the opening of the lighthouse itself (2013). It cost over $10,000 and ten years. THe new parks and wildlife administration took 3 months to deliver the key so we have really been happy with the new government. (note: Queensland has had a new government since 2012). So the lighthouse tower is now open. So without the LARC we would have no lighthouse and the birds would have been under stress.
We introduce people to the camping experience. For us it is part of our run of the mill ut when we gt to the light house we have a tarp, bush toilets, the picnic setting, billy tea on the fire. So a lot of city folk and overseas guests are introduced to what it is like to go camping…. Then they jump in the amphibian and buzz off.
What do you feel has made the most contribution to the growth of Tourism in Agnes Water?
The Bitumen road. When I used to go on holiday shows to say ‘come to the town of 1770’ people used to say “no way we have heard about the road…” (50km of corrugated road, the car would fall apart)
6 – 7 years ago they have finished the bitumen road and we are now open for business!
Another element that contributed to tourism is the natural beauty of the place. as far as a destination goes you can’t create natural beauty. You either got it or you don’t it. Our natural environment is still intact and the small packets of development are pretty much it.
We have leading edge environmental influences in the sub division (such as Sunrise at 1770) makes it even more appealing.
Thanks Neil for your time!