FROM THE CAPRICORN COAST MIRROR
THE rains stopped, the winds disappeared and clouds evaporated just in time as the Capricorn Coast turned on one of its finest, late winter days for the first Yeppoon Chilli Festival on Sunday.
The warmth of the weather - and the main subject matter of the event - was matched by the response, with a crowd far larger than anticipated making its way to the Pacific Hotel's garden area to enjoy the festival.
Visitors travelled from Mackay for the event, which also sparked interest as far afield as Gladstone, Bundaberg and Emerald.
Suppliers of chillies and chilli products, including festival co-sponsor The Barn Fruit and Veg of Yeppoon, appeared to do a roaring trade as patrons picked up bottles of paste and sauce rated up to 15/10, the hottest you can buy.
People also picked up plenty of souvenirs including Chilli Festival key rings - featuring mascot "Chill-I-Am" - that were designed by another co-sponsor CQ inSight Website and Graphic Design, of Anzac Parade, and made by Yeppoon's QBIK Creative.
CQ inSight also designed and created the festival's official website, yeppoonchillifestival.com.
Beneficiaries of the day were Wildlife Rockhampton, which rescues, cares for and releases sick and injured wildlife throughout the Livingstone Shire and Rockhampton areas, and local student Katelynn Clark, who plans to travel to Africa in February as part of Compassion Field Experience in Uganda.
In conjunction with Anita Green's Wildlife Encounters, the Wildlife Rockhampton stall also drew crowds by featuring diamond python Etna, black-headed python Boots and tawny frogmouth Taffy, as well as a frill-necked lizard.
Of course, the centrepiece of the event was the chilli-eating competition, conducted by master of ceremonies Nathan O'Connor, of Rhino Mixed Martial Arts.
And there was no shortage of starters for the chilli-eating challenge.
The same could not be said of finishers.
Jason King emerged as winner after many gruelling rounds of chilli eating saw off even his most determined opposition.
At the time, his prizes of $100 cash, a voucher for WG's Steakhouse at the Pacific Hotel and the inaugural trophy may have seemed small reward for what his digestive system had to endure.
And, despite the looks on several competitors' faces during and after the competition, it was all fun for an appreciative crowd.
Overwhelmed by the response and the success of the day, organisers have already decided there is enough interest in chillies in Yeppoon for the event to become annual.
It may, however, be necessary to find an entirely new set of chilli-eating contestants.
And they may be well advised to start training now.