Queensland (Central East Coast)

Keppel Islands
Just north of the tropic of Capricorn, Great Keppel Island is the tropic of fun. Most of the island is a national park, with 28km (18 miles)of beaches, wide stretches of sand and small secluded bays. For snorkelling or diving, apart from Clam Bay Shelving beach and Monkey Point, there's nine great diving sites on Capricorn Reef alone. Nearby North West Island is the largest Coral Cay on The Great Barrier Reef covering an area of ninety-one hectares. It's also an important nesting place for green turtles during the summer months.

The eighteen Keppel Islands boast white sand so fine that it squeaks when you walk through it, and the sea is an invitingly clear blue – just right for a few days of indolence. Most of the islands are national parks and, with the exception of North and Great Keppel, are very small. Easy access, coupled with a resort and associated facilities, has made Great Keppel the most popular, but there are also reefs to snorkel and isolated camping spots on the other islands.

All access is from ROSSLYN BAY, just off the main road about 8km south of Yeppoon on the coastal route to Rockhampton, with departures from both the ferry terminal (tel 07/4933 6744), and the nearby new marina (tel 07/4933 6244). For Great Keppel, Reefcat, Spirit of Keppel and Keppel Kat run a total of four daily return services from the ferry terminal (last leaves Great Keppel at 4.30pm), plus a late service on Fridays; all charge $27 return. The marina is also the place to find transport to other islands, or cruises beyond them; Reef Chief and Euphoria are among boats running charter trips (around $75 per person return, depending on passenger numbers). The ferry terminal and marina both have exposed free parking, though for protection from salt spray, leave your car undercover at Great Keppel Island Security Car Park ($7 a day), opposite the Rosslyn Bay junction on the main road.

Great Keppel

Arriving at Great Keppel, the ferry leaves you on a spit directly in front of the budget accommodation choices. Along the beach, the modern and comfortable Great Keppel Island Resort, or rather its Wreck Bar, is the island’s after-dark social focus; by day, the resort cultivates a family atmosphere and there’s a pool for day-trippers. Aside from the YHA and Backpackers, all of the above offer substantial savings on packages or stand-by rates, which are well worth checking out in advance. For food, Keppel Haven has a restaurant and occasional barbecues, and there’s a tearoom at the Shell House on Fisherman’s Beach. There is also a late-opening pizza shack – much frequented after the bar closes.

The main beaches, Putney and Fisherman’s, are remarkably pleasant considering the number of people lounging on them at any one time, but the effort of a half-hour walk will reward you with some more secluded spots. Leakes Beach seldom hosts more than a handful of people; the quickest way there is up a steep path over the point at the rocky end of Putney. Reached on a woodland path past the resort, Long Beach attracts a few more sun-worshippers, while snorkellers make the short haul over sand dunes at the western end to shallow coral on Monkey Beach. Shell mounds on Monkey Beach were left by Woppaburra Aborigines, who were enslaved and forcibly removed to Fraser Island by early settlers.

Inland is dry, and the paths double as 4WD tracks for the island’s few vehicles. For views, take the road behind the resort up a short and steep hill to the lookout. The best walk is the hour-long return trip up Mount Wyndham, ending on a cliff with the coast below. Longer excursions to Butterfish Bay, Wreck Beach or Bald Rock Point lighthouse and back will take at least four hours.

North Keppel, Middle and Humpy Islands

The only way of getting to these islands is to contact the marina and enquire about boat charters; once you’re there, there are no provisions, and there is (unreliable) drinking water only on Humpy and North Keppel. NPWS camping permits can be picked up at the Rockhampton or Rosslyn Bay offices.

North Keppel is an undeveloped version of Great Keppel. There’s an NPWS campsite on the west side of the island, behind the dunes at Considine Bay, with a sporadic supply of tank water, showers and toilets; take precautions against sandflies, which are abundant in sheltered spots here, and note that wood fires are banned. A walking track from the group of cabins at the southern end of Considine Beach leads to the reef at Maisy Bay. Just to the south, Pumpkin Island is a privately owned area of beach, mangroves and coral with four basic but smart cabins

Middle Island is lightly wooded, with an NPWS camping area and underwater observatory complete with scenic Taiwanese junk. It’s only a short hop from Great Keppel, and you might be able to pick up a day-trip from there to the observatory. If you plan to dive at Olive Head Point, watch out for sea snakes. Humpy Island, also off Great Keppel, is popular for fishing and has the best snorkelling reef of all the islands. The hump doesn’t do much to protect it from the southeasterlies, which are the main problem with camping here; facilities are similar to those on North Keppel.

Maps

TP_CPN.jpg (974835 bytes) Rockhampton Area (Capricorn Coast) & Southern Reef Islands