Great Keppel Is
Great Keppel is a series of islands 15km off the coast at Yeppoon near Rockhampton. The two largest islands, Great Keppel (1454ha) and North Keppel (627ha), are surrounded by 16 smaller islands. Keppel Bay Islands National Park includes 13 islands, but not Great Keppel Island where the resorts and camping facilities are located.
Access to the main facilities at Great Keppel Island is by ferry from Rosslyn Harbour at Yeppoon. Boat launch facilities and charters are also available from Rosslyn Bay Harbour.
Great Keppel has long been a mix of unspoiled national park, resort, and budget day trips and family camping holidays. The heyday was when it had a Club Med resort and the eastern side of the island was a party village for teenagers. Now that resort has closed and it’s a lot quieter. On the down side the services are also diminished with now only one ferry operator and few services to outlying islands..
Plans for a new $600 million development have yet to come to pass, and the community is split over whether it is even a good idea to take it as far as erecting a marina, 750 villas, 300 apartments, a 250-room beachfront hotel, golf course, retail village, casino, and new airstrip, powered by a 24,000 solar farm. It would certainly irrevocably change the currently mostly wild character of the island.
Great Keppel is also ideal for a great camping or walking holiday. If you walk away from the main ferry landing, you pretty much have the rest of the islands to yourself, as 99.99% of the tourists seem to be beach goers only. Steep hills and cliffs which plunge into the sea, sheltered bays and quiet sandy beaches are everywhere. Vegetation ranges from open grassland and heathland to tall forests.
If you want to get even further away from it all, camping is allowed on North Keppel Island, Humpy Island, Miall Island, Conical Island, Divided Island, and Pelican Island. Camping permits are required and fees apply. You need access to a private craft though, or try Keppel Connections for a water taxi. There is some nice easy snorkelling to be had at many of these camping areas.
If you are planning to dive, you will be tied to the dive facilities in Yeppoon and Rockhampton that organise dive charters. It is possible that a dive shop will reopen on Great Keppel in the future.
Apart from a hot summer period from December to February, temperatures are generally mild with maximum temperatures of 21-28°C. Most rain falls during summer but can occur at other times of the year. Cyclones are more likely between December and April.
Great Keppel has been a remarkably resilient part of the Great Barrier Reef. In many areas the coral communities have an unusually high coral cover (60 to 70 per cent). Most areas are dominated by fast growing Acropora (staghorn) species which extend into shallow waters. Plate corals are also present. Reefs within the Keppel Bay region have been affected by flooding and bleaching events at regular intervals over the last 20 years but continue to thrive. A severe flood of the nearby Fitzroy River devastated reefs in 1991, mass bleaching events occurred in 1998 and 2002. In 2006 most sites experienced at least 40 per cent bleaching mortality of corals. Further, during the latter half of 2006 an extreme low tide coincided with a heavy rainfall event killing reef flat corals in several localised bays in the region. An extreme flood during 2008 bleached and killed less than 5 per cent of corals.
Monkey Beach snorkel
Monkey Beach is 550 metre long curving south-west bordered to the south by 20 metre high and 500 metre long Monkey Point. It has 200-300 metre wide sand flats between the reef and the narrow high tide beach. The beach receives low, lapping waves at high tide and is protected by the reef at low tide. There is a coastal walking track from the the ferry landing to the site. Walk along the beach to the south and pick up the track that follows the rocks along the northern end. They wind around a steep, wooded point past Shelving Beach to the northern end of Monkey Beach. Some tourists struggle over this walkway, but it isn’t that demanding. It has a large amount of branching and plate coral in deeper areas and an abundance of fish. Fishing is not allowed in the area. The reef is sure to have at least one Hawksbill turtle. This site is a popular snorkeling area.
Shelving Beach snorkel
This small secluded beach is on the track to Monkey Beach. The steep climb and clamber over the rocks isn’t for long. It is perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Time the snorkel for mid tide or slightly lower, so you can float over the awkward seaside rocks rather than walking on them. There is coral and boulder fields with turtles, small fish and even small epaulette sharks ferreting through the crevices in the shallows.
Middle Is – Observatory
The area offers good easy diving suitable for courses or novice divers. There are good patches of plate and table coral with smaller fish and invertebrates. The Keppels are renowned for sea snakes so expect to see a few.
Now closed, there was an underwater observatory on the SW side of the island until it got too old and difficult to maintain. Various bits of wreckage and rubbish were sunk around the observatory to create more fish attracting structure. This even included a Taiwanese fishing boat in 10m, although little is now left.
courtesy Barry’s Dive, Yeppoon
Olive Point – Middle Island
A shallow dive on good coral gardens to the north of Middle Island. It offers a wide cross-section of Keppel Islands marine life and is named after the olive sea snakes which are seen on every dive. They are harmless.
courtesy Barry’s Dive, Yeppoon
Half Tide Rock
This site is an rocky outcrop a short distance off the northern coast of Great Keppel Island. It is an easy dive with a variety of soft coral, anemones and reef fish. As with this whole region, expect to see olive sea snakes.
Clam Bay snorkel
Clam Bay is a 2 kilometre long, open facing southern bay containing four beaches. The first beach is a 200 metre long pocket facing south fronted by a coral reef flat that extends 100-150 metres off the beach. The reef flat continues on past the 550 metre long main high tide beach. The beaches only receive low waves at high tide because of the reefs, while at mid to low tide the waves break across the reef. It can be windy on this exposed side.
On the SW side of Halfway Island there is a nice staghorn coral garden which is protected in suitable northerly weather and its very close to Great Keppel settlement. The site offers sea snakes, turtles, small tropical fish, parrotfish and angelfish. It is also noted for colourful invertebrates like feather stars, tube worms and nudibranchs.
A deeper dive on the south coast described as similar to Egg Rock but dominates by sea whips and black coral trees. There are lots of big pelagic fish.
An isolated feature off the SE tip of Great Keppel, this is considered one of the best dives on the island but is often an exposed site in the prevailing winter weather. The rocks have few corals but the boulder-strewn sandy bottom around the bommies houses an invertebrate garden of brilliant colour and variety. The boulders are clustered with sea fans, cup sponges, colourful tube worms, staghorn corals and black coral trees. There is also very good fish life with schooling batfish, sweetlips, angelfish and clouds of smaller tropical species. Mantas, sea snakes and reef sharks may also be seen at times. This is an exposed site suited to more experienced divers.
This site offers plate corals, tube sponges, sea whips and black coral trees. The fish life offers smaller tropical species as well as batfish and wobbegongs. Turtles will be encountered as well as lots of different species of nudibranchs.
Barren & Child Islands – Deep site
Seven miles east of Great Keppel Island are the Barren & Child Islands. Diving offers a deep site from 30m off the seaward side of Child. Here it steps down in a series of ledges dotted with brain corals. In the deeper sections there are tunnels and crevices packed with school fish, sea fans and corals. The grouper, greasy cod and coral trout are all large. The site is often visited by mantas and sea snakes. Visibility is often 15-30metres.
Barren & Child Islands – One Bum Beach
6 – 9m
This is a shallow dive on the more sheltered fringing reef. It is a very easy but pretty area. The reefs of these two islands have good tropical fish life and coral. A good beginners or photography site.
Barren & Child Islands – “The Gulch”.
In the deep channel to between the Barren and Child islands there is a site known as “The Gulch”. Its walls are lined with small colourful invertebrates, forests of sea whips and sea fans and magnificent coral formations. There are also small caves. Gropers, barracuda, trevally, stingrays, wobbegongs, cobia and surgeonfish, Spanish mackerel, tuna, trevally, black kingfish and occasionally manta ray can be seen in the area. It is also a good spot for nudibranchs. The smaller species darting around the coral structures include lionfish, surgeonfish, tangs and angelfish.
Egg Rock is in a Marine National Park “B” Zone on the eastern side of Great Keppel, which means that these islands are totally protected. The deep seaward side offers drop-offs dotted with soft and hard corals and fish. Some pelagics are up to 60 – 70 kg in weight. The site offers coral trout, estuary cod, sea snakes, and clown fish in big patches of anemones. Nearby bommies in 20m attract other species like barramundi cod, hussar’s, sweetlip, hump-headed batfish and red emperor.
5m to 18m
Outer Rock is located eight miles north east of Great Keppel Island. On the northern side is a sheltered bay for anchoring. To the east of the bay a large rock runs northwards. In the shallows there are small coral fish and hard and soft corals to see. In deeper sections larger pelagic fish are found. There are ledges and gutters full of fish and invertebrates. Maori wrasse, crayfish, olive sea snakes are seen. Green and loggerhead turtles are also occasional visitors.
Man & Wife Rocks
This site is a 20 minute boat ride from the Great Keppel ferry. The Man & Wife is located between Outer Rock and the main island. A plateau near the island is around 6 – 8m in depth. The bottom then drops off to a depth of 18m around most of the island. There is good coral growth in the shallows, mostly plate coral, with sea fans, tubeworms and other invertebrates to see. In the gutters smaller fish can be found along with turtles and wobbegong sharks. White tip reef sharks and sea snakes are also seen from time to time. It is a nice easy dive and good for photographers or beginners.
This remote site is two hours away from Putney Beach on the NE side of the island group. It offers a deep dropoff with excellent corals and giant sea fans. The boulder strewn sandy bottom is similar to Parker Point with excellent fish and invertebrate life, as well as sea whips and black coral trees.
12 – 14m
A sheltered bay on the North East point of Great Keppel offers a sheltered spot for a night, drift or easy second dive. Large bull rays, blue-spotted rays, moray eel, sea whips and sea-cucumbers can be found.
FV Linda Jane
All along the coast there are occasional accidents with trawlers. Normally these small vessels, especially easily broken up wooden vessels, wouldn’t make for much of a dive. However, here they seem to immediately attract fish from everywhere, groper, large red emperor, large red jewfish, turtles, sea snakes, eagle rays, coral trout and lion fish. The visibility is often 20 metres but it is very tide-affected. The exact location is known only to local divers. This wreck has suffered some serious damage 2006 and will not last forever.
FV Miss Shoalhaven
She went down off the Great Keppel Islands in 1988 and has decomposed extensively due to her timber construction. She is covered in a cloud of barracuda, red jewfish, eagle rays, leopard rays, bull rays and banded sea snakes. She lies only 6 miles away from the Linda Jane. The usual visibility over the site is about 20 metres.