There was a time when Great Keppel Island
was home to one of Australia's best tropical resorts, a sun-drenched paradise featuring first-class accommodation, wining & dining and a host of water-based activities.
Part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and boasting 27-kilometres of pristine beaches, Great Keppel Island lies 15-kilometres off-shore from Yeppoon on Central Queensland's Capricorn Coast. It's the largest of 18 islands that make up the Keppel Group at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
Daytrippers to Great Keppel Island disembark from their Freedom Fast Cat on Fishermans Beach. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The island was named by Captain James Cook in April 1770 after the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Augustus Keppel. It wasn't until 1847 that the first recorded landing on the island was made by the naturalist John MacGillivray on-board HMS Rattlesnake.
Great Keppel was leased to pastoralists in the latter half of the 19th Century and stocked with sheep. But there was a fragile foothold in a hostile environment. There were numerous clashes with the resident indigenous people, the Woppaburra, a conflict that saw the last of them forcibly removed from the island in 1902.
Great Keppel was virtually vacant between 1903 and 1918 and then only populated by a few farmers and occasional fishing parties until after World War 2.
One of the joys of a visit to Great Keppel Island is getting away from it all on your own piece of pristine beach. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
In 1957, a house and a number of cabins were built on Fishermans Beach, the first rudimentary attempt at creating a holiday resort on the island. A number of owners made improvements over the years, Trans Australia Airlines built the airstrip in the mid-1960s and eventually took over full ownership in 1975, developing a resort capable of accommodating 350 guests and managed by 130 staff.
QANTAS acquired the resort with its takeover of TAA in 1992, then sold it to a local businessman in 1998. Managed by CONTIKI and later the Mercure hotel group, it was eventually sold again, this time to Tower Holdings in 2006.
Tower announced a $1.15 billion plan for a massive re-development and upgrade but nothing ever eventuated. Some of the old buildings were demolished in 2018 and the remainder, along with the leases, put up for sale. Further development has been in limbo ever since.
The derelict Middle Island Underwater Observatory is now a favourite snorkelling and dive site. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Today there are a couple of small resorts on the island, Great Keppel Island Hideaway
, Great Keppel Island Holiday Village
and Svendsen's Beach
. There's the Great Keppel Island Backpackers and a number of privately owned holiday rentals but I got the impression that the majority of visitors here were day-trippers.
Careful not to get your luggage wet if you're arriving for an extended stay. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The island is home to a number of picturesque walking trails, ranging from a relaxed beach stroll to a 15-kilometre hike to the lighthouse located on the island's northernmost tip.
Snorkelling and diving opportunities abound. Local operator Keppel Dive
will provide all the gear and expertise necessary for you to experience one of the world's premier dive sites.
The ruins of the former Great Keppel Resort provide a backdrop for jet-skiers off Fishermans Beach. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
If you prefer not to get much more than your toes wet, there are kayaks and stand-up paddle boards for hire on Fishermans Beach. Freedom Fast Cats
and Keppel Konnections
operate ferry services to and from Great Keppel Island.
Keppel Konnections run twice daily services 7-days a week with adult fares starting from $25 one way.
Freedom Fast Cats also operate 7-days a week, except Christmas Day, with a day-return ticket costing Adults $45, Children (4 to 14 years) $30, Family (2 2) $135 and infants (Under 4-years) FREE.
Visitors can hire kayaks and paddle-boards off the beach. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
There are a number of cruise options as well. I took Freedom Fast Cats Coral Lunch Cruise and enjoyed a fabulous day out. Running each Tuesday this cruise departs Yeppoon's Keppel Bay Marina at 10.30 AM and returns at about 2.30 PM. You'll enjoy morning tea, lunch, a 1-hour glass-bottomed boat coral viewing trip and free time on Fishermans Beach.
There's still some luxury accommodation available for the locals on Great Keppel Island. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
For me, this visit to Great Keppel Island was an opportunity to indulge in some of life's simplest pleasures - take off my shoes and wriggle my toes in the sand, paddle and swim in pristine tropical waters and enjoy the views across stunning beaches to the mainland, not more than a smudge on the horizon. Quality me-time in a little slice of paradise.
Getting There ….
Great Keppel Island is 15-kilometres off-shore from Yeppoon on the Capricorn Coast. Freedom Fast Cats and Keppel Konnections both operate daily return serves to the island from Keppel Bay Marina.
Fishermans Beach Great Keppel Island - a little touch of paradise. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media