A Good Friday at Greatish Keppel Island

When most tourists think of Queensland they probably imagine a tropical paradise with islands, white sandy beaches, clear blue water and coral reefs. And they probably imagine themselves enjoying it all from some luxurious resort.

The beaches of the Capricorn Coast are grey-brown with coarse sand and crushed shells. You cannot snorkel off the beach and see coral. There used to be an international class resort just north of Yeppoon run by the Japanese firm Iwasaki, but that is now shuttered.

To be fair, much of the Queensland coast is similar. For example, Cairns’ beach is a crocodile infested mudflat. The real action lies off the coast on the islands.

For the Capricorn Coast that island is Great Keppel. Half an hour away by ferry, Great Keppel Island was the place to go for a local getaway.

B and I used it as an escape when we were visiting the area. Back then we stayed at the resort. It was never particularly luxurious – most rooms lacked air-conditioning and one day a possum invaded the room through an open window in search of sugar – but we still had a good time. There was an airstrip allowing visitors to fly directly from Rockhampton, bypassing the drive to the coast and ferry ride.

The resort and airstrip are closed now, though there are still places to stay. The future plans for the island are controversial.

Today’s trip to the island was just for the day, a chance to spend time with my Mum, sister, her three kids and her fiance and have some fun. I had thought of taking Alex to see the coral in a glass bottom boat as well, but the recent storms and floods have made the seas turgid.

We were riding the Freedom Adventurer catamaran out of Rosslyn Bay, sitting up the top with the excited children. Unfortunately, both B and I were wishing we were back on land. There was a lot of chop. I sincerely hope that is the bumpiest this trip gets (with the possible exception of certain dirt roads).

Behind us for part of the way were a couple of jet skiers. I immediately thought of Waterworks, after the Universal Studios Singapore show earlier in the year.

The sea was a lot less clear than on previous trip, a murky green-brown colour. No sign of any sea life below apart from floating debris.

Fortunately the waters were a bit calmer and clearer around the beach. We trudged down on to the soft powdery sand and went looking for a place to settle down.

The Keppel Island Hideaway provided some soft green lawns, but beach access was cut-off, so eventually we returned to the main beach.

We spotted still living sea cucumbers and a bristle worm wriggling on the sand. Then the kids and some of the adults splashed around in the water, which was tolerable in temperature if not particularly warm.

Back when it was just B and I we would use the water sports facilities included in our accommodation. This time there were no catamaran sailboats to hire, so we rented a couple of two person surf kayaks.

I quite enjoyed paddling away and teaching Alex how to do it himself. Much nicer to learn here than in a caravan park dam, which is where I had my first go!

We brought our own packed lunches, for the island isn’t cheap. Then it was time to return to the mainland across a much calmer sea, arriving back at a quarter to four.

After farewelling the others we drove along the coast down to the town of Emu Park. I’ve always thought Emu Park had more charm than Yeppoon, smaller, more intimate, more seasidey.

We parked the car near Kerr Park, which was buzzing with families picnicking under the Norfolk Island pines or playing on the lifeguard monitored beach. Though it was still early I bought us some fish and chips from across the way. I had imagined doing this again and it just felt perfect.

When we could finally extract Alex from the playground, where he had made some friends, we walked up along the new ANZAC Memorial path to the icon of Emu Pak, the Singing Ship. The sculpture commemorating Captain James Cook sings in the wind, accompanied this evening by chirping rainbow lorikeets swarming through the trees.

Alex insisted on exploring the rocky headlands, the worn igneous rock shattering beneath our feet. The air was thick with the smell of seaweed. I wished that I could bottle it for the memories the scent evokes of seaside holidays.

An ice cream rounded out the beach experience, then it was time to return to the car and the motel in the fading light.

Great Keppel Island may not be so great these days if you are looking for a luxury escape, but it really is a pleasant diversion and a much nicer place for a swim than many other resorts I can think of (Whitsundays, I’m looking at you). Worth a visit if you are in the area.

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