There’s no national park on Great Keppel Island (Woppa), at least not yet… but it feels like a national park, with more remote beaches (17 in total) and bushwalking trails (90% of the island is bushland) than many other tropical Queensland islands. The island is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Great Keppel Island is also a national treasure and was declared by the Queensland government as iconic in its Iconic Queensland Places Act (2008). Located a short 30-45min ferry ride from the coastal town of Yeppoon on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast, the island offers many sea-based activities as well as bushwalking.
But it wasn’t always like this, with Great Keppel Island having an interesting history… The island was made famous by the catchphrase of one of the most successful tourism and advertising campaigns of the 1980s: “Great Keppel Island: It’s a great place to get wrecked”. Having long been a family-friendly resort, the main island resort was struggling financially and in 1981 an advertising agency proposed a re-brand of the island to a singles-only resort.
From a “healthy, wholesome beach retreat”, it was soon transformed to an Australian version of Ibiza: “The most popular of those activities was a move known as the Keppel Sandwich, where a pile of men and women would stack their naked bodies on top of one another.”
The party lasted just under three decades: in 2008, during the global financial crisis, the main resort closed and the tourists stopped coming. Since then Tower Holdings, which has a 99 year lease over 160 hectares on which the resort is located, wasn’t able to secure approval for a sigificant re-development of the site. It demolished part of the decaying resort in 2018, and tried to sell the property. Three prospective buyers looked at it, before walking away: a Singaporean-Taiwanese investor, Sunshine Coast-based developers Altum Property Group and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting.
The island is now a relatively tranquil getaway, with eleven permanent residents and about 50,000 day-visitors per year.
Bushwalking on Great Keppel Island
There are about 26 kilometres of bushwalking trails on Great Keppel Island, which access a handful of lookouts and many of the island’s 17 beaches.
|The Lookout Trail||2.6km||Easy||Ridgetop lookout with (average) views to the west||Map|
|Monkey Beach||3.9km||Easy/Moderate||Crosses a headland to reach sheltered beach||Map|
|Leekes Beach Circuit||5.0km||Easy/Moderate||Passes two beaches before returning via The Lookout||Map|
|Mount Wyndham Loop||8.5km||Moderate||Partial loop to highest point on the island||Map|
|Leekes Beach & Mt Wyndham||10.0km||Moderate||Views and beaches on a loop around western half of island||Map|
|Clam Beach||10.8km||Easy/Moderate||Long but fairly level walk to remote beach||Map|
|The Lighthouse||15.4km||Easy/Moderate||Out-and-back wall the length of island to Lighthouse||Map|
|Mount Wyndham & Lighthouse Loop||20.4km||Moderate||Explores most of the island; some great views||Map|
A relatively popular Great Keppel Island bushwalk (for those who venture away from the beach), a paved trail leads up to The Lookout (or 1st Lookout). The mostly paved trail is fairly steep as it heads up the side of the ridge. There’s a small shelter at the lookout and some nice (but not spectacular) views to the east over Leekes Beach and Leek Creek Lagoon.
Distance: 2.6km return
Monkey Beach (and Shelving Beach) Walk
The easiest way to reach Monkey Beach is from the end of Fisherman’s Beach, where a track climbs steeply over the headland before descending to the beach. The quiet beach is great for snorkelling. A side-track leads to the smaller (and I think nicer) Shelving Beach.
Distance: 3.9km return (add 0.3km for Shelving Beach)
Leekes Beach Circuit
One of the largest and most beautiful beaches on Great Keppel Island, you can reach Leekes Beach via the coast from the end of Putney Beach. Return the same way, or via The Lookout to create a loop. The loop option is one of the best short walks, providing some nice views and stopping at two picturesque beaches.
Distance: 5km loop or 2.2km return via the coastal route
The highest point on Great Keppel Island, Mount Wyndham is all of 178m in height. There are some great views to the north and south from the peack – a lot better than you get from The Lookout (which you’ll pass on the way). You can return the same way, or continue down the other side of the mountain to form a longer loop.
Distance: 6.4km return or 8.5km loop
You can swim year-round at all the beaches on Great Keppel Island without a stinger suits; the sub-tropical waters tend to be free of jellyfish and irukandji even in summer (although a few cases of irukandji stings have been reported). There are 17 beaches you can chooose from; most people swim on Fishermans Beach, which is the main beach where the ferry drops you off. A few more beaches are a short bushwalk away – Putney Beach, Shelving Beach, Leekes Beach and Monkey Beach. Or Keppel Dive has a reasonably priced beach drop-off service that can take you to (and back from) just about any beach of your choice.
Watersports (snorkelling, SCUBA diving and more)
You can rent snorkelling and SCUBA gear from Keppel Dive, or do a snorkelling and SCUBA diving tour, from introductory dives to advanced courses. They are located on Fishermans Beach on Great Keppel Island also rent kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboard (SUPs).
Alternatively, you can book a day trip which can include snorkelling and/or a glass bottom boat tour.
- Freedom Fast Cats Cruises include snorkelling, a glass bottom boat or a Combo cruise with both options
- Sail Capricornia (also trading as Funtastic Cruises) has day cruises (snorkelling gear included) as well as sunset cruises
- Keppel Explorer Great Keppel Island Tours circumnavigates the island, with multiple snorkelling locations.
It’s highly recommended you book all the tours in advance, especially in the peak holiday periods – the Sail Capricornia and Keppel Explorer only have 12 spots each day. You’ll have a much better chance of getting a last-minute spot on the Freedom Fast Cats cruises.
When to visit Great Keppel Island
The best time of year to visit Great Keppel Island is considered to be from May to August, with July having the highest visitation. Temperatures in winter range from an average low of 12° to a high of 21° and rainfall is lowest, with only 3-4 days per month of precipitation.
Being one of the southern-most islands along the Great Barrier Reef, Great Keppel and the Capricorn Coast area are generally a little cooler than many other places in Queensland during the summer months. It’s the least-busy period it can still be a good time to visit, and easier to find accommodation on the island. The average maximum temperatures from December to February are around 29°C. It’s still possible to swim or snorkel in summer without a stinger suit, especially in December/January. Rainfall is higher (7-9 days per month), but Great Keppel generally gets less rainfall and rainy days than the mainland.
Getting to Great Keppel Island
Unless you own your own boat (or rent one), a couple of ferry services take you from Rosslyn Bay Harbour, near Yeppoon, out to Great Keppel Island. The ferries land at the northern end of Fishermans Beach – there’s no no jetty, with passengers disembarking directly onto the beach via a long ramp. Both Freedom Fast Cats and Keppel Konnections have 3-4 daily services which can be booked online (advance booking recommended). The Keppel Bay Marina at Rosslyn Bay is 10km (15min) from the town of Yeppoon, and 50km (45min) from Rockhampton airport.
Accommodation on Great Keppel Island
Staying on Great Keppel Island gives you a very different experience once the day-trippers have left, and you have the beaches (almost) to yourself. Most of the accommodation is fairly basic, and there’s limited options for dining on the island so think bout bringing your own food (and drinks).
- Great Keppel Island Hideaway – a range of budget accommodations, including beachfront and garden cabins, and 12 motel style, ensuite rooms. Some – but not all – of the accommodation has air-conditioning. Treat Keppel Island Hideaway also has a bar and bistro (open for breakfast, lunch & dinner) and you can purhase a meals package.
- Great Keppel Island Holiday Village – cabins, glamping tents, twin rooms and backpacker dorms. All the accommodation options are in a garden setting (not beachfront) and self-catering – or you can walk to the Great Keppel Island Hideaway Bar & Bistro.
- Great Keppel Island Beach House – a 3-bedroom house (sleeps up to 8), which is a short stroll to Fishermans Beach. BYO Food or walk to Great Keppel Island Hideaway Bar & Bistro.
- Keppel Lodge – fully self-contained, eco-friendly beach house, with four bedrooms (sleeps up to 17 people), on Fishermans Beach.
- Svendsen’s Beach – studio (2-3 adults) and two luxury tents (twin and double), located at the northern end of Great Keppel Island on Svendsen’s Beach. Access is by boat from Fishermans Beach, and youll need to be completely self-sufficient for your stay.
More information and Useful Links
- Parks Queensland – Keppel Bay Islands Map [PDF]
- Freedom Fast Cats – Island Transfers and Cruises
- Keppel Konnections – Timetable and Bookings
- Sail Capricornia – day cruises and sunset cruises
- Keppel Explorer – Great Keppel Island Tours
- Keppel Dive and Snorkel – snorkelling, SCUBA diving, kayak and SUP hire (located on the island)
- News Ltd – Paradise lost: Why luxury Queensland resorts lie abandoned
- Vice.com – This Australian Island Used to Be a Kind of 1980s Ibiza