Our trip to the Keppel Islands was almost an afterthought. At the end of our Daintree paddle (NSW Sea Kayaker 69), breaking the long drive home from Cooktown with some more kayaking seemed like a good idea and the Keppel Islands would be new territory for us all.
The islands lie to the east of Rockhampton in a shallow bay that has a reputation for being hell for those prone to seasickness. The advice we gleaned from those who had been there was not encouraging — the prevailing winds generate a short nasty chop that makes for miserable paddling; these winds stir up sediments that turn the water a murky grey; the islands are dry, barren and uninteresting; the campsites are unpleasant and infested with sand flies; and so on…
The reality was somewhat different and we spent six lazy days mooching about the bay in perfect weather — light winds, cloudless skies, warm days and cool nights.
Day 1: Yeppoon — Emu Park (~19 km)
We leave our tents and most of our gear at Emu Park and drive to Yeppoon, where we have arranged to leave our cars. Most days the paddle back to Emu Park would be a headwind slog but today it’s easy tailwind paddling, past the Rosslyn Bay Marina and around Double Head. The cliffs are spectacular extruded tubes of rock with tempting gauntlets and sea caves at their base. Swims at Bluff Bay and Tanby Beach and some point-to-point sailing make this a close to perfect day.
Day 2: Emu Park — Pelican Island — Humpy Island (~16 km)
Gentle wind in our faces as we set off on the crossing to Pelican Island. Landing is at the island’s western end, on a high tide wisp of sand. We had thought of using the island as the base for a side trip south to Wedge Island and Divided Island but the small campsite (two tents would be a squeeze) is exposed and shade is sparse. We decide against the side trip and instead cross to a spit on the northwest tip of Humpy Island. Attractive beaches run west and north from the spit, both backed by casuarina groves that rustle appealingly in the slight breeze. We set up camp behind the northern beach, leaving the western beach to the extended family group with whom we are sharing the campsite. With showers, toilets and a rainwater tank, the campsite offers a level of comfort that exceeds our expectations. A walking track nearby leads up steep grassy slopes to rocky headlands that offer stunning views in all directions.
Day 3: Humpy Island — Great Keppel Island — Middle Island (~18 km)
We agree that one of the Olive Point campsites on Middle Island should be our destination today but can’t agree on how to get there. Some are tempted by a fast 35 km paddle via The Child, Barren Island and Man and Wife Rocks. Others prefer a slow 10 km paddle via the western side of Great Keppel Island. Our compromise is a paddle along the eastern side of Great Keppel and everyone is happy. The coastline is delightfully varied with ochre, black and dun cliffs separating white beaches backed by mangrove lined creeks. Unfortunately the mud crabs aren’t biting. Overnight, the brief coral spawning season has begun and there are large ‘slicks’ of red spawn to paddle through. Landing on beaches that face the wind is through a thick sludge of the stuff. We check out both campsites on the eastern side of Middle Island and agree that the northern one is the more attractive. No facilities but we have the place to ourselves and soothing views across to other islands. Good snorkelling off Olive Point.
Day 4: Middle Island — Miall Island — Pumpkin Island (~13 km)
Up early for the sunrise and then off. Head south at first, past the underwater observatory, and then turn north to run along the western side of Middle Island. The campsite here looks attractive from the water and well sited for those whose preference is for setting suns. Take a break at Miall Island campsite (long grass with generous seed heads that attach themselves to everything) and then on to Pumpkin Island. The island is privately owned with camp sites (showers, toilets and fresh water) and cottages available for rent. A footpad running along the ridge of the island gives 360 degree views over where we’ve been and where we’re going. We decide to stay for two nights.
Day 5: Pumpkin Island — Conical Rocks — North Keppel Island — Pumpkin Island (~18 km)
Once again, the conditions are perfect — I suppose this could get boring but it hasn’t yet. We head east to have a look at the seaward side of North Keppel Island and unexpectedly come across a couple of humpback whales with tails slapping and pectoral fins waving. We drift to within a couple of hundred metres and sit transfixed for the best part of an hour before breaking off to explore the sea cliffs and caves to our north. From here, it’s a short hop around Corroboree Island to a small beach at the southeast end of Conical Rocks. The campsite at Conical Rocks is a gem, although it would probably be a bit uncomfortable with a south-easterly blowing. We spend the rest of the morning swimming and watching passing traffic that includes a pod of dolphins and a couple of turtles. The only decision we need to make is whether to lunch here or push on to North Keppel Island. We decide on the latter and sail across to the campsite at Considine Bay. This turns out to be pretty unappealing — dry, dusty, no shade, lots of sandflies and the water tanks empty. It’s a quick lunch and then back to Pumpkin as the wind picks up to a bit over 15 knots — the first and only ‘blow’ of our trip.
Day 6: Pumpkin Island — Yeppoon (~16 km)
The winds ease off by dawn, giving us perfect conditions for the crossing to Yeppoon. Glassy seas to the west of Pumpkin allow good views of the fringing coral reefs and take our minds off the fact that all we can see between us and Yeppoon is sea fog. We paddle by compass for the first hour or so, by which time the fog has lifted sufficiently for us to take a bearing to a mainland landmark and make minor adjustments to our course. Another hour’s paddling sees us touch down on the beach at Yeppoon. The locals who stop to chat assure us that this is the first time in living memory that the Keppels have seen six straight days of light winds! They may be right but we’re not complaining.
What you need to know
Emu Park and Yeppoon both have beachfront caravan parks that make good starting/finishing points for a Keppels trip. There is a regular bus service between the two towns. Corio Bay (to the north) is also a suitable finishing point, although there is no public transport to this area.
For paddlers who find themselves stranded offshore by poor weather, Great Keppel Resort has a weekly barge service and Pumpkin Island an ‘on-call’ boat service that can be used to get kayaks and paddlers back to the mainland.
Weather and Tides
South-easterly trade winds blow consistently through the Keppels for much of the year. Bureau of Meteorology wind roses indicate that these winds start to abate in September, the time we chose for our trip. Tidal range is typically 3-4 metres, which can make for long portages and/or landings over rocks or fringing reefs at other than mid-high tide. Tidal currents were not significant.
There are 18 islands within Keppel Bay. Twelve of the islands are within Keppel Bay Islands National Park and camping is permitted on seven of these (North Keppel, Humpy, Middle, Miall, Conical, Divided and Pelican). Permits are available from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Offices at North Rockhampton and Rosslyn Bay. Camping (and other accommodation) is also available on Pumpkin Island and at Great Keppel Resort.
Fresh water is available at Emu Park and Yeppoon, on Pumpkin Island and at Great Keppel Resort. There are small rainwater tanks in the QPWS campgrounds on Humpy and North Keppel Islands but these should not be relied upon. QPWS recommends a minimum of 5 litres/person/day be carried. We found that about 3 litres/person/day was adequate for our needs under the prevailing conditions.
- Aus820 North Reef to Port Clinton 1:150 000
- MPZ17 Gladstone — Detailed Map to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park 1:250 000
- Gerard Effeney: An Introduction to Sea Kayaking in Queensland, Gecko Books, Ashgrove West, Qld, c2003, 2nd edn, ISBN 0975131907
- Noel Patrick, Curtis Coast: The Complete Cruising Guide from Bundaberg to Mackay, Riverston Holdings, Gladstone, Qld, 1995, revised edn, ISBN: 1862527377
- Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service: Visitor Information — Keppel Bay Islands National Park, www.epa.qld.gov.au
- Andrew D Short: Beaches of the Queensland Coast: Cooktown to Coolangatta, Sydney University Press, 2006