When you’re on the Capricorn Coast the view is dominated by the 18 islands and rocky outcrops dotted around the horizon. These are the Keppels and it’s so tempting to head over and explore. There’s no shortage of things to do in Yeppoon and the surrounding region but a Great Keppel Island day trip is something we recommend to everyone. Staying over there and visiting some of the smaller islands is also possible.
Table of Contents
- How to get to Great Keppel Island
- Things to do on a Great Keppel Island day trip
- Sip coffee with a stunning view
- Hire gear to get active
- Join a snorkelling or dive trip
- Explore one of the Great Keppel walking tracks
- Head out rock hopping around the coastline
- Take a swim in sparkling clear waters
- Chill out on the sandy beaches
- Wander the beach
- Lunch or drinks with a stunning view
- Head over to Middle Island
- Did Gina Reinhart buy Great Keppel Island?
- Where to stay on Great Keppel Island
How to get to Great Keppel Island
There are two ferry operators that run transfers out to Great Keppel Island each day. There is no wharf on the island so both arrive and leave directly from the sand at Fishermans Beach via a ramp from the boat. Mostly your feet stay dry but if the tide or weather doesn’t co-operate that day you might get a little wet.
We made the trip with Keppel Konnections and they were excellent. The ferry leaves from the Keppel Bay Marina with 2 crossings in the morning and 2 more in the afternoon. We checked in at the kiosk, had a good chat with the ladies about the island and then headed out to the covered waiting area to board the boat.
They use different boats depending on the number of bookings and supplies they are transporting. The boat we went out in had seating upstairs in the fresh air and we choose a spot up there that gave us a great view for the 30-minute trip across. Indoor seating was also available if you preferred.
While we had a lovely sunny day on the island a fairly serious afternoon storm blew up just as we were leaving the island making for a rough trip back, there were waves breaking up over the windows and we were bounced out of our seats a couple of times.
I don’t have good sea legs and admit to making a lunge for the pier when we got back to the marina but at all times felt safe and that the captain and crew were excellent and were in control of the situation throughout. As pleased as I was to touch dry land I would have headed back out with them the next morning if I could have.
Keppel Konnections is locally owned and partner up with the Hideaway Bar and Bistro on the island to provide packages that include lunch and snorkelling gear hire or just book the ferry crossing and go self-contained if you prefer.
Freedom Fast Cats
The other company taking visitors on a Great Keppel Island day trip is Freedom Fast Cats. They leave from Pier One in Rosslyn Bay on the other side of the marina.
Where the first two options are a ferry, with lunch and activity options, the Keppel Explorer operates as a small group day tour. It uses a fast rigid hull semi-inflatable boat to take you right around Great Keppel Island, depending on the day and the weather you get to explore some of the smaller islands and reefs in the Keppel group that are difficult to get to another way. The tour includes lunch and snorkelling gear.
Things to do on a Great Keppel Island day trip
Sip coffee with a stunning view
While some might say to rush off immediately on arrival, we suggest spending a few minutes to reset to island time. After walking down the ramp and wriggling your toes in the sand head off to the left up to the Hideaway Bar and Bistro. From here you can order a cup of coffee, or something a little stronger if that is what you had in mind, and sit for a while taking in the incredible view over sparkling turquoise waters.
This is what it means to unplug. Breathe in the salty air and take a few minutes to truly relax before you get into your day’s adventures.
Hire gear to get active
If you need to hire some equipment, snorkelling gear, a fishing kit, a kayak or perhaps a SUP, now is the time to do it. The surge of people that happens as the boat arrives has moved on and you can wander over and have a friendly chat with the team at Great Keppel Island Watersports and Activities.
Join a snorkelling or dive trip
Located on the Southern Great Barrier reef, the Keppels have some excellent snorkelling around them. The two main beaches on Great Keppel are beautiful white sand and turquoise water, beautiful for swimming and relaxing but not ideal for snorkelling but you don’t need to go far.
The closest option is Shelving Point Reef. Continue on down Fisherman’s beach away from Hideaway resort towards the rocks and follow the track around to the protected bay. It’s right next to Monkey Reef and a good option because it’s easily accessible on foot and there is always something to see.
Monkey Beach is the next bay around. You can get here on foot but the track goes inland a bit not directly around the coast so it’s further than you expect, about a 40-minute walk. The reward is worth it though, the reef at Monkey Beach is one of the island’s best dive and snorkelling sites. The protected bay has good coral coverage and 38 different species are recorded here along with a good range of fish and turtles.
Alternatively, you can book a snorkelling or dive trip that will take you by boat to the best spots on the island or nearby islands such as the reefs around North Keppel, Conical, Barren, Pumpkin, Miall and Humpy Islands.
If you haven’t brought your own snorkelling gear or have it included in your Great Keppel package you can hire it from the watersports hut for around $15.
Explore one of the Great Keppel walking tracks
There are a range of hikes and walks around Great Keppel Island and it’s not too hard to find one to fit your energy levels for the day. In keeping with the undeveloped nature of the location, the tracks have only limited marking so you should pick up a walking track guide back at the resort and register your plans for safety if you are going on one of the longer or more difficult tracks.
Great Keppel is 3500 acres, unpopulated and largely undeveloped other than the main beach areas we’ve already mentioned which offer plenty of opportunities but will be beyond the scope of day visitors to explore fully.
One of the best walking tracks is the Lookout Trail at 2.6 km. Being a lookout it’s uphill so a moderate but not intense walk and on a clear day, you will be rewarded with great westerly views from the shelter on the top of the ridge. Allow around an hour for this one which starts behind the watersports hut.
Monkey Beach is a bit more challenging and will take around 2 hours. In addition to the idea of swimming or snorkelling at the other end, this one is popular for the birdlife, sub-tropical plants and historic shell middens along the way. There is a boardwalk at Monkey Beach that was built as a cooperative project built to protect the ecology and history of the area. You can then take a fairly short additional walk from Monkey Beach to Long Beach.
If you head in the opposite direction from the resort along Putney Beach you can take the 3.6 km return walk that leads off at the end of the sandy beach to Leekes Beach through the bush. It’s a long sandy beach, absolutely stunning and there’s every chance you will have it to yourself.
Head out rock hopping around the coastline
Fishermans Beach and Putney Beach are a long soft sand stretch but at either end, there are table and loose rocks that you can scramble over and around the points. This isn’t the ideal way to get around the heads to the next beaches, those are accessed via forest tracks but it’s definitely worth exploring if you feel stable enough on the uneven ground.
Take a swim in sparkling clear waters
Honestly, these spots are just stunning and if you wanted to bring your swimsuit, a sun shelter (you know we have a love affair with our cabana) and a picnic you could set yourself up for the day and never want to leave. We actually managed to snag a table after our afternoon swim and get our rashies and towels dry in the sun before we headed back in.
Chill out on the sandy beaches
The two main beaches on Great Keppel Island are Fishermans Beach where the ferry disembarks and Putney Beach where the Hideaway Resort is located, both are stunning. These are obviously popular due to convenience and also because this is where the facilities (food and loos) are located but from our experience, they were far from crowded.
As we’ve mentioned above if you are prepared for a bit of a walk you can definitely make your way to more secluded spots including Leeke’s beach and creek, Monkey beach and Long beach.
Kayak is one of my favourite things to do around tropical islands, we loved our time paddling around Fitzroy Island off Cairns and will definitely be doing this next time we get up around the Capricorn Coast, we just ran out of time on our day trip.
You have a couple of options on Great Keppel, you can either just hire the boats and gear from the watersports hut or join a 2-hour guided tour from there. You can also prebook the Kayak tour as part of your day trip which was a slight saving when I checked.
Wander the beach
It does go without saying really given you step off the ferry onto the gorgeous sandy beach but walking the full sweep of sand at these beaches is an absolute minimum.
I find walking in sand or splashing in the shallows is a meditative process absolutely guaranteed to melt away any residual stress and restore my personal balance.
Lunch or drinks with a stunning view
There are two main places to eat on the island. We had morning coffee and lunch at the Hideaway Bar and Bistro. This has a lovely position with your feet in the sand overlooking the sparkling ocean. If you are booked with Keppel Konnections you can take a package as we did that includes your lunch with a glass of wine, a cold beer or a soft drink at a bit of a discount or just order what you want on the day.
All food is brought onto the island so the options are limited but there was something available to suit most people. We could choose from a fish burger, beef burger, fish and chips
The other option is the Tropical Vibes cafe where we stopped in for a cold drink before boarding the ferry at the end of the day. You can grab a burger, drink and snack and sit out at their tables in the sand garden. Very friendly and a top spot to chill.
Head over to Middle Island
By taking one of the tours such as the Keppel Explorer you’ll get to see some of the smaller islands around Great Keppel. Both of the ferry companies also run tours around the smaller islands during the busier season.
If you are interested in snorkelling or diving you can get out to Middle Island, the small one you see offshore and in many of the photos on this page, with Keppel Dive, ask at the watersports hut.
Did Gina Reinhart buy Great Keppel Island?
In late 2021 it was reported that a Gina Reinhart’s company, Hancock Prospecting, was going to develop a luxury resort, retail shops, marina, casino and wharf on Great Keppel Island. The news was met with mixed feelings locally, it would undoubtedly bring income into a struggling tourism sector but in doing so would change the Great Keppel experience forever. Then in May 2022, it was announced that the proposal would not move forward.
There have been several similar attempts to redevelop the island in the past and there will likely be others in the future but for now, a visit to Great Keppel Island remains affordable, relaxed and unpretentious, it’s one of the closest and most affordable Great Barrier Reef islands to access. Its main attraction is its unspoilt natural beauty, wildlife and serenity.
We highly suggest if you haven’t made the trip out here you put it on your list of must-do destinations as soon as possible.
Where to stay on Great Keppel Island
In line with the limited infrastructure currently on Great Keppel Island, the accommodation available is basic but it’s the location you are here for.
There are a variety of cabins, rooms and houses available to book at the Hideaway Resort. Below you can see some of the beachfront cabins, not all room styles are self-catering but are only a short walk from the bar and bistro.
The other option on the island is the Great Keppel Island Holiday Village behind Fishermans Beach. These are garden rooms, slightly further back from the beach and focus on peaceful relaxed stays. The accommodation options include permanent tents and rooms with shared facilities while the cabins and a cottage have a private bathroom.
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