The ultimate family escape to Great Keppel Island
If Ernest Hemingway were still around, I’d say this would be his chosen location to pen his latest book.
Barefoot serenity. Hammocks. Palm trees. Washed down with a mojito and a tropical beat.
This is Great Keppel Island.
It has a vibe that suits a parent’s desire to chillax and offers plenty to keep the kids engaged and supercharged.
Great Keppel lies in the Southern Great Barrier Reef – around 240 hectares in size, it’s home to 17 white-sand beaches and has an interior rich with native flora and fauna.
Great Keppel was where we said adieu to an epic 18-month road trip around Australia. It was exactly what our exhausted bodies and minds needed. There was plenty for us to do all within a short walk from our beach cottage, but it also gave us permission to lounge around on comfy chairs, read books under palm trees, swim and play with the kids.
Want some blissed out, vehicle-free island living for yourself? Here’s how.
How to get to Great Keppel Island
Great Keppel Island is only a 30-minute ferry transfer from the mainland at Yeppoon with Freedom Fast Cats. Return tickets are $55 for adults and $35 for kids (4-12). Ferries leave Yeppoon in the morning and return in the afternoon so you can easily pop over for a day trip, but we highly recommend staying a night (or five!).
Where to stay on Great Keppel Island
You won’t be left wanting for tropical island charm here – there are no cars or high-rise buildings and plenty of cute beach bungalows that can handle you traipsing sand in through the front door.
Great Keppel Island Hideaway
These cosy and cute beachfront cabins offer minimalistic rustic style but give you the sound of lapping waves and evening rain on a hot tin roof.
Great Keppel Island Hideaway has a fully equipped central kitchen and BBQ area to cook your meals, which means you can bring your own food and drinks over to the island, making it an affordable Great Barrier Reef holiday.
Their restaurant and bar has $10 kid’s meals and casual fare ranging from burgers to fillets washed down with cocktails or cappuccinos. The large covered outdoor seating area, pool table and big-screen projector are complemented by beautiful sea views over Putney and Fisherman’s Beaches.
Great Keppel Island Holiday Village
Great Keppel Island Holiday Village is located in a gum tree bush setting less than a minute’s walk to two perfect swimming beaches. Accommodation includes twin rooms, double bed canvas tents erected on timber decks, ensuite cabins, and campsites.
Svendsens Beach Great Keppel Island
The luxury island retreat of Svendsens Beach, Great Keppel Island offers an eco-friendly glamping experience on the quiet side of the island, right near the beach.
Best walks and beaches on Great Keppel Island
Let’s face it, you’re going to find it pretty hard to muster up the energy for a walk with all that relaxing going on, but should you want to amble, there are short beach walks through to adventurous bush tracks with spectacular views of the Keppel Bay Islands to explore.
Suggested walking tracks:
- Find a deserted stretch of white sand only a short stroll from Fisherman’s Beach.
- A 30-minute walk south along the headland leads to Monkey Bay.
- A walking trail from the southern end of the airfield takes you to Long Beach, one of Keppel’s best.
- A three-hour return bush track from Fisherman’s Beach leads to the lighthouse on Bald Rock Point. This is the island’s most challenging walk.
Snorkelling on Great Keppel Island
Great Keppel has 17 beaches to explore. The two main beaches, Fisherman’s and Putney, are safe for swimming, and we spotted dolphins swimming past while we were there.
There are few spots around the island where you’ll find pristine and healthy coral teeming with brightly coloured fish, starfish and turtles, especially between Great Keppel and Humpy Island to the south. The best snorkelling spots are Shelving Beach, Monkey Point and Clam Bay.
You can join a motorised canoe trip to snorkelling spots and hidden coves and beaches.
Or you can hire snorkelling gear from the Village and get face down, bottom up, right off the main beaches. Our girls loved exploring the underwater world through the snorkelling boogie boards available for hire.
Water sports on Great Keppel Island
Keppel Water Sports on the main beach offers a variety of activities from water-skiing, wake-boarding and tubing to cricket sets, snorkel sets or a sunset cruise. Look for the Bali-style hut when you disembark from the ferry.
During our stay, we hired kayaks to paddle off the shores of Putney Beach.
Cruising around Great Keppel Island
Great Keppel is the largest of 18 islands in the area. Grab yourself a boat and go and seek out your own castaway moment.
Glass-bottom boat cruises
On the day we arrived, we headed out with Freedom Fast Cats (the ferry crew) for a glass-bottom boat tour. We didn’t have the best conditions to see the colours, but we saw plenty of turtles and staghorn coral, which grows quickly and fares well when cyclones hit.
Our guide shared many insights about the reef, the effect of coral bleaching (which we could see in some areas), and how important it is to care for the reef. Our girls connected with his stories and gained an appreciation for the beauty of the underwater world.
Looking through glass is fine, but if you’re keen to dive in and explore the underwater world up close, this cruise also offers boom netting (otherwise known as the ocean spa) on top of the glass-bottom tour, morning tea and lunch.
Jump aboard a sailboat for a small and intimate sunset cruise with Great Keppel Cruises, owned and run by Terry. Our girls loved taking over from Terry as trainee skippers during the cruise! We swapped travel tales over cheese, olives and dip, and a glass of wine (BYO).
We cruised up past Monkey Point and back again to see a magnificent sunset dropping behind the mainland in the distance. It was the perfect end to our Great Keppel stay and an amazing family adventure.