Secret island alert: 48 hours on Keswick Island
If Mackay was in a game of poker, the ‘roos at Cape Hillsborough would be its King, sprawling Eungella National Park its Queen, secluded northern beaches its Jack and then Keswick Island would come in and give the sugar city a Royal Flush.
This ace of islands has a postcode – and it’s 32km off the shore of Mackay.
Set your priorities this summer to the birds and the bees (seriously, that’s the most famous fauna here) and spend 48 hours on this secret island with this guide.
Fly out of Mackay
It’s a short, 15-minute fight, between Mackay Airport and Keswick’s secret island paradise. Choose your wings – seaplane or heli – as you take off with Island Air and Whitsunday Helicopter, the only commercial operators who transfer from Mackay to the island.
Window seats and an iPhone full of memory-space are essential for this short but sweet flight over the Great Barrier Reef.
Don’t feel like flying?
BYOB (that’s bring-your-own-boat) and motor from the mainland to the island. There’s a jetty in Egremont Passage, and nearby moorings, which can be rented for a small fee.
Check-In – Paradise calls
Good news for holidaymakers – you can walk away from this getaway with your purse strings still intact.
For a small island, Keswick Island has accommodation options to suit whatever comes its way – with a large, self-contained house, fully-catered guest house, glamping tents and space for off-the-grid island camping.
What’s more, there’s no such thing as a room without a view here. Every type of accommodation faces the Coral Sea or Keswick’s neighbouring islands – that’s just c’est la vie when you’re a member of the Cumberland Group.
After settling into your digs of choice, make the Keswick Kiosk your first spot to hire a golf buggy. Four wheels will make discovering the 530 hectares of sublime wilderness a little easier on your pins.
Discover secret island beaches
When you share an entire island with a handful of residents (there were 20 at last count) and there are five beaches, the odds for secluded swimming are forever in your favour.
For a quick dip, point your buggy in the direction of Basil Bay, which is voted (by us!) as one of the most beautiful beaches in Queensland. At high tide, it transforms into a beach of Maldivian proportions. Think crystal clear, flat, swimming conditions.
Neighbouring Arthur Bay is the Pippa to Basil Bay’s Kate Middleton (read: just as stunning) and can be reached with a short stroll at low tide. It guarantees snorkelling fun when the water swallows the beach and turns it into a real-life aquarium.
You’ll have to swap your golf buggy for something a more terrain-ready to reach the jewel in Keswick’s crown, Connie Bay, a vision of sweeping white sand, fringing coral and towering rocky cliffs. If you decide to walk it, we can tell you the juice will be worth the squeeze when you dive into these crystal-clear waters.
A word on dinner at this island: There’s limited stock at the Keswick Kiosk so you’ll need to self-cater this island adventure.
Campers, get your marshmallows at the ready!
Dive under the sea
A snorkel, mask and set of fins is all you need to walk on Keswick Island’s wild side.
The adventure doesn’t stop there – Keswick has four shipwrecks below its surface. And this bevvy of underwater beauties makes for top-shelf diving worthy of a place on this list.
Of the four that went down between 1890 and 1950, only three have been discovered so call it a ‘challenge’ and keep your mask primed to spot the long-lost Woy-Woy, said to be on the floor of the Egremont Passage.
Hook your cook
Forget jetty fishing, deep sea and reef fishing off the Keswick shoreline is off the hook (pun intended!).
The protected waters of Egremont Passage attract a vast array of fish including ‘feed your family for a week’-sized Spanish mackerel.
When you grow weary of hauling in your catch here, the outer reef is within reach for the likes of coral trout and red emperor.
Although the Keswick Kiosk provides basic provisions like bait and fuel, it’s a BYO boat and all your fishing gear kinda situation.
Considering you’ll be reeling in game-sized fish, loan rods wouldn’t really cut the mustard anyway.
Better bee-lieve it
Keswick’s most prized asset isn’t a beach, reef or resort at all. Instead, Keswick’s Caucasian bees steal the show.
What makes these little stingers so special is not just their colouring (they are dark with silver stripes), but the fact they are free from diseases which makes them sort after for breeding purposes on the mainland.
You’ll find chief beekeeper Des Covey on the tools every five weeks tending to his hives.
Want to know something sweeter? Their honey tastes different too – more of a molasses, salted caramel flavour.
You can pick up jars of the honey at the Keswick Kiosk, Mackay Visitor Information Centre and select retailers on the mainland.
We challenge you not to go all sommelier on it, talking up its flavour with notes of blue gum, tea tree, mangrove and grass tree which grow here.
Take a bushwalk
Considering Keswick Island is made up of 80% national park, there’s no shortage of hikes to try this weekend.
Our pick is a hike to the highest point on the island (309m above sea level), to cast your eyes over Egremont Passage, the body of water that separates Keswick from its neighbour, St Bees Island.
Grass trees and Ulysses butterflies will fill your camera-roll – and you won’t have to cross your fingers to hope to get them both in the one shot.
If you can, time your visit for June to October to see humpback whales as they start their migration past the island. These gentle giants use the passage between Bees and Keswick Island as a highway home – and at 309m up – you’ll have the best seat in the house.
We suspect after one weekend here, you might join the whales in an annual migration to Keswick, too.
Want more secret island scoop?
Then check out these secret islands in Queensland.
Want to hang around the sugar capital a little longer?
Go back-to-back with this 48-hour itinerary.
Want to volunteer your way to a holiday on Keswick?
After brushing up on this post – you’ll be happy to know Keswick Island runs its own WWOOF project, exchanging work for meals and accommodation. Hello, cheap holiday!