One of the highlights of my last trip down the Queensland coast was my first visit to Great Keppel Island so I was keen to get back there. Staying in Rockhampton, I bought a $45 return ticket from the Rosslyn Bay Harbour terminal the day before and arrived 45 minutes before the 9.30am ferry departure.
It’s an easy 30 minutes across Keppel Bay from the mainland to GKI. Sometimes you can see dolphins (and possibly whales had I been a month or two earlier) but all we had for company was a policeman on a jetski who kept up with our fast ferry all the way to the island. Perhaps he wanted to book us for speeding. Not sure what he was up to as I didn’t see him again after I got off the boat.
I made a number of mistakes the last time I went to the island including going without a map (I couldn’t access the internet to get Google Maps). This time I went prepared and also wore runners rather than sandals as I knew the track got rugged. But like the last time I took the only road away from the beach and like the last time I quickly saw some of the island’s many wild goats. The goats are a pest, introduced to the island as a food source. But now there are over 600 of them causing erosion problems as their hard hooves damage the soil and the grass.
Again like the last time I headed towards the first lookout with its views down to the beach where the ferry lands and across to the Capricorn Coast on the mainland. But the last time I turned around here not knowing what was ahead. This time I continued.
I was keen to climb up to the highest point on the island at Mount Wyndham. It’s a tough but enjoyable walk with great views to most parts of the island. The track becomes a little undefined after the summit and you need to carefully watch your step to avoid getting lost.
Along the way were glimpses down to Consadine Beach and the Banksia Track. My plan was to return that way, in what would be at least a two hour return walk.
But first I wanted to check out a beach on the southern side of the island. Beautiful and deserted Clam Bay was my destination, a little slice of heaven I had all to myself. But I was horrified to later read about plans for a private resort and golf course which would totally transform this side of the island, and not, I believe, for the better. I understand the need for jobs but this looks hideous and I’m sure most of Clam Bay’s pristine beauty would be lost. I’m enjoying it for now.
On the way back to the resort side of the island I pass the Great Keppel Island Homestead also known as the Leeke Homestead. This timber and corrugated iron residence was built 1922-24 and was the home of Lizzie Leeke (formerly O’Neill) who lived on the island from 1922 until 1945. She originally moved to Great Keppel from Gladstone with her husband Michael O’Neill and they depastured sheep on the island from 1918 when they purchased the pastoral lease on the island. The island had been occupied by Europeans for over 50 years prior. In 1867 prominent Central Queensland squatter, Robert Ross “prepared” the island as a cattle property by driving 84 indigenous people into a cave and murdering them.
All that walking built up a thirst. Luckily right along the beach (or rather, precariously perched on a dune above the beach) is the Hideaway, GKI’s relaxed bar, cafe and restaurant. I timed my run nicely for lunch and a cool beer which went down well.
Afterwards, I traipsed back down the main beach, passing the boarded up old GKI resort. “GKI = 1500 jobs” says a placard on the building. The old resort, which was a famous party spot in the 1980s, has been closed for eight years and developer Tower Holdings, headed up by CEO Terry Agnew, plans to build a large resort, with hundreds of villas, apartments, a marina, a golf course and an airstrip. Locals have mixed feelings, some wanting the employment, others believing it will ruin the island. I like it just as it is. Maybe demolish the old resort and have a smaller scale eco-friendly resort in its place.
But I had another important choice to make on my walk. Where to go next… Long Beach or Monkey Beach?
I decided to take in both and there is a short cut between the two. First to beautifully deserted Long Beach for a swim in pristine waters with only the seabirds for company.
Then on to Monkey Beach which had a bit more traffic out on the bay. Here the ferry (seen right of picture) which I took to get here stops with its full day-trip tourists for a spot of snorkeling. I was content to wade in the shallower waters before returning to the main beach to catch that same ferry back to the mainland in the late afternoon.
Lastly between Long and Monkey beaches is this Aboriginal shell midden. All the islands in Keppel Bay were once hilltops on an extended coastal plain before the sea levels rose 10,000 years ago. Archeological evidence shows humans have occupied the island for the last 5000 years so they were either here beforehand or used watercraft from the mainland. The oldest artefacts found in this midden are a “mere” 300 years old but it was still used at the time of European invasion in the 1860s. Local stones such as quartzite, snadstone and rhyolite were used to make the artefacts found on the site as well as shellfish. Fish and plant food would also have been eaten but do not survive as well as stones and shells.