The Keppel Islands are actually part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but are located in the southern end, much further south than the famous Whitsundays. The two largest islands are Great Keppel and North Keppel, and there are another 16 islands in the area, plus a whole heap of rocky outcrops. The islands used to be hills, but after the last ice age the Keppel Bay flooded, turning the tops of the hills into islands.
When Mariano first mentioned the Keppels we had never heard of them, in fact, most people have never heard of them which means it doesn’t get as busy as the super popular Whitsundays for example. But as Mariano described the plan to kayak around the islands, we were keen to join and explore a new area for us.
Several weeks later, after a few paddles on the ocean together, we were delighted there was no lockdown as time had come to depart for our holiday. Driving up slowly, we made two stops on the way north. One at Boreen Point where we caught up with Todd & Jenn with Charlie and Ollie (it was little Ollie’s first time camping) and another stop near 1770, where we camped at Middle Creek in Eurimbula NP.
We arrived in Emu Park on Sunday afternoon and went straight to the beach to see where we could launch the next day. We found the boat ramp and walked around the small town before heading to the motel where we unloaded the boats. We then packed all our food and camping gear into the skis, leaving our clothes for the dry bags that would be strapped on the top. Mariano arrived too and we went out for a delicious pasta dinner in town.
The next morning we loaded the skis and drove to the boat ramp where we unloaded them from the roofs and added the final items for the trip. Mariano and Jude drove the cars back to the motel where we were kindly allowed to leave the cars for a week. After a short walk back we were on our way. It wasn’t too windy luckily and the water was calm in the little sheltered area near the boat ramp. We paddled to Pelican Island where we had a short break for a snack before heading further to Humpy Island (Bur-ye-Bur-ye). We had a shock when we arrived as there were so many tents grouped together. It turned out to be one big family who were there for a whole week. We found Ian and Moi’s tent there too, but we all wanted to find a bit more peace and quiet and opted for a spot around the corner which turned out to be perfect. Sheltered from the wind and with plenty of shade for us and the kayaks.
We had lunch and pitched our tents before heading out for a paddle with Ian and Moi to explore the area. Due to strong winds the next day, we decided to stay put on Humpy as our planned next campsite would have been directly facing the wind. After some exploring in the kayak, and a lap of the ridgewalk on the island we all paddled towards Great Keppel (Wop-pa) on Wednesday. Ian and Moi took the ferry back to the mainland from there with their kayaks. We went to the local pub and had a hot drink with cake before hopping back onto the kayaks to paddle to Miall Island (Ma-ma-lon-bi) for our next night.
The beach on Miall was facing the wrong way for the stiff breeze that was blowing. We pitched the tents on the only flat spot, but then retreated around the corner for our dinner with pancakes as dessert. Mariano was keen to make some pancakes too as he loves pancakes but has never had them on a camping trip. We all indulge in some more port after the pancakes with hazelnut paste.
The next day was our crossing to North Keppel (Ko-no-mie), a bit windy, but the wind was in the back, so the biggest issue was the white caps that were occasionally forming and hitting us from the shoulder. Last minute we decided not to duck in between Pumpkin Island and Sloping Island as it looked too much like a washing machine in there with all the backwash from the rocks. We entered the wind shelter of Sloping Island and picked up some more water at the education centre on North Keppel. They were a bit grumpy we were there, but did fill up our bladder.
Around the corner we were sheltered from the wind as we paddled past a tiny wedding party on the smallest secluded beach in the area. There were more people taking photos and filming than there were people attending the wedding. We pitched our tents on the beach to avoid the swarms of midges and mozzies that seem to love the swampy mangrove area behind the Considine camp area. It was a good call. We explored the island on foot, Mariano went out for a paddle to Corroboree (Te-ri-mul) and Conical. We didn’t spot any whales as it was too windy, but did fleetingly see a monitor lizard and a quail on our walk.
On North Keppel there is even a shower and a toilet block, so we quickly rinsed off the salt on our bodies before dinner on the beach as usual.
The next morning we started relatively early. We had a 10 knot headwind this time to reach Middle Island (Ba-la-ba) for our last night of camping. We used the shelter of Pumpkin Island before heading out through the washing machine we had avoided the day before. Pumpkin Island has a resort on it where the public isn’t welcome so we just waved to the guests that were there. The chop and the backwash wasn’t pleasant, but soon we were out in the open where we only had to battle the relentless wind. It slowed us down to 4.5km an hour and we were happy to land on Middle Island in time for lunch.
After lunch we hopped back onto the skis again to paddle to Great Keppel where Mariano was hoping to get a burger and Jon was after a beer. Jon got what he wanted, unfortunately for Mariano we were again there when the kitchen was closed between lunch and dinner…
Our paddle back was fantastic. A gentle breeze in the back and we decided to paddle around the western side of the island, past the old observatory. It is very shallow around the back as it was low tide, but with the skis we had no trouble sticking close to shore.
We had another lovely evening on the beach, chatting and watching the incredible night sky as it emerged slowly after the sun set and the sky turned black. It was the best of the trip as this was the only night we were facing east, away from the coastline and its lights. It was magical. No wind, no mozzies, no midges, lots of stars (including a few satellites and shooting stars) and a few pancakes. A perfect evening to wrap up our last night of camping on the Keppel Islands.
The next morning we had to leave early as Mariano had to drive all the way back to Brisbane that day. We got up at sunrise, had a leisurely breakfast and packed everything up for the last time. The wind had died which was lucky as we had a 15km paddle straight into the wind. But with these lovely conditions we had a cruisy paddle back and landed back near the boat ramp after just a small break on the water for some snacks.
Mariano and Jude picked up the cars and drove them straight onto the beach. We unloaded everything and popped the skis back onto the roof racks before the incoming tide would swallow the cars. At 10.30 Mariano was off and we followed slowly, after first buying some icecream for on the road. We only drove the 7 hours back to Buderim where we stayed with Jonno & Angie and of course Maddie who had just fallen asleep as we arrived. Angie had cooked up a storm and we chatted over dinner. A perfect way to end fantastic trip, our first holiday in more than a year!
Thanks Mariano for planning and organising everything and of course inviting us!