It has been 13 years since our two day whirlwind tour of the southern Keppel Islands. Again it was just the two of us, but this time Huey granted us a week to explore what is a uniquely accessible and spectacularly beautiful part of the southern Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Last time we stayed at Kinka Beach Caravan Park, left the car there, crossed the road and launched from the beach near the top of the tide. The caravan park continues to be very popular and our room at the inn was a piece of grass out in the back field. Before pitching the tent we went to find the best beach access. From the road Kinka Beach foreshore was as we remembered, but appearances proved deceiving. The dune revegetation project has been very successful, so successful that it is now a long haul just to get to the start of the beach. We checked out every access point south of Rosslyn Bay Harbour right through to KB1. Like Goldilocks on steroids, most were simply too far, if not, then too high, too rocky or too rough. Even the best access (KB8) had a mandatory heist across soft sand that could leave us knackered before the boats got wet.
Next stop Emu Park. The broad firm sandy beach at the end of a wide boat ramp was a no brainer. The aroma and noise from the bat colony at Fisherman’s Beach Holiday Park made the prospect of pitching our tent on our pat malone on the edge of a grassy oval even more inviting. That night dinner was at the local Fish & Chips ‘Kinka Kippa’. We had a delicious meal of fresh parrot fish served with some personal attention from owner Tony regarding the likely conditions we would encounter as he too was planning to head out on the water the next day.
Day 1 Emu Park to Humpy Island
Paddle 16Km – Ridgetop Walk 2.5Km
With water bladders filled we drove to Emu Park. The boats were packed as the last of the flood tide marched up the beach and we chatted with a member of the local kayaking club. He had spied our kayaks as we had noted his racks. With just the two of us, an unfamiliar area, and discrepancy between Met Eye and Willie Weather I logged us with Yeppoon Volunteer Coastguard with an estimated paddle time of 3 hours.
Hauling into smooth sparkling waters beyond the shelter of the breakwater a tail wind made light work of heavy boats. We paddled between Pelican Island and its southern blob of a rock. Along the way we came across some large green turtles, a suggestion of a dugong or a snubfin dolphin, a whale spout on the horizon and thick slicks of coral spawn. Within 2 ½ hours we were nosing up to Humpy Island. About 200m offshore a large patch of water rippled. As soon as we drifted within a couple of metres all went still. The patch resurfaced a short distance away and continued to remain elusive. Not so subtle was the fierce explosion of tuna. It erupted in a wild muscled frenzy which had potential to be up close and painful. Two small powerboats were anchored on the western side of Humpy’s sand spit. One was packing, the other unpacking. A quick site survey had us slip back into the water and land to the east of the spit where there is also all tide access, if you arrive by kayak.
Humpy was as charming as the facilities were impressive and the crows crafty. The signage, toilet facilities, water access and location of the campsite are superb. We set up tent under the casuarinas and took possession of a sturdy picnic table. The crows landed their first (and only) point with a brazen assault on new pack of rye bread which I had left on the table under the plates. Just as well Mark had bought the wheels, with this mob, there was no way you could put your head inside the tent without the loosing an item assessed as edible. All food was left in the kayaks with hatches secured.
With food stowed we went for a walk along the Ridgetop Trail around the island. A narrow rocky path meanders between lumpy squat grass trees crowded by swathes of grass. Pigface and golden everlasting daisies cling to cliff faces. At this time of the year the wind sculptured Grevillea banksii are smothered with a profusion of stunning red flowers. The flora looked pristine and a tribute to someone’s hard work and dedication. Dinner was (tinned) chicken with (packet) curry, fresh garlic, dehydrated onions, fresh capsicum, snow peas and rice cooked together with coconut cream powder. Note to self; could have done with a bit more kick.
Day 2 Circumnavigate Great Keppel
Paddle 26.5Km – Walk to Mt Wyndham 7.1Km
The next day heralded clear blue skies with occasional fluff on the horizon. We paddled to the north of Halfway Island then followed Great Keppel’s coastline anticlockwise. Wreck Bay looked unchanged. The coral here was said to have been sheltered from the wave action associated with Cyclone Marcia. Other areas, including Clam Bay were smashed. It lumped up as we rounded Big Peninsular into Secret Beach. As we plodded by people were about to start diving from a QPWS vessel. Just before the headland that yields Svendsens’ Beach there is an intimate bay where parallel lines of a sloping rock guide you in to a tiny sandy beach. On the rocks a hand made sign declared “No Oystering” and on the foredune in the shade of a casurina were two green plastic chairs screwed down to two lumps of timber. Uncertain as to whether this was public or private land, we gave it a miss. We also passed by Svendsen’s Beach onto Leck’s to take a look at the largest creek on the island.
Capable of providing shelter to a large catamaran on Google, Leck’s Creek had a sandy entrance, and was draining copious clear strongly flowing water. It was also of interest to a couple of yachties rowing and drifting back on the ebb tide in their tender. A friendly ‘so which boat are you from’ greeting had the woman temporarily bemused when her partner reassured her that yes, what we were in was it. The creek soon divided into three arms which quickly dissipated into the mangroves. We headed back out and paddled along the beach to where people had pulled up an inflatable. We took a punt that they had taken one of the walks marked on the mud map we had picked up at Rockhamptom Tourist Information Centre.
Turned out that this walk followed a 4WD track. All of the tracks we walked on Great Keppel are in poor condition. Rough, stony and badly eroded, it would be easier to get around by boat than vehicle. We decided to take a look at the old homestead and sheep yard. While the sheep have long gone, they have been supplanted by goats. Hundreds, possibly thousands of them. While the kids were cute, the adults were large. Many stood at least waist height across the back and had a proud set of rammers. After turning off towards Clam Bay we took the track to Mt Wyndham. A narrow rough rocky track with lots of goat poop. No grevillea flowers were seen. By the top of the climb I was pretty pooped. It was a quick march down to Leck’s Beach and scurry back to Humpy before dusk. Dinner was spaghetti bolognaise with fresh garlic, dried mushroom and onion, tomato paste, tinned mushrooms supplemented with udon noodles. Very tasty. Note to self; bought the wrong tin, only needed spagh sauce.
Day 3 Paddle to Long Beach
Paddle 6.7Km – Walk to Svendsen’s Beach; 18.5Km
The wheels proved their worth again as food laden kayaks continued to thwart the crows smash and grab. Instead we found the snaplock plastic peg bag which had been pegged to the line pecked to bits. We packed the snorkeling gear with the idea of taking a look at the coral at Monkey Beach before returning to Humpy later that day. Landing on Long Beach we wheeled the boats to well above above the high tide line as a monohull was setting anchor to shelter from the persistent easterly. Being midweek we hoped that there would be fewer people around, and those who were there would have the decency to leave the kayaks alone. One person who we later found out had seen the kayaks just assumed they belonged to the monohull.
The trail from the western end of Long Beach took us around a wrecked boardwalk across to Monkey Point and down to the beautiful shoreline. A steep heavily eroded track wended across the next headland via Mt Morris. It seemed like an incongruous delight to come across a blue tongue sunning itself on the track, and like those in the garden, in no particular hurry to move.
The main settlement on Great Keppel is set in a stunning bay. Clear turquoise water, fine white sand rimmed with dense vegetation. So gob smackingly drop dead gorgeous there is no way any development can improve it, only marr it. The demolition of the old resort had left the main administration block standing. It looked to be in reasonable condition. Goats free ranged on the airstrip. The island still has a couple of shops, a variety of private accommodation punctuating in a well presented bar and restaurant at Putney Beach. Deciduous eucalyptus and another tree with huge red leaves provided unexpected colour in contrast with the immaculate green lawn which ended in sand works. For erosion control sand was being pumped sand into huge geotextile bags which one person was sewing closed before the excavator buried it with a top dressing of yet more sand.
Behind the accommodation, along the main track the glamour of island life revealed the unpleasant reality of rubbish and rubble. As we went up yet another hill, it was a surprise to find ourselves walking on a vehicular track finished with bitumen. It led up to the structure we had seen at the top of the hill from Leck’s Beach, the so called 1st Lookout. Like the signage, and tracks, it was in poor repair. From here we headed for Svendsen’s. Along the way we came across the old woolshed which has been used as a fishing shack at the top of the Leck’s Creek estuary. Several echindna were in a rustling shuffle to ram their head into a log and present their quills to their spiny best.
We ignored the ‘arrow’ of stones at the junction and chose to follow a track called ‘The Esplanade’ on the GPS Topo. It was a rough stony washed out track running next to the mangroves fringing the northern side of Leck Creek Estuary. Just as we were wondering if we would have sufficient time to get to Svendsen’s we spotted a smooth black pebble secured in the middle of the road indicating 1Km to go. The Km rewarded us with the discovery of more pairs of green chairs bolted to timber overlooking a creek, and, eventually, a charming of a boutique ‘resort’. Accommodating a maximum of seven people, with a minimum of a three day booking, the two tents and one bush shack were set in immaculate grounds. While basic, the facilities were pristine, beautifully presented with thoughtful attention to detail (see http://www.svendsensbeach.com). We met one of the owners, Carl who was in the midst of doing some bog work to his boat. Nice guy, most hospitable. Then it was onwards and upwards to huff and puff our way along the ridge track via Mt Kanute. Again the tracks were very rough and it hard to believe that a quad bike could negotiate the terrain. Goat poop prevailed.
We met Cherie for the first time as she was about to consider heading up Mt Wyndham. Given the time of day and condition of the track we suggested to give it a miss. We walked together to Long Beach before she headed over to Monkey Beach to re-join her parents in their yacht, leaving us with an invitation to call in for a coffee on our way to North Keppel. By the time we hit the beach it was too late for snorkeling, I was too knackered and the easterly starting firm up and ruffle the waters. Another smoke enhanced sunset. For dinner green thai chicken curry with fresh garlic, capsicum, dehydrated onion, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, coconut cream powder and rice. Yum. Note to self; chop chestnuts in half.
Day 4 Humpy to North Keppel
Paddle 21Km – Walk to Lookout 4Km
Time to pack and leave this idyllic island, which to all intent we had had to ourselves and the crows. Only regret is not having gone snorkeling. Tides were not quite right, and as we found out later, the water really a bit too cold to flop around in. A leisurely pack had us on the water by 0830.
We dawdled across to Monkey Point, drifting into Monkey Bay and easily found the Beneteau 42 with Cherie and her family. We had a chat, staying in our kayaks before pushing off on the turn of the tide. Council bins were just too tempting and received a donation of some of the cleanest rubbish ever to have passed their lids. Even in this world of boaties, the kayaks proved a magnet on the beach. People were interested and helpful, including locals who gave their take on the upcoming weather, which was often at variance with official forecast. I logged us in with the Yeppoon Volunteer Coastguard with an estimated travel time of three hours to Considine Beach.
The water was an inky blue slick spattered with coral spawn. We eased north on the ebb tide passing by a square rigger which was the South Passage. There was not a lot of wild life. A solitary very fine tail fin had us bemused, possibly a snub finned dolphin. Some light wind assistance had us sailing by Pumpkin Island Resort. The zen music wafting from the thatched roof hut affirmed the transition from XXXX booze bay to yoga retreat for stressed corporates. We drifted by close enough to read the red and white exclusivity message that was far from welcoming. The North Keppel Island Education Conservation Centre is set further back from the beach and it is worth noting that it too has prohibition zone of a different timbre. The long stretch that is Considine Beach was soon in view. Three hours on the dot we logged off with Judy then set about finding a place to pitch our home for the next three nights.
At the end of the fenced sandy aisle off the beach were two curlews who soon became our familiar companions. Curlews aside, we had the campsite to ourselves. We pitched under the shade of a cottonwood tree next to two large picnic tables. The toilet facility was immaculate. While the top tank was full, the lower tank was empty and the taps in the toilets did not run. That afternoon we went for a short walk up to the lookout over Maize Bay. The signage was informative and the tracks well maintained.
At the northern end of the Considine beach the ancient weathered rock faces were studded with quartz. Livistonia palms that dominate the campsite are a marker of a permanent water supply and there is a creek at the north end of the beach. Dinner was macaroni cheese dressed up with dehydrated onions and mushrooms, tomato soup, full cream milk and some fermented salami. Good tucker.
Day 5 Circumnavigate Conical Island and walk North Keppel
Paddle 7.5Km – North Keppel Walk 11.5Km
The forecast was for the NW to pick up to 20Kn later that morning so we opted for a short trip around the nearby Conical (Pleasant) Island. On our way over I thought I was going to be skewered by a pied cormorant. It came in low and fast around head height. At the last moment dropped a wing, pivoted and landed alongside within a couple of metres of my kayak. Riveting performance, sorry about the lack of fish. We bounced our way around the northern aspect lumped up by the swell and and clapotis. On the SW corner a pretty crescent shaped beach flanked by rocks noses up to a flat area. Most of this was swamped by what looked like Warrigal Greens. It was not as pretty as I had imagined. The view from the top of the island was worth the quick climb and along the track dianella and scaevola were out in flower. With the wind strengthening by the hour, we were all too happy to scuttle back to the refuge of Considine Beach and head off for a walk around the North Keppel Island.
This walk provided a magnificent overview of the surrounding islands, their position in relation to each other and how they create wind shadows. Unlike the travesty of Great Keppel, North Keppel like Humpy, is relatively pristine. There are no goats. Instead you find lots of grassland, Grevillea banksii, straw flowers and tiny orchids. The vegetation changes dramatically with the aspect. In places there were some prickly pear, although it would not be described as flourishing most reflects ongoing hard work by dedicated people. When we walked back into camp, the curlews were waiting next to the boats. Dinner was asian style chicken corn chowder with fresh garlic, dehydrated onion, a capsicum and rice. Bland and too salty.
Day 6 Conical Rocks and Circumnavigate North Keppel
Paddle 22.5Km – Maizie Bay Walk 5.0Km
After blowing like mad for most of the night, by morning the wind had (thankfully) abated. We headed out and around Conical Rocks, east along Corroboree Island then along the eastern coast of North Keppel looking for the sea caves. The rock faces looked ancient, the caves were more of a narrow fissure and probably more approachable as a swimmer. The final headland had the appearance of a skull. The southern cliffs protected sheltered bays thick with coral spawn. A brief sojourn around Pumpkin Island revealed some of the prettiest corals we had seen.
Nosing along the southern rocky foreshore of North Keppel had us herding a school of black tipped reef sharks. At the end of Maize Bay two of the largest sting ray (around six feet across) I have ever seen rippled by in around five feet of water. An occasional small manta ray and turtle could not hide in the clear water. We returned at the bottom of the tide to find Considine Beach wearing a skirt of tiny shells. After wheeling the boats back up to camp we went to explore the final track to Maize Bay which returned via another palm grove. Dinner was a goulash of Asian sauce with prawns, corn spears, dehydrated peas, onions, fresh garlic and vermicelli. Didn’t look too good, but tasted okay.
Day 7 North Keppel to Emu Park
A smoke pall from ongoing bush fires continued to hang around the mainland. Once we were packed the boats were wheeled down to greet the turning tide. For the first time we had company. A family had arrived by boat at 0600 for a spot of fishing on Father’s Day. I logged us on with an estimated paddle time of five hours then we pushed off into a calm blue increasingly spattered with spawn. We had decided to give Corio Bay a miss given that a 15 – 20Kn SE was due in the next day.
I was determined to paddle past the ‘three red rocks’ I could see from the beach. Mark didn’t recall the rocks and could not see them on his marine chart. They were in the general direction of travel, so no big deal. Those rocks just never turned up. Little wonder as they morphed into the coloured shotcrete on the cliff behind the road from Rosilyn Bay to Yeppon.
The paddle across to Rosslyn Bay was a flat pull. No action, not even a turtle. To spice it up we decided to go in close to Rosslyn Bay Harbour and around the headland. For our effort we copped a strong flood tide on the nose. Dramatic cliffs and the best sea cave so far made up for the effort. It also bought us closer to a comfort stop at Kemp Beach. When we were just about to push off someone called our names. Odd, who would know us here ? Of all people it was Cherie again – she just happened to be driving past when she spotted the kayaks. Talk about timing.
After a chat we pushed off into slack water and an increasingly pesky wind that was too much on the nose to make any use of. Off the causeway was is another small island, Creek Rock which was festooned with prickly pear on the southern face. Talk about tough stuff. The last few Km were a drag with choppy slop sloshing the soon to become fragrant coral spawn over us and the boats. When we turned for the boat ramp we could finally get some lift from the wind and happily slid onto the beach right on the top of the tide.
It had been a five hour trip when I logged off. There was no pressure for time to unpack and we chatted to our beach companions setting up their Hobie Cat and took our time enjoying the live music coming from Lions Park. When we drove into Kinka Beach Caravan Park the live music continued with the String Family Quartet – a charming way to finish what Huey had granted us as a magical holiday in a kayakers paradise.