Great Keppel Island is part of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, accessible by ferry from Yeppoon. It only takes 30 minutes and passengers disembark directly onto the beach, the closest I’ll ever get to exiting a yacht on a private island.
Great Keppel was once known as a party island—its slogan was ‘get wrecked’—but island politics got complicated. Great Keppel is now rising from the ashes as a tourist destination, and I can see the attraction. It’s close to the mainland, semi-walkable, and has 17 beaches to choose from.
When Jared told his dad we were going to Keppel, we were surprised to learn that his parents had been before.
“Your mother and I went there like 100 years ago,” he said. “It was back in the days when the bank shut at four and there were no ATMS, so if you didn’t get there by the time they closed you had no money for the weekend.”
So there they were wandering Great Keppel Island, when suddenly, in front of them, was a five-dollar note on the beach. This was a huge find, because in the early 70s five bucks could buy you nearly ten times what it does today.
Knowing that Keppel used to be a party island, it makes sense that they then took that five dollars and went to the pub. Which now that I think about it is rather poignant because that’s what Jared and I did when I found $40 in a puddle in Byron Bay.
Free money or no, the island is a beautiful place to be. We followed the walking track to the end of the main beach and over to Monkey Beach, a sparkling white swathe of sand that slides into a deep blue ocean. We brought our own snorkel gear and took turns swimming over the vibrant coral, pointing out small stingrays and fish as long as my arm.
From Monkey Beach you can walk across to Long Beach for more snorkeling, this time along a rocky outcrop. I didn’t last long; I rarely do when snorkeling, becoming increasingly paranoid about sharks and other unidentified marine life.
By then my stomach was grumbling, so we walked back across the island to the ‘main drag,’ a strip consisting of a souvenir shop, a watersports kiosk, a pizza place, and a resort. We arrived just in time to discover that the two food outlets stop serving food at two.
An extremely disappointing discovery to make at 2:05.
The resort’s kitchen pointed us to a corner of the beergarden, where you could choose between a pie, overpriced chicken satay skewers or overpriced fish and chips. I dropped $15 on the fish, which looked suspiciously like it had been cooked that morning and kept warm alllll day but tasted fine.
The ferry returned to pick us up at 3:45pm. All passengers had been reminded to be ready on time, and it appeared that we all were.
The captain warned us that were in for a choppy ride back, and I closed my eyes to wait for landfall.
Only it didn’t come when I expected, because not all of the passengers were on the boat. Ten minutes after we’d departed, the captain got a call that a group of people had missed the ferry, so he turned around to pick them up.
“Apparently they were getting pissed at the pub,” the woman in front of us said.
How she knew this I had no idea but the boat was ready to revolt by the time we made our second departure for Yeppoon. I never saw the family who made us late but to this day remain mystified that the Freedom FastCat turned around for them.
I think about how different the story must be when told from their perspective, who like Jared’s parents left Keppel with their own good-luck story to pass down in the years to come:
“We missed the ferry, but can you believe it, the boat came back! How lucky is that?”