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Jill Knight shares one of her perennial favourites - Great Keppel Island.

The older I get, the more hours of sunlight I seem to require for energy and happiness. This is one major reason why my favourite cruising area on the Queensland coast extends north from the Tropic of Capricorn in Keppel Bay to the Percy Islands. Apart from the superb weather, the mainland coast here is magnificent, the inshore islands are lovely and rarely crowded, and a number of offshore reefs are easily accessible. My favourite base for just hanging out amid all this is Great Keppel Island.

The anchorages

Great Keppel Island has a reputation in cruising circles for rolly anchorages. This is partly because it can be true and partly for other reasons. There are six main anchorages plus a score of little bays and corners to explore in favourable conditions, and knowing where to be and how close in to anchor are the keys to comfort. Many yachts passing through head for the Resort Beach on the west side in a south-easter, but unless it is neaps and one can tuck in close, Svendsens Beach on the north side may be better protected. Svendsens — actually two beaches, Svendsens and Second — has a shallow area with deeper water inshore, but newcomers alarmed by shoaling depths often anchor way off in marginal shelter.

Long Beach, on the south side, is calm in any wind with a northerly element, Wreck Beach covers anything with a westerly component, and Leekes is best in southerlies. Shallow-draught vessels can find perfect shelter from anything in Leekes Lagoon, but will usually need tidal assistance at the entrance. The last of the six is Monkey Beach, an intimate little bay zoned green, south of the resorts. Stick fairly close to the northern shore and tuck well in for east, north-east, and even light south-easterly protection; a walking track follows the ridges to the resorts and a boardwalk at the southern end of the bay leads to Long Beach. The best way to choose the most suitable anchorage for the prevailing conditions is to listen to Rocky Met, the popular local meteorologists who will expand on forecasts in great detail on request: they broadcast on VHF Channel 82 south of Rockhampton and on 21 to the north.

Activities

The island’s waters, which are almost always glass-clear, are covered by a number of marine park zonings as well as by fisheries restrictions. However, line fishing, spear fishing, bait netting, snorkelling the coral reefs, etc. may all be enjoyed, but get hold of up-to-date zonings beforehand; the fines for breaches are significant. Walking tracks criss-cross the island, some well-marked and others little used and overgrown. In any case, undergrowth is rarely dense and it is possible to walk almost anywhere. The walk to the lighthouse is popular as is the one to the homestead, a small wooden house once occupied by Lizzie Leeke who grazed sheep on the island until 1942. There are no crocodiles or poisonous snakes, but you may surprise a possum or a family of goats on your forays. There are a small number of permanent residents on the island and a very few small businesses – diving, sailing and motorised water sports, a pizza restaurant, the Rainbow Hut for clothes, snacks and postal services, as well as several low-key accommodation places, all except one located along the Resort Beach.

Sailors have left their mark on Second Beach and there you will find a swing, a giant hammock and a tree that remains decorated after a Christmas gathering several years ago. Although most cruising boats visit the island in winter, I have spent a few happy summers here on Cooee. Cyclone Benny hit one year, but with excellent shelter only 20 miles south, in the northern parts of the Curtis Island Narrows, the small summer cruising contingent experienced little effect.

Provisioning and maintenance

Ten miles west of Great Keppel Island are Rosslyn Bay Harbour and the town of Yeppoon. Fuel, LPG, fresh seafood and chandlery items are available in the harbour; there are both fuel and public docks, plus a nice floating pontoon for smaller boats adjacent to the public launching ramp. Marina berths are also provided — call Rosslyn Bay Marina on Channel 21 — and there is a good bus service from the harbour to town. Alternatively, in the right conditions it is possible to anchor off the main street for general provisioning. If you are expecting guests and the weather is not suitable for sailing across to pick them up, the daily ferry service can deliver them without fuss.

Three years ago, a developer bought and closed down the two main resorts. One is back in business in a small way, but the other is fenced-off, neglected and depressing. However, it will be years before anything goes ahead.

And one more plus, if you needed more. Great Keppel Island is not a national park: cruising dogs may frolic in all this sunshine with impunity.

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