How To Have A Back To Basics Island Holiday

Great Keppel Island
LJ Charleston


Oct 28, 2016

The time was ripe for a simple holiday. Our family has had its fair share of nights in fancy resorts, road trips from Uluru to the Alice, the wineries of Margaret River, the spectacle of Port Arthur and many other Aussie attractions…. but we were all eager to have a ‘back to basics’ holiday.

Our last trip involved an 11-hour road trip (with three squabbling kids crammed into the back of the car.) Not doing that again. Not until next year anyway.

Our bucket list for a holiday was short, sweet and incredibly simple. No TV. No internet. No iPads. Plenty of beach time. Plenty of books to read. Long hikes until sunset. No driving!

We chose Great Keppel Island: not only had we been assured of its status as ‘one of Australia’s best: crystal clear waters, white sand, perfect October weather’, but we also wanted a place that was not overcrowded with holiday makers.

Great Keppel Island

Thankfully for us, we arrived from Sydney just as the Queensland school holidays ended. (Warning: make sure you book ANY flights to QLD early as the airlines really bump up the prices over school holidays…I wasn’t prepared for how expensive the Syd-Bris/Bris-Rockhampton flights would be).

Great Keppel was named by Captain Cook in 1770, in honour of one of his superiors back in London. It’s one of those rare treasures sitting amongst a group of Great Barrier Reef National Park islands off the Capricorn Coast of Central Queensland. Great Keppel is also known as ‘Woppaburra’ after the Aboriginal people who originally lived on the island: the name means ‘resting place.’

We stayed at the simply beautiful Great Keppel Holiday Village in a simple yet perfect little cottage, a short stroll to the beach. The Village is run by the delightful Geoff Mercer, who has been on the island for more than 20 years and knows the land like the back of his hand. Mercer gave us some great tips for things to do, but I always find it easiest letting the kids plan the days’ activities.

room in Keppel

We stayed in the Dolphin cottage and loved sitting out on the deck, nestled between gum and palm trees, where we were joined by a constant stream of friendly possums and local birds, such as the curlew.

The Village is made up of a handful of gorgeous cottages and cabins, with an additional space for campers, plus a communal kitchen, shower and laundry. It’s close enough to the beach but nestled a little further from the main part of the island so it feels nice and secluded.

Great Keppel Holiday Village
Great Keppel Holiday Village

It was incredibly easy entertaining two teens and a tween: all they wanted to do was hang out at the beach. But, apart from swimming in the beautifully warm waters, we delighted in a great variety of water sports: stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, jet skiing, snorkelling and tubing (that’s when you sit or lie across a large plastic tube while a jet ski drags you along the water, similar to water skiing. Not for me, but the kids loved it!).

We took a jet ski tour around the island that took about 90 minutes, with pit stops for snorkelling. Great Keppel Island Adventures supplies all the equipment, all very affordable, and owners Brett and Amie Lorraway have fantastic local knowledge as they’re raising their young family there. Brett grew up on the island and his kids will be home-schooled there. He delighted us with stories about the islands’ history, including the legend of a local ghost many have claimed to have seen. Sadly, he didn’t appear for us.

Another day, we visited some of the more remote beaches: Long Beach was a good 1 hour 20 minutes’ hike away, up and down the steep mountainside. But it was well worth the trek to have this stunning beach all to ourselves. I’ve travelled throughout Thailand, Indonesia and the South Pacific: Great Keppel has equally beautiful beaches, with that perfectly clear water and a multitude of fish. Snorkelling close to shore was another favourite activity, kids of any age can delight in the beauty of what lies just beneath the surface.

clear water

We also loved Shelvings Beach; yet another serene stretch of white sand, clear water and a spattering of ornate shells. But when one of us had a brain wave and decided to check out the next beach, Monkey Beach (also said to be stunning) three of us were put off by the steep climb. There is an easier way around but I’d advise you skip the mountain route…only one 14-year-old went all the way there and back, letting us know there was ‘no way’ that we would have been able to keep up with him (it’s a stamina/fitness thing!) We also paid a visit to the beautiful Heritage Listed Leeke homestead; it was the home of long time resident Lizzie Leeke who lived on Great Keppel between 1922 and 1945.

When it comes to food: unless you want to eat at the bistro for every meal, you’ll have to lug an esky-full of supplies with you on the ferry. Part of the joy of being on the island is knowing that all you need is the bare essentials but I’d recommend packing plenty of the kids’ favourite snacks (chips and ice creams are available on the island but not much else).

We were not terribly happy to leave Great Keppel; five days was not long enough for us! Isn’t that the sign of every great holiday? But, a small consolation was being able to explore nearby Yepoon, the lovely coastal town from where the ferry takes you to and from Great Keppel. It’s filled with quaint shops and café and reminded me a little of Avoca in NSW.

Keppel sunset

My tip for parents: it’s so important to take your kids on a back to basics holiday where you can focus on each other, get back to mother nature, play outdoors, and enjoy great conversations with your children without the distraction of modern technology. I loved that we didn’t have a TV or Wi-Fi in our room – no doubt if the goggle box had been close by, we would have been glued to Australian Survivor, which was airing at the time. Instead, we read books and spent valuable time walking and talking: something my kids and I excel at. Overall, Great Keppel is a very affordable holiday as there is little to buy on the island so you won’t spend too much money. Unless you over-indulge in Pina Coladas, as I did.

If you’re interested in a trip to Great Keppel, here are some details.


By LJ Charleston


LJ Charleston is a journalist & author of four books including Fatal Females & The Mommy Mafia: the urban dictionary of mothers. She’s also a poet & an award-winning short story writer who has worked extensively in TV, radio & newspapers. LJ has been a Beijing news correspondent, a model, a Bloomberg TV presenter & a news reporter working for every network in Australia. In Hong Kong as a reporter, she specialised in natural disasters...but nothing prepared her for the onslaught of twins. She’s passionate about parenting, fascinated by crime and would love to help people realise their dream of writing a book via her ‘I want to write a book’ program on her website. She has three boys; she will love them until the Statue of Liberty sits down.



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