Keppel Delights & Dismay


We have been taking it easy. After three weeks at the Reef we have spent a two weeks at the Keppel Isles. It is a mix of relishing these islands, having fun with a few cruising friends, needing to spare our necks after overdoing the diving thing at the Reef and simply enjoying life.

Wreck Bay – Great Keppel Island
Sunset at long Beach – Great Keppel Island

This time of year is special at the Keppels: you are surrounded with beautiful blue tiger butterflies during your walks ashore, red grevillea and grass trees are in flower everywhere on the islands, it is warm but not hot.

Bengie has been comfortable with her sojourn too. We take her for beach walks most days. She seems quite happy to get off the boat and have a bit of a wander.

Return from a walk at Leekes Beach

We have visited the Keppels many times, but we still manage to discover new spots. It is the advantage of not rushing: you can wait for the right conditions to explore. Take Man and Wife Rocks for instance, two islets off the northeast side of Great Keppel, and Barren Island on the eastern side, both sites with a public mooring to protect large expanses of branching coral from anchor damage, both with their own appealing identity.

We snorkeled at mid tide at Man and Wife and found it had a special feel: the Man Rock goes straight down into the deep blue sea, edged with different soft corals and sea fans; you get a sense you are a long way offshore! We even saw a whale not far away. We had to keep an eye out for where we were at all times: there is a fair amount of current running between the two rocks and a drift dive is what you get, ready or not! We would easily go back there but at low tide, to enjoy the site at slack water.

Moored at Man & Wife Rocks
It is deep and sheer!
Some dainty sea ferns
There is a bit of current!
Whale diving right next to us

We stayed the night at Barren Island, as it provided good shelter. We paddled along the lee side with the kayaks on one day and snorkeled the next at low tide. The island is rugged with ochre coloured boulders edging the shores, making landing difficult, but it is not as barren as its name suggests. It is covered with flowering grevillea and grass trees, there are two resident ospreys with a huge messy nest and a few reef egrets.

Tiny little beach of coral rubble

The particular appeal of Barren Island is that it is one of the best dive sites in the Keppels with large expanses of soft and hard corals in warm greens and rich russet tones. Being the eastern most island of the Keppel Group, and furthest away from the Fitzroy River mouth, it has the clearest, nutrient free water.

Gullies of branching coral and shimmering soft coral
Various meandering and branching corals
Fields of russet and green
Wade ready for action, but no catch!

Back on Great Keppel Island another fun thing we did with our buddies Alex and Wendy from Gipsy was to kayak through the wetland. At high tide you can paddle up Leekes Creek, a salt water creek meandering through mangrove. It is tranquil with only the sound of bird songs, and the gentle paddle has a meditative quality. We explored every little arm and eventually got close to the Leeke homestead which overlooks tidal mangrove plains, but ran out of water!


Two things upset us during our stay: one an example of people’s carelessness, the other the result of climate changes.

In such a magic spot as Barren Island, it was infuriating to find half a dozen beer cans that had been tossed overboard by some halfwits and got trapped in the branching coral. Why can’t people stop littering and take their rubbish with them? It is not that hard to respect the environment!

Having seen beautiful healthy coral gardens at the more remote islets, it was a shock to read that in February 2020, the first coral bleaching event in 14 years had occurred in the Keppel Islands. Too much light and high water temperatures were a toxic mix. The corals mainly affected were the fast-growing branching corals that live in the shallow waters fringing the islands.

Our favourites Monkey Reef and Big Peninsula have been affected. We had to go there to see it for ourselves. It is so upsetting. Once vibrant, the corals show patchy bleaching all over and in areas algae is smothering what is left, something that had started last year. The fish are still numerous, but this is what the coral fields look like:

Information from the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows that mass bleaching was recorded in the Keppels in 1998, 2002, 2006 and now 2020 with minor bleaching in between. Coral bleaching occurs when warmer than usual water combines with high levels of sunlight causing the coral to expel the algae that live in its tissues. Without the algae, known as ‘zooxanthellae’, the coral loses its energy source and its colour.

Because of the excellent growth rates of branching species like Acropora, Keppel corals may recover within a year under the right conditions by cloning themselves, even growing back over the dead skeleton. We can only hope, but the damage we saw left us very sad.

Moving on

We had several days of strong wind and had to wait for it to ease before we could go ashore to replenish our fresh food and pick up medical supplies for Chris. We finally moved on the last day of winter. A stop at North Keppel on a dead calm day, then a good sail to Pearl Bay and the Percy Isles saw us progressing further north. We are at Middle Percy for a few days with very patchy internet. So if we take a while to answer comments on the website that’s why, but we love hearing from you, so do send them.

Image courtesy of Stuart Greenway on Destiny

24 thoughts on “Keppel Delights & Dismay

  1. Hi Anui people 🙂

    If you see further coral bleaching it might be worth contacting ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

    There are other various research groups studying the many aspects of marine life.

    • Thanks for that Roger. We will liaise with the group. It was disappointing to see the damage. We tried Corroboree Island and it was bad there too.

  2. Wow, you’ve taken so many beautiful photos, guys! The beauty of life underwater is incredible, I too feel sad that anyone would toss beer cans or any other rubbish overboard! The kayak trip into the marsh would be such a wonderful journey! So good to hear from you two, be well, stay safe from you know what. 😎🇦🇺

  3. It’s always great to read your posts Chris – I’m feeling quite envious as usual! Wish we were there with you!
    The weather here in Port Macquarie is suddenly ‘spring like’ – so good to be outside right now and Im spending more time in my garden. When I read your posts, it makes me long for the future when we’ll be sailing and travelling on our own cat. Waz is away skiing at the moment…last chance to ski on the Australian Alps and he is now formally semi retired! He will fully retire in March next year as planned.
    Keep doing what you do and enjoying that enviable lifestyle of yours! We love your work and as usual, your images are amazing! Chris, you are a gifted photographer indeed! (I love the blue tiger butterflies).

    • Oh thanks so much for the feedback Lisa… so nice to see you like the posts and photos. Sometimes we feel we are posting in a vacuum because lots of people read, but few comment! It will be amazing when you two set off on your own boat. Lots to look forward to!

  4. You have set very good pictures, Chris. Those wonderful places are like paradise. 🙂

    • Hi Leanne, yes it has. We had not seen coral bleaching like this in the Keppels before. Some of the snorkeling sites were affected by algae, but this is different. We can only hope they recover. It is amazing the corals can survive here because the islands of Keppel Bay are so close to the mouth of the Fitzroy River. Monkey Reef, Middle Island Reef and Corroboree Reef are really shallow so got hit the hardest. On top of the bleaching, they are all the closest to the river mouth so get affected most by nutrients and agricultural run off and thus algae as well. You don’t have to go very far offshore to see health reefs such as the ones of Barren Island, but these are deeper: a few meters under way at low tide, so less prone to bleaching and far enough away from runoff. It is all very fragile and damage happens really quickly.

  5. I appreciate your news and photos; it’s my way of cruising vicariously, ‘cos I’ve missed two deliveries and Hammo Is this year!
    Carry on cruising, with fair winds & great sights and snorkelling !

  6. Thanks again guys, we are so enjoying your adventures and pictures. Very sad about the beer-cans and bleaching. 😦

    • Hi Elgar & Claire, it’s nice to document our experiences and know our friends enjoy getting the posts.

      It is sad about the trash – not everybody cares about the ocean. But the bleaching is worse. We wonder whether those fringing reefs will recover or whether it is the seemingly inevitable death of them.

  7. Hi Chris and Wade. A very timely post for me. I am preparing Asteroid for a trip to the Keppels in a week. I have done the kayak trip up Leekes creek to the homestead and yes its quite special. Thanks for the tips on Barren and Man & Wife rocks. Will visit if conditions allow. I hope that Asteroid’s sign was still hanging at the Percy Hilton. Safe passage.

    • H Graham – we’ll look for the Asteroid sign at the A frame! We are going for a big walk today.
      Enjoy the Keppels and in particular Barren Island. Great coral and two moorings there quite well protected in a southerly. Have fun!

  8. I love those blue tiger butterflies. Wow! Your underwater shots continue to amaze me, Chris. The ones in this posting seem crystal clear. I don’t know if that is a function of the water there or the depth, but the images really jump off the screen. I can’t believe how careless people are with their rubbish and I see infuriating signs of it in the places I visit. As for the bleaching, I fear that climate change will continue to affect sensitive habitats like that.

    • Hello Mike, the water was crystal clear at Barren Island… hardly any clean up of backscatter required in post production. The Olympus TG6 is a great little camera and I have found the dome lens and housing helps a lot too. We were not very deep at all, just a few meters down… the less depth and the closest you are to your subject the more vibrant the colours on a bright day. The clarity is also a function of the weather. A few calm days when the water is not churned by wind and waves makes a huge difference. We had the perfect conditions.

      We can see the effect of global warming, increased frequency and intensity of storms, impact of agricultural runoff on the reef, and we were dreading seeing healthy reefs disappearing. It was particularly sad to see the bleaching at those sites which are so close to the mainland and were so beautiful just last year.

      Part of our motivation for spending time at the Reef is seeing as much of it as we can while we still can.

  9. What a nice coverage of your recent adventures, the paddle looked wonderful as well as the beautiful corals. glad you were able to share the beauty with some friends.

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