Secret island alert: 48 hours on Keswick Island
Just 32km from the coast of Mackay, Keswick Island is a Queensland gem and makes for a short and affordable trip to one of the most beautiful islands in the Whitsundays. The island terrain is kept pristine and protected as a national parkland.
Yet despite its beauty and accessibility, Keswick is still a relative secret as one of the lesser-frequented islands in the region.
Known as the treasured island, Keswick is home to an incredible array of fauna and marine life that thrive in the unadulterated environment. It truly is a paradise for anyone craving adventures in the outdoors.
Thanks to the subtropical climate, Keswick is great to visit all year round though campers should be wary of roughing during cyclone season November through April.
Being so close to Mackay, it’s a short, 15-minute fight over the Great Barrier Reef to Keswick’s secret island paradise. Island Air and Whitsunday Helicopter are the only commercial operators who do the trip between Mackay and the island, giving you the choice of plane, for a swift ride, or helicopter for a more scenic entrance.
Of course, if it’s the reef you’re interested in, motoring from the mainland to the island is the only way to go. There’s a jetty in Egremont Passage, near the Keswick airstrip, where you can moor for a small fee.
For a small island, Keswick Island has accommodation options to suit whatever comes its way, and won’t blow your budget. With a large, self-contained Beach House, fully-catered guest house, glamping tents and space for off-the-grid island camping.
What’s more, there’s no such thing as a room without a view. Every type of accommodation faces the Coral Sea or Keswick’s neighbouring cluster of Cumberland Islands.
After settling into your digs, swing by the one-stop Keswick Kiosk to hire a golf buggy. Four wheels will make discovering the 530 hectares of sublime wilderness much easier on your pins so you can make the most of your stay.
Keswick Island also runs its own World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms project, offering holidaymakers the opportunity for a volunteering holiday. Participants exchange farm work for meals and accommodation, and spend their downtime enjoying the island. Besides being economical, the WWOOF scheme invites travellers to become a meaningful part of their destination and give something back to the island.
Back at secret island beaches
When there are five magnificent beaches to share with just a handful of residents, you can be pretty much guaranteed of finding a secluded swimming spot.
For a quick dip, head to Basil Bay. One of the most beautiful beaches in Queensland, basil Bay transforms at high tide into a beach of Maldivian proportions with crystal clear waters and perfectly calm swimming conditions.
At low tide, neighbouring Arthur Bay can be reached with a short stroll. It guarantees snorkelling fun when the water swallows the beach, turning the bay into something like a megasized aquarium you can swim around in.
But you’ll have to swap your buggy for something a bit more terrain-ready to reach the jewel in Keswick’s crown, Connie Bay. A vision of sweeping white sand, fringing coral and towering rocky cliffs. If you decide to walk it, we can tell you the hike is worth it when you dive into those crystal-clear waters.
The protected waters of Egremont Passage attract a vast array of fish including Spanish mackerel that could feed a crew.
Jetty fishing is all well and good on the mainland, but Keswick only deals in reef and deep sea fishing. The island provides a perfect base for keen fishers, with coral trout and red emperor swimming in the outer reef.
Just note that, while the Keswick Kiosk can provide basic provisions like bait and fuel, you will need to be self-sufficient with your own boat and all fishing gear.
Considering Keswick Island is made up of 80% national park, there’s no shortage of hiking routes to try. Along these trails you’ll spy koalas in towering eucalyptus trees, Tiger Blue butterflies flitting around the ferns, and 33 different species of birds making a home in the forest canopy.
Hike to the highest point on the island to cast your eyes over Egremont Passage, the body of water that separates Keswick from its neighbour, St Bees Island. The hike is a bit gruelling, but with a summit 309m above sea level, the view is worth it.
Going in the other direction, a snorkel, mask and set of fins is all you need to explore the Great Barrier Reef coral fringing Keswick Island.
Of the four ships that went down between 1890 and 1950, only three have been discovered so keep your eyes peeled to spot the long-lost Woy-Woy, said to be on the floor of the Egremont Passage.
But that’s just on land. Where marine life is concerned, the waters surrounded Keswick are teeming with dolphins, tropical fish, and manta rays.
But if you can time your visit to fall between July and September, you might just get a chance to see humpback whales as they start their migration past the island. These gentle giants use the passage between Bees and Keswick Island as a highway home. You can get a clear vantage from Basil Bay, the deck of the Keswick Kiosk, or any of Keswick’s prominent headlands. You can even watch from your boat, just make sure you brush up on the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching
Meet the local fauna
The most prized of Keswick’s assets isn’t a beach, a reef or any kind of landform at all. It’s the locals, or more specifically, Keswick’s Caucasian bees.
What makes these bees so special is not just their colouring (they are dark with silver stripes), but the fact they are free from diseases which makes them sought after for breeding purposes on the mainland. Their honey tastes different too, with more of a molasses, salted caramel flavour.
You can pick up jars of the honey at the Keswick Kiosk, Mackay Visitor Information Centre and select retailers on the mainland. Thanks to the diverse flora on the island, expect notes of blue gum, tea tree, mangrove and grass trees.
Every five weeks you’ll find Keswick’s chief beekeeper Des Covey on the tools tending to his hives.
Protection from development means the homes and natural habitats of these bees and numerous other species are left to thrive. At dusk, you’ll see fireflies lighting up the island with their gentle glow, or if you stay up for the dawn you might catch Keswick Island’s microbats (the size of 20 cent coins) returning to their roost near Langton Point.