Great Keppel Island
one of Keppel Bay’s best, safe, dive and snorkel experiences
Great Keppel Island
Great Keppel Island (also known as South Keppel), the largest of the Keppel Islands, lies about 20 km southeast of Yeppoon and 15 km east of Rosslyn Bay.
The 17 white sandy beaches on Great Keppel Island are fringed by hard coral, with some of the highest coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef. These reefs support an island-based dive industry that offers one of Keppel Bay’s best, safe, dive and snorkel experiences.
The view from Putney Beach, Great Keppel Island, to Middle Island (Photo: S. Dunlop)
Since the first resort was built in 1967, Great Keppel Island has been the premier tourist destination in the Keppel archipelago .
When owned by Contiki in the 1980s through to about 2007, the island was a hive of activity. The Great Keppel Island Resort appealed to backpackers and spawned the ‘Get Wrecked on Keppel’ advertising campaign .
A second, smaller resort at the sand spit between Putney and Fisherman’s beaches, known as Woppaburra (later, Keppel Haven), was more family oriented. The two resorts spawned a thriving, island-based dive operation at Putney Beach.
Monkey Beach reef and Shelving Point reef
Depth 5.5 metres
Monkey and Shelving reefs are by far Great Keppel Island’s most valuable tourist dive and snorkel sites.
Monkey Beach reef, so named because it is shaped like a monkey’s face, is the most famous reef in Keppel Bay and one of the easiest to access from the island.
Partly protected from wind, swell and floodwaters by Monkey Point, Monkey reef has exceptionally high coral cover, 38 coral species and a good mix of branching, encrusting and boulder corals.
A dense carpet of zoanthids nestles in between the corals. According to local collectors, this was once a popular commercial collection site for zoanthids and other aquarium species.
Access Monkey reef by boat or walk in directly from Fisherman’s Beach.
For a great snorkel, enter the water from the beach; swim out along the edge of the reef at mid-to-low tide; or anchor near the reef slope.
The reef flat lends itself to viewing corals at close range. Expect to see branching corals, turtles, anemones and anemonefish (clownfish) such as Amphiprion melanopus and Entacmaea quadricolour (bubble-tip anemone).
Conditions are best during south-easterly or easterly winds.
Monkey reef is protected from anchoring by no-anchor buoys and has public moorings. Anchor just past the buoys or in near the beach.
Shelving Point reef lies right next to Monkey reef and can be reached directly from Fisherman’s beach or by boat. There is also a single type A mooring at Shelving.
Monkey reef. © A. Jones.
Clam Bay reef
Depth 4.5 metres
Clam Bay is a coral trout breeding ground  but it’s also a Marine National Park (Green) Zone so fishing is not allowed.
It once had spectacular Acropora coral cover but, because the bay faces south, the 2011 flood decimated the coral. It is slowly recovering and, even on a recovering reef, there is always something to see.
Access Clam Bay reef by boat or walk there via the airstrip. Snorkellers can enter the water from the beach; swim out along the edge of the reef at mid-to-low tide; or anchor near the reef slope.
Conditions are best during northerly or easterly winds.
Anchor off the reef slope. Watch the eastern end because the reef fans out and it is hard to see where to anchor. If you anchor within the reef area, choose a small plough anchor and a large sand patch. Watch that the anchor chain doesn’t break the perimeter corals.
Expect to see juvenile coral colonies, turtles and, if you are scuba diving, anemones on the edge of the reef slope.
Echinophyllia aspera, Clam Bay reef. © Ray Berkelmans.
Big Peninsula reef
Depth 8 metres
Big Peninsula, known as Big ‘P’ to the locals, is one of the most sheltered dive and snorkel sites around Great Keppel Island. For this reason, in really bad weather it has always been the ‘fallback’ site for divers.
Because of this, and because it is an easy site to navigate, most divers have seen it only in poor-to-moderate visibility.
But the site has quite beautiful corals.
Fishing and commercial coral collecting are allowed but no-anchor buoys prevent boats from anchoring too close to the delicate reef edge.
Big ‘P’ once had a pontoon, owned by the smaller resort now known as Great Keppel Island Hideaway. The sandy seabed under the pontoon provided a habitat for stingrays and it was common to find shovel-nosed rays, huge eagle rays or blue-spotted lagoon rays. Though the pontoon is long gone, there is a strong chance you will see some stingrays there on the sand patches where they bury themselves up to their nostrils.
Right up at the eastern point of Big ‘P’ lies a huge area of pale blue and green ‘bed-of-nails’ coral, Acropora latistella.
Big ‘P’ can be accessed in most weather except in northerly winds. Water clarity can be poor after several days of northerly winds.
Anchor off the reef slope, outside the no-anchor buoys or near the beach, and swim across. Watch the surface currents; they can be deadly for divers so it’s best to drop down to 8 metres quickly and start your dive at the reef edge. Use the anchor chain to control your descent. There is a public mooring at Big Peninsula.
Moray eel, Parker’s bommie on the eastern side of Big Peninsula. © Ray Berkelmans.
Big Peninsula. © A. Jones.
Butterfish Bay rocks
Depth 4.5 metres
Butterfish reef is a fantastic little dive spot for large polyp species of hard corals, with lots of soft corals tucked into crevices in the rocks.
Snorkel here only in really clear water on the low tide.
This is a great dive site as you can meander through the rocks to hide from the current.
The rocks are quite far from the beach so the best access is by boat.
Acanthastrea lordhowensis, Butterfish Bay rocks (Photo: © A. Jones)