In recent months having visited St Helena in the South Atlantic, Magnetic, Palm and Lady Elliot in Queensland, Australia I’m feeling quite knowledgeable about islands. The Whitsundays have long been on my radar, a series of islands in the Great Barrier Reef, popular with tourists, and fitting the cliché island paradise. Keswick Island was my introduction to Queensland’s little piece of tropical heaven on earth.
Most travellers are aware of Hamilton, the largest, most commercialised resort in the region, which attracts thousands of tourists annually. Few will have heard of Keswick Island however, which receives several hundred visitors a year by charter plane or boat from nearby Mackay.
They come in search of isolated beaches tucked away in secluded coves, easy walking between them, maybe trying some snorkelling, kayaking or fishing on the Great Barrier Reef.
Okay, let’s get the obvious out-of-the-way, it’s a beautiful island, covered in lush vegetation, flanked by pristine sandy beaches, and surrounded by clear, azure seas and colourful coral reefs. The 19 residents probably have mixed feelings about needing to attract more visitors, and keeping the island to themselves.
There is a range of accommodations to fit most budgets, all are small and intimate, with few rooms, offering good value to high-end rooms, but all offering fantastic views. I stayed at the Keswick Guesthouse, which is in the luxury bracket, and run by Lyn and Brian Kinderman, who made me feel immediately at home. The views are breath-taking, and Lyn is an excellent chef, producing a range of healthy, fresh meals which were the highlight of my stay.
There are few vehicles, most residents get around using golf buggies. They also use them to transport guests to their accommodation, or down to the island’s only shop, and coffee shop.
I was instantly struck by the number of butterflies which flutter around, seeking nectar from the abundant plant life. They are often found on the high points above the many bays, enjoying commanding views, and providing a splash of colour against the blue and green backdrop. It’s common to be surrounded by hundreds, possibly thousands of colourful insects, often rising into the air like a graceful cloud of rippling colour.
The island could easily be renamed Butterfly Island, or at the very least there needs to be a Butterfly Bay. It’s perfect for those that enjoy nature. Spider’s webs, stretch across numerous paths, the sinister looking residents silently waiting to catch dinner. This may not be every visitors ideal wildlife encounter, but there are many other opportunities.
There is a noisy colony of fruit bats, hanging from the branches of a small copse of trees. Looking like flying foxes, their keen eyes don’t seem to miss anything, and the inquisitive creatures keep a close eye on any visitor to the colony. Be careful though, they aren’t too fussy about where they do their ablutions, and regardless of how expensive guano maybe, it’s not a souvenir friends will appreciate.
The observant will see large monitor lizards sunning themselves in the quieter areas of the island. They can be shy however, and move quickly, so those that get too close will soon see a clean pair of reptile heels.
A variety of birds, add colour to the landscape, their haunting calls often breaking the silence.
Sulphur crested cockatoos group together like adolescent vandals, looking for trouble. roaming the island in small gangs, on the hunt for wires to chew, and mischief to create. Don’t let their attractive appearance fool you, these are hooligans with wings.
Turtles are regular visitors, and use the quiet beaches to lay their eggs, but for those fortunate enough to visit between July, and September the true stars of Keswick Island wildlife return; humpback whales. As one resident informed me when the humpbacks appear, everything stops, that’s my new definition of paradise.
The bright lights of Hamilton can continue to attract hordes to the Whitsundays, keeping the natural, unspoiled beauty of Keswick Island under the radar. Let spider webs continue to stretch across tracks, and beaches will only be crisscrossed with the tracks of crabs or the occasional turtle.