For 14 years Woppa-Great Keppel Island has endured proposals of casinos, marinas, and luxury golf courses while the island’s existing infrastructure deteriorates. The Woppa-Great Keppel Island Master Plan Project provides an opportunity to protect this natural treasure from damaging commercialisation. Scheduled for release in the new year, the time to have your say is now.

We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Woppaburra people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.


Have your say on the future of Woppa-Great Keppel Island before Wednesday 30th of November 2022.


What makes Woppa-Great Keppel Island so great?

The island lies within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, which is one of Queensland’s five UNESCO World Heritage sites (no other Australian state or territory has more). For those unfamiliar with World Heritage status, think of it as an ‘international’ national park, which for cultural or natural reasons, has been deemed of the highest significance to the world.

Pair natural beauty of international acclaim and a convenient locale (the 30-minute ferry ride to the island lies within 40km of the region’s major hub Rockhampton) and you can begin to understand the island’s greatness. 

Fringing reefs are easily accessed off many of the island’s beaches, making snorkelling an option for even the most novice. For those who fancy jumping in at the deep end, the surrounding waters also offer a plethora of diving opportunities. 

At 1,454 hectares, Woppa-Great Keppel Island also has plenty to offer above the waterline. This is an island holiday your hiking boots can come along for as there are many worthy destinations scattered across the island. High on any GKI bucket list is the impressive summit of Mount Wyndham, which at 175 metres, is the highest peak on the island.

Stunning views can also be obtained from the light beacon on Bald Rock Point, or for the truly intrepid, the Northern Range Peak summit offers 360-degree views. Lying in the island’s central valley is the heritage-listed Leeke Homestead, with its accompanying grazing paddock and shearing shed, which sits on the edge of the tidal lagoon. 



The most famous destinations on Woppa-Great Keppel Island would have to be its 17 pristine beaches. Each one offers something a little different whether you’re after cocktails, snorkelling, water sports, solitude or even nudity. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to take your kit off, as Long Beach (clothing is optional for the eastern portion of the beach) often finds itself ranked amongst Australia’s finest beaches.

Long Beach

Unsurprisingly, Woppa-Great Keppel Island holds a special place in the hearts of those who’ve visited, whether they’re locals like Busby Marou who crafted a number #1 album (Postcards from the Shell House) inspired by the island or a visitor like Marina who penned an article after her time on the island. 

So how did one of the greatest islands fall off the map?

From Party Island to Disrepair

During the resort’s heyday, the island built up an aura of equal parts fame and infamy due to the ‘Get Wrecked’ campaign, which saw parallels being drawn with famous Mediterranean party islands.

The resort continued to operate until 2008 when it was shut down by Tower Holdings who’d recently acquired the resort in 2006. In the years since, the resort has languished, slowly being reclaimed by overgrown weeds and falling victim to vandals and squatters. In 2018 an effort was made to demolish some of the resort buildings but the now semi-demolished resort, quickly fell quiet once more.

Tower Holdings tread a fine line in 2016 when it was revealed that they were over $249,000 behind in rent for Woppa-Great Keppel Island leases and were threatened with ‘notices of intent to forfeit’ by the government. This would’ve seen them lose these leases. There have also been limited attempts by Tower Holdings to control a feral goat population which is reportedly, a condition of their lease. Environmental damage has resulted from the dramatic goat population increase caused by Tower Holdings negligence.

Goats are not always the GOAT

There’s been much conjecture about the direction Tower Holdings is planning to take with the island. Through the years they’ve proposed luxury resorts, casinos, golf courses, and a marina, though, for a complex multitude of reasons, nothing has materialised. Chief amongst these reasons is the vast environmental impact many of the proposals would have on the island. One such proposal was blocked by the Environment Minister of the time, Peter Garrett, (also of Midnight Oil fame) who stated that,

’The impacts on inshore coral communities, coastal wetlands, marine species, island flora and geological formations of a development of this huge scale would be simply too great – these are the very values that earned the area’s World Heritage status’.

Back in 2014 an effort was made by Campbell Newman’s state government to get Tower Holdings new resort up and running by changing Lot 21’s lease status. Lot 21 covers 60% of the island and before this change, the land had been restricted to recreational use. The land was then able to be opened up as a tourism and residential parcel, to allow the building of Tower Holding’s proposed resort.


The island’s runway in disrepair


Interestingly, in 2009 the Department of Natural Resources and Water, had determined that the most appropriate use of Lot 21 was for conservation, with a public consultation process finding that 97% of respondents favoured conservation. Only five years later and the findings had been ignored in order to help development. Thankfully, despite the lease status change, no work has begun on Lot 21.

A frustrated Tower Holdings tried to offload their troublesome acquisition earlier this year to Australian billionaire and mining magnate Gina Rinehart. Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, decided their beach club project wouldn’t be feasible, becoming the third such deal in the last five years to fall by the wayside.

The Traditional Owners and Native Title

While Tower Holdings have failed to make any headway on their development in over a decade, the same cannot be said of the efforts to reconcile with Woppa-Great Keppel Island’s Traditional Custodians, the Woppaburra people. During Australia’s colonisation the Woppaburra people suffered atrocious acts of violence and forced removal from the island.

Thankfully, in 2007 reparations began by the creation of the Woppaburra Land Trust, which returned certain parcels of land on the island back to the Traditional Owners, and in 2021, the Woppaburra people were recognised as the native title holders for the Keppel Islands



This led to many Indigenous names returning through dual naming practices, meaning Woppa-Great Keppel Island will once again be recognised by the name Wop-pa, as it’s been known to the Woppaburra people for generations. If the large-scale development of the island were to come to fruition, not only would it damage the natural environment, but it could also risk the many significant cultural sites that can be found around the island. 

The Proposal for a National Park – Conservation of Lot 21

The conservation of Lot 21 is of the utmost importance as it not only protects Woppa-Great Keppel Island but also ensures the health of the UNESCO Heritage-listed reef surrounding the island. It should be acknowledged that the stunning natural beauty of the island and reef is what draws visitors to the island. Thus, the irresponsible development of Lot 21 would be foolhardy due to the ongoing environmental damage it would cause and the subsequent economic damage brought on by a tourism decline. 

To ensure the best conservation of Lot 21, the demarcation of the lot into the national parks system is the most desirable solution. This should be achievable as Lot 21 is already owned by the government, but the Tower Holdings lease would need to be terminated for breaches of the lease conditions or a settlement made with Tower Holdings.

Once this has been achieved, the future of Woppa-Great Keppel Island can be viewed by the government as one of both environmental and economic promise, rather than the costly political landmine it’s been. The trick will be producing the economic gain required to keep the wheels turning, without sacrificing the purity of Lot 21. 

Thankfully, there are other chips in play, the existing footprint of the old resort development can still be utilised whether that’s with a new resort or whether the block is subdivided and sold off to smaller businesses ventures or for private residences. The value of these blocks would likely also increase with the assured conservation of the neighbouring Lot 21.


A helicopter pad that still exists on the island


Conservation of Lot 21 would most likely come in the form of a national park rather than that of a conservation park or the like due to the superior pulling power and subsequent revenue potential of the national park brand. A University of Queensland study found that Queensland’s National Parks have been estimated to contribute more than $2.64 billion in spending, annually, into the state’s economy.

The extra money the national park brand would bring in would free up funds for conservation efforts needed to return the island to pristine condition. Most notably this would entail the management of the feral goat population and that of other invasive flora and fauna. The national park designation would also see the highest level of protection being bestowed on the lot.

Concerns have been raised by the local community over Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services (QPWS) using national parks for commercial developments within their boundaries. Having fought so hard to see the conservation of Lot 21 this is not what would be wanted in the potential national park. If the QPWS did desire to produce a commercial development, the opportunity would exist in the adjacent old resort development site. 

Read more: Commercial Developments in National Parks Are Now Facing Nationwide Opposition

The potential national park could also see joint management, a practice that’s in place in other Australian national parks. This management group could be between the QPWS, the Traditional Custodians and native title holders, the Woppaburra people, and the local community members who have worked to protect the island. The aim would be to ensure the conservation of the island’s ecosystems and the Woppaburra culture and heritage. It would also mean that all significant parties would have a voice in the ongoing future of the island. 

The potential Lot 21 national park would likely merge with the already stunning Keppel Bay Islands National Park. This has the potential to be the flagship of the Queensland Government’s commitment to protect more natural spaces through Queensland’s Protected Area Strategy 2020-2030. The newly produced park, which could use the dual naming practice to reflect the Woppaburra’s native title, would cover 14 of the 18 Keppel Bay Islands and produce one of the state’s finest national parks. 

There’d be scope for the outlining of a sea trail to match the Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail, which is designated as one of Queensland’s Great Walks. This would be a low impact attraction servicing many of the already developed campsites for those undertaking the route via paddle, while those using boats can choose to sleep aboard. The route such a trail could take has been paddled by the NSW Sea Kayak club. But before any such potential futures materialise, much hard work is still to be done.

The Woppa-Great Keppel Island Master Plan Project

The Woppa-Great Keppel Island Master Plan Project is currently being drafted for release at the end of the year. This project is being produced by the state government in partnership with the local Livingstone Shire council, Traditional Custodians, and community members.



I spoke to Michael Powell, a prominent member of the local community and key voice behind the Don’t Destroy Great Keppel Island movement and the GKI Alliance YaNga, who’s been heavily involved in the master plan, to learn more about their position.

‘We are hopeful that Lot 21 will never be developed, that Putney Beach will never be destroyed and that any future development on Woppa-Great Keppel Island will be family friendly, eco-friendly, and sustainable over the long term,’ Michael Powell told me.

Mr Powell also outlined the key points of the GKI Alliance YaNga position;

  1. No permanent structural development on Lot 21
  2. No marina on Putney Beach 
  3. All future development to be protective of the native flora and fauna (i.e eco sensitive), low key family friendly, nature based tourism
  4. All structural redevelopment should be confined to the RE-SUBDIVIDED old commercial footprint only (so as to never again have a single owner dictating terms to the government and our community)

It’s been made clear that Tower Holdings have no social licence amongst the community, due to their conduct over the years, and that the removal of them from the island’s leases would be a step in the right direction. Only then will The Great Keppel (Wop-pa) Island Master Plan Project be able to chart the course for a brighter future.

How You Can Help

Have your say on The Great Keppel (Wop-pa) Island Master Plan Project now! Public consultation closes soon, on 30 November 2022.

Mr. Powell also invited people to join the Don’t destroy Great Keppel Island Facebook page.