Christmas on Great Keppel Island
(Simple Lessons from a Remote Tropical Island)

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in the UK, where we’ll be spending Christmas with my father-in-law before we head off to Morocco for New Year’s Eve. (If you’re keeping track, this is the third country on our round the world adventure!)

This Christmas will be very different from (and much colder than) my last Christmas back in Australia. It was just Mike and I so we decided to leave Brisbane and spend the holiday on Great Keppel Island, in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Great Keppel Island is special because, unlike most of the Queensland islands, it still vastly undeveloped (and I hope it stays that way!) We stayed at Svendsen’s Beach, a secluded eco-sensitive retreat on the remote site of the island. (Not that the ‘developed’ side is very busy!)

We had an incredible holiday there – we swam, we hiked, we ate, we napped – and we also learned some powerful lessons about simple living. With Christmas only a week away, I think it’s worth reflecting on these lessons (and sharing a few gorgeous photos!)

Simple lessons from a remote tropical island (Great Keppel Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia.)

I DIDN’T MISS GETTING GIFTS

When we decided to spend Christmas on Great Keppel Island, we also decided not to give each other gifts. It wasn’t an idealogical choice; we weren’t trying to make a statement against gift giving or materialism.

Instead, it was a practical decision. We had spent a lot of money on our holiday and also we had absolutely no spare space in our backpacks. Our side of Great Keppel Island had no restaurants and no shops – we had to bring all the food for our holiday onto the island with us. I actually flew with my handbag full of eggs and wine!

I have to admit, at the time there was a part of me that thought I would feel a bit sad not having any gifts to open on Christmas morning. I was worried the day wouldn’t feel special, or that it might not feel ‘Christmas-y’, you know? And to be 100% honest, I also have to admit that I was a little worried how I would respond when people asked me what Mike got me for Christmas. Silly and embarrassing (sigh … but true.)

But when Christmas morning came around, I didn’t give gifts a second thought. I was too excited about the sound of the waves crashing on the beach, making breakfast in the fresh air in our camp kitchen, and our plans to hike all over the island.

This year, we have bought small gifts for family and friends, but not for each other (and I can’t imagine that we will start doing so again in the future.)

Last year I spent Christmas on Great Keppel Island, at a remote eco retreat. We had an amazing holiday and also learned some powerful lessons about simple living.
When we walked down the hill + looked over the cliff we saw sharks!

I LOVED BEING ACTIVE ON CHRISTMAS DAY

Our Christmas morning hike was epic. I’m not sure how far we went, but we hiked for a solid six hours. We saw sharks and sea turtles, we swam on the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, and we also got our butts kicked. We walked, and walked, and walked; up and down hills, under the strong Australian sun. We didn’t see another living soul.

And it was fantastic. By the time we got back to our camp, I was SO excited to spend the rest of the day with my feet up, drinking bubbly, and feeling all around awesome. The adrenaline buzz mixed with a sense of accomplishment was so much better than how I normally feel on Christmas; bloated and lethargic.

See, the thing is at Christmas I normally give myself a ‘free pass’ to eat rubbish, drink too much, and lie around on the couch (and I’m guessing I’m not the only one?) But while I may enjoy it at the at first, usually by mid afternoon I start to feel unhealthy, excessively round, and also a tad bit annoyed with myself for over indulging so much. I might sound like the Grinch, but the truth is being active (in a fun way) made the whole day so much better.

(Now I just have to figure out how to make this work when I’m not on a beautiful tropical island. I’ll report back on that one!)

Simple lessons from a remote tropical island (Great Keppel Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia.)
That. Ocean. (words not required)

I’M INCREDIBLY WASTEFUL

Womp womp. This wasn’t a fun lesson, but a pretty important one.

As I’ve mentioned already, Svendsen’s place is truly remote. To get there we took a ferry (duh* – it’s an island) but we then took a second boat to access the other side of the island. The remoteness is what makes the retreat magical and romantic, but there is also the reality of limited resources.

(*Not to take away from the importance of this post, but I feel like I should apologise for the use of the word duh. But I can’t help myself. #dork #iLoveHastags #enough #stoppingnow)

Anyway, back to me being a wasteful human bean. Here are a few examples:

  • So Much Rubbish + Packaging – we were asked by our lovely hosts if we could take our recycling and rubbish (non-composting) off the island with us (because there are no facilities to process this waste on the island.) We were happy to oblige, but after four days I was blown away by how much waste we had created. When you’re not dumping all your rubbish in a big bin each night, it becomes crystal clear how much waste we really produce.

  • Cooking Gas – when the Svendsen’s need more cooking gas, they have to take there little boat to the mainland and it’s a full day return trip. Needless to say, they appreciate it when we don’t waste their precious gas, so they ask we only fill the kettle with the water we need – so we don’t waste gas heating up extra water. Well, mind blown. I know this is a little thing, but it highlighted to me that I would never in a million years have thought to take notice of this. It just shows how mindless I am with resources that I’m taking for granted.

  • Water (The Bush Shower Story) – A bush shower is a special bag with a small tap one end. It hangs on a rope; when you’re ready to shower you fill a bucket of water, fill the bag, and then hoist the bag and turn the tap for water. You can’t take a long shower or your bag will run out of water. This is what we used at Svendsen’s because there is a limited water supply (all the water at the retreat is tank water, meaning collected rain water.) At first I was horrified; I thought using the bush shower would be really uncomfortable. But you know what? Most days I didn’t even use half my bucket of water, proving that when I’m mindful about what I need I don’t really need much. I feel a little embarrassed by how much I waste at home.

We didn’t choose to stay at Svendsen’s because it was an eco property (the truth is we booked it because it was the best value option in the Queensland islands.) But it was an eye opening experience and it really highlighted for me how wasteful and mindless I can be.

Simple lessons from a remote tropical island (Great Keppel Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia.)
Feet up, a cold drink, and this view.

THE DETAILS: HOW TO PLAN YOUR GREAT KEPPEL ESCAPE

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ORIENTATION

Great Keppel Island is reached by ferry from mainland Australia. There used to be a large resort on the island, but this closed down years ago. Now the island is fairly undeveloped (and I sincerely hope it stays that way – it is what makes this place so unique and special to visit!)

However, the island is still very popular with visitors, especially locals and day trippers. When you get off the ferry it will look very busy. The area near the ferry landing has several small resorts and a few restaurants. I didn’t see much of this area because we stayed at Svendsen’s Beach, which is alone on the other side of the island (more below.)

GETTING TO/FROM GREAT KEPPEL ISLAND

Great Keppel Island is located about 700 kms north of Brisbane on the southern Great Barrier Reef. You can drive from Brisbane (about 7 hours) or fly to Rockhampton (there are regular cheap flights from Brisbane.)

The ferry to Great Keppel Island leaves from Rosslyn Bay Harbour in the morning. A return trip cost $55 per adult.

If you drive, there is secure parking nearby. If you fly, there is a public bus between Rockhampton and Rosslyn Harbour.

WHERE TO STAY

Regardless of how you arrive you will probably need to spend a night on the mainland in order to connect with the morning ferry.

I highly recommend staying at the Coral Inn in Yeppoon. It’s ‘flashpacker’ accommodation (an upmarket hostel); we stayed in a private room and it felt more like a nice bed and breakfast. Private rooms are around $100/night. They also arranged an airport pickup for us for $50 (we arrived too late to get the bus.)

On Great Keppel Island, I think it’s pretty clear I highly, highly recommend Svendsen’s Beach. As I mentioned above, it’s located on a remote side of Great Keppel Island. There are no other resorts nearby. If you stay at Svendsen’s Lyndie or Carl will pick you up in their small boat and it’s a gorgeous 50 minute ride to their place.

There are 3 types of accommodation: a large house (with a normal shower, not the bush shower I mentioned above), a beautiful wooden studio (where we stayed) and a few ‘glamping’ tents. All are very reasonably priced for the location (the Queensland islands are expensive). Check their website for the latest priced (we paid $150/night.)

Now, I could go on and on (and on) about my time at Svendsen’s – about the beautiful beach, about how kind Lyndie and Carl are, or about how well kept the property is; but there are only two things you really need to know are:

  1. If you want a luxury resort experience, this is not for you.
  2. If you want to get away from everything and have a simple (yet comfortable) nature experience, this is heaven.
Simple lessons from a remote tropical island (Great Keppel Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia.)
Watching the sunset. Bliss.

What have you learned about simple living for your travels? Do you have an off the beaten track Christmas story? Let me know in the comments! x

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All photos by me

Author: Jennifer

Hello there! I'm Jennifer and welcome to Simply + Fiercely, a community of people striving to live simpler, more intentional lives. As a former shopaholic and workaholic, I know how it feels to live a life that doesn't feel true to what's in your heart. Fortunately, I've transformed my life and gone from feeling cluttered and confused to living a curated life filled with purpose and joy. Now I'm here to help you do the same. 👉🏻 Click here to get started!