Part of the Northumberland group, 70 nautical miles south-east of Mackay, the Percy Isles are a stunningly beautiful place of shimmering beaches and wooded hilltops - a Robinson Crusoe island rising from the indigo depths of the Coral Sea. Although only a day or two's sail from the southern Whitsunday islands, the islands are rarely visited except by cruising yachts and has never been exposed to tourism.
North East Percy and South Percy islands were gazetted as national parks over 70 years ago, placing them among the oldest national parks in Queensland. A conservation park on Middle Percy Island allows for some historical uses to continue. Bush camping and private accommodation on the island are managed by the lessee of the conservation park. While other domestic animals are not permitted, dogs on a leash are permitted on the walking tracks only on the Middle Percy Island Conservation Park, but not in the rest of this island which is part of the Percy Isles National Park.
Middle Percy Island has a fascinating history. Historical records indicate the most remote location Aboriginal people on the east coast were sighted was on Middle Percy Island in 1855 - with records of people swimming the astonishing 27 nautical mile journey from Shoalwater Bay to the Percy isles in groups supported by makeshift log rafts.
First charted by Matthew Flinders, and named after the Duke of Northumberland (who later cruised the area with his courtesan, the "scandalous" Lola Montes), Middle Percy was visited by Errol Flynn and, in 1932, by the Australian writer Dora Birtles, who captures its allure in her classic, North-West by North. Until 2001, when it entered a dark period. Middle Percy was one of the last remaining leasehold islands off the Queensland coast, bound to a tradition of providing fresh water and supplies to passing seafarers.
Leaseholders - including Eton-educated eccentric Andrew Martin, the self-exiled son of aristocrats who took over in 1964.Martin, who became known as "Lord Percy" transformed the island into a boaties' magnet, offering goat s meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, honey and bread and meals at the homestead, an energetic 1.5km uphill walk from the pristine beach. Martin had no shortage of time, and in the end it was excessive contemplation - not of nature but Old Testament prophecy - that would lead him horribly astray. By the early '90s, with his physical health in decline, Martin had become unbalanced.
Convinced that God was speaking directly to him, Martin rushed back to England in 1996 to "save" Britain from its collective sins. A few years later, despairing over Princess Diana's failure to rise from the dead and accompany him back to Middle Percy with her two sons, Martin recognised himself as a "false prophet" and prepared to be annihilated by his Maker. In 2010, when Middle Percy was made a national park by Queensland's Bligh government, the then-leaseholders - Andy Martin's cousin, Cathryn Radclyffe, and her partner John Morris - became the managers of a portion (17 per cent of the island) known as a conservation park. It includes the homestead and land extending down to West Bay.
St Bees Island is largely composed of steep, volcanic hills reaching 370m above sea level. Goats were introduced to the island prior to 1905 and are still present on the island in large numbers. Grazing by sheep, cattle and horses started in the 1907 and declined during the 1950 s. A few abandoned sheep, horses and cattle survived to the 1970s. Today intertidal wetlands, eucalypt forest and woodland, casuarina woodland, rainforest and grassland form a mosaic of contrasting ecosystems across the island.