Capricornia Cays National Park

Capricornia Cays is both a national park and a scientific national park. Popular recreational activities in the park includes bird, whale and turtle watching as well as camping, walking, swimming, boating, snorkelling and diving. Capricornia Cays National Park is noted for its biological diversity, beauty and for provided habitat for a number of endangered plants and animals. In particular the cays are recognized as having the largest breeding population of endangered loggerhead turtles in the South Pacific.

Access to the islands via boat is available from Gladstone, Bundaberg and 1770. Islands and cays in the group include Broomfield Island, Erskine Island, Heron Island, Lady Musgrave Island, North West Island, Tryon Island, Fairfax Islands and Hoskyn Islands.

The cays’ stunning white beaches and coral reefs will leave a lasting impression. Their exceptional beauty and biological diversity make them internationally significant. Capricornia Cays National Park’s eight islands are part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Their biological diversity, exceptional beauty and endangered plants and animals are internationally significant.

The stunning white beaches and outstanding coral reefs of these small, relatively untouched cays make them popular destinations. This national park offers a variety of recreation opportunities ranging from commercial resort relaxation to nature-based camping and day visit enjoyment. Unlike rocky continental islands, the Capricornia Cays were completely built by corals. Rich forests of Pisonia grandis, which are typically only found on coral cays, dominate the island vegetation. A fringe of tough, small trees and shrubs such as coastal she-oak, octopus bush, native grasses and pandanus surround the cays’ pisonia forests. On North West Island, strangling figs and native elms are scattered through the forest, and native mulberries, sandpaper figs and lantern bushes grow in small clearings.

Things to do

Short walking tracks on North West and Lady Musgrave islands cross the islands and walkers can return along the beaches. Take drinking water and wear a hat and sunscreen. Wear shoes when walking on the coral rubble beaches and tracks.

Lady Musgrave Island’s lagoon is ideal for beginner snorkellers and divers as the surrounding ring of reef provides a barrier against outside currents. Patch reefs and bommies adorned with corals rise vertically from the lagoon’s sandy floor, providing shelter for fascinating reef creatures. You will discover more delicate and luxuriant coral forms in this well-protected area. Snorkelling is rewarding for those prepared to swim toward the reef edge.

Scuba divers have greater opportunities to explore bommies, crevices and caves along reef perimeters and slopes. Divers and snorkellers should wear diving boots to protect their feet, as they might have to walk across coral rubble to the water. A boat is the only safe way to reach distant snorkelling and diving sites.

Beware of strong currents and changing tidal conditions. Although Lady Musgrave Island’s lagoon provides protected water for snorkelling you must stay clear of access channels to the island, and be wary of boats. Never dive or snorkel alone.

The islands and surrounding reef provide also valuable feeding and nesting sites for marine turtles. Four species are found within this area — green and loggerhead turtles are commonly seen, while flatback and hawksbill turtles are only rarely seen.

Getting there

The Capricorn and Bunker groups are a distinct group of 22 reefs straddling the Tropic of Capricorn, at the Great Barrier Reef’s southern end. There are 16 coral islands, known as cays, on these reefs. The Capricornia Cays National Park protects eight vegetated coral cays — Lady Musgrave, North West, Masthead, Wilson, Heron, Erskine and Tryon islands, and part of Heron Island. Camping is permitted on North West, Masthead and Lady Musgrave islands only. A further six cays form Capricornia Cays National Park (Scientific). These are Wreck, One Tree, East Hoskyn, West Hoskyn, East Fairfax and West Fairfax islands. There is no public access to these cays.

Typically the islands rise only a few metres above high water mark, except North West Island, which rises to six metres at its eastern end. You can walk around North West and Masthead islands in a few hours, and Lady Musgrave in about 45 minutes, but seasonal closures to protect breeding seabirds or high tides can restrict circuit walks.

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The islands are accessible only by boat. Gladstone, Bundaberg and the Town of 1770 are the closest departure points and it is possible to access the islands by private and charter vessels. Tides, group size, equipment and cost are factors determining the type of vessel required. North West and Masthead islands have restricted tidal access. Generally, barges drop campers and their gear on these beaches at high tide. Masthead Island, although seemingly remote, has high speed catamarans and helicopter flights operating close by, ferrying resort guests between Gladstone and Heron Island.

Further information

For camping permits and detailed information on the national park, contact:

QPWS Gladstone Office , Centrepoint Building, Level 3, 136 Goondoon Street, Gladstone

PO Box 5065, Gladstone QLD 4680. ph (07) 4971 6500. fax (07) 4972 1993

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