Capricornia Cays National Park Gladstone

North West Island shark research project

The Capricornia Cays is abundant with wildlife — including sharks. We are currently conducting research into the prevalence, movements and behaviour of sharks around North West Island. Photo credit: © Queensland Government

The exceptional beauty of the islands within Capricornia Cays National Park will leave a lasting impression. Photo credit: Collette Bagnato © Queensland Government

Things to do

    Image of a noddie which is a common sight on the cays.

    Noddies are a common sight on the cays.

    Photo credit: J. Augusteyn

    Camping and accommodation


    Camping is permitted on three islands in the Capricornia Cays National Park. You will need to purchase a camping permit in advance. Bookings can be made up to 11 months in advance and fees apply. School holiday periods are often fully booked soon after bookings open.

    Before you leave

    You must be self-sufficient during your stay, so keep this in mind as you prepare for your visit. See essentials to bring for further information and remember to observe minimum impact guidelines while on the islands.

    Other accommodation

    Heron Island provides resort accommodation and there is a wide range of accommodation available in Gladstone, Bundaberg and Seventeen Seventy, from which tours and charter boats depart. See tourism information links for more information. Ask the charter operators how they can assist with your camping.


    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.

    View the journeys information for more details.

    Reef walking

    You can walk with care on the reefs surrounding all the Capricornia Cays. Please observe the following guidelines to minimise damage to corals and other animals.

    • Walk in sand channels and avoid stepping on live corals—they are easily damaged and will cause nasty cuts.
    • Don't stir up sand and sediment. Murky water stresses reef plants and animals.
    • Return overturned coral boulders to their original position. Many animals and plants shelter on the undersides of boulders and will soon die if exposed.
    • Never collect animals for souvenirs. Other visitors are not able to enjoy anything you take away. Collecting of any kind is not permitted in the Marine Park green zones adjoining the cays. Collecting of any coral or clams, living or dead, is not permitted in any zone.

    Snorkelling and diving

    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.

    Guided tours and talks

    A commercial operator offers guided tours to Lady Musgrave Island. The resort on Heron Island also offers guided tours for guests. See tourism information links for further information.

    Picnic and day-use areas

    Enjoy a picnic on North West and Lady Musgrave islands at any time of the year. Mast Head and Erskine islands have seasonal closures. You can visit from the start of the Queensland Easter school holidays until 15 October. Remember to pack a picnic blanket, as there are no picnic tables on these islands.

    Boating and fishing

    Boating and fishing among the Capricornia Cays and adjoining reefs are popular activities, however please follow the guidelines below.

    When boating

    • Take care when handling boats and anchors to minimise your impact on coral and other marine animals.
    • Anchor in sand whenever possible to avoid damaging coral.
    • Use a reef pick if anchoring in coral is unavoidable.
    • Motor towards the anchor to prevent dragging when hauling anchor in.
    • Maintain a speed of six knots or less over reef flats or shallow waters to avoid turtle strikes, coral damage and for the safety of people in the water.
    • Place no temporary moorings. It is illegal to place temporary moorings such as star pickets on reef flats or over reef edges.

    When fishing

    • Catch only as much fish as you need for your next meal. Remember, fish are an important part of the reef ecosystem.
    • Never collect animals for bait. Collecting of any kind is not permitted in the Marine Park green zones adjoining the cays. Limited collecting is permitted only in yellow and blue Marine Park zones.
    • Observe Marine Park zoning regulations. Zoning allows for wise use and protection of this great natural asset. See the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority website and Great Barrier Coast Marine Park web page or contact us for detailed zoning information.
    • Dispose of fish scraps responsibly! Only clean fish on land well above the high tide mark. Keep your fish scraps out of the water and take them with you when you leave. Offenders dumping fish scraps in a way other than this advice may be subject to penalties.
    • Observe bag limits and minimum and maximum size limits which apply for popular fish species. See the Fisheries Queensland web pages for more information.
    • Disarm any speargun brought onto the national park islands.

    Viewing wildlife

    Turtle watching

    The islands and surrounding reef provide 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.

    Capricornia Cays and the adjacent Bundaberg coast support the largest breeding population of endangered loggerhead turtles in the South Pacific region. North West, West Hoskyn and Wreck islands are important nesting sites for green turtles. The annual nesting population is highly variable and influenced by climatic conditions in the previous year or earlier.

    Marine turtles take 30–50 years to prepare for their first breeding migration. From late October to February, females return to the general area of their birthplace to nest.

    Loggerhead and green turtles lay about 125 eggs—each the size of a ping pong ball—in a clutch. Each nesting season they lay several clutches at about two-week intervals. Depending on the species, turtles only nest every 2–7 years.

    Eggs are incubated in the sand with hatchling sex determined by incubation time and sand temperature. Hatchlings emerge 7–12 weeks later, generally from December to late April.

    In spring and summer, turtle mating and breeding activity means turtles are on the reef flat at high tide and are generally slow to react. Please slow down when operating vessels on the reef flat and take care not to come in contact with turtles.

    Take care of sea turtles

    Bright lights and noises can disturb nesting turtles and hatchlings. If disturbed, female turtles are likely to return to sea without laying their eggs. Please follow these simple guidelines to avoid disturbing them.

    • Ensure camp and boat lights are not visible from nesting areas. Cook early, shield camp lights and use small torches to find your way around.
    • If turtle watching, use small torches only (3 volts or less) and avoid using them whenever you can.
    • Never shine lights on turtles leaving the water, moving up the beach or digging nesting chambers.
    • Approach and observe the turtle from its rear with dim torchlight but only after egg-laying begins—usually 10 minutes after the turtle stops moving sand.
    • Be as invisible as you can—remain quiet and calm.


    Birds are plentiful on all the cays, particularly between October and April when many thousands of seabirds migrate here to nest. Black noddies, wedge-tailed shearwaters and some of the resident island birds are quite tolerant of walkers but others are easily disturbed.

    Seventy per cent of the total breeding population of wedge-tailed shearwaters on the east coast of Australia nest on North West Island. Hundreds of thousands of these birds and black noddies arrive in October. Shearwaters nest in burrows, leaving at dawn to feed at sea and returning at dusk. Their mournful howling call at night is hard to miss, and some campers find it disturbing. Noddies nest throughout the islands' pisonia trees, including those in campgrounds. Camping in summer provides constant close encounters with shearwaters and noddies. This can be a wonderful experience for many campers.

    Most noddies and adult shearwaters leave in April. The fledgling shearwaters remain in their burrows for another six weeks before they also fly off. White-bellied sea-eagles breed during the winter months but nest sites are now restricted to six islands including North West.

    While bridled terns prefer the cover of fringe vegetation, more timid black-naped and roseate terns nest on exposed rubble beaches and in rocky crevices. Their nests are camouflaged and easily disturbed. Always try to avoid them. During nesting season walk at the water's edge unless signs tell you otherwise.

    Sea-eagles, boobies, egrets, oystercatchers, silver gulls and migrant waders including ruddy turnstones, whimbrels, Mongolian plovers and bar-tailed godwits are among many species feeding and roosting on the reef flat and island beaches.

    A variety of land-dwelling birds are permanent island residents. Silvereyes and buff-banded rails are familiar with our presence.

    Take care of nesting seabirds

    • Avoid areas marked off by temporary fencing and closure signs. They protect timid ground-nesting species such as roseate and black-naped terns. These birds will desert their nests if approached too closely. Exposed eggs and chicks will be killed rapidly by reef egrets, silver gulls, heat or cold.
    • Keep to the tracks to avoid collapsing shearwater burrows. If a burrow collapses, clear the entrance with your hand so eggs, chicks or adults are not trapped.

    Whale watching

    During migration, whales congregate in key breeding areas, which makes them susceptible to disruption and interference. Minimum approach distances regulate people, vessels, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to prevent disrupting whales while they are at their most vulnerable. See whale watching guidelines for further information.

    Take care when whale watching

    Everyone can enjoy these special marine creatures by following these simple guidelines.

    • When boating, stay more than 100m from a whale, or 300m if three or more boats are already closer. Keep 300m away when moving in a similar direction to a whale or travelling at more than 4 knots.
    • Intentionally feeding, touching or making noises likely to disturb or attract a whale or dolphin is prohibited.