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The reef waters of the tropical north Queensland coast are peppered with tiny drops of green rainforested islands fringed with golden sands. Many of them are tantalisingly close to the mainland, and itching to be explored by kayak.

In the mid eighties I had the opportunity to take several low level flights along the coast and as I watched all the clusters of tiny islands passing by below me, I promised that I would be back to visit them one day on the ground.

Thirty years later I’ve finally got around to knocking one of the best off my bucket list – the North Barnard Group of islands, otherwise known as the ‘Barnies’.

getting there


kent island kayaking


Located off the Cassowary Coast, south of Cairns, many of these island clusters have no public access so your options are limited to either chartering a boat or begging, borrowing or buying your own aquatic transport.

I’ve done quite a bit of paddling around in canoes and kayaks in my time but never ventured far off the coast so I took a quick simulated tour with Google Earth first to check it out.

This revealed how relatively close the North Barnard Islands are to the coast, with the most northerly representative of the 7 islands only 800 metres away, so it gave me the confidence to start hatching a plan with fellow photographer Steven Nowakowski.


sunset tropical north queensland


While many sea kayaking adventurers launch from Kurrimine or Cowley Beach and travel from south to north, we decided that it looked shorter to to launch from Mourilyan Harbour, hug the coast and then island hop.

At worst, the hardest part (paddling into a sou’ easter) would be out of the way first while we were still fresh.

And if the weather blew up on us, there were some nice coastal beaches to explore.


paddling off


north barnard islands kayaking


As it turned out we needn’t have worried as we were lucky enough to score perfect weather and some of the best paddling days of the year.

Our plan worked like clockwork and our destinations were sublime.

Sea kayaking along a rugged tropical coast is such a wonderful experience.

In good weather the effort is minimal and you can enjoy scenes of remote wilderness passing by at a leisurely pace.


north barnard islands north queensland


Coming out of Mourilyan Harbour it was a pleasant 40 minutes paddling past some remote beaches before we headed out to sea to our first island – Lindquist Island.

Unfortunately public access is not permitted on Lindquist so we bobbed past imagining all the exploring and snorkeling opportunities on this interesting island.

We then paddled a bit of a stretch over to small Bresnahan Island before heading to the big ticket items – Hutchison, Jessie and Kent Islands, which are all clustered together.

It is a photographers playground, a birdwatchers paradise and for anyone else, a true Robinson Crusoe experience.





camping north barnard islands


We stayed overnight at the designated campsite on Kent Island. A camping permit is required although, as it is a commonwealth lighthouse reserve, national parks don’t charge for a permit!

The down side of this is that some people book the limited sites out and wait for ideal weather.

There are picnic tables and poles to string tarps from but no water so you need to take your own. You need to be self-sufficient and plan on taking all your rubbish out with you.

Just around the corner from the western campsite there is a flagged trail up to the lighthouse. It’s a steep, rough walk with limited views from the top.


coral north barnard islands


The neighbouring islands of Jessie and Hutchison are close by for exploring.

The North Barnard Islands take a bit of effort to get to if you don’t have your own boat but they are stunning.

It’s all about the beaches, snorkelling in crystal azure waters and soaking in the sunsets.

travel nq fast facts


  • Be prepared – brush up on your sea-kayaking lore and make sure you plan for all contingencies.
  • Recommended reading before you go – “Gone For Shore” by Tim Trehearn
  • Mobile reception – National Parks say there is no mobile reception but we picked up an Optus signal so Telstra should be good too.
  • Jet skiing around the islands are prohibited.
  • Stinger season is November to May and saltwater crocs inhabit estuaries in this area 

    travellers guide to north queensland
    Paul Curtis is the author of The Traveller’s Guide to North Queensland.


We highly recommend this book for more information on bushwalks, camping spots and places to explore in FNQ. Go to to find out how to get a copy.

All the photos featured on this page are thanks to Paul Curtis