Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Capricornia Cays National Park    What's special?

Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland  Heron Island

At the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, Capricornia Cays National Park protects nine vegetated coral islands or cays. These islands were formed from the ancient remains of animals and plants which once lived in the surrounding reefs. At 100ha, North West is the second largest cay in the Great Barrier Reef.

Pandanus palms and beach she-oaks grow in the open woodland while pisonia trees dominate the dense central forest. North West has one of the most extensive pisonia forests in the world. Masthead has the most diverse vegetation and is the most natural island.

The coral reefs have built up over nearly two million years. A marine park was declared over Heron and nearby Wistari Reefs in 1974. The islands are important rookeries for nesting seabirds and endangered green and loggerhead turtles in summer. Roseate and black-naped terns nest on the islands and migratory birds visit in summer.

Heron Island was named during the 1843 “Fly” survey expedition. Guano mining devastated most of the islands during the late 19th century and a turtle soup industry operated on North West from 1910 until 1928. A resort was established on Heron in 1932 and the Research Station began in 1951. The islands became a park in 1938.

Today, Capricornia Cays National Park is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the surrounding waters are protected in marine park. These clear waters are rich in marine life and popular for snorkelling and diving.

Exploring Capricornia

Bush camp in defined camping areas on Lady Musgrave, North West and Masthead Islands. Toilets are provided on Lady Musgrave and North West Islands. Take fresh water and a fuel stove for cooking. Open fires and generators are prohibited. All rubbish must be removed to the mainland. Take extra food and water in case you are stranded by bad weather. For safety, take a broadcast radio, spare batteries and medical supplies.

Seasonal closures apply to protect turtles and seabirds. North West and Lady Musgrave Islands are closed to camping from the day after the Australia Day long weekend until Good Friday. Masthead Island is closed to all visitors from October 14 until Good Friday. Tryon Island is temporarily closed to camping.

Go birdwatching. You might see reef egrets, black noddies, buff-banded rails, bar-shouldered doves, silver gulls, rose-crowned fruit pigeons and silvereyes.

Watch the fascinating dawn exodus of the noisy wedge-tailed shearwaters in summer. Stay out of signposted seabird nesting areas. Watch turtles nest and hatch in summer but use no torches to avoid disturbing the turtles.

Go reef walking, diving or snorkelling. Wear diving boots to protect the coral. Beware of strong currents and changing tides. (Dive compressors may be used only between 9am and 6pm on North West and Lady Musgrave Islands.) Observe fishing and collecting restrictions.

Learn about the island’s history and wildlife at the information display on Lady Musgrave Island.


Trails are provided on North West and Lady Musgrave Islands and walkers can return along the beaches. Take drinking water. Wear a hat and sunscreen. Wear shoes when walking on the coral rubble beaches. Wear sturdy shoes if reef walking and walk only on sand to protect the coral.


The toilet on Lady Musgrave Island is wheelchair-accessible.

Getting there

The Capricornia Cays are 60–100km offshore north-east of Gladstone. Lady Musgrave and North West Islands are accessible by private boat or charter boat.

Sources & Further reading

Journey Back Through Time
Experience Australia
Aboriginal Australia
National Parks
Photo Galleries
Site Map
                                                                                           Author: M.H.Monroe  Email:     Sources & Further reading