Willis Island

When I was on P&O’s Pacific Dawn the cruise went from Brisbane to Far North Queensland stopping at three tender ports along the way.  After the ship pulled away from the third port it headed east and traveled out beyond the Great Barrier Reef.

One morning the ship stopped out in the middle of nowhere.  I went up onto the top deck of the ship and saw we had stopped beside a tiny, low-lying coral cay in the middle of nowhere.  Like totally, in the middle of nowhere.  It is so remote it is too far to get to by helicopter and a high-speed catamaran in smooth seas traveling from the Australian coast will take 12 hours to get there.  The island is only 500mtrs (1600ft) long and rises just 9mtrs (30ft) above sea level.

It's hard to imagine anyone choosing to live in this kind of isolation

It’s hard to imagine anyone choosing to live in this kind of isolation

We had anchored a few hundred metres from Willis Island.  Willis Island is 450km east of Cairns and on the boarder of national and international waters.  It’s hard to imagine but people actually do live on the Island.  Four people to be exact but there’s room for up to 10 visitors as well.  But I don’t know how the visitors would get there with the Island not only being remote but having no wharf or jetty.  And just what do those four inhabitants do all day!

Beautiful blue seas surround Willis Island

Beautiful blue seas surround Willis Island

The Island was established in 1921 as a very important weather station where it would warn the Australian coast of impending cyclones via a radio transmitter.  Today the Island is still being used as a weather station and it sets off a weather balloon every day.  We were all on the top deck of the ship waiting for the launch of the weather balloon but it didn’t happen that day for some reason.

Another bird.  The Island attracts a lot of Boobys and

Another bird. The Island attracts a lot of Boobies and Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters

The Island is very important for birds and there are many bird species that breed and nest on the Island and they make quite a bit of noise.  Two of the most common species you see are the boobies and the Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters.

One of the many birds that live on Willis Island (and birds in flight are very hard to photograph!)

One of the many birds that live on Willis Island (and birds in flight are very hard to photograph!)

Willis Island is the only permanently inhabited Island out there (not that you can see any others but apparently it’s ‘close’ to two others of similar size).  Visitors would be very rare indeed.  The only ‘contact’ the residents would seem to have is when cruise ships come by to point out the Island to passengers.

This is a great place for birds to live but humans?

This is a great place for birds to live but humans?

The motives for cruise ships visiting Willis Island are not just ‘educational’ and ‘scenic’ however.  Visiting this tiny speck in the ocean puts the cruise ships into International Waters and that makes it a legitimate ‘overseas’ holiday which means the duty free stores can open for business.  And that’s a win/win for everyone.

Willis Island:  Population:  4

Willis Island: Population: 4

It was very interesting visiting this Island but I’m not sure I could live in such an isolated place with nothing to do but let off weather balloons and look at birds.  Here’s a short video explaining the lifestyle on Willis Island.

Life on Willis Island

The Island has changed shape since it fell under the direct path of Cyclone Yasi in 2011

The Island has changed shape since it fell under the direct path of Cyclone Yasi in 2011

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  1. What beautiful blues in these photos. I love that blue of the deep ocean. It must feel very exposed, living in such a remote place with so little shelter. I’ve just returned from the wilds myself and it’s a pleasure to rest my eye on the spaciousness of your photos. Wonderful that you are having such adventures.

  2. Good gosh – as you say, what do those four people do?? I don’t think I would cope very well at all if I found myself living in such a location!

    I am amused by the duty free possibilities though. What a funny way of making maximum use of the national / international distinction! 🙂

  3. What an interesting place! I’ve never heard of it before. And I wonder how the people that live there feel being just four of them? 🙂

  4. Great photos, wish we could go on a cruise!!

  5. Charlie, this is SO interesting! I’ve never heard of this place before. Heading back to watch the video clip now…thanks!

  6. Beautiful photos. Wow, I had never heard of Willis Island. Just watched the video – how fascinating. I hope the four inhabitants actually like each other!

  7. I miss the blue… so beautiful. Thank you dear Charlie, love, nia

  8. Only FOUR people on the island?!? I wonder if they can even get internet out there. Or television. Hmmm.

  9. I most definitely could NOT live on this island. Twelve hours away by boat? No thank you. However, reading about it and seeing those birds and the color of the water, now that I enjoy.

  10. The photos of the island are absolutely beautiful, but I’m with most of the rest of your readers: I couldn’t live there. I would fear every wave and strong breeze. Those are a brave four on Willis Island!

  11. Interesting that that little spit of an island could be important (birds, etc), which is just a reminder of how interconnected we all are. Not sure I would want to spend 4 days there–better see it from a cruiser. 😉

  12. Happy 2013!!! Beautiful pictures, I can´t imagine myself living in this tiny island, very interesting……have a good week:)

  13. 4 people? I would not be able to live there if there were 40. I quake at living 24 miles away from civiliazation….24 hours???? No way. But hats off to these guys….

    The pics are gorgeous.

  14. What an unusual little island, but the duty free shopping does sound worth the detour; was there much in the store Charlie? I think the bird noise and smell would drive me crazy not to mention the lack of stimulation. Do they even have Internet?

  15. Beautiful – yes! Isolated – yes! For me to live – Nope. … but still interesting to see from a cruise ship.

  16. As exciting as this sounds, to live would be very brave of anyone!

    Choc Chip Uru

  17. I was actually thinking about cyclones all the way through the post when you mentioned one in the last line. High waves would engulf the place. Quite spooky all round.

  18. Hmm not sure I could do it either. Sounds a bit scary to me being the one to warn the mainland about impending cyclones. How would they go out there in a massive storm?!

  19. I just couldn’t do it.

  20. What a beautiful view. Hard to believe that four people permanently live there though.. You would hope that you have a pretty good relationship with the other people there lol

  21. How breathtaking. I hope to get here one day 🙂

  22. You did a great job capturing those birds in flight. Wonder if those 4 people live on the island permanently or it is a short tour rotation.

  23. Great post, Charlie, and I found the Willis Island video fascinating. Funny about it being a kind of buoy marking the duty-free line. It takes a certain kind of individual to live alone like that for 3 months. As fascinating as I would find it, I don’t think I’m made of the right stuff to do it. You wouldn’t happen to know if they have any beer do you? 🙂

  24. Beautiful Sea!!
    Happy New Year Charlie!

  25. This is sure a very tiny island…population 4? Hahahah, I don’t like crowds, but I think I would be bored in this island.
    Have a great week Charlie 🙂

  26. Intriguing Charlie. You would have to like your workmates!

  27. Wow! That’s amazing… For a while I wouldn’t mind living in a place like that, but it must be hard to live there permanently.
    Thanks for sharing!

  28. imagine living and working with the same four people day after day. Not sure I could do it! How amazing to see such a remote place. GG

  29. Fascinating video Charlie. Thanks for sharing it.

  30. Gorgeous pictures!

  31. Wow, I don’t know if I could live there either, but I’d like to visit! I guess you’d have to stock supplies carefully and plan ahead for living there. I’d be terrible at that!

  32. How beautiful, and a place I hadn’t heard of before. The colors are amazing in your shots and I thought you did very well with the birds. Can’t imagine living on Willis, but it sure is pretty.

  33. Look at those blue seas. It reminds me of a time where we hired a boat and roamed around one of the Greek islands. Absolute Bliss!!

  34. What lovely photos!

  35. That’s fascinating. Unbelievable to live there, but the birds are fabulous, and the man said the turtles come too. It must be neat, but I couldn’t last long way out there!

  36. That would take a huge introvert.

  37. Those weather balloon people live in some amazing places don’t they.
    (I’ll bet they have extensive music lists on their ipods.)

  38. i don’t think i could live in such an isolated place either …it would get too lonely.
    but visiting this island would be so refreshing and calming coz the place is gorgeous!
    awesome shots 🙂

  39. What a small little island out there! I actually wouldn’t mind a week in isolation there. 😉

  40. Well, it’s gorgeous! I don’t think I could live in that isolation either, but I would love to have access for occasional visits! It would be the perfect place to recharge my batteries! And you could hide from your busy family once in awhile? Or maybe just arrange to take another cruise. That might be better! 🙂

  41. Waw! What a little island with no things to do!

    I would go mad, I think! Beautiful though!

  42. It was fun to watch the weather balloon launch in the video clip, even if you didn’t get to see it firsthand. Glad you were were able to get some consolation from duty-free shopping. 🙂

  43. I could never live on an island that small…my daily runs would just be too short. 🙂

  44. Wow, that is an amazing place! I even watched the video – I think that I could easily take such isolation…for a couple months…and so long as I could use my time to write!

  45. Unfortunately, the link to the video has expired 🙁

  46. Really accidentially i found thuis site (forum).
    In november 2013 we were there on a cruise and saw the weather-balloon being launched.
    Of anyone is interested in pictures or video just ask me and tell me where to post it.
    Frans – Netherlands

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