Discover Woody Island History

The Mackenzie Family name is synonymous with Esperance, and Woody Island History.  Don Mackenzie began marine operations in Esperance over 60 years ago when he relocated his family and 8m speed boat “Tulach Ard” from Fremantle to Esperance.

Between 1948-1954, Don visited Woody Island many times and was involved with the grazing of sheep on Woody Island until the whole of the Recherché Archipelago was declared a Nature Reserve in 1954.

Following this, Don predominately focused on commercial fishing intermingled with servicing the Esperance Port and scenic island cruises, before Mackenzie’s Island Cruises (MIC) was officially founded in 1994

woody island history - Photo showing (left to right) Sean Mackenzie, Fud Mackenzie, Don Mackenzie and Hugh Mackenzie
(Left to right) Sean Mackenzie, Fud Mackenzie, Don Mackenzie and Hugh Mackenzie, in 1980 with Cape Le Grand in the back ground.

How it Began

In 1973, Don Mackenzie and two of his sons, Hugh and Fud, began the construction of a jetty at Woody Island.  It was with an eye to the future that intermittent tourist trips to the island began using their first tug Cape Le Grand.

Woody Island History - Early Scenic Cruises Advertisment
In 1985, a license to operate camping on Woody Island was granted by the then Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.  This enabled the construction of camping facilities on the island and another jetty in a different location that was suitable for handling building equipment and would accommodate future expansion.

Woody Island became primarily a summer school holiday campsite that was serviced by various fishing vessels the family operated over the years.

Throughout this period, the family continued to run short island cruises aboard Cape Le Grand, the only tug at the time to be licensed for passengers as well as a working tug.

Enter the SeaBreeze

In 1994, a bold step was taken with the design and purchase of the $1M catamaran Seabreeze.  The largest vessel of its type to operate on the south coast of Western Australia, Seabreeze became the centrepoint of a newly structured full time cruise operation under the name of Mackenzie’s Island Cruises (MIC).  This enabled Woody Island to become an integral part of the daily wildlife cruise, and camping could be extended to seven months of the year.

Negotiations were instigated with the Department of Environment & Conservation (DEC) to secure the long-term future of Woody Island.  Initially a two year lease was granted, followed by a new 28 year lease with a Master Plan for the Island’s future.  This plan was developed with extensive consultation from DEC to forge a new partnership between the two parties.

The Visitor Centre

The $500,000 Woody Island Visitor Centre (opened in 1999) is a central part of the Master Plan and incorporates a kiosk, large deck area, interpretive display, souvenir shop and Caretaker’s Quarters.  Particular attention has been paid to the building’s aesthetics, type of materials and its environmental impact on the island.

Composting toilets, a unique water storage system and boardwalks emphasize Mackenzie’s Island Cruises commitment to the environment and to a quality tourism destination that proudly follows ecotourism principles.

The Luxury SeaBreeze IV

In November 2003, a new $2.5M luxury cruise vessel Seabreeze IV was delivered to Esperance to replace the existing boat.  Seabreeze IV is a 24m catamaran that can seat 164 passengers in comfort and features three viewing levels, including a top deck with 360 degree views, wheelchair access and bar.

MIC operated wildlife cruises amongst the Recherché Archipelago year round.  This cruise was 3.5 hours in duration and views fur seals, sea-lions, cape barren geese, sea eagles and dolphins in their natural environment.  The cruise arrived at Woody Island for morning tea before embarking on a short-guided walk to Twiggy’s Landing or glass bottom boat tour (in season).  During September to April, visitors had the option of spending the afternoon on the island.

Refurbishment & Modernisation

Woody Island had around 16,500 visitors per year with over 3,500 camping on the beautiful island.  Camping facilities included eleven safari huts, various tent accommodation, camper’s kitchen and deck area, and modern ablutions.  There was a children’s playground, swimming platform with slide and extensive bush walking trails.

The Woody Island Visitor Centre was a popular venue for private functions.  Christmas parties, weddings and business conferences were commonly held during the camping season with many choosing to stay overnight as part of the event.

Between 2009 and 2015, Mackenzie Island Cruises sub leased the island to a local tourist operator for a 5 year period.

Once the five years were up the Island went back under the control of Mackenzie Marine and Towage.

In 2015-2016, an extensive maintenance audit was carried out for the island, including the camp grounds, Safari Huts, Island Jetty, Visitors Centre and associated buildings. Over the last 12 months Woody Island jetty has been fully refurbished and modernised. The Visitors Centre and associated buildings have been completely rewired and the existing fluoro lighting replaced by environmentally friendly LED lighting. 

The Island Express Ferry refurbishment was also completed and the implementation of our current tour programme was also finalised. 

The refurbishment of 8 safari huts and addition of 12 new tents (4 man and 2 man) with mattresses is complete and open to overnight guests. 

  • Sheep were the first occupants of Woody Island and were grazed on the island until 1954 when the whole of the Recherché Archipelago was declared a Nature Reserve.
  • In 1972, an application for permission to land passengers on Woody Island was forwarded to the then Western Australian Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Permission was granted in 1973 with several restrictions on development tabled which included the length of stay not to exceed 8 hours and no fires, rubbish or disturbance to native flora and fauna.  With these conditions, tourism operations commenced under the command of the company founder Don Mackenzie.
  • Don, with the help of his two sons Hugh and Fud, started construction on the first jetty built next to a 20m high headland affectionately named ‘Cardiac Hill’. This jetty is still standing today and is known as ‘Mac’s Jetty’.
  • Trips to the island during the summer months only began aboard the tug ‘Cape Le Grand’, licensed to carry 130 passengers. This was the only tug at the time to be both a working tug and licensed to carry passengers.
  • In 1976, Twiggy, the Mackenzie family dog, was lost overboard at sea & found on Woody Island several months later. Twiggy’s Landing is named after her.
  • A new visitor-friendly jetty was built in the mid 1980’s as well as other amenities including ablution block, camper’s kitchen and barbecues.
  • Camping on the island commenced in 1984. Primarily a summer school holiday campsite (6-7 weeks), accommodation was provided in tents only.
  • In 1994, a new $1M luxury catamaran, ‘MV Seabreeze’, was commissioned and constructed. The ‘Seabreeze’ is 20 metres long, twin hulled and licensed to carry 120 passengers.  This new vessel became the centrepoint of a newly structured full time cruise operation and hence, Mackenzie’s Island Cruises was born.
  • With the new vessel Woody Island became more accessible which lead to camping being available for seven months of the year: September to April. Accommodation units include Safari Huts, Adventure Huts, pre-erected tents and sites.
  • During the camping season, two Managers live on the island and perform regular maintenance and service the needs of all campers for 8 months of the year.
  • In 1995, expressions of interest were called for the future development of Woody Island. Mackenzie’s Island Cruises won that expression of interest and negotiated a new 28 year lease with a new Master Plan for the Island’s future.
  • A central part of the new Master Plan was the construction of a visitor centre. This $500,000 centre incorporates a kiosk, two large decks, interpretive display, souvenirs shop, Manager’s Quarters, and composting toilet block.  Particular attention was paid to the building’s aesthetics, type of materials and its environmental impact on the island.
  • In 1998, the centre was completed. It was officially named and opened in March 1999 as the ‘Woody Island Visitor Centre’.
  • Prior to Christmas 1999, six additional safari huts and composting ablution block were built.
  • In 2000, a snorkelling & dive trail in Shearwater Bay was completed.
  • In October 2002, Adventure Hut accommodations were first opened to the public.
  • Mid 2007 saw the completion of the Camper’s Kitchen deck extension.
  • Other key man-made features of Woody Island were: campers’ kitchen, children’s playground, swimming platform with slide and 5 rainwater tanks used to collect the entire water supply for the island.
1948-94Tour: short, 2hr, scenic tours amongst the islands including Cull, Rabbit & Charlie Islands; no stop at Woody Island. Offered Tues, Thurs, Sat & Sun during Christmas school holidays.
Vessel: Tulach Ard; speedboat; 12pax; 8m;
1949 Vessel: Water Lily; 25pax; 11m
1954 Vessel: Water Lily II;
1964 Vessel: Cape Le Grand; tugboat;
1985 Vessel: Cape Le Grand II; tugboat; 130pax; $1M; 1hr one way.
1973Permission was granted by the WA Department of Fisheries & Wildlife to officially land passengers on Woody Island. Construction of the first jetty “Mac’s Jetty” commenced and was completed 2 years later.
1973-94Tour: During Summer school holidays, day trips via a direct ferry to WI offered. Campers method of transfer to WI.
73-82 Vessel: Cape Le Grand; tugboat; 100pax; 1hr one way.
82-88 Vessel: Tulach Ard; tuna fishing boat; 70pax; 17m; 7.5kn; 1.25hrs one way.
88-94 Vessel: Sea Lion; 100pax; 22.5m; $550,000; 16kn; 45min one way; fishing boat.
1985A new, visitor friendly jetty was completed as well as other amenities including campers kitchen, ablution block and barbecues. This enabled camping during the summer school holidays in tents to begin
Tour: Glass bottom boat tours commenced operation at WI.
Vessel: Miss Woody; 6m; $20,000; 18pax; in 1997 it sank/vanished off its mooring.
1988-1994Tour: 2.5hr scenic tour to Cull, Rabbit & Charlie Island; no stop at Woody Island. Offered Tues, Thurs, Sat & Sun during Christmas school holidays.
Vessel: Cape Le Grand II continued to operate cruises.
1994Mackenzie’s Island Cruises – a dedicated, full-time, tourism company – was born.
Tours: 2.5hr cruise extended to 3.5hr to include stop at WI. Full Day Package including BBQ lunch offered during September to April. Camping became available 7 months of the year.
Vessel: Seabreeze; 120pax; 20m; $1M; 21kn; 30mins one way;
1994-96Tour: Dec-Jan holidays & Easter: Direct ferry to Woody Island for campers/day trippers.
Vessel: Sea Lion.
1998Tour: Glass bottom boat replaced.
Vessel: Miss Woody II; 10m; 32pax; $350,000
Nov 2003-2009Vessel: Seabreeze II (renamed Seabreeze IV); 164pax; 24m; $2.5m; 21kn; 25min one way. Features 3 viewing levels- including a top deck with 360 degree views, wheelchair access and bar.
May 2009Tour: 3.5hr BOI Half Day Option extended to 4hr 9am-1pm, giving visitors an extra 30mins on WI.