East of Brisbane, the landscape changes in a beautiful mixture of estuary and sea, forming a broken mosaic by the name of Moreton Bay. The wide bay stretches 125 km between the sun-drenched Sunshine Coast in the north and the Gold Coast in the south. Tropical islands are found in the glistening sea and Moreton Bay is the gateway. It is said that there are more islands here than days of the year. It is true enough, but many of them are small and hard to reach unless you have access to a boat. But the largest islands are popular destinations. And the best thing is that you don’t have to travel very far from the city to get here. By vehicle ferry or water taxi, you can quickly swop the mainland for an island life. Fill your days with relaxation or adventure. It’s up to you.
For the older generation of Australians, the region is known for something completely different than sun and bathing. Namely, the Moreton Bay bug. No matter what you imagine when you hear the name, this is no nasty cockroach or beetle we are talking about. Moreton Bay bug is a chubby crustacean looking like it has blinders over the legs. Imagine an overgrown wandering crayfish-tail. One of its name is the same as the bay itself.
Twenty-five kilometres off the coast is Moreton Island which is the third largest sand island in the world after North Stradbroke and Fraser Island. The island is explored on foot or with the help of a four-wheel drive. Climb or crawl up a high sand dune for a splendid view of the surroundings. Position your sunglasses and glide down with a sand sledge or try sandboarding. Diving and snorkelling are other popular activities. Discover the marine life around Tangalooma wreck’s rusty skeleton. Here in the turquoise waters, plenty of fish have made it their home.
In the old days, Stradbroke Island was a single island, but in 1895 a powerful storm divided it in two. The northern part has three villages and is the most common destination. The island has strong ties to indigenous Australians and is in traditional language called Minjerribah. It is a sleepy place that is as made for spending a lazy day with a book in your lap. North Stradbroke has several beaches with Instagram-worthy views. The only island you can drive to is Bribie Island. The island is connected by a bridge to the mainland, which contributes to its popularity and ensures its status as a holiday destination.
Sights and experiences
North Stradbroke Island is built of sand and is the largest island in the region. From the northeast headland called Point Lookout, you can follow the North Gorge Walk, a photogenic walk of just over a kilometre. You get a view of the crystal-clear waters, with chances to see turtles, dolphins, stingrays and even sharks. If you are visiting during winter or autumn, you can scout for humpbacks. Just west of the headland you will find the beautiful Cylinder Beach. Bathe or test the gushing waves. You can also camp there (straddiecamping.com.au/cylinder_beach). Nearby is a coffee shop, a restaurant and a grocery store. Try stand up paddle or ride on the dunes along with Straddie Adventures (straddieadventures.com.au/index.html). Another option is to get around North Stradbroke Island via guided bus tours (wotif.com/things-to-do/north-stradbroke-island-full-day-bus-tour.a426967.activity-details).
At Moreton you will go ashore on the west side of the island at Tangalooma. It often becomes full of people in the summers. To get around, you need a car with four-wheel drive and permission from the Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing (npsr.qld.gov.au/recreation-areas/vehicle_access_permit_fees.html). Rent your own car together with other travellers or book a tour or activity with a tour operator such as Adventure Moreton Island (wotif.com/things-to-do/adventure-moreton-island-day-pass.a440961.activity-details) or Australian Sunset Safaris (wotif.com/things-to-do/moreton-island-full-day-snorkel-kayak-sand-toboggan-tour.a309154.activity-details).
The 15 rusty wrecks called Tangalooma Wrecks are located just off the beach, making it easy to explore on your own. However, be aware of rips. The wrecks have become a haven for fish and coral which thrives around them. This is a perfect place to try out snorkelling, with good visibility through the clear waters and you see things deep down without having to dive. You can dive north of the island at Flinders Reef, the only natural reef nearby witch has an incredibly rich marine life (sunreef.com.au/more/gallery/flinders-reef).
Some of the world’s largest sand dunes can be found on Moreton Island. The tallest one is Mount Tempest at 285 meters above sea level. Getting to the top is tough and demanding, but the view is fantastic. Every night, a dozen or so dolphins show up outside Tangalooma Resort to get fed fresh fish. As a guest on the resort, you can participate in feeding them. If you don’t live in the area, you may be content to watch from elsewhere, alternatively you can book in with a company organizing this type of activity (wotif.com/things-to-do/tangalooma-dolphin-adventure-day-trip.a255506.activity-details).
Bribie Island is a favourite among pensioners and families with children. Just like Moreton and Stradbroke, it is a sand island with mainly low vegetation. South of the bridge lies Bongaree Beach, with shallow and calm waters. They have a children’s playground and restaurants nearby. You can rent a kayak or bicycle in one of the shops. As the sun starts to set, drift on the waters in a gondola along with Bribie Island Gondola (bribieislandgondola.com.au). The gondola has been carefully renovated and can accommodate up to six people. Book a ride accompanied by music and food and bring your own beverage to enjoy onboard. If you like history, maybe a guided tour to the World War II bunkers, Fort Bribie, may be of interest (wotif.com/things-to-do/bribie-island-wwii-bunker-tour.a479361.activity-details).
Windswept St. Helena Island is not like the other islands around the bay. A high security prison was built here in 1867. At that time, the prison was state of the art and was aimed at rehabilitating the prisoners by giving them work. Life on the island was hard. Strict rules on silence were enforced throughout the day. To get a deeper understanding of the island’s history, book an evening tour or a ghost tour. The price includes ferry transport, dinner and entertainment in the prison (sthelenaisland.com.au).
Good to know
There are several Visitor Information centres in the area. They are run by volunteers who happily will help you plan your stay (visitmoretonbayregion.com.au/visitor-information/visitor-information-centres). Read more about the region at Visit Moreton Bay (visitmoretonbayregion.com.au), Visit Moreton Island (visitmoretonisland.com) and Stradbroke Island (stradbrokeisland.com). You can also find a variety of activities via wotif’s website (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Brisbane).
Warnings and preparations
During the summer months December to February, the temperature is at its highest, so is the risk of rain. Rain can poor down and then suddenly stop. Floods are common. In general, Queensland has a wonderful climate with warm to hot days all year round. In summer, the risk of a Box Jellyfish is increased. To see humpbacks on their annual migrating to warmer waters, the best time is between June and October.
You can take a vehicle ferry or water taxi to North Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island. It pays off to have your own car (wotif.com/Car-Hire), but it is possible to discover the island together with others through a tour operator. The closest major airports are Brisbane Airport, located 16 km from Brisbane, and Gold Coast Airport in Coolangatta (wotif.com/Flights). If you arrive in Brisbane by bus and train, there is a great chance of arriving at Roma Street Station on Roma Street. From there it is about 500 meters to the city centre. Save money by purchasing a Go Card from Translink (translink.com.au). Charge the card with money to use it on buses, trains and ferries in the area. Translink has a useful travel planner online (jp.translink.com.au/plan-your-journey/journey-planner).
North Stradbroke Island
There are lots of campsites around North Stradbroke. You can camp at Cylinder Beach, Adder Rock, Amity Point, Home Beach, Adam’s Beach and Bradbury’s Beach. There are also cabins for rent in several of these locations. Book well in advance if you plan to show up during peak season, the campsites sell fast (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Stradbroke.htm). Samarind (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Samarinda_Jewel_by_the_Sea.htm) rent out fully equipped apartments at Point Lookout right next to the beach. They lie close to a restaurant and a grocery store, a perfect location. If you want to get that little extra, book yourself in at Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel & Spa (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Stradbroke_Island_Beach_Hotel_Spa_Resort.htm).
On Moreton Island, there are plenty of camping opportunities scattered out in five locations within the national park. There are five more areas where putting up a tent is allowed. Make sure to obtain permission before coming to the island (npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/moreton-island/camping.html). If you want a higher standard, stay at Tangalooma Island Resort (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Tangalooma_Island_Resort.htm). Choose between hotel rooms, suites, apartments or villa. The accommodation is quite expensive, but there is room for the whole family here. The area has a café, bar and a restaurant. You can participate in several organized activities if you remember to book them in separately. And don’t miss the feeding of the dolphins every night.
On Bribie Island, there are three campsites that all require four-wheel drive to get to. Two additional islands can be visited with the help of a boat (npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/bribie-island/camping.html). As with the other islands, permission is required in advance. Bribie Waterways Motel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Bribie_Waterways_Motel.htm) is located opposite the Pumicestone Passage which is the shallow waters separating the island from the mainland. It is a good budget accommodation with parking spaces and a swimming pool.