NORTH STRADBROKE AND MORETON ISLANDS
This two-Island odyssey is a great summer trip.
Queensland’s North Stradbroke and Moreton Islands aren’t as well known as Fraser Island, but they’re well worth a visit.
When you’re on the northern or eastern sides of North Straddy (Mingerriba) it’s difficult to believe that you left Brisbane on the car ferry only an hour before. The Coral Sea outlook is magnificent, the water clear and the lifestyle laid-back.
Straddy offers combination of beach and inland off-roading, as well as a choice of beachfront camping at camp grounds or DIY.
The sand that makes up most of Stradbroke Island came from the hills that eroded in New South Wales and was brought northwards by currents, to be blocked by the rocks at Point Lookout. As sea levels changed exposed sand blew inshore to form the island.
Maps and brochures show many inland tracks on Straddy, but that’s deceptive, because most of them are closed to recreational traffic. The only trans-island track that was open to 4WDs when we visited was the Tripod Track.
This Track starts at the East Coast bitumen road that connects Dunwich (where the car ferries berth) with Point Lookout and ends on Tazi Road.
The Tripod Track winds uphill to Tripod Lookout, which is a vantage point offering sweeping views of Moreton Bay and the southern sections of the island.
The white, sandy track can be seen cutting southwards through the windblown hilltop vegetation from this high point. After the Tripod Track drops below the windswept ridges the vegetation changes to become more wooded and some large trees flourish on the lee side of the hills.
From Tazi Road it used to be possible to drive along the sandy creek bed that feeds Blue Lake, but this track is now closed to all but pedestrian traffic. As you walk along you can imagine the places where the track might have proved a serious 4WD challenge, either from deep, soft entrapping sand, or black, clinging mud.
The eastern beach front – 18 Mile Beach – is driveable and certainly provides a challenge at half tide, when you have to drive up on the softer sections of the beach. Low-tide travel is more relaxing, on firmer sand.
Four wheel drives can access Flinders and Main Beach after obtaining a beach permit prior to driving on the beaches. The cost of an annual 4WD beach permit is $39.55. These can be obtained from the Visitor Centre at Cleveland, Stradbroke Ferries, Straddie Holiday Parks at Dunwich and a number of outlets on the island.
We camped behind the shallow frontal dunes at Flinders Beach and enjoyed two memorable days on Straddy.
Stradbroke Ferries runs a regular service from Cleveland to Dunwich.
It takes about 50 minutes from Brisbane city to Cleveland where you can drive your car (you don’t need a 4 wheel drive) onto a vehicle ferry or park and catch a passenger ferry to Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island.
Stradbroke Ferries and Big Red Cat (both a division of Transit Systems) provide vehicle ferry services on an hourly basis between 5.30am and 6pm (7pm Friday and Sunday) from Emmett Drive, Cleveland. They arrive and depart from Dunwich main harbour terminal. Pre-booking is highly recommended.
A standard 4WD (up to 5.5m in length), including passengers, costs $55.00 - $95.00 each way. Trailers are assessed at $11.00 -$19.00 per metre from towball to rear.
There are camp grounds at Dunwich, Point Lookout and Amity Point, and beach camping at Flinders Beach and Main Beach.
There is ample holiday-unit accommodation.
We used Hema Maps ‘North Stradbroke Island’, readily available at Cleveland and on the Island.
Before you go anywhere near a beach, buy a tide chart or download one to your phone. It’s absolutely essential that you know the timing and height of the tides.
We headed to Main Beach by following George Mothling Drive. The beach is very soft and there’s not much driving room at high water. Turn off the beach at Fisherman’s Road entry, then proceed south on Fisherman’s Road, passing by Yarraman Lagoons (picnic spots).
Return to East Coast Road on Fisherman’s Road, then left on Tripod Track Road SE back to Tazi Rd, then left into Blue Lake National Park.
At Blue Lake National Park the 4WD track is now closed, but understandably because of very soft sand and possible flooding. Get some exercise by doing the 2.5 km walk to Blue Lake.
Moreton Island is far less populated than North Stradbroke and there are no bitumen roads.
Like Straddy, Moreton was formed from north-moving sands that travelled up the coast from NSW. The northward progress continues and is obvious as you approach Moreton from Straddy: the tip of Moreton is being eroded and the southern end of the beach is rendered impassable by fallen trees that tumble into the sea as the coastline is undermined by the waves.
Moreton Island has an interesting history that begins with the Ngugi Aboriginal tribe. Captain Cook named Cape Morton and Morton Bay in May 1770, but the spelling ‘Moreton’ is down to Matthew Flinders, who picked up a misspelling in one of Cook’s journals.
After a number of serious shipwrecks off Moreton Island seven lighthouses were built on the Island and the passage to the north of Cape Moreton became the major entry point into Moreton Bay.
Moreton Island is smaller than Straddy and is more park-like. The settlements of Kooringal, Cowan Cowan and Bulwer are nestled among trees and even the resort at Tangalooma isn’t overpowering.
Fishing year-round is popular and becomes obsessive during the summer months.
The sand tracks on Moreton are well maintained and steep sections are laced with high-grip surfacing, to aid traction and prevent erosion.
We spent two days driving around the Island and camped off the beach, just south of Camel Rock.
There’s an (expensive, $200-$335 return) ferry from Brisbane, but if you’re doing Straddy as well, the best way to Moreton is on the Amity Traders ferry. However, this service is spasmodic so check with them before planning your trip: www.amitytrader.com Ph 0487 227 437
The 40-minute ferry trip is often more lively than the ex-Brisbane boat trips, because the course leads behind the shallow sand bar that runs north from Straddy, then crosses shoaling waters south of Moreton.
The usual track north from Reeders Point is via Kooringal, then onto the eastern beach north or south of Mirapool, depending on the state of the tide.
There are organised camp grounds north of Tangalooma, but most visitors camp just off the sand on the 35-kilometre eastern beachfront.
Camping permits are available from the Brisbane-Moreton ferry operators, or from Park rangers. The rangers’ station is at Tangalooma – phone (07) 3408 2710.
Our driving tour took us through Middle Rd to the east coast, then south to look at the wrecks just north of Tangalooma.
From there we headed north on the eastern beach, bypassing Cowan Cowan, then returned to the beach and drove as far as Bulwer.
We turned inland through a swamp-edge track to Tailor Bight and out onto the magnificent sand spit at the northern tip of the Island.
We baulked at the salt-water crossings to Heath Island and turned back to the Bulwer-North Point-Cape Morton Rd, then took the sandy climb up to Cape Morton Lighthouse.
From there it was an easy, low-tide run south down the western beach to our campsite, with a side trip to look at Honeyeater Lake.
Check out Hema Maps' video of Moreton Ilsand:
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