Moreton Island is only a 90-minute barge ride from Australia’s third largest city, but once you get there you feel like you’ve been transported into a world a million miles away.
In the hour-and-a-half it took to get from Brisbane to the beach we could feel the city stresses becoming a distant memory, much like the disappearing view of the city from the back of the boat.
Despite being so close to a capital city Moreton Island is relatively free from the crowds, particularly in off-peak times.
It is common to hear from Brisbane residents that they have never been to Moreton Island. While they know of its existence, it’s never occurred to them to visit the place. And to be fair, if you don’t have a 4WD the only other option is to take a passenger ferry to the island’s resort Tangalooma, which seems to be more popular for international tourists than the locals.
All of which is fine for us 4WDers as it leaves the rest of the island, the world’s third largest sand island, to ourselves.
We’ve visited in summer and winter and, while any season is good to go, if you get lucky with the weather then winter is the perfect time for a visit. There are no crowds, less chance of rain and less humidity.
Make sure you grab a map and tide-time brochure on the vehicle barge, as internet access on the island can be a bit hit and miss.
On our first day we headed from the west side of the island across to the eastern, beach side. Some of the roads are two way and have passing bays so that you can pull over for oncoming traffic. We were travelling in a convoy of three so communicating on two-way radios was a good way to warn of upcoming vehicles or hazards on the track.
Middle Road, as the name suggests, takes you across the middle of the island and is a one-way system so watching out for oncoming traffic was no longer a concern.
Moreton Island’s tracks and roadways are well-planned and maintained so it makes for relatively easy driving suitable for novices and experienced drivers alike.
One of the most spectacular parts of the Middle Road drive was travelling through a section where the sand banks rise on either side of the track, creating an open-air tunnel effect.
Just before getting to the beach side we took a detour north towards Mount Tempest which, at 285 metres high, is the highest stabilised sand dune in the world.
We did the 2.5 kilometre hike to the top which, if you’re moderately fit, is quite a manageable walk and well worth the effort. We made sure we had good walking shoes and plenty of water for the walk and even the youngest among our group – a seven-year-old boy – had no problem completing it.
It’s not a walk that you race through. We regularly stopped to take photos at various sections of the track and while these views were amazing, it’s when you reach the lookout at the top that you are rewarded with 360-degree views. We had a clear day so the view extended across the island back towards the mainland, and we could pick out the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and Gold Coast.
Back at ground level we headed east towards the beach where the real 4WD fun began. This was one of our favourite parts of the island to drive.
There are more than 70 kilometres of beaches so if you love beach driving this is the place to go. At low tide many of the beaches are very wide, so on a sunny day with minimal traffic around it’s like driving on an open highway – one with ocean on one side and sand dunes on the other.
Of course, always be aware of the tides to avoid being cut off, look out for washouts, and be aware of exposed rocks and branches.
We headed north stopping off at Blue Lagoon on the way for a picnic lunch. The lagoon is just off the beach and in the warmer months is great spot for a swim. As it was winter the adults wimped out on taking a dip however the kids didn’t let a little cold water get in the way of having fun and were soon splashing around in the lagoon.
Next stop – Cape Moreton – at the northern tip of the island and a visit to Cape Moreton lighthouse which is the oldest in Queensland. There is a small carpark at the base of the lighthouse and then stairs lead up to the sandstone structure. The view is fantastic and we could see the beach stretch southward towards the island’s tip.
We visited during the humpback whale migration season, which is between April and November, and were lucky enough to see a pod of whales putting on an acrobatic show out at sea. My only regret was that we hadn’t brought along binoculars. My tip – if you have a pair, pack them.
The lighthouse itself has an interesting, although somewhat bleak history, which you can read about on the various signs along the circuit track that surrounds the building.
Once we had our fix of lighthouses, breaching whales and fantastic views we travelled back from Cape Moreton via Bulwer, on the north-eastern side of the island.
Bulwer is one of the small townships on the island. It’s like an old-school beach town complete with a shop / takeaway restaurant where you can stock up on the essentials and grab a meal. I’d highly recommend the fish and chips.
Another highlight of our Moreton Island trip was a visit to The Desert where we went sand tobogganing down the giant sand dunes. Armed with waxed sand boards – some people use large pieces of cardboard – we took turns barreling down the dunes to see who could get the furthest. It’s great fun until you have to walk back up the sand dune, your thighs and calves soon burning from the effort of getting to the top.
It is worth the uphill climb so that you can again experience the adrenaline rush of the ride back down the dune. If you want to feel like a kid again – this is the way to do it. Just make sure you don’t stack it as there is sure to be someone videoing the moment you and your board part ways.
Another activity that was fun for both the adults and kids was snorkelling around the Tangalooma Wrecks. If you don’t have your own snorkelling gear you can hire wetsuits, masks and flippers from the Tangalooma Resort. The wrecks are a short distance from the beach so you simply swim out to the wrecks from the shore.
On the day we went there was a fairly strong current which helped propel us as we swam towards the wrecks but proved more difficult to swim against on the way back.
The wrecks themselves are amazing and attract various types of fish and other marine life. They are made up of 15 vessels that were deliberately sunk to form a safe anchorage site for boats. During busy periods, there are lots of boats moored in the area so be careful when swimming to and from the wrecks.
While Moreton Island offers plenty of activity in the form of bush bashing, tobogganing and snorkelling, you can also enjoy more relaxing pursuits such as fishing.
There are plenty of fishing spots around the island and, on our most recent trip, we caught a bucket load of whiting. Dart and tailor are also common catches. What better way to totally unwind than with a fishing rod in one hand and a cold beverage in the other, feeling like you’re a million miles from civilisation.
If camping, you’ll need to download a camping permit from the Queensland Government’s National Parks site. You can also download a conditions report that has information about tide times, beach/track conditions and camping information from the site.
Moreton Island is a destination that you can keep returning to and discover new spots on each visit. Knowing that we will return for another visit makes travelling back towards the mainland on the barge just that little bit easier to deal with.