Sometimes we don’t have to go far from home to find somewhere special. In my case, a few days away was enough to remind me of that. It was 25 years since I had last been to North Stradbroke Island, which lies off the coast of south-east Queensland, less than two hours by public transport (bus, train and ferry) from my home in Brisbane.
“Straddie”, as Australians affectionately call it, holds a place in many Queenslanders’ hearts. Renowned for its long stretches of beach, it is a place that many people go to camp. Indeed, that was what I did on my last visit all those years ago, but I’m happy to say that this time around my accommodations were much more comfortable.
To get there, take a ferry – we took the Big Red Cat – or a water taxi across a stretch of Moreton Bay. It takes about 45 minutes on the ferry, and you can take your car with you too.
There are three main settlements, Point Lookout, Dunwich and Amity, and a population of around 2000 (boosted hugely during summer – when it can reach up around 35,000 – and other holiday times). We stayed at Point Lookout, arriving in the late afternoon, in time to watch the sunset from the balcony of the house in which we were staying. Claytons is one of a group of privately owned holiday houses which are available for rent on Straddie. Many of them are impressively large, with wonderful views, and would be great for families or groups of friends.
Dinner was at the Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel, a place I was interested to see, as someone who writes frequently about pubs. I had heard and read much over the years about the demolition of the old pub which had stood on the hill at Point Lookout since 1962, and subsequent long running battle by the locals to stop the plans for its replacement. After about seven years of objections and several court cases, the old pub was pulled down in 2006. Sadly, the iconic old “Straddie Pub” has been replaced by a sterile, stone and stainless steel look building, albeit one that has all mod-cons including a day spa and accommodation. But it is shockingly short on atmosphere, and not a pub you are likely to write home about.
Overnight, it rained. This put a definite dampener on our day’s planned activity – sand-boarding on the massive dunes which are a feature of this, the second largest sand island in the world (after Queensland’s Fraser Island). Wet sand is not made for sliding, so our host for the day “Barefoot Dave” of Straddie Eco & Adventure Tours quickly devised another plan. We piled into Dave’s 4WD and set off to explore the island.
Stradbroke Island is not the only place in Australia where 4WDs are allowed to drive on the beach, but I must admit, I’m not a fan of the practice. You need a permit to do so, and it’s an easy way for campers to get to some of the beach camping spots, but it somehow – for me, anyway – detracts from the beauty of the long unbroken stretches of sand. Main Beach runs for 32kms, and is a popular spot for surfers and swimmers, with big swells, powerful waves and spectacular views from the headland. Lifeguards patrol the beach next to the Surf Lifesaving Club.
We stop for lunch, a swim (for the brave – it’s too cold for me!) and a walk on the 4.6km long Flinders Beach, where Dave throws some snags on his gas barbecue. Also on the day’s itinerary is Brown Lake, a tannin-stained freshwater lake that is part of a waterway system regarded as one of the world’s most ecologically important wetlands.
When the rest of my weekend companions head back to the faster pace of the mainland, I stay on for an extra night with friends who are smart enough to live in this peaceful spot. The next morning, I take the North Gorge Walk. The boardwalk path starts on the cliff-top opposite the Oceanic Gelati Shop and Fishes Cafe, and is bordered on one side by bushland, and on the other by the rugged headland. There are viewing platforms at some of the most scenic spots, bench seats at others. A highlight is the rock formation called the Blow Hole. Depending on your pace, the walk can take anywhere from about 30 minutes to several hours.
This is also a great place for dolphin-spotting; I am just a few weeks too early for the annual parade of humpback whales which pass by on their migration from Antarctica to warmer northern waters around the Great Barrier Reef to calve. Point Lookout’s headland – at about 35 metres above sea level – is one of the world’s best land-based whale-watching spots. Head there between late May/early June and November and you may see some of the 5000 majestic creatures who pass this way. Take binoculars with you, and a long lens for your camera, if you have one.
As I reluctantly take the water taxi back to Cleveland and the train back to the city, I make a promise to myself. It won’t be another 25 years before my next visit. Straddie, I’ll be back.
A Glass Half Full travelled to North Stradbroke Island as a guest of Tourism & Events Queensland.