About 30 kilometres out to sea, past the mangroves and brown, bastardised beaches of Brisbane, there’s an island with some real beaches, good beaches. This island – which is the second largest sand island in the world – is called North Stradbroke Island, or “Straddie” by the locals. Luckily for Brisbanites, there’s regular ferries from Cleveland that get you to this sandy paradise in around 30 minutes.
After parking our car onto the ferry, we soaked up the last rays of light from the top deck. Life was good as I slurped on a cold beer to celebrate the start of our journey. Of course I had expectations about my destination. I would soon find out that North Stradbroke Island is much bigger than I’d thought, the beaches are nicer and it’s a top spot to do very little and not feel even a tad guilty about it.
Not so long ago, however, Stradbroke Island was even bigger. You see we were currently headed towards the larger and more diverse of the island’s two pieces. Back in 1896, a rather severe storm severed Stradbroke Island in two, creating the Jumpinpin Channel and both North and South Stradbroke Island.
Still a good-sized chunk of sand, North Stradbroke Island is 38 kilometres long, 11 kilometres wide and has three townships – Dunwich, Amity Point and Point Lookout. After alighting from our boat at Dunwich and watching the sun disappear behind Ron Stark Oval, we drove to our apartment at Point Lookout, where some serious lazing was about to commence.
I wasn’t too fussed about rushing around and seeing the sights, as we were with friends and between us we had three kids. Furthermore, our apartment was top-notch. Beers were drunk, the pool was heartily embraced and every morning and afternoon was spent on our lofty balcony, appreciating what were surely some of the finest views in North Straddie. It took me three days to step outside our apartment – it was so nice – but when I did, I managed to have a decent look at what the island had to offer.
Things to see and do
Point Lookout is the island’s major tourist destination and its population swells like a hydrogen balloon in the summer. Here you’ll find kangaroos standing around town looking cool (and slightly menacing). I’ve seen a few roos in my time, but nowhere have I seen them embracing urban life like they do in North Straddie – grandstanding out the front of houses or in the local park. Here’s your chance to get that kangaroo snap you’ve always wanted.
There’s also a nice walk here called the North Gorge Walk, which hugs the coastline and loops back toward the shops. It’s a mere 1.5 kilometres long, can be done in around 45 leisurely minutes and affords nice views over the handsome coastline. Hot tip – upon return, the girls and food at the Oceanic Gelati and Coffee Bar are just lovely. Tillers Cafe Pantry is worth a stop if you can get a seat. Avoid Fishes at the Point as the food is overpriced and tastes like it was cooked on the mainland and ferried over.
The North Gorge Walk skirts some picturesque beaches such as South Gorge. There’s also a plaque on the trail which tells you the number 49 Radar Station once operated here from 1943 to 1946 as part of Australia’s defence during WWII.
Further towards Amity Point is Cylinder Beach, where I spent a couple of magnificent beach lazing days. Even my spoilt beach self – which grew up in Sydney, lived near Western Australia’s bewitching coastline and spent the last six years lounging in Byron Bay – was impressed by what was on offer. Everyone on a beach holiday wants a day of smooth, translucent water and luminous blue sky, perhaps with a pod of dolphins thrown in. Well I got all of that plus a superb headland walk and a quick snorkel at Cylinder Beach.
Cane toad racing
First-rate slothing aside, one of my most memorable experiences on North Stradbroke Island was watching frog racing. Now I’m not much of a gambler, but as we were on the island during the country’s most illustrious horse race – The Melbourne Cup – a friend and I decided to head down to the Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel for a flutter. After losing $20 in a jovial environment, I turned my head to see the island’s cane toad racing on the patio.
If it was to be a proper day of debauchery and moral degradation, I was in. Keen to see some more animals whipped into submission, I watched people bet on frogs in the vain hope theirs would hop across the outer circle first. There was a fair bit of money exchanged, the kids were entertained and the locals were in their element. You’ll get a better idea by watching the pre-race video below, where folk bet over $100 on these maligned crusaders.
While its name is as dull as dishwater, Brown Lake itself certainly isn’t. Located just over three kilometres from North Stradbroke Island’s main township of Dunwich, Brown Lake is crystal clear at its clean, sandy shoreline before fading into shades of Coca-Cola brown. The lake’s colour is caused by the island’s surrounding tea trees.
We paid several visits to the Brown Lake over the course of our week, enjoying dips and dozes by the amber tinged shoreline. There’s BBQ facilities at the lake as well as a playground. The lake is significant to the local indigenous people, the Quandamooka. According to Aboriginal law, only the Quandamooka women can speak for the lake and they are responsible for its management.
I was intrigued by Dunwich Cemetery after reading about its history. Firstly, I like exploring cemeteries, which you’ll know if you’ve followed this blog. Secondly, Dunwich Cemetery is one of Queensland’s oldest cemeteries and it’s filled with unmarked graves of people from the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum.
The cemetery also holds the remains of typhus victims from the ship Emigrant, which arrived at the island in 1850 and permanently deposited 27 of its stricken crew. I only had a short wander around the cemetery before being dragged somewhere else by my six-year-old. It’s not a bad spot to explore, but it lacks the atmosphere of Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery, which you should visit if you ever get the chance.
From here we went across the road for an excellent lunch at Dunwich’s Island Fruit Barn, which you should definitely make time for.
In the end, it proved quite hard to leave our apartment in Point Lookout. Our six-year-old certainly didn’t want to leave. I’d say we might have found ourselves a regular holiday destination…
Other reputedly interesting places we didn’t have time for include the Blue Lake (not far from the Brown Lake) and a curious little place called 18 Mile Swamp. I say curious as it’s the largest of its kind in the world and there’s a few people that fervently believe the swamp holds a Portuguese shipwreck dating to the 17th-century, which of course would turn Australian history on its head.
Aboriginal oral history mentions early sightings of a wreck in the vicinity and at least one old artefact has been found there – a coin allegedly dating to 1597. While I like exploring the unknown, I decided not to go traipsing around a snake infested swamp searching for old treasure. Unfortunately the swamp is threatened by sand mining, which is one of the island’s main industries.
Have you been to North Stradbroke Island? Did you visit the Blue Lake or anything else I’ve missed?