A sand island with Pandanus Palm trees, spectacular walking trails, waves and whales: Queensland’s North Stradbroke Island has it all and is perfect for unwinding and being in touch with nature
Brisbane city folks have the ideal island holiday right on their doorstep; relaxing, refreshing North Stradbroke Island is a little more than one hour away from the city and one and a half hours from the Gold Coast. But the island offers something more – whale watching from June to November each year.
Colloquially referred to as Straddie, or simply Stradbroke, this is the second largest sand island in the world. Surfers and swimmers love the pristine beaches, clear waters and lakes while nature lovers marvel at the plant and animal life here.
On leaving Brisbane, head south along the east coast and follow the signs for the ferry at Cleveland.
It takes about 50 minutes to get to Dunwich on the west side of the island but you won’t get bored; the views of Moreton Bay and the surrounding smaller islands are spectacular and the ride is smooth.
Most passengers will head towards the tourist-oriented eastern side on arrival but to get an insight into the island’s past, stop here in the main township for an hour or two and catch up with the island’s history.
The North Stradbroke Island Historic Museum (www.stradbrokemuseum.com.au Welsby Street, tel+07 3409 9699) in Dunwich, records the most important historic details with photographs, items recovered from shipwrecks as well as information about the early settlements. The museum is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. A Government-run quarantine station operated from the island between 1850 and 1864 and later a benevolent asylum for Queensland old and infirm from 1866 to 1946.
Take the sealed East Coast Road (also known as the Dickson Way) towards Point Lookout, the main tourist hub of the island and also Queensland’s most easterly point. Sighted and named by Captain Cook, Point Lookout is a series of beaches and headlands.
Main Beach, 35 kms of unspoilt sand starts from this northern point all the way down to the most southern tip of the island. Sand, sea and sky all seem to merge into the horizon. Main Beach is perfect for surfing, fishing and swimming but remember that winds can be strong here.
Just above Main Beach are the smaller, quieter but equally picturesque Cylinder Beach, Home Beach, Deadman’s and Frenchman’s beaches.
Whale and dolphin watching
Life on Straddie heats up during the whaling period with most tourists heading to Point Lookout. As the headland is about 35 metres above sea level, all you need is a good pair of binoculars to spot the majestic Humpback travelling back to the Antarctic with calves in tow. Several vantage points along the headlands are in place for whale and dolphin watching. Go to Frenchman’s Bay and Cylinder beaches to watch the bottlenose dolphins play and feed.
The North Gorge walk, one of the most popular trails, starts at Point Lookout; this is a boardwalk with jagged headland on one side and natural bush land on the other side. There is some distinct vegetation here with some fine examples of Pandanus Palm Trees; their thick roots grow out of the trunk to stabilize the tree as it becomes top heavy with branches.
The trail leads to the edge of the cliff allowing you to take in the spectacular rock formation called the blowhole and another viewing area for observing the whales.
Amity Point, the third and smallest of the townships, is situated between Dunwich and Point Lookout; this is a quiet spot with more sandy beaches, lots of fishing areas and a chance to watch the playful pelicans.
If you’re in Straddie for the weekend, go to the Sunday market; just follow the crowds at Point Lookout. Locals exhibit their homemade jams, soaps, arts and craft and of course this is where to get your Straddie tee shirt.
How to get there
The Big Red Cat car and passenger ferry costs $135 return per car allowing you to take as many passengers as you like. Bookings are essential for this vehicular service (www.seastradbroke.com telephone: +1800 733 228).
Foot passengers can use water taxis and get there quicker. The Stradbroke Flyer, a high speed water taxi service, transports foot passengers for $19 return (www.flyer.com.au).
Where to stay
Most accommodation is at Point Lookout and Amity Point. We stayed at Straddie Views Bed and Breakfast at Point Lookout. Peter and Jan Daville offer two identical queen suites; the rooms are modern, spacious and most tastefully decorated. Sumptuous cooked breakfasts are served on the deck overlooking the sea and who could resist a nightcap of port and chocolates? We paid $150 per couple per night.
Also at Point Lookout is The Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel, sometimes called The Straddie Pub. If you feel you need a spa or a massage after braving the waves, this luxurious spa accommodation is for you. A basic hotel room at low season starts at $165 per night and guests must stay a minimum of two nights. Hotel suites and ocean view rooms are dearer.
Where to eat
Fishes Seafood just opposite the North Gorge Point Lookout (www.fishesatthepoint.com.au Phone +07) 3415 3444) is the place to go for late breakfast; early lunch or dinner. Although noisy and busy at times, go there for local Straddie seafood, all freshly caught at reasonable prices. I had Straddie Fish cakes served with jasmine rice and a mango chilli sauce. Made from fresh snapper with hints of ginger, lemon and garlic, this was good value for $17.
The Beach restaurant at Straddie Pub (East Coast Road, Point Lookout, QLD 4183, Australia Phone + 07 3409 8188) is also a popular eating and meeting place. They have lunchtime specials as well as some exotic fish and meat dishes.