Close to Home #1 North Stradbroke Island
It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation, closer to home, is the way to go. The destinations in this new series of posts are all within a couple of hours’ drive of our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.
With their island destination getting closer with each passing minute, excited passengers gather at the railings of the ferry, willing it forward, eager to begin their holiday. They’re heading towards North Stradbroke Island, 30 kilometres off the coast of Brisbane. The island, fondly known as Straddie, is the second largest sand island in the world. It’s only accessible by water taxi or vehicular ferry; today the ferry is loaded with cars, caravans, trucks and even a fire engine.
Within a few minutes of the ferry docking at the small township of Dunwich, all the vehicles have disembarked and the holiday makers are on their way. Before they go too far though, it’s necessary to purchase Vehicle Access permits for driving on the beaches. If camping is the plan, a camping permit is required too. For those not into camping, either in the beachfront campgrounds or tucked away in secluded spots in the sand dunes, there are plenty of other choices. There are no flashy high-rises on the island. Instead there are boutique resorts set in natural subtropical forests, cabins and architect designed homes for rent.
Most of these homes are in the small township of Point Lookout, on the ocean side of the island. Its elevated position means the views of the Pacific Ocean, the rocky cliffs and expansive beaches are spectacular. A 1.1 kilometre circuit from Point Lookout skirts around the sheer, stony walls of North Gorge where pandanus trees cling precariously to the rocks. The best vantage points for seeing migrating whales from May to October are along this walking track and there’s an elevated view of the eastern side of the island, from Main Beach to Blue Lake Beach and Eighteen Mile Swamp.
Main Beach and Flinders Beach, on the northern side of the island, are both open to four wheel driving. The wide stretches of hard, flat sand are broken only by the occasional groups of fishermen, swimmers or games of beach cricket and drivers must give way. They also need to check the tide times because driving is forbidden an hour either side of high tide.
Another walk, leading inland this time instead of along the coast, goes to Blue Lake. Fed by fresh underground water, the lake is a haven for bird watchers. The 2.5 km walking track winds through a shaded eucalypt forest dotted with clumps of grass trees, their tall black flower spikes a tasty treat for birds.
There are no facilities at Blue Lake so for a family day out Brown Lake is a better option, where there are picnic grounds and public amenities and it’s accessible by road. Even the Mr Twirly ice cream van goes there, its familiar tinkling tune competing with the birds as it announces its arrival. Brown Lake is a perched lake, set above the water table. The tea trees around its shore colour the water with their tannins and it’s a popular place for swimming.
Amity Point is also a favourite with swimmers. There’s a netted swimming area designed to keep the sharks out. Don’t be alarmed though. The sharks are wobbegongs and shovelheads and they’re not usually a threat to swimmers, although they may be a little cranky if they feel cornered. A safe way to see the sharks is to take a kayak out onto the calm waters of Moreton Bay. Paddle south into the shallow waters of Rainbow Channel where fields of swaying sea grass are also the home of manta rays, green turtles and the elusive dugong.
As well as looking at the sea life, catching fish like flathead and bream is a popular pastime along the jetty at Amity Point. Keep an eye on the locals; if they are out on the jetty it means there are fish about! Or it might just be easier to visit the fishing trawlers which tie up in the early morning and sell their catch from the deck. More local produce, like organic honey and freshly made fudge is sold at the Point Lookout Sunday markets. The busiest stall is the Island Juice stall, where the flavour combos have enticing names like Island Elixir, Straddie Sunset and Beach Bliss.
The best ice cream on the island comes with a wonderful ocean view at Oceanic Gelati and Coffee Bar at Point Lookout, while appetising meals are served al fresco at Seashells Café at Amity Point. The waiter recommends the prawns and says: “They are fresh caught and came off the trawler up the road first thing this morning” – just like the newest ferry load of visitors to this island paradise.