Island time on North Straddie.
When you live on Queensland’s famously laidback Sunshine Coast, where do you go to relax? On a quest for answers, Haitham Razagui and his family fall deeply in love with North Stradbroke Island.
A recent real estate report revealed that compared with any other Brisbane suburb, people who own property at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island are least likely to sell. On average, Point Lookout people hold onto their homes for 19.7 years compared with the Brisbane average of 11 years.
From our expansive ground-floor apartment within the Whale Watch Ocean Beach Resort, overlooking pristine bush and the glittering Pacific beyond, it is easy to see why. So much so that we immediately return to reception and extend our stay by another night. http://www.whalewatchresort.com.au
We’d stay 19.7 years if we could, too.
Just as we’re imagining just how spectacular the view must be like from the resort’s upper levels, a mob of kangaroos amble by and stop to forage on the lawn right outside our open floor-to-ceiling windows.
And then a kookaburra lands on a low branch nearby. The people upstairs don’t get that, and our daughter enjoys the direct access to running and playing on the lawns surrounding the resort. It’s nature’s reminder to want what you’ve got.
We reached North Straddie from Brisbane on a swift, comfortable and inexpensive vehicle ferry that departs from Cleveland and docks at Dunwich, with great food and coffee served onboard during our lunchtime crossing.
Among the historic photos lining the walls of our vessel’s café area is one of a VW Kombi driving off a ferry in 1969. Having owned and travelled Australia in a 1970s Kombi, we wonder whether our trusty and hard-worked Amarok V6 adventure machine parked on the lower deck will one day become as iconic.
It’s a 20-minute drive from Dunwich to Point Lookout, but we stop in at the Minjerribah Camping office near the ferry terminal to pick up a vehicle access permit for driving on the beaches and our daughter cuts loose at the excellent playground opposite, with a stunning backdrop of fig trees and Moreton Bay.
As we begin to explore Point Lookout and its surrounds, it quickly becomes apparent we have picked the right spot. It’s the peak of whale migration season and no oceanward gaze is without at least one sighting.
Each time we look down from the clifftops we easily spot turtles and dolphins closer to shore, while ospreys and sea eagles circle in search of aquatic prey. Meanwhile, kangaroos occupy the lawns beside the coastal path unperturbed by humans – although they do make way for charging children.
It’s early spring and the weather is perfect. Right on cue, we spot Oceanic Gelati ice cream parlour across the road. Occupying such a prime position, this cheerily decorated shop could print money reselling cheap supermarket ice cream, but instead we’re delighted to find rows of imaginatively flavoured and immaculately presented gelato in the freezer cabinet. And thus begins a daily routine during our time on Straddie.
Another daily routine we establish is visiting the Blue Room café. With panoramic ocean views from its breezy, rustic deck and a chalkboard tally of whale sightings at the door, it is another venue could easily trade off its enviable location alone.
But we can happily say with no exaggeration that food and coffee this sublime would be hard to find on the mainland. It’s worth making a day trip to Straddie just to experience those fish tacos and chai sunshine latte again.
Linked to the Blue Room is the Green Room, a well-stocked organic grocer and health food shop, while behind that is the Prawn Shack seafood store where we consume fresh oysters – much to our toddler daughter’s disgust.
It’s a brilliant integration, the Blue Room’s kitchen benefiting from on-site ingredient suppliers that also serve the local population and self-catering tourists alike.
Suitably nourished, we head back to Whalewatch Ocean Beach Resort via the spectacular North Gorge Walk. It’s easy going with our toddler in tow courtesy of well-maintained staircases and elevated boardwalks providing access to rocky outcrops with amazing views.
Peering into the gorge’s dazzling turquoise water, we spot a number of turtles negotiating churning currents caused by the ocean swell as it rebounds along this pandanus-fringed rocky corridor.
Following the boardwalk further, we enjoy glimpses of a picturesque sandy cove where the gorge ends and follow the unmistakeable boom-hiss of a blowhole onto a jagged outcrop where, even on this calm day, we are reminded of the ocean’s inexorable power as it foams, slaps and swirls through narrow gaps it has forged through the rock.
Rounding the headland, we’re treated to sweeping views of Main Beach as it stretches 32 kilometres into the distance and spot the shimmering peaks of some giant dunes. Straddie is, after all, the world’s second-largest sand island. Meanwhile, the skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise appear like matchsticks on the horizon.
Before long we’re back at Whalewatch Ocean Beach Resort and jumping into our Amarok for an exploratory mission to Amity Point on the northwestern side of the island.
We decide to take a shortcut along Flinders Beach and our daughter, having by now visited the sand islands of Moreton, Bribie and Fraser, adjusts our tyre pressures like a pro. Not bad for a girl who is yet to reach her third birthday.
She promptly falls asleep as we travel along the top of Straddie, with the heel of Moreton Island looming on our northern horizon and camping areas nestled among the dunes and she-oaks to our left.
Before long we’re rolling through the back-streets of Amity, topping up our fuel tank and reinflating our tyres at the combined post office and petrol station.
Our daughter wakes up just as we arrive at Amity Point jetty, where her restored is deployed at a playground shaded by trees that provide the first of the many Koala sightings we enjoy while on Straddie.
A classic Beetle chugs up to the boat ramp, its owner taking in the glorious sunset while their mustard-coloured vehicle becomes almost camouflaged against the glowing sky, its curvaceous bodywork juxtaposed against the uniformity of the horizon and the chunky modern shape of our Amarok.
Fading light and a growing appetite draw us back toward Point Lookout, where we establish another routine by dining at the child-friendly Manta Ray Bistro before heading home to the comfort of Whalewatch Ocean Beach Resort carrying the kind of happy, satisfied tiredness that guarantees a sound night’s sleep.
The rest of our time on Straddie consists of a Groundhog-Day-like routine of visiting Oceanic Gelati and Blue Room on coastal walks around Point Lookout, interspersed with fishing from Amity Point Jetty, a visit to the fantastic Quandamooka Indigenous Art Gallery in Dunwich and a drive along Main Beach to paddle-board and swim at Brown Lake.
On our last night, we enjoy delicious stone-baked pizza under the stars, served out of a trailer parked at Cylinder Beach.
We’re head over heels in love with North Straddie. Despite its proximity to Queensland’s capital, the chilled-out ‘island time’ atmosphere is absolutely infectious and a complete escape – almost as though it should be at least another 1000km north of here.
As we make our way toward the ferry terminal at Dunwich, our daughter pipes up from the back.
“I want to stay here for ever,” she declares.
We couldn’t agree more, and judging by that real estate report, neither could the lucky locals.
What to know before you go
Unlike Fraser and Moreton, North Stradbroke Island has a network of bitumen roads, with Flinders Beach, Main Beach and their access tracks are the only designated sand driving zones.
To drive in these areas, you must obtain a Vehicle Access Permit sticker from Minjerribah Camping (costing $46.80 for 12 months) https://www.minjerribahcamping.com.au.
Also unlike other sand islands, all-wheel-drive vehicles, motorcycles and quad bikes are not permitted in off-road areas of North Straddie. Driving on the beach is not allowed during the hour before and after high tide.
Off-road trips require preparation and it’s essential to bring your own recovery gear because even in popular locations like North Stradbroke Island where someone willing to help is likely to eventually come along if you get bogged, it’s poor form to expect to use their equipment as well as their time.
We packed a set of Maxtrax (which fit snugly between the wheel arches of the Amarok’s tray) and a recovery kit comprising snatch strap, rated shackles, protective gloves and some tyre repair products. A shovel is a good idea, too.
For adjusting tyre pressures, we took a tyre deflator with built-in pressure gauge and a good quality portable 12V air compressor.
It’s important to check the tides and ask locals or other drivers about the condition of the beaches and inland tracks you intend to explore. On the beach, it is best to drive a couple of hours after high tide, on an outgoing tide, when there an expanding area of firm, wet sand to drive on.
Main Beach is 32km long and the southern end of the island has no infrastructure, so don’t forget to take sufficient water, food and fuel when you go exploring.