One perk that comes with living in Brisbane, Australia, is how close you are to sub-tropical paradise even in a reasonably big city. The sub-tropical paradise I’m referring to is North Stradbroke Island!
North Stradbroke Island – also known as Minjerribah – used to be bigger… A fair bit bigger. That is until a big storm split the island in two. Yes… Literally! Until 1896, the island was known as Stradbroke Island. It was an uninterrupted, giant pile of sand stretching 60 kilometres from Brisbane all the way down to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.
In said year of the lord, 1896, a storm let loose on Stradbroke Island. A major sandbank, which had been weakened after someone detonated the dynamite cargo of wrecked barque Cambus Wallace a couple of years earlier. This caused the sandbank to erode and the whole island split in two.
Today, North Stradbroke Island – or Straddie as us locals are wont to call it – is still the world’s second-largest sand island. It is also home to some amazing natural scenery and experiences that make it well worth a visit.
Stay tuned for the low-down on:
- How to get to Straddie
- How to get around the island
- Things to see and do
- Things to be careful of
North Stradbroke Island is, obviously, an island, so getting there takes a tiny bit of planning. Not much though, it’s easy.
From the Brisbane metropolitan area, you need to head east to Cleveland and, more specifically, Toondah Harbour.
Two companies operate services from Toondah Harbour in Cleveland to Dunwich on Straddie: Stradbroke Ferries (car/passenger ferry and water taxi) and Stradbroke Flyer (water taxi). There’s generally one ferry and multiple water taxi departures to and from the island every hour from early to late.
Costs start from $20 roundtrips for adults on the Stradbroke Flyer. If you bring a car, it’ll cost up to somewhere between $55 and $97 one way for a normal-size car and five passengers.
Bookings are generally not required for walk-on passengers, although it can’t hurt to book ahead – especially during peak season. For cars, bookings are essential.
If you plan to pedal around Straddie, you can bring your bike on both the ferry and water taxis – subject to available space.
Getting around North Stradbroke Island
Driving on Straddie
Taking a car to North Stradbroke Island is easy. Just book in for the ferry, show up for your departure, drive on and drive off the boat.
The road network on Straddie is not bad, especially for a sand island. I have it on good authority that Straddie is the only sand island in the area that has a decent sealed (asphalted) road network.
Whether you rock a regular sedan, a two-wheel-drive Sub-Urban assault Vehicle, or something more serious in the AWD or 4WD range, you’ll be able to drive between the three townships on the island – Dunwich, Amity Point and Point Lookout.
If you’re looking to travel off-road such as on Main Beach or Flinders Beach, you need a four-wheel drive and a permit. Get more information and buy a permit on the Minjerribah Camping website.
Cycling on Straddie
Cycling is a great way of discovering new places in a slower, more personal way. Biking around Straddie is no exception. But it does come with certain challenges.
The sealed roads connecting Dunwich, Amity Point and Point Lookout can have very narrow – or even non-existent – shoulders. This means you will be sharing the running lane with cars, buses and trucks.
Traffic will often come at you doing 80 kilometres per hour or more and often passes you in groups of 15-20 vehicles because of the latest ferry arrival.
The asphalt can be rough in places, and there’s potentially a lot of debris on the road shoulder. So, ride a bike that is suitable for the conditions. (A road bike may not be the greatest option unless you are running some serious tyres that don’t puncture easily.)
I’m not saying this to scare you away… I have cycled the 42-kilometre roundtrip between Dunwich and Point Lookout with my wife and young child (he’s an experienced cyclist). We had a great time. You just need to be constantly aware and vigilant when cycling on the road at Straddie.
When in doubt, pull over where safe and let traffic pass you. And know when it’s safer to claim the running lane and force traffic to slow behind you until they can pass safely.
Just to make it easier and safer for yourself, use bright bike lights anytime day or night. And wear clothing that makes you more visible.
It’s easy to catch a bus between Dunwich, Point Lookout and Amity Point. Buses line up with ferry arrivals at Dunwich, so you can hop off the boat and hop on the bus. Remember, you can only use cash on the island buses. You cannot pay by credit card, and you can’t use GoCard.
As of November 2019, services run every hour between 7:25am and 6:25pm daily from Dunwich to Point Lookout. From Point Lookout back to Dunwich, buses run hourly between 6:50am and 1:50pm, and 3:20pm to 6:20pm. Buses to and from Amity Point run less frequently. To check all bus times and plan ahead, visit North Stradbroke Island Buses.
Things to see and do
North Stradbroke Island has some stunning natural experiences to offer. How do 34 kilometres of uninterrupted, almost empty beach sound? Or how about spotting sharks, turtles and manta rays from a boardwalk skirting the top of some very impressive cliffs?
The east coast of Straddie is entirely made up of a big, long, sandy beach. Main Beach stretches 34 kilometres from Point Lookout all the way down to the southern tip.
You can access Main Beach on foot from small roads that may cater for two-wheel-drive vehicles (at your own risk). If you want to access the more remote parts of Main Beach, get a permit and bring a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
North Gorge walk
If you’re after a most photogenic piece of nature, then the North Gorge walk is the one for you. A combination of tracks and boardwalk, this 1.5km walk is mindblowing. You will get some serious views and a high likelihood of spotting sharks, sea turtles, whales, manta rays and kangaroos. (Those are just the ones we saw while doing the walk… If you’re lucky you might see other kinds of animals too!)
The walk is well fenced but look after the little ones if you bring them along. There are plenty of areas where you can enter the un-fenced cliffs from the path. Other than that, just bring comfortable and (ideally) grippy footwear and you’ll be all good.
After the North Gorge walk (and a well-deserved ice cream) head down to Cylinder Beach for a cool-down in the waves. The beach is in a cove, so it’s well protected from strong winds, waves and currents.
Lifesavers normally patrol the beach too and there’s parking close by. Depending on the tide and weather, there’s a large pond on the beach that is great for the kids. This is a great spot for the kids to avoid waves and currents that may be impacting the seafront. So, all in all, Cylinder Beach is a great spot, especially for families with little kids.
If swimming in the sea isn’t really your thing, check out Brown Lake. There’s a sheltered beach with BBQ and picnic facilities. It also happens to be a great spot for adults and kids alike to go for a swim.
The lake gets its name from how its water has a brownish tinge. Paperbark and tea trees growing drop lots of leaves in the water. The tannin from those leaves leaches into the water, making it look a little bit like tea from a distance. Not to worry though, the brown colour doesn’t mean the water is dirty or unsafe!
Close to Dunwich, you can drive to Brown Lake by car via Alfred Martin Way and Brown Lake Drive. Part of the way there is unsealed but should still be two-wheel drive friendly. Just drive to the conditions and, if in doubt, stop and turn around.
Where to stay
Probably one of the easiest ways to find accommodation on North Stradbroke Island is to hit up Airbnb. Point Lookout has 317 active Airbnb listings in November 2019, as far as I can tell. Amity Point has another 67 and Dunwich also has a few dwellings up for holiday rental.
When it comes to where you should stay, I recommend Point Lookout if you can find something that fits your budget and travel dates. This will put you close to shops, cafes, Cylinder Beach and the North Gorge walk.
Things to be careful of…
…in the water
We have some of the best beaches in the world and going for a swim is great for mind and body. Just beware you may come across poisonous jellyfish, poisonous stonefish, poisonous octopus, big shark, strong rips (localised, underwater currents) that can pull you hundreds of metres out from the shore, large waves, irritating algae and so on.
Long story short, try to only swim at patrolled beaches and stay between the red and yellow lifeguard flags. Check the lifeguards’ blackboard for conditions and warnings before heading into the water, and don’t go swimming if the lifeguards have put up red flags.
We have some of the best and most interesting nature in the world, and going for a hike is great for mind and body. Just beware you may come across poisonous snakes, poisonous spiders, aggressive magpies, bees and hornets…
You get the drift, right? We have a lot of poisonous and aggressive animals in Australia. They’re not out to get you if you’re not (seemingly) out to get them. Just be aware of your surroundings and don’t try to handle wildlife, and you should be fine.
If you go hiking, it pays to carry an appropriate first aid kit and know a few things on how to provide first aid for bites and stings.
If you’re driving, drive to the conditions, follow the rules and don’t take a two-wheel-drive where only four-wheel drives should go.
We want this visitor guide to be the most comprehensive resource available on one page for anyone wanting to visit Straddie. If you have feedback, suggestions for additional content to include in this guide, drop us a line in the comments below.
This article was originally published on koalaplanet.org.