Magnificent Moreton Island
  |  First Published: March 2004

MORETON Island is one of the world’s largest sand islands; roughly triangular in shape, 38km long, up to 10km wide, almost 20000 hectares in area and 98% National Park, it’s truly one of South East Queensland’s stunning natural treasures.

At its closest point Moreton is just 40km from the centre of Brisbane yet it still offers the lucky visitor an atmosphere of genuine wilderness. Wandering alone on one of its typically deserted beaches, it’s hard to believe that over two million people are only about an hour’s boat ride away. It’s an amazing sensation to stand atop a giant wind-blown dune in the desert-like Little Sandhills and enjoy a view that includes a breathtaking island wilderness in one direction and the skyscrapers of Australia’s third largest city in the other. The island has practically no roads, just a few sandy tracks that may be traversed only by 4WD vehicles. There are no traffic lights, few permanent residents and very little development.

Moreton’s most appealing features are its beautiful white sandy beaches, stunning blue freshwater ‘window’ lakes, crystal clear streams and towering, bare sand dunes (the Little and Big Sandhills are clearly visible from much of the Brisbane region). The island’s eastern and northern beaches are constantly pounded by the breakers of the Pacific Ocean while the western shore is gently lapped by the sparkling waters of Moreton Bay, itself an internationally significant Marine Park that’s home to around 740 temperate and tropical fish species.

Much of the island’s northern interior is swampy ground clothed in low dense ‘wallum’ scrub crowded with grass trees, paperbarks and banksias. Picturesque open woodlands dominated by scribbly gum, blackbutt, stringybark and pink bloodwood cover the central and southern end of the island. Groves of tough old cypress pines are found at Reeders Point, around The Desert and at Comboyuro Point.

Near the rugged rocky headlands of Moreton’s northern shore there are secluded coves, shallow sheltered rockpools and saltwater lagoons that allow safe swimming for kids of all ages. On the ocean beach, as well as around the headlands, there are often perfect curling waves to entice the adventurous surfer. Beware though – there are no lifeguard-patrolled beaches on the island so exercise caution when swimming. Beware of rip currents, sharks and, in north-easterly winds, bluebottle jellyfish. Don’t swim alone, don’t get ‘out of your depth’ and, if possible, post a lookout.

The fishing around Moreton is simply fantastic. You have the choice of trying your luck along the surf beach, throwing a line in off the rocks around North Point or Cape Moreton or catching a few in the calmer waters on the Bay side of the island. Species such as tailor, flathead, whiting, dart and bream are targeted by beach-based anglers while those using a small boat can motor out to the Curtin Artificial Reef to try landing squire, moses perch, amberjack or small snapper. Those with a larger vessel may head further offshore chasing red emperor, large snapper, trevally, coral trout, mackerel, cobia or even marlin.

Moreton is also a popular spot amongst snorkellers and divers. The Tangalooma Wrecks, about halfway down the island’s west coast, is a man-made anchorage composed of rusting barges and dredges that has created a haven for a dazzling array of fish and coral species. Needless to say, ‘The Wrecks’ are popular with snorkellers and being reasonably close inshore means confident swimmers can reach them from the beach without the aid of a boat. Offshore from Cowan Cowan, the Curtin Artificial Reef – a jumble of old car bodies, ‘whale-chaser’ ships Kos 1 and Kos 2, concrete pipes, tyres, barges, tugs and an even an old Brisbane tram – is a major fish breeding ground that draws enthusiastic divers to marvel at its prolific marine life. Further afield Flinders Reef, Henderson Rock, Smith Rock and the wreck of the Marietta Dal, regularly afford the experienced diver visibility in excess of 30m and water temperatures around 25. Flinders Reef, an isolated rocky outcrop 6km off the island’s north-eastern tip, is cloaked in almost 120 varieties of colourful coral. A ‘total protection zone’ where any form of fishing or collecting is strictly prohibited, ensures Flinder’s prolific marine life is safe from exploitation.

Bushwalkers will delight in Moreton’s wilderness atmosphere with several interesting routes available, including 4km Tangalooma-Desert loop, the scenic 8km-long ‘old telegraph track’ and the 9.8km track from The Desert to Rous Battery, the crumbling remnants of a WWII fort complete with bunkers and gun emplacement. Those less-energetic visitors who are willing to leave the comfort of their 4WD can enjoy an assortment of short, easy walks to a number of fantastic vantage points. One of the best is the moderately steep track that leads to the summit of the world’s highest coastal sand dune, 280m-high Mt Tempest. On a clear day the view from the lookout platform encompasses the whole island, neighbouring North Stradbroke Island, much of Moreton Bay, the D’Aguilar and Blackall Ranges and the Glass House Mountains as well as a large swathe of the Brisbane and Sunshine Coast regions.

Visitors interested in nature will discover a subtropical island paradise surrounded by crystal clear waters brimming with a vast array of marine life including dolphins, dugong, sharks, turtles, rays and, during the season, majestic humpback whales and even the occasional Bryde’s whales, right whales and killer whales. During summer green and loggerhead turtles nest on the island’s beaches, the southern limit for both species, while ‘twitchers’ may ‘tick off’ over 270 bird varieties. In summer there are up to 36 kinds of shorebirds including 25 migratory species, some of which are considered rare or endangered, found on the island’s beaches and wetlands. Moreton has no large native mammals such as kangaroos, wallabies, koalas or dingoes, just a few species of small marsupials such as squirrel gliders, short-nosed bandicoots and brushtail possums. Reptiles include lizards such as the tommy roundhead and sand goanna as well as snakes such as the red-bellied black and the carpet python.

Moreton Island is another of Queensland’s gems and the Dirty Weekends pocket guide Moreton Island: The Essential Visitors Guide contains detailed planning info and trip directions to help you make the most of your visit.

1) Late afternoon shadows on a giant sand dune in the Little Sandhills.

2) Beautiful Honeymoon Bay on the island’s rocky north coast.

3) A couple of anglers try their luck in the sparkling breakers at Eagers Beach.

4) Most ‘soft-roaders’ can handle Moreton’s sandy tracks. This convoy is heading along the Telegraph Track near North Point.

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