Two million years of ocean currents and waves have shaped a string of islands off southeast Queensland’s coast. Sculpted by the elements, these sand islands are strikingly unique with tall rainforests growing out of sand dunes, endless white sandy beaches and a multitude of freshwater lakes. The three largest islands are Fraser Island, Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island. And although each island has a character which sets it apart from the others, the one constant among all three is the presence of sand.
North Stradbroke Island
On North Stradbroke Island, oysters seem to taste better when they’re eaten while gazing at a sun-soaked ocean view. And somehow, the act of slurping the oysters from their shells, in turn, seems to make the view look even more magnificent.
I ponder this thought as I swallow a Stradbroke Island oyster, sitting at an outdoor table at Fishes Cafe in Point Lookout.
The eatery is an upmarket fish and chips shop with plenty of seafood, including prawns, sand crabs and Moreton Bay bugs fresh from the trawlers. Lately, everything in Straddie (as it’s known) seems to be going upmarket.
The old 1960’s pub – which was once a hangout for fishermen and campers – was demolished and re-opened as the Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel with three- and four-bedroom apartments, a day spa offering $90-an-hour Li’tya massages and a beer garden with what must surely be one of the best ocean views in the country.
Down the road, the paint barely dry, La Focaccia pizzeria re-invented itself into a sleek a-la carte restaurant. And real estate prices have gone through the roof; an old beach shack with magnificent ocean views sold for $2.9 milliona few years ago.
Only a 20-minute high-speed water taxi ride from the suburb of Cleveland, south east of Brisbane, the world’s second-largest sand island has as much claim to the title of Queensland’s “next Noosa” as many other beach destinations further north.
Yet, some days, you can drive 40 kilometres along the beach and not see another soul.
The North Gorge is one of the island’s most stunning features offering breathtaking views of waves crash upon plunging rocky cliff faces, turtles bobbing around in clear aquamarine waters and green pandanus trees growing lusciously on the slopes.
According to Jones, with the right winds, the gorge is the best place on the island to spot other marine life such as humpback whales during migration season, manta rays and enormous pods of hundreds of dolphins.
I drive through a forest, stopping to take a look at scribbly gum trees. I break for a swim at Brown Lake, one of the island’s freshwater lakes named for the tea-like colour of its waters which are stained from the nearby melaleuca and paperbark trees.
Although much of the island looks lush, sand is ever present. Since sand mining emerged in the 1940’s, about 15% of the island has been mined for rutile, zircon and ilmenite which are used for a variety of purposes: titanium for the aerospace industry, white pigment in paints, plastics and cosmetics, furnace linings and sand blasting in the steel-making industry, and ceramic glazes.
Straddie is perfect for that quintessential beach holiday but unfortunately for most, it’s way too late to invest in a beach shack.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Tourism Queensland.
North Stradbroke Island is 30km from Brisbane by water taxi or ferry from Cleveland.