Moreton Island – A Fabulous Encore and Ending
When we left Brisbane back in May, we left with much gusto, trying to cover as much ground as quickly as we could, convinced that six months wasn’t going to be enough time to see Australia (I’ll talk about that in a final wrap-up post). So, this rush to be in fresh territory meant that we missed certain gems that are within easy reach of Brisbane, such as Moreton Island. Risa had wanted to visit for a while, but for her it was the dolphins at Tangalooma resort that she was interested in, not the enormous sandy national park that drew me back.
We had arrived back in Brisbane with two weeks to spare before Risa had to fly back to Japan, and I thought that I had a free week before I went back to work (which sadly fell through thanks to complication with the HR department), so we thought we’d right the wrongs from our hasty departure from Brisbane. The only problem was the weather forecast for the week was for storms… We held out for a few days, and noticed that the storms were little more than 15 minutes of action in an otherwise clear and sunny day. So, we took a chance and bought some discounted ferry tickets from RACQ (~$170). It wasn’t just the expense of the ferry though, there was also the $45 vehicle access permit, and the (rather cheap) $5.60/person/night camping fees.
Thursday: We took a gamble on the weather, assuming that since the forecast was basically the same as it had been for earlier in the week, we’d have similar weather. It wasn’t though, it was actually quite overcast this morning, and there seemed to be no signs of it burning off any time soon.
The Micat ferry left at 8:30AM from Port of Brisbane. I shouldn’t have been, but I was exhausted from the early start (I actually forgot to book a spot on this morning’s ferry, so I wanted to turn up early to make sure we could get on). The 90-minute trip felt more like a few hours. I thought that I would make use of that down time to research things to do on the island. There wasn’t much in Lonely Planet, and the information brochures on board were not much better (however, the $5 booklet was rubbish – we returned it and got our money back).
Moreton Island has no bitumen roads (that I’m aware of), so a 4WD is mandatory. On the journey over there, everyone was getting prepared for the Normandy-like beach landing by dropping the tyre pressure down to 18psi (or lower) and locking their front hubs (for those that don’t do it automatically). The actual exodus from the ferry is brutal – the ferry lands on the side of the beach, and its up to you to get through the soft sand and on to the harder sections on the beach. There were no problems on our departure, but we saw a car get stuck on another ferry, the ferry just moved to a fresh part of the beach and left the stuck car to deal with it on their own.
We’d booked a campsite on the east coast (Blue Lagoon). The quickest way to get to the other side was via a cross-island track, which was generally in good condition, but at times it got very soft and deep. But, we just kept the engine speed up and got through it all without any frights. The trail seemed to take forever, but eventually we spied a glimpse of water and knew the bumpy, shaky, rolly ride was over. We exited the trees, scrambled across the soft deep sand and safely made our way to the hard sand by water’s edge. The beach stretched far beyond where we could see. The sand wasn’t as bright and white as it had been in other places, but this golden sand was very fine, very clean, and very squeaky.
We drove rather aimlessly, mostly for the sake of going for a drive and seeing what was further down the coast. According to our incredibly rough map, there were a few attractions further down the coast, these included big/little sandhills, and Rous Battery (155mm artillery). We drove almost to the end and didn’t see the sandhills, and to see the old defence outpost required a walk of half-marathon lengths (in the heat, and on sand).
The weather finally started to clear a little, and we had patches of brilliant sunshine. When the sun was out, the water changed from being dark and foreboding, to beautiful, turquoise and inviting (however, swimming here isn’t recommended due to).
We continued north along the beach, back past where the overland track met the coast, past the Blue Lagoon campsite, all the way to the rocky northern point, which is the site of one of ‘Australia’s Most Important Lighthouse’ (not sure if that’s really true, but I did read it somewhere, so I’m going to run with it…).
The trail devolved a little more between North Point and the campground there, which was the easiest way to access the beaches there. It was around 2PM and I was hot, sweaty and well and truly ready for a swim. I read about (and had been told to visit) Champagne Pools that were at the North Point. There wasn’t any signage for them, but sure enough we found it by following signs to North Point. It’s a sheltered rock pool with waves that crash over a rocky barrier into it, filling the pool with bubbling water (funny enough, it was just like you would imagine a pool of champagne to be, but salty instead of sticky). But, in that short time between us parking and having lunch at the campsite, and us arriving at the pools, the sun was gone and the wind had picked up (so Risa travelled no further than her ankles into the pool). I loved it, especially since you couldn’t really see when the waves were coming and it was like a fun, bubbly surprise. Sadly, with it being overcast the photos don’t really do the area justice…
I didn’t want to leave it too late to get back to our campsite, just in case the tide was getting too high, so we returned back down the east coast to the Blue Lagoon campsite, set up (which really just means we parked in a flat location) and walked down to the lagoon. And boy were we in for a shock! There was a group of 30 high school students running, jumping, wrestling, yelling, splashing in the small area that is easily accessible (as in, the small area that isn’t reeds and weeds). We found a small quiet spot and had a laugh at the ridiculousness of it, and before long another 20 students arrived, and things really got out of hand. They were crashing in to us when they were throwing a rugby ball, splashing us as they ran around. I get it, they like to have fun, and I’m fine with that, but the jerks didn’t even realise that we were there, and not so much as an apology (or apologetic look). We sat on the small beach for a while, hoping that they’d leave soon and we could enjoy it in solitude, but we weren’t safe on the beach either. We grabbed our things, had a word to one of the teachers, and huffed off back to the campsite, wondering what is going on with the youth of today. Also, Blue Lagoon was a lie, it was most certainly a brown body of water when we were there…
We had a campfire, but only because someone had left a pile of wood ready to build a fire from (it’s questionable if that wood was local native wood or not, but I played ignorant). Kangaroo steak and salad for dinner, and a distant lightning storm for entertainment.
Friday: Beautiful sunny skies, but the downside was that the sand was red hot – too hot to walk bare footed, but the super dry sand that was being flicked up by thongs was also hot (and invasive). The penetration of sand into my clothes is my least favourite thing about beaches. Probably followed closely by sunburn, sunscreen, and march flies (and midges). But, it’s hard to deny the beauty of a long sandy beach on a clear and sunny day.
We booked a campsite at The Wrecks on the west coast, so we decided to spend the day on that side of the island. On the way we headed to The Desert, which was a rather impressive name for what was a rather small patch of sand (but more on that later, the journey there was probably more exciting). Before leaving Brisbane, I’d read a few warnings on the National Parks website, specifically mentioning the soft and deep sand on the trail to here. Having managed to easily drive through what I considered to be soft and deep sand already while on the island, I thought that we would have been fine. And, we would have been, apart from the entrance/exit to the car park, right at the end of the drive. Fortunately, we’d become bogged in a place that required someone to help us before they could leave. Even more fortunate was that there actually was someone here who wanted to leave. So, after six months of carrying around my recovery strap, it finally saw use… It took a few attempts from the little white Prado, but eventually we were pulled free from that pit of soft sand and had enough traction and clearance to park. Luckily, the exit was downhill, so we had no problems leaving.
We came to The Desert to try some sand dune tobogganing. I filled a bottle with water, put on a generous amount of sunscreen and thrown on a long sleeve shirt. I’d bought a few pieces of thin MDF from Bunnings before we left. I’d given them a good wax with a candle and carried them to the top of a sand dune. I’d told Risa all about the accidents I’d had on sand boards, and all the sand that had made it into my eyes/mouth/nose/ears/hair/underwear/butt-crack, so she played it safe with a pair of goggles for eye protection. Sure, she looked ridiculous, but by this time everyone had left. I got into position, Risa got into position… and that is where she stayed – the board wouldn’t budge. I’m no sand board guru, but I thought that was all that there was too it – a board, with wax, and a steep sand dune and then gravity did the rest. Let it be known that we tried hard before failing and giving up.
Access on the west-side of the island is a little more complicated, due to the resorts there. It’s not possible to drive all the way along the beach, instead the settlements have bypass roads, which are much like the sandy overland tracks, except they are for two-way traffic…
Driving south along the beach on the west coast, we passed a few wrecks, including one that looked to have occurred quite recently (and, it was quite a small boat, which surprised us as to why it hadn’t been salvaged). Again, with the guidance of our incredibly vague map, we were heading towards the Big Sandhills. This time however, we were actually able to see them. The name was also fitting, and far more desert-like than The Desert. Climbing to the top of the sandhill we realised that what we could see from the beach was only a tiny hill, with a much larger hill behind it (which meant another 5 minutes of me trying my best to get to the top, just because). The view from the first sandhill was nice, but the view from the top was awesome (shame Risa decided that it was too much effort to climb to the top).
As we were driving south along the beach, we noticed a sea of tiny crabs all running away from where we were driving. The sheer numbers of them made for an impressive sight. If you walked towards them, they would disappear into the ground, but if you stood still for long enough, they would eventually start to re-emerge from the ground and go about their daily business again. We spent a bit of time trying to herd these tiny crabs, which even though it was a little mean spirited, it was fun. There were a few more wrecks here, though there was little more than their steam boiler and a feint remnant of the outer carcass left on the shore to remind you that this was actually once a boat.
But, the main wrecks on Moreton Island are just on the north side of the Tangalooma Resort. It’s also where we booked our campsite for the night. However, it turns out that the campsite is a tent only site – no vehicle access. So, we had no choice but to camp on the beach beside the campsite.
We’d been sweating all day and couldn’t wait for a swim, but as usual, by the time we’d arrived somewhere we wanted to go swimming, the hot sun that we’d been baking in all day had fallen behind thick stormy clouds, and the wind had started to pick up. We still went for a swim to get a closer look at the wrecks, but it wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been an hour earlier… There is a small channel between the beach and the wrecks, and the current flowing through it was quite strong – almost like trying to swim across a strong river. I had no problems (but I like to think of myself as being quite a strong swimmer), but Risa was getting quite tired. The visibility in the water was quite bad, so swimming around the wrecks was a little scary. We didn’t really know what was below the water, and with all the rusty metal and razor sharp barnacles/oysters, it was definitely a valid concern. Still, even with the (relatively) cool water, the dark skies, cold breeze and strong currents, it was utterly surreal swimming around these wrecked ships.
We were once again in the land of internet communications, so when we saw the proliferation of facebook updates about the ‘apocalypse’ that was hitting Brisbane, we realised that underneath the giant clouds that we could see, an equally giant storm was raging. Once the sun set (oh so spectacularly), we could see just how active that thunderstorm was, with a near constant source of lightning flashing away within the clouds. Oddly, there was another giant storm passing to the north of us, too. We didn’t have as much as a drop of rain.
Saturday: I was surprised to see some of the boats that were moored next to us last night were no longer there this morning (I wonder how often anchors fail…). But, I was more surprised by the enormous clouds over Brisbane, including the heavy rain that looked to be battering everything south of us. But, as has been the case all week, the storms based by with little more than a few drops of rain and some wind.
We cooked one last meal in Deli-chan – shake-n-bake pancakes! I’m sure the crowds that had started making their way to picnic here by the wrecks were jealous. And speaking of crowds, wow, it was starting to feel like we were in a car park. There were cars all around us now, which I guess is all the Brisbane weekend getaway crew. I’m glad we came mid-week and can only imagine the horror of being here during school holidays!
The sun eventually started to break through the clouds, and as it does, the temperatures started rising. It wasn’t the beautiful sunny day that we’d hoped for, but it wasn’t bad. To really get in the mood for a swim, we climbed to the top of a nearby sandhill (and then ran back down it).
The current in the narrow channel between the beach and the wrecks was still flowing as strongly as yesterday, only now it was moving in the opposite direction. There were scores of small boats and soft, fleshy, white people on sea-kayaks in the area. There were even more people with scuba and snorkels around the wrecks. Even with the sun shining today, the visibility (with Risa’s snorkelling mask) was too low to be useful. I still felt uncomfortable swimming too close to the wrecks, as I honestly couldn’t tell if I was going to kick some submerged sharp object, which took away a lot of the enjoyment. I did however have flashbacks to a videogame (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves). There were plenty of people (and children) climbing all over the wrecks, but again, it looked quite sharp and dangerous, so I resisted the temptation. It was interesting being up close to these severely rusted and decaying ships. It also felt weird to be enjoying a beautiful national park, with what is essentially a load of scrap metal that was intentionally sunk here (to create reefs). I couldn’t decide if it was awesome, or an eyesore. (I’m leaning towards awesome, but I do love wrecks).
We fought our way back across the narrow channel, showered, and relaxed and waited to be able to board our ferry. This time we just stayed inside Deli-chan and watched MotoGP (Valencia), which was lovely and comfortable and I wished we’d done the same for the Tasmania voyage.
And that was it, we were back in Brisbane. Deli-chan had a thorough wash underneath to get rid of the salt and sand, clothes and plates were taken inside for a wash. I was incredibly glad we did this little extra trip, it now officially felt like we’d finished the journey. We had closure. We also had a good weekend, and the usual regrets at not doing it more often while we were in Brisbane, but that’s the way life is – the low hanging fruit is seldom as appealing.