North Stradbroke Island

Sunday, 28 January 2024

I’m still ticking off Australian Islands after I wrote Tony Wheeler’s Islands of Australia for the National Library of Australia in Canberra. In 2021 I made a trip out from Brisbane to Moreton Island, so this time it’s the next island down the coast, North Stradbroke Island. I turned up at North Stradbroke right after my New Zealand trip – where I never got to do the walk I’d gone all the way to New Zealand to do.

After New Zealand I was meeting Maureen in Brisbane where she was indulging in another round of her Wagnerian Ring Cycle addiction. She’s well past 30 Ring Cycles now and I can claim to have been to a few myself, but certainly not that many!

▲ Dunwich on North Stradbroke, where the ferry from Cleveland arrives.

Getting to North Stradbroke was easy, take the Air Train from Brisbane Airport in to the city and switch to the train to Cleveland. From where a free Stradbroke Flyer shuttle bus runs to the harbour. Except it’s not exactly clear where it goes from and how often, I should have hung around for the free bus, I ended up with Uber. It’s less than half an hour on the ferry across to the island ….

▲ where I have time for a quick look at the colonial era cemetery at Dunwich, before I take the island bus service to Point Lookout.

The trouble I quickly discover with North Stradbroke Island is you really need wheels, preferably a 4WD. The island bus service shuttles back and forth between Dunwich and Point Lookout fairly regular, but anywhere further afield, like to Blue Lake or right down to the south of the island, well you need wheels. Even Point Lookout is spread out enough that I’m glad I manage to rent a bicycle from Manta Lodge (& Scuba Centre) for A$30 for a day. Unfortunately I don’t manage to go scuba diving with them. Diving with the manta rays is a big deal from North Stradbroke, but I’ve unfortunately chosen a day when they aren’t going out diving.

The Islander, where I’m staying, does feature a kangaroo lounging right outside my room, just to prove the island has plenty of wildlife. He’s hanging out there for most of my stay.

▲ So I pedal along the coast to Frenchman’s Beach, where there are lots of surfers all waiting on waves, and a mob of dolphins out a little beyond them. Then I make the very impressive North Gorge walk. There’s a wooden walkway hanging on to the cliff edge all the way around the gorge and from up top I spot a big manta ray and then two turtles. Beside the walkway I encounter two very unconcerned (about me) lorikeets …

▲ and at the south end of the walk there’s a good view down Main Beach and a lot more surfers. From the surf lifesaving club I can hear someone with a very loudspeaker telling off swimmers in the pretty little South Gorge Beach to get out of the water before they die. Go to Cylinder Beach and swim between the flags they’re commanded. There are more dolphins as well, two of them appear directly below me and one decides to have a go at surfing and grabs a wave just as a solo surfer launches off. If someone had been there with a good camera and quick finger it would have been a wonderful shot of dolphin and surfer in and on the same wave. A superb glimpse.

▲ The eugarie shells sculpture by Delvene Cockatoo-Collins marks the start of the North Gorge Walk. There’s a cluster of cafes, restaurants and gelati outposts at this point, but otherwise the choice – if you haven’t got wheels – is not great. I end up having dinner both nights at the Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel, fortunately it’s a good place to dine. There may not be many restaurants, but there are certainly plenty of very fine beaches.