48 hours on Moreton Island
It’s smaller than Fraser, and not as close to the mainland as Straddie, but with world-class four wheel driving, snorkelling and adventure in abundance there’s no reason for Moreton to throw a Jan Brady tantrum shouting “Fraser, Fraser, Fraser!”
In fact, Moreton Island holds its own when it comes to adventure, accessibility and affordability – making it the ideal weekender from Brisbane.
If you’re keen to see what this 170km2 island is all about (especially if you want to go beyond Tangalooma Island Resort‘s footprint), here’s how to explore the best of Moreton Island in 48 hours.
If you’re heading to Moreton for the weekend, we give you permission to take Friday afternoon off work – just tell your boss the folks at the Queensland Blog said so.
Spend the morning packing your 4WD with everything you’ll need for a weekend full of camping, off-roading and fishing. If you need a packing refresher, make sure you check out this post.
You’ll also need to book your campsite and vehicle permit through QPWS before you arrive but fear not, it’s the cheapest beachfront accommodation money can buy in Queensland. A campsite will cost you less than a month’s subscription to Netflix, and offer just as much variety when it comes to locale.
QPWS have you covered from the remote-sublime to the amenity laden-ridiculous. Ben Ewa even has its own WiFi signal to add to its list of mod cons… although I must admit, this does seem to fly in the face of the island’s tagline “Escape the Fake”.
If you’re a first-timer to island camping, you might like to stay at Ben Ewa (here’s why), but for more experienced campers, Cowan Cowan (just near the airstrip) is my pick for privacy and epic sunsets.
Tip: Pack a snaplock bag and a couple of zip ties to attach your camping permits to your tent and car, that way you know your permit is always on display if a ranger does an inspection.
With your car loaded and a sneaky early mark from the office, drive aboard the 1pm* MICAT ferry service from Brisbane to the Tangalooma Wrecks.
The trip from the Port of Brisbane to Moreton Island takes somewhere between 75-90 minutes to cover the 40kms that separates Brisbane and the Bay – just enough time to knock back a couple of coldies and adjust to island time.
Try as you might, the curlews and kookaburras won’t let you sleep in for long on Moreton Island.
Your mission today is simple: Test your traction on Moreton Island’s 420kms of sealed tracks.
The most detailed map you’ll find of the island might look hand drawn by pirates but you’ll be surprised how helpful it is as you make your way between the sites.
If you’ve chosen a western-facing campground (like The Wrecks, Ben Ewa, Cowan Cowan), I’d suggest exploring the west coast today.
When driving, you’ll need to be mindful of tides, however, bypasses (a fancy word for sand tracks over the dunes) will get you from A to B if you’ve really stuffed up the tide timetable.
Working south to north these are your must-stop attractions today:
1. The Wrecks
Pack your snorkel mask and fins – there’re 15 sunken shipwrecks off Moreton Island, all teeming with marine life to get your Scuba Steve on.
The Tangalooma Wrecks are by far the most visited attraction on the island, so if you’d prefer to err on the side of crowd caution, I’d suggest motoring further up the coast to Bulwer for your rusty shipwreck fix.
These lesser-known Bulwer Wrecks are a shallow-snorkelers dream and although you’ll be swimming at 1-2 meters depth you’ll still find an abundance of tropical fish.
If you’re not into getting your hair wet, these deliberately sunk wrecks will happily play muse for your camera lens from the safety of dry land.
2. Champagne Pools
If bathing in champagne has long been a dream of yours too (or is it just me who thinks up such tomfoolery?), Moreton Island may be as close as you get to making your dreams a reality.
Meet the Champagne Pools – a deliciously frothy and bubbly swimming concoction of salty water cascading over a rock wall into clear pools below.
You can thank the break wall made of volcanic and sandstone rock for this swimming sensation, which is best experienced in the late afternoon as the western sun dances across the water’s surface creating its champagne glow.
3. Moreton Island Lighthouse
Swap adventuring for a dose of ancient history and visit Queensland’s oldest lighthouse, whose candy-cane facade dates back to 1857.
Dolphins and whales are a regular sighting off Cape Moreton in winter and the walk around the lighthouse offers box office seats to the humpback highway.
Tides permitting, we’d recommend scooting home ocean side as the sun sets to your passenger’s side of the 4WD.
Moreton Island brings out its trump card after dark. Did you know QPWS allows fires at almost all beachfront campgrounds? Take that, Fraser!
Pack your firewood (you can’t collect firewood on the island, but you can purchase it) and kick back for an evening al fresco. For a full list of where you can light up, consult the QPWS oracle here.
Tip: Mosquitoes and sandflies don’t seem to like fire, so we build our fire first thing and keep it running in the background most of our Moreton Island stay.
If you talk to people who travel to Moreton Island a lot they’re sure to give you unsolicited advice about whether the east coast or west coast of the island is better.
It turns out, the island is as divisive as pineapple on a pizza, so you’ll want to make your own decision on the matter.
Work your way from south to north with these landmarks:
1. Mt Tempest Hike
Despite what campers may tell you about Moreton Island, it’s not all bacon and burgers here.
There are walks to be done and none better than the hike to the summit of Mt Tempest, the highest point on the island.
Sure, the climb might only be 285m above sea level but the damned near vertical stairs will get your heart rate pumping.
The views at the top are well worth the climb – and you’ll be able to see exactly why this island is precisely 98% national park.
Tip: Pack lots of water because there’re no amenities here and it gets bloody hot, even in winter.
2. Honeyeater Lake
If you’re itching for some twitching, grab your binoculars on and make like David Attenborough to Honeyeater Lake.
You’ll find that the banksias are alive with the sound of honeyeaters who’ve made cities in the native trees that surround the lake.
3. Blue Lagoon
You’re not likely to find Brooke Shields at this Blue Lagoon, but you will find plenty of other visitors who are outrageously in love with this freshwater lake.
One part fresh water, one part tea tree oil, it’s the kind of place that’s refreshing with a capital R.
Don’t expect anything as therapeutic as its Icelandic body double – but on a sunny day you’ll find bright blue water and an orchestra of birdsong to accompany your dip.
4. Honeymoon Bay
All of the world’s best destinations have a Honeymoon Bay on their tourist map – the Canary Islands, Florida… and Moreton Island, of course.
For arguably one of Queensland’s prettiest beaches, head north between Cape Moreton and North Point to the perfectly crescent-shaped Honeymoon Bay.
There’s a short walk to the beach itself, a pristine 50m patch of sand, which is protected by 15m high rocky hills.
If you’re chasing magic photos – a heads up – this beach is eastern facing so you might want to reverse the itinerary and hit this beach babe first.
Tip: There are no lifeguards on Moreton Island, so be careful swimming here. Rips are common, not to mention the sharks!
If you didn’t know just how magic Moreton Island was before this itinerary, I guarantee you’ll lament leaving it this long to discover.
The last boat off the island is at 4.30pm* when sadly you’ll dust the last sand off your shoes and adjust your tyre pressure (an analogy if ever I saw it for blood pressure) back to high.
The silver lining? A boat ride to hold onto that island feeling…. at least for another 70 minutes or so.
Of course, you could use the time to plot round two on Moreton.
*Always check timetables ahead of travel for accurate ferry times.