How to do Australia’s largest sand islands in 9 days
Dreamy island holidays aren’t just for the loved-up, you know.
Queensland’s got family-friendly islands aplenty and three of them are super-accessible from Brisbane: Fraser Island, North Stradbroke (affectionately known as Straddie) and Moreton. No expensive flights and transfers here, they’re all just a ferry ride away.
They also just happen to be the three largest sand islands in the world, which means they’re jam-packed with family-friendly fun.
Reason enough to block out the next school holidays, pack up those buckets and spades and head off on your own nine-day, island-hopping odys-sea.
DAY 1: BRISBANE TO NORTH STRADBROKE ISLAND
AM: Bon Voyage, Brisbane
It’s easy as child’s play to get from Brisbane to Straddie. And while you’ll need a 4WD on both Moreton and Fraser Islands (plus vehicle access/camping permits—note to self), everything on North Stradbroke except the open beaches is easily accessible via paved road
On board Stradbroke Ferries, which leave from Cleveland (a 45-minute drive from the CBD), you’ll find maps and heaps of information on the island so you can get the kids involved in planning fun from the get-go. Chances are, they’ll be pointing out the snorkelling, fishing or sand boarding and, while equipment is available for hire on the island, plan ahead and bring your own if you can.
PM: Art and history they’ll actually want to learn
Ahh, Straddie, what a beauty. Also known as Minjerribah, meaning ‘island in the sun’, traditional custodians the Quandamooka people have a 21,000-year history here.
A hop, skip and jump from your ferry landing point, the Salt Water Murris Art Gallery is the place to check out contemporary works and also holds art and craft workshops during school holidays.
Around the corner a little ways is the Historical Museum and Dunwich Cemetery and, while that doesn’t sound like sand-boarding-level fun to some little’uns, the giant sperm whale skull and ghoulish tales will definitely impress.
Stock up at Island Fruit Barn in Dunwich when you get off the ferry then pull up stumps for the day at any number of accommodation options – most are clustered around Dunwich, Amity Point and Point Lookout.
Camping is big on Straddie and holiday rentals abundant thanks to all the nearby Brisbanites. Or check out the Manta Lodge YHA and Scuba Centre, Point Lookout with family room options plus daily diving and snorkelling trips.
DAY 2: SIMON SAYS
AM: Saltwater or freshwater?
Get up early (the kids have been up for hours anyway) and explore all the natural beauty this island in the sun has to offer. Ready to get wet? Straddie has amazing beaches, inland lakes and sheltered bays for swimming. Ok, so you’re spoilt for choice but that’s a good thing, right?
Cylinder Beach is your best bet for kid-friendly, with swimming holes created by the outgoing tide and beach patrols (there are also surf lessons on offer here and a great coffee cart for parents).
Or head 4km inland from Dunwich to Brown Lake. The younger folk will think it’s hilarious when said out loud, but it’s only the tea trees surrounding the lake that give it its brown colour. Psst—there are toilet facilities available just in case a pit stop is required!
PM: Whales and dolphins and turtles, oh my!
Eyes peeled! Take in spectacular ocean views plus whale, dolphin, manta ray and turtle antics from the Whale Rock blowhole (sounds just like a whale!) and easy-peasy 1.2km North Gorge boardwalk.
Want a closely-guarded local’s secret? There’s a sand blow right behind Point Lookout for sand boarding, after which, you’ll want to sniff out (the not-so-secret) Oceanic Gelato. Big bonus points to be had here for parents!
Nothing goes together like ice-cream and fish and chips. Well, the kids would agree. Arrive at Amity Point in time for sunset and you’ll be rewarded with (more than likely) a few dolphins or stingrays hanging around the jetty.
Seashells at Amity is as family-friendly as it gets, or grab fresh seafood straight from the trawler.
DAY 3: STRADDIE TO MORETON ISLAND
AM: Koala spotting
Now you’ve settled into island time, chow down at Tillers Café Pantry or The Blue Room, Point Lookout. On your way back to Dunwich, swing past Myora Springs, a freshwater creek and traditional gathering place: you might just catch sight of a koala or two!
Jump(rope) back to Brisbane. A 40-minute drive from Cleveland across to Port of Brisbane will take you to your next island departure point, Moreton’s MICAT ferry terminal. From here, it’s a leisurely 90-minute ride to Moreton Island and—bonus for parents—kids games are included on board.
PM: Real castaway time
Traditionally Moorgumpin (‘place of sandhills’), Moreton Island is 4WD access only, but for walk-on ferry passengers, Tangalooma Island Resort is right on the beach where you land. #tooeasy
Shut down your digital devices and prepare to get shipwrecked: you can swim, snorkel or kayak the afternoon away at Moreton’s famous wrecks, which are teeming with marine life. With young kids who weren’t strong swimmers, we chose Australian Sunset Safaris’ transparent kayak option so we could check out the underwater wonderland beneath us without even getting wet!
Our boys voted it their hands-down, number one favourite activity. Sunset Safaris also have one and two-day ‘Get Wrecked’ tours which take all the hard work out of it for you including kayak, snorkel, swimming and sand tobogganing activities packaged in with air-conditioned 4WD bus comfort and meals provided.
Locals’ fave Castaways café, Bulwer is THE place to hitch your dinner wagon. Castaways’ glamping accommodation options with double bed, bunks for kids and internal bathroom are perfect for families. There’s a fully-equipped shared kitchen, central grassy lawn (pack the Frisbee!) and communal open fire. Yes, marshmallows are an essential food group, as any kid will tell you.
Tip: For younger swimmers, the Bulwer wrecks are great for snorkelling too, closer in to the beach than Tangalooma and with no through vehicle traffic.
DAY 4: KISS CHASEY
AM: Into the blue
Ok, the kids might be too young to get the Blue Lagoon movie reference, but they’ll still love the safe, tea-tree-infused fresh water of Moreton’s Blue Lagoon (accessed via Bulwer-Blue Lagoon Road or surfside). Pack a picnic; the sand is super soft and white.
PM: You won’t be going ‘round the twist with all these options
Shout the under-aged to a Champagne Pools adventure. At high tide, the naturally formed swimming holes fill with bubbles as waves crash over the surrounding volcanic/sandstone rock wall.
Not far from the pools is the oldest lighthouse in Queensland. Built from local sandstone in 1857 by both convicts and tradesmen, Cape Moreton Lighthouse was actually constructed for NSW before Queensland became a separate colony. Can’t drag the pint-sized history buffs away from the 23-metre-high tower? There’s an information centre in one of the old lighthouse cottages next door that tells all about the island’s history.
The family that fish together stay together, right? North Point and Yellow Patch are not only great spots for late-afternoon fishing, they are also natural sunset viewing platforms.
Tip: Nearby Honeymoon Bay is picturesque but NOT swimming friendly. The rips here are notorious, so stick to beach cricket.
DAY 5: MARCO POLO
AM: 4WD adventure time
Widen your island horizons surf-side with 27km of open beach to drive. Stop at world-famous The Gutter Bar, Kooringal for lunch – their fresh prawns can’t be beat – and see who can count the most buoys in the neighbouring gardens.
PM: Sandhill safari
Rock-paper-scissors ‘cause you’ve got sand options galore.
Head inland to Moreton’s very own desert for some serious sand boarding fun, or back along the open beach to Little Sandhills or Big Sandhills. BYO boards or book a sand boarding adventure with local tour operators: all transport, thrills and equipment provided.
Tangalooma Island Resort has a 90-minute tour leaving twice daily, just remember to book a day pass for access into the resort (available online) if you’re not already a guest.
DAY 6: MORETON ISLAND TO HERVEY BAY
AM: WWII history
Eye-spy some WWII relics at Rous Battery from the beach or via walking tracks, including Fort Rous Gun Emplacements, plotting room and command posts.
Tip: Check tide times—beach access is way easier within two hours of low tide.
PM: See ya later Alligator
Say goodbye, it’s time to head back to Brisbane. MICAT ferry times to Brisbane vary but generally, leave around lunch and mid afternoon with additional services during school holidays.
DAY 7: FRASER ISLAND
AM: Ready or not, here we come
Piggyback a ride on Kingfisher Bay Ferries to World-Heritage-Listed Fraser Island. She’s also known as K’gari meaning ‘paradise’: in The Dreaming, a goddess who was transformed into the island after falling in love with Earth’s beauty.
PM: You deserve an upgrade
DAY 8: BATTLESHIPS
AM: Hit the (beach) highway
Are we there yet? Probably not: it’s called 75 Mile Beach for a reason. Make your (track) mark on Queensland’s 200km-long Great Beach Drive, the world’s only highway-designated beach road. Discover The S.S. Maheno shipwreck, world-class fishing, or just relax on your very own slice of beach paradise. There’s no one else around for miles.
PM: Is this the best natural water park?
Who needs a theme park when swift-water rides are free? Float or swim down freshwater Eli Creek or take the boardwalk. Everything’s a competition so see who can get there first.
TIP: Dingoes look cute but do not feed or approach. This even applies to teenagers!
DAY 9: ALL OVER RED ROVER
AM: From beach to rainforest
It’s the last thing you’d expect to find on an island, but Central Station is actually an almost 100-year-old rainforest area of incredible beauty. To sell it to the kids, it’s got the largest fern fronds in the world, plus humongous trees (Kauri Pines, Bunya Pines and Flooded Gums, to be exact) and a boardwalk that follows Wanggoolba Creek through the forest.
The spot also includes camping facilities and a picnic area with a BBQ for when they hit the “I’m hungry” button.
PM: Discover freshwater lakes
One of Fraser Island’s highlights, Lake McKenzie isn’t just said to look blue, it’s said to ‘glow’ blue. The white silica sand filters the water, giving it a purity and clarity which looks even better than it Instagrams.
Take a dip before heading back to the west coast for your final island sunset and enjoy a few sundowners (last ferry leaves the island at 8.30pm). Fly out of Hervey Bay, or overnight there, before driving back to Brisbane or onto your next port of call.