Destination: Tangalooma Resort, Qld

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An island paradise only 40km from a major capital city is almost too good to be true — enter Moreton Island.

Destination: Tangalooma Resort, Qld
Tangalooma Resort

The temperate, late-autumn Queensland sun rains down on my wintery Melbourne skin like a tonic, and I’m a blissful patient. The scarcely perceptible swell of Moreton Bay belies what is sometimes a treacherous crossing, today benign and populated with at least three separate pods of dolphins that have breached in friendly welcoming throughout our 85-minute trip across the bay. In the same time it takes to get from one side of Melbourne to the other during peak hour, I’ve been transported from the City of Brisbane to idyllic Moreton Island, a world away from the concrete jungle — or 40km, to be precise.

Marking the outer perimeter of Moreton Bay, Moreton Island’s staggering sandhills stand guard over the vast body of water that stretches south towards Brisbane. They are the welcoming committee for the island’s seafaring visitors. The tallest is Mount Tempest, some 280m high and arguably the largest coastal sandhill in the world, comparable in size to dunes found in the deserts of Iran. Yep, Moreton Island certainly lives up to its Aboriginal name Moorgumpin, meaning "place of sandhills".

After Fraser Island, Moreton is the largest sand structure in the world. It stretches 37km long and 10km across at its widest point, and is comprised almost entirely of national park save for the three small townships of Bulwer, Cowan Cowan and Kooringal. It’s 4WD-only terrain for land dwellers, the sandy beaches doubling as highways around the island. Those with 4WDs can reach the island via the Micat vehicular ferry, which departs Brisbane most days and arrives at the beach near the Tangalooma Wrecks. Tangalooma Resort also runs a passenger-only ferry three times a day from Brisbane.

Boaties making the trip across the bay from the mainland should keep in mind that Moreton Bay is very shallow and when the wind picks up conditions can get quite nasty. Your boat should be at least 5m long, and if it’s blowing more than 15 to 20kts, call it off. The only fuel available on Moreton Island are 20lt drums of unleaded from the Bulwer General Store, so if that doesn’t work for you make sure you have enough onboard.

Moreton Island is steeped in history, with ancient shell middens hinting at more than 2000 years of Aboriginal occupation. More recently, the island’s only rocky outcrop was named Cape Moreton by Captain Cook in 1770, and a lighthouse was erected at the site in 1857 to mark the notorious entrance to the bay, which is scattered tellingly with shipwrecks. Cape Moreton Light is still standing today and is Queensland’s oldest lighthouse. The island also played host to military camps during WWII and was subjected to industrial mining for sand, a controversial practice that closed in the ’90s due to public opposition.

Also controversial was Queensland’s first and only whaling station, established in 1952 on Moreton Island’s west coast at Tangalooma. This location was chosen for its proximity to the migratory path of humpback whales through the bay. Up to 600 whales were slaughtered each season, a total of more than 6000 by the time the station closed in 1962. In a wonderful twist of irony, the disused flensing deck is now used for recreational activities at Tangalooma Island Resort, a tourist destination made famous for having befriended local marine creatures.

Tangalooma makes for an ideal day trip for boaties, especially those with kids. Friendly and unpretentious, it offers a smorgasbord of land- and water-based activities guaranteed to satisfy the little ones (and the not-so-little ones). The resort welcomes day visitors, and encourages those who have arrived on private vessels to come ashore and partake in activities ranging from guided quad bike tours on dry land to parasailing, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing and wakeboarding. There are also fantastic opportunities for snorkelling and diving at the island’s many great underwater sites, including the amazing Tangalooma Wrecks.

We were lucky enough to dive the wrecks on our visit; it’s a scenic and fairly shallow site that’s great for divers and snorkelers of all levels. The current can be quite strong, however, so time your dives on the changing tide.

Moreton Island’s most recognisable feature, the Tangalooma Wrecks comprises 15 decommissioned sand dredges that were strategically sunk in 1963 to form a boat harbour just north of Tangalooma Resort. Its closeness to a campsite as well as the facilities of Tangalooma Resort makes it an ideal anchoring spot. At the latter you’ll find a range of food options from a café serving coffee and sandwiches, to a restaurant that fed me the best piece of barramundi I’ve had in a while. There’s also a small general store that sells the basics, plus some harder-to-get items.

However, the resort is perhaps most famous for its nightly visitors: a pod of wild dolphins who visit the island upon nightfall each evening. Guests can feed the dolphins from the beach — an experience any child (and grown woman, as it happens) is unlikely to forget. You need to be an overnight guest to partake, but hey, maybe an evening of R&R in the comfort of an island resort is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Whether you stay aboard your boat, pitch a tent at one of the island’s many and varied campsites or splash out on a bed at Tangalooma, you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic time at the water-lovers’ paradise that is Moreton Island. Fishing, cruising, diving, you name it — those turquoise waters have a lot to offer boaties seeking a secluded island adventure within an hour-and-a-half of a major capital city. Cracking a beer on the powdery-white sand of Moreton Island in time to watch the sun sink into the bay is an experience every Aussie boatie should indulge in at least once, if not regularly.

Feeding wild dolphins is an unforgettable, if controversial experience.

The island offers a wide range of aquatic (and aerial) adventures.

Moreton Bay is a unique marine environment home to whales, dolphins, manta rays and sharks, to name a few. It is also an important feeding area for turtles and dugongs (pictured), and is reportedly the only place in the world where both still live so close to a major city.

Indeed, six of the world’s seven species of turtles are found here, the most common being loggerhead and green sea turtles. Moreton Bay is a significant habitat for the former, which is listed as "endangered to extinction" after numbers halved since the ’70s. More than 200 loggerheads are reported sick, injured or dead in Moreton Bay each year, with boat collisions responsible for a large proportion. Crab pots are another culprit, responsible for the drowning death of 20 turtles each year, according to the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM).

Moreton Bay’s dugongs, meanwhile, are slow-breeding creatures that don’t start getting frisky until females are at least 10 years-old, and even then they mother only one calf every three to five years. Needless to say, a healthy adult population is vital to maintaining their numbers.

Moreton Bay is a hot spot for boat strikes on air-breathing turtles and dugongs, and accounts for half of all incidents recorded along the Queensland coast, according to DERM. Do your bit to help protect them by paying attention to designated "Go Slow" areas as outlined by DERM.

If the liveability of your boat is not everything you dream it to be, there are plenty of campsites within easy access to the beach on Moreton Island. Here are some of the better sites for boaties, each located on the island’s west and most protected coast.
› Comboyuro Point campground: This is a large, shady campground with easy access to deep, sheltered water allowing anchorage close to shore. Positioned on the northwest corner of the island, Comboyuro is ideally situated within easy walking distance of the township of Bulwer, where one can top up on food, bait and booze (if one was so inclined). For boaties whose main form of transport on terra firma is their feet, this is handy indeed. The site has toilets, cold showers and access to water. Fires are allowed in existing sites.
› Ben-Ewa campground: Situated in a valley, this site is shaded and protected from the wind. There is easy access to sheltered bay waters, making it ideal for boaties with kids. There are loos, cold showers and access to water. Fires are okay, just choose an existing site.
› The Wrecks: Moreton Island’s most famous landmark, The Wrecks provides a makeshift harbour and is the island’s most popular spot for private-boat anchorage. Just be aware that when the westerly wind whips up, things can get a bit hairy. The campground is a short walk from the beach and features toilets, cold showers, rubbish bins and water, but fires are a no-go. This is the closest campground to Tangalooma Resort, which is a short beach-stroll away.
› Northwest camping zone: Stretching from Ben-Ewa to Comboyuro, there are several campsites in this broad zone, both secluded and communal, some within walking distance of the township of Bulwer. There are no facilities available, so if you’re camping for more than a couple of days bring a portable dunny and make sure you take the waste with you when you leave. Fires are okay in existing sites. This stretch of coast offers sheltered waters, with deep water around Cowan Cowan Point allowing easy boat access.

All water accessed from campsites requires sterilising.
Firewood is BYO — collecting it from the island is prohibited. Also, check for fire bans before lighting up.
Secure all food and rubbish in sealable containers to deter the island’s feral pig population.
BYO first aid gear — the closest doctor is on the mainland. Take insect repellent, as sand-flies abound.

Moreton Island’s turquoise water is alive with plenty of species guaranteed to get a fisho’s blood pumping. There are a couple of spots in particular that should definitely be on your radar.

The first is Curtin Artificial Reef, a manmade structure comprised of all manner of junk including, but not limited, to car bodies, old pontoons, concrete pipes, barges and even an old tram. The reef is located at latitude S27º06’07" and longitude E153º21’00", just off Cowan Cowan on the island’s west coast. Sitting in about 15 to 20m of water, the reef is home to yellowtail kingies, snapper, sweetlip and cobia, to name a few. It’s a popular spot so it’s worth getting out early or staying out late — a sleepover would be ideal. Curtin is also a great dive site, with no shortage of rusty stuff to look at.

Another spot worth hitting up is the Four Beacons, which mark the deep shipping channel into Moreton Bay. Located just south of Tangalooma and around 2km offshore, the beacons are spaced around 1km apart and the eddies that form around them attract pelagics hoping to capitalise on baitfish seeking protection from the strong current. In the summer months, drop some livies to see if you can entice a cobia, and spin for mackerel in winter. You’re also likely to find kingies here. It’s worth using heavy tackle as this spot has been known to produce some monster fish.

Cast a line from the beach into the surf on the island’s east coast when the tailor are on the bite, while Harper’s Rock at the base of Cape Moreton Light is good for bream, mackerel, whiting, jewies and crayfish. If you’ve got the kids in tow then a good option is to catch pippies and worms at low tide and have some good wholesome fun casting in the shallows for whiting.

The wrecks at the top of the bay (above) make for good diving off the tide but head out to the Four Beacons to chase cobia (below).

From Trade-a-Boat magazine Issue 431, Sept-Oct 2012. Story: Emma Ryan. Photos: Tourism QLD; Tangalooma Resort.


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