Somewhere To Go – Moreton Island QLD – Part One
By David Wilson
You know you Queensland mob really have taken the 4WD bull by the horns, as I reckon I’ve observed there to be more fourbies per capita than anywhere else in the country, maybe the world! Perhaps it has something to do with a climate that really doesn’t have any seasons, it’s pretty much the same constant nice all the time, or the distances to travel the State are on at times less than perfect surfaces requiring 4WD? The main reason really is of course the destinations the State can boast of. Yes there are the biggies, Cape York, the Gulf and the Simpson Desert, but right on Brisbane’s doorstep is Moreton Island.
It’s a biggish stone’s throw from the mainland, serviced daily with multiple journeys by a very 4WD-friendly ferry company called Moreton Island Adventures. The ride is around 75 minutes duration in a comfortable upper deck with 4WDs occupying the space down below. MIA’s MICAT as they call it is a 58 metre long catamaran that will carry over 400 passengers and around 50 vehicles and watching it load and unload is a lesson in automotive Tetris. Those deckies are clever lads.
Your visit to the island will start at MIA’s berth at the Port of Brisbane on Howard Smith Drive an easy 20 minute drive from Brisbane city and one that’ll shortly be even more convenient once road widening works are complete extending the motorway into Port Drive in 2018.
If you are driving over you’ll line up to collect your boarding pass to await parking instructions, the initial booking done on-line. Walk-on passengers can leave their vehicles in the secure compound MIA have at the Port berth. You’ll find rates and other passage detail here: https://www.moretonislandadventures.com.au/getting-to-moreton-island/moreton-island-ferry-prices/ .
Once ushered aboard and securely parked it’s time to get the tyre pressure gauge out and let them boots down if you haven’t done so already. I’ve been over there plenty of times now and MIA’s recommended pressure of 18psi/125kPa will work on all but the inland tracks heading south to The Desert in the middle of a hot spell. Don’t worry about the return trip as the MICAT has air lines located on each corner of the deck with a high-speed inflator. Just bring your own accurate gauge.
If you are one of those unbelievers when it comes to pressure reduction or one who only uses 4WD when you get bogged, I’d suggest you find somewhere else to play. You don’t want to be THAT guy who gets stuck at the bottom of MICAT’s ramp when they are unloading and then suffers the death-stare from 400 pairs of eyes. The deckies haven’t got the time nor the inclination to help you out of your stupid moment, so be warned!
The passenger lounge is a neat place with plenty of seating and a well-stocked canteen with foods and drinks that will slake a thirst and keep an empty tummy grumble-free. I got my Moreton Island stubbie cooler there that’s since travelled around Oz and overseas a couple of times faithfully keeping my man-bag drink cold in all sorts of weathers, wherever I might be. It’s also a daily reminder about Moreton’s idyllic beauty (some people collect tea towels, I collect stubbie holders).
With the island almost close enough to reach out and grab it you’ll notice the appearance of the Tangalooma Wrecks, a collection of vessels sunk in the 1960’s that ape another safe anchorage up the beach at Bulwer. In the crystal clear aquamarine waters it’s a great place to snorkel and get face-to-face with the fish and corals.
After seventy-five minute’s worth of sailing the PA announces it’s time for drivers and their passengers to head downstairs and get ready for the exodus. This is where you’ll marvel at the skill of the Captain wrestling those great big Cat diesels downstairs as he gently nudges up onto the beach and drops the loading ramp. One by one the vehicles filter off, most heading north towards the two settlements of Cowan Cowan (was that a stutter or extra emphasis???) and Bulwer or points further north.
Depending on the tide there’ll either be heaps of space between the LOW and HIGH tide marks, some or none, so you might want to check the tide charts to see whether your disembark or embark times will be splash-free or not. Don’t get too concerned about that as the sand here is pretty predictable and it’s on the protected side of the island, it’s rarely an issue.
So with HIGH range selected (on the boat) and tyres set, off we go, initially running under the lee of a giant white sand dune that is tumbling into the bay and is a pretty good indicator of what Moreton is all about.
One of four sand islands along the QLD coast, Moreton is the third-largest in the world after Fraser and Stradbroke, but it isn’t a barren sand pit, far from it, as the vegetation on the island is incredibly diverse and pretty.
As you approach Cowan you’ll see sticking out of the beach a big lump of concrete. This box was one of the installations set up in WW2 in readiness for what was thought to be either a likely German or Japanese submarine incursion before a potential invasion.
As any bit of coastline is dynamic things are going to move around with time and the Observation Hut RAN3 has taken a big tumble as the fore-dune has been collapsed around it. The 4WD track heads inland from the beach to pick up the bypass road to get around it reliably.
A wander around Cowan though is interesting as there are still other bits of WW2 memorabilia scattered about. Some of the army staff accommodation buildings and other observation buildings now have a beach-house appeal, sold off post-war and snapped up as holiday bargains. The Control Tower is still perched at the end of Dorothy Newnham Street in the Moorgumpin Park or Cowan Cowan Reserve.
As Moreton has some surf-able surf around at Tailor Bight, Yellow Patch and Boulders up near the North Point on the western side of the island, it’s fair to say that some of the residents will stick a toe in the water when conditions are right. There’s one backyard in particular I found fascinating with an eclectic mix of surf junk (I mean that in the nicest possible way) celebrating the lives of Pat, Stan, Joe and Scottie. Look for a bunch of old short boards attached to trees, you’ll find it.
Back on the bypass road and you’ll need to exercise a little caution as the track is two-way but has only the width of one. With an approaching vehicle someone’s going to have to give way, so pick your moment. Sometimes there’s a cutting on the trackside verge to move over, but the sand is constantly getting driven on so it’ll be soft, especially at the intersections and often this is where the bogs occur. It’s been widely reported in the local Courier Mail that Cowan residents and others are pretty miffed that the track here has the potential to be dangerous if someone’s bogged and an ambulance or fire truck need to be somewhere else and quickly. Expect some roadworks in the future to rectify that.
Another point too about passing other vehicles here and at other points on the island is the tracks have been graded out of the raw bush. They are just sand and over the passage of time that sand gets displaced, so the road assumes a bowl shape rather than a cambered one you’ll see elsewhere (where the centre of the track is higher than the verge). Good old gravity will and can get in the way of a happy holiday if you come alongside someone else too close and one or both vehicles slip down the slope and meet in the middle with a connection of door handles and I’d suggest an exchange of insurance details. Best to stop and get up out the way before you pass that other vehicle as it’s no place for impatience.
You can either continue up to Bulwer on the bypass inland track or jump back onto the beach once past Cowan. If the tide is low take the beach route, you’ll find the sign and it says as much.
This next section of beach again is pretty easy with a navigable tide, punctuated with a couple of freshwater creeks that dribble out to the sea from inland. As this is one big sand island it has a topography littered with rolling sand hills, the highest (Mt Tempest) is measured at around 285m and claimed to be the tallest coastal dune in the world. There’s a walk to the summit for the fit and access is off Middle Road. With all that sand though, good old hydraulics plays games when it rains and rain it does here with an annual fall of over 1,500mm.
The rain percolates through the dunes and settles in the aquifers underground, held there by subterranean bedrock. If it continues to rain and the aquifer is full, something’s got to give, so the excess gets pushed out to a lower point. On the island that’s the marshes or soaks that feed the creeks that fall out to sea.
For a four-wheel-driver that’ll usually pose no problems, unless there’s a torrent rushing out to sea and intersecting one of the coastal tracks. You’ll see along this section of the beach a couple of places where the potential is there, particularly at Cravens Creek, but the worst I’ve seen in three years-worth of visits is a gutter about 300-400mm high and with a gentle nudge the edge will crumble and you’ll roll into and out of the stream with no damage to your pride.
There’s some pretty neat campsites scattered along the fore-dune here, nestled in amongst the trees with a priceless view of Moreton Bay and the distant Glasshouse Mountains.
Reaching Bulwer, which is pretty obvious, are another bunch of wrecks sitting on the edge of the beach. No it wasn’t an ill-fated storm that put them there, rather an enterprising soul named Pop Gow who bought one of the first housing leases in 1928. Within two years he had purchased three old steamers and scuttled them to create a protected shelter for his 43m launch Maringo, the artificial bay allowing him to transport building materials for his new house and later to unload the provisions for the many family holidays spent there. Not much of the steamers are left today, consumed by the sea and gently corroding away into the sands.
Bulwer is another patch of Moreton that has a freehold settlement, a town plan with orthodox streets and a few dozen holiday homes and MIA’s Castaways accommodation, café and store. MIA have invested heavily in recent times with their glamping site, a beautiful oasis of serviced tents complete with queen size beds, en-suites and decks, set in a stunning location and surrounded by nature. There’s a communal kitchen adjacent to the tents or if you can’t be bothered cooking then visit the cafe for an icy cold beer and a good feed.
One serious word of warning though… the chocolate brownies made there are possibly the MOST serious risk to your health and wellbeing, an atom bomb of sugar and cocoa that’ll have you bouncing off the insides of your fourbie later in the day!!! They are better than good!
The reviews for the accommodation, in fact pretty much anything that Castaways does, are doled out in superlatives. You read the websites and you’ll see. One of the reasons is the happy nature of the crew, ably supported back on the mainland with ample supplies and a great work ethic at MIA HQ.
David heads up Isuzu UTE Australia’s I-VENTURE Club and together with his wife Rose, owns Adventure 4WD, Australia’s best off-road driver training specialists. If you wanna read more of David’s travel tales, driving tips and 4X4 reviews, then sign-up for our upcoming FREE eMag here > The Magazine You won’t want to miss it!