After living in tropical island paradises like Maui, Bali, and Australia over the last 3+ years, you may think we wouldn’t be all that stoked to visit yet another island, unless of course it was said to be filled with undiscovered (and valuable) treasure, a priceless collection of previously unreleased 90’s hip hop records, or a larger than average mass of cheap and delicious tequila. But you, my dearest reader, would still be magnificently wrong.
The thing about tropical island paradises is that they rarely lose their appeal, especially if you are easily entertained by nature or glistening, half naked people. Or both! Warm turquoise water, tiny flecks of sand in your butt crack, placing bets on the SPF count of the palest person on the beach, flinching a little too dramatically when something in the water touches you, and the magical sound of crashing waves occasionally interspersed with safety warnings from underpaid lifeguards? What’s not to love?!
So while hosting my mom and her friend during their first trip down under, we chose to make the journey to North Stradbroke Island, located conveniently only a short ferry ride from Brisbane, the nearest major city just an hour drive north of our home base the Gold Coast. Enjoy our getaway guide to North Straddie.
Australia’s Sandy Gem: North Stradbroke Island
On a previous camping slash writing assignment to the southern counterpart of South Stradbroke Island, I was under the impression that both islands were fairly similar – small and flat with good surf, full of wildlife and campgrounds, but for all intents and purposes, quiet and unassuming. Wrong again. Though formerly joined together, the two islands separated in 1895 after Mother Nature decided she’d had enough and ushered in a massive storm, creating the passage now known as Jumpinpin (how fun is that to say?!) that separates the two.
Not only is North Straddie home to a permanent population of 2,000+ people, compared to South Straddie’s teeny 100, but it’s also the second largest sand island in the world (only after Fraser Island, located further north near the Sunshine Coast), as well as 3 sand mines in the throes of being phased out, an 18 mile swamp, 180 local businesses, 3 towns with their own assortment of restaurants and shops, 2 massive lakes, 18 species of land mammals, and an Indigenous population – the Quandamooka people – who’ve resided there for the last 20,000 some odd years. Known traditionally as Minjerribah, I expect North Straddie will transform quickly and dramatically once the mines permanently close in 2019, allowing for more tourism-based businesses to grow and more of the land to open up for rehabilitation and future use, 40% of which is currently inaccessible due to sand mining leases (lame).
How to Get There – 4WD & Ferry
While I’m a typically an advocate of public transportation and all its questionable charm, this is not one of those instances. Not only will you be at the mercy of the once-hourly bus once you get to the island, but it also limits the areas you can visit, including North Straddie’s many drivable beaches and roads only accessible by 4WD. Like my Great Uncle Gizzard always said, “If you’re going to half ass an adventure, you might as well stay your ass at home.” I kid. There is no Great Uncle Gizzard. But if there were, I imagine he would have said something just like that.
For our trip, we opted for a Recreational 4WD Hire from FleetCrew, a Brisbane-based business specializing in long and short term rentals. After a quick 4WD lesson in our manual Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series, compliments of the FleetCrew staff, we set off across Brisbane for our ferry ride! They’ve written a great guide to 4WD on Straddie, which helps immensely, especially for beginners. Check it!
4WD Rental Inclusions: Roof racks, tool kit, jack, max trax, shovel, tire pressure compressor
Note: If you plan on renting a 4WD from FleetCrew to travel to North Straddie, give yourself plenty of time. Their pick-up and drop-off location is a 45 minute drive from the ferry terminal, and traffic in Brisbane can be semi atrocious at peak times. You will also need to purchase a separate 4WD Vehicle Access Permit ($44 AUD and good for 12 months) in order to drive on the beaches. You can pick this up from the Straddie Camping office near the ferry terminal once you arrive.
Located in the Cleveland area of Brisbane, Stradbroke Ferries offers a convenient once-hourly Vehicle Ferry for anyone traveling to North Straddie with their personal or rental car. While not exactly cheap – it costs $55 – $95 each way, depending on the type of vehicle you have (this price includes passengers, thankfully) – North Straddie currently doesn’t offer any services to rent a vehicle once on the island. Prior bookings for the Vehicle Ferry are required, and can easily be done online.
Personally, I found the ferry to be radical. There’s a bar (!!), snacks, a restroom, a nice view of the coast and surrounding islands, and it only takes around 45 minutes to arrive in Dunwich, the cozy port town of North Straddie. Add a funnel cake maker and free massages and you’ve got ferry heaven, my friends.
Where to Stay
After discovering that the majority of Straddie’s plentiful campgrounds were already nearly fully booked for the holidays (and as a non-fan of paying $80+ per night to camp in close proximity to a ton of other people), we chose to stay in The Nautilus Room in Dunwich, a conveniently-located and affordable downstairs level of a shared house equipped with everything you need for a short stay.
Things to Do, See, Drink & Eat
The glorious thing about visiting North Straddie is that it doesn’t require much in the way of planning once you arrive. Since the majority of attractions and activities are based on the northern half of the island, and the few roads available are all clearly marked, there’s really only so many places you can go.
Drive on the Beach
I highly recommend taking your 4WD for an easy venture from Amity Point onto Flinders Beach, which offers plenty of scenic views and the perfect location for a hearty game of Sand Pictionary. Since the sand was relatively shallow and hard during our visit, the driving was easy, which was not, unfortunately, also the case on Main Beach, the long stretch of beach located along the eastern side of the island.
While I agree that part of the point of renting a 4WD is to experience your fair share of rugged adventure, digging your car out of a never ending trench of deep, soft, gorgeous white sand whilst the sun slowly tries to murder you with its death rays isn’t necessarily my idea of fun and good times. The fact that our tire pressure gauge and compressor weren’t working properly didn’t help, sure, but I do want to give a big shout out to the heroic, kindhearted Aussie gents who helped tow us out of the sand and ultimately save the day. My advice? Unless you have experience with a 4WD on sand, stick to Flinders Beach. Or bring experienced Aussie gents.
Witness a Three Way Kangaroo Fight
Hey, if it can happen for us, it can happen for you. On an accidental wrong turn to see the sunset from atop a lookout point near Frenchman’s Beach, we happened to spot 3 wild kangaroos chillin’ in someone’s front yard. Two minutes later, we drove by again only to see these previously assumed sweethearts full on fighting each other before gracefully hopping away into the forest. Snap! Thanks for the show, angsty ‘roos!
Have Drinks at Tillers Cafe & Pantry
In celebration of your recent happening upon a three way kangaroo throw down, I suggest you celebrate with an adult beverage at the endearing Tillers Cafe in Point Lookout. Wine + Pizza + Recent Roo-Spotting Adrenaline = Yes!
Get a Sunburn on Cylinder Beach
There are many places to spread out and enjoy the scenery on a hot summer’s day on Straddie, but Cylinder Beach is one for the books. After discovering the waves, current and jellyfish weren’t up for visitors at the nearby South Gorge Beach, we retreated west to Cylinder Beach for a more-than-badass afternoon of salty swimming, beachy playlists, people watching, sand naps and subsequent sunburns before our early evening ferry back to Brisbane.
Treat Yo’ Skin at Brown Lake
If I had to do it again, the only thing I would change would be visiting Brown Lake after the beach. Stained brown by surrounding tea trees, the lake is surprisingly clear, warm, and (probably) good for your recently acquired sunburn. Managed by the Aboriginal Quandamooka women of the Brown Lake area, it’s a great spot for picnicking, relaxed swimming, and playing with the most adorable tiny frogs you’ve ever seen.
While there’s certainly more we didn’t do, like the North Gorge Walk (too hot), scuba diving (too closed), Goompi Trail, Myora Springs, Blue Lake and more (too little time), North Stradbroke is a gorgeous spot for a weekend getaway, and one I’d gladly return to any day of the week. Preferably a day when wild kangaroos are hosting another front yard fight fest, but I’ll take what I can get.