The trip was all Matt’s idea. He’d tried for a while to sell me on the idea of camping on a rugged and remote island with no roads, no facilities, massive surf swells and a reputation for rather large Great Whites – but for some reason, I didn’t take the bait. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon some Insta snaps of this picture perfect tropical paradise that I started to soften, and before I knew it I was packing three massive 4WDs with camping gear, food and Coronas for a four day trip with nine other people.
We make the ferry by about 30 seconds. For those of us city folk who are somewhat used to missing buses, trains and ferries on the reg this little rush of adrenaline probably doesn’t sound too bad. For those island hoppers who happen to know that the MICAT ferry from the Port of Brisbane to Moreton Island only runs once every few days – you can probably appreciate my state of panic. Nevertheless, we make it, and as my heartbeat slows down to a more medically safe rate, we power forth towards the majestic silhouette that is Moreton Island.
The ferry pulls in right next to the The Wrecks – a stunning marine feature consisting of 15 ships that were deliberately sunk in 1963 to form a break wall for small boats. It has since become a world-famous snorkel and dive site, and when you see the clarity and brilliance of the waters that encase this artful masterpiece, it’s not hard to see why. A few moments later and we’re snapped out of our underwater daydreams, realising that it’s time to let down the tires of our 4WD Colorados and actually do this. Somebody knows how to drive these things along soft sand, right?
When you finally make it off the ferry – you’re kind of on your own. Yes, there are some friendly rangers roaming about, and yes, there is a tiny bit of phone reception around Tangalooma Resort – but mostly, you’d better bloody hope that somebody brought a good map and knows how to calculate the ocean tides.
We drive north along the beach towards our camping zone at Yellow Patch, with our local Sebby Hartog absolutely nailing it on the navigation front after my google maps screenshot was deemed “completely useless”. Although it’s only 20kms away, the sand and the tides mean that we don’t arrive for an hour and a half and by the end of it I’m not the only one feeling mildly queasy and sore from gripping the seat so hard. It’s all worthwhile as we drive along the beach and spot and swim with some dolphins along the way. Soon after back on the track we see the sign for Yellow Patch and cut through the shrubbery towards the beach, pulling up at some of the clearest turquoise water I’ve ever seen. If you’re heading to Moreton Island exclusively for surf, I’d recommend choosing a campsite around this north-western tip as it gives you easy access to the surf beaches on both the east and west coast. Note that the western coastline south of Bulwer is extremely sheltered and offers calm waters that are best for swimming and snorkelling.
We set up camp under the trees right near the beach and then head north to check out our surroundings and seek some sweet relief from the blistering summer heat. North Point is everything an Aussie Beach should be. More than just a smooth stretch of white sand fading into a tranquil, warm ocean, this beach has some jagged edges to it that make it ever more endearing. We spend a cruisey afternoon here, diving beneath almost-gentle waves and watching on as some of their larger counterparts crash into the ocean cliffs off the Northern tip, creating fireworks that trickle down into the aptly named ‘Champagne Pools’.
For a professional surfer Matt has an unusually passionate hatred of swimming, so surfs around us, as he always does. The swell direction isn’t quite right for the dreamy waves that we are hoping for, but our surf photographer John Respondek (aka Spon) and filmer Nick Pollet are both buzzing with excitement over the forecast for the next two days, which by all predictions could be pretty amazing.
One boggy flat tire and a barbeque under the stars later we decide to call it a night and prepare ourselves for the next two days of Island Life.
Us New South Welshman are pretty horrified to learn that the sun rises at 4.40am in Queensland. Not even a bacon and egg breakfast and the world’s finest cup of single origin coffee could lure me out of bed before about 6, so if you’re going to try it with cornflakes and instant coffee, then you’re dreaming.
Unfortunately for me, the surf-enthusiasts hold a strong majority rule within the group, and I’m forced to leave my cosy tent and feign excitement about barrels and sunrises and Baby Wipe showers.
It does become that little bit harder to complain when I learn that our first destination for the day is the postcard perfect ‘Honeymoon Bay’. Just over the hill from North Point, this secluded gem of a beach is enfolded by pristine National Park and overseen by the stunning monument of Moreton Bay Lighthouse. A few hours of gentle, cruisey waves in this utopia are enough to get the blood circulating, so we pack the cars and head off for destination “nowhere in particular”.
I’ve never quite known whether surfers are just the fussiest people in the world, or whether a minuscule change in the wind direction or the swell size really can make a visibly perfect wave completely un-surfable. Either way, the wind is apparently a little off for barrels today, so Matt and our leading surfer lady Jess Lawson have a day of punts, hacks and long luxurious waves that are perfect for Jess’ longboard and Matt to try out some slightly, ahem.. unconventional blow up surf craft.
As the daylight starts to fade, we head south towards the Big Sand Hills that promise uninterrupted views across the sea to Brisbane city and a melting sunset. It’s bloody lucky that we’re all such athletic human specimens or we might just have spent the evening holed up in our 4x4s, drinking Coronas in the dark beneath the shadow of these vast natural wonders. The sand is unbelievably soft as we start our long trek, but it’s all worthwhile when we stop to catch our breaths, looking back over the endless expanse of rippled golden sand with nothing but our footprints to distract the eye from the majestic beauty of this place.
Not one to be overcome with emotion at such things, Matt whips out a boogie board from thin air and tries his hand at sandboarding while Spon, Nick and Sebby continue to lug their heavy camera gear further skyward. Baffling though it might seem, you do need a sand board to go sand-boarding, and Matt’s feeble attempts at shredding the dunes are an embarrassing failure. A little further up the hill, and we finally find the spot, setting down the esky at what is possibly the most amazing place I’ve ever been. We enjoy some (very) well-deserved sun-downers.
The day has finally arrived. The forces of mother nature have finally got their act together, and the flawless barrels that we’ve all been dreaming of have materialised about half an hour down the coast near Tailors Bight. Even without seeing the ridiculous grin on Matt’s slightly sunburnt face, I can tell that these waves are nothing short of world-class.
Everyone is in their absolute element all morning, chasing the perfect breaks, the perfect lighting and the perfect angles to capture these rare diamonds of the surfing world. Special mention to our water filmer Nick who spends about 5 hours straight dodging sets and surfboards while trying to get that perfect down the barrel shot. Exhausted but highly satisfied, we decide to ditch the baked beans on toast and head to the Castaways Store in Bulwer for lunch. Apart from serving up a mean fish and chips, awesome burgers and some much needed local humour, this pinnacle of Aussie awesomeness proves to be a literal lifesaver on more than one occasion when we find ourselves in desperate need of fuel, water, ice, and double shot lattes. It’s not cheap, but if you’re camping up North, I guarantee you’ll feel better just knowing that this small and very down to earth link to civilisation is here.
After lunch, we spend our last blissful afternoon at the beach just soaking up as much Moreton magic as we possibly can. No matter how well-travelled you are, one thing that you never really learn to expect in the tropics is just how quickly the weather can change from scorching summer sunshine to torrential rain.
Our hopes of enjoying one final sunset are slowly dwindling as we huddle in the utes and try to remember whether or not we zipped up our tents. It turns out this cyclonic assault is a mere sun shower, and the sky is soon ablaze with vibrant rainbows and golden twilight rays. With tousled hair and damp t-shirts, we cheers to another epic day of fun in the sun and the end of a trip where everything very nearly went wrong but ended up just right (that is, until we get back to our campsite and realise that no, we hadn’t zipped up our tents).
Our last night at the campsite is spent in surprisingly good spirits as we all dry our blankets by the fire and regale stories of pristine waves, possible shark sightings and countless sand-boggings. The next morning we pack up camp and head back down the coast along the beach to the ferry terminal. As if the island is somehow insulted by our sudden departure, we find that the water is too deep and the beach track is impassable. We struggle south along the bumpy middle road through the island, reaching the ferry terminal with just enough time for a quick swim at the beautiful Moreton Shipwrecks.
I can’t say that I’ve suddenly changed my ways and become an adventure-seeking camping freak. What I will say is that Moreton Island makes you appreciate just how little you truly need to enjoy travelling around this beautiful country of ours. Pack your 4×4 with a tent, a couple of surfboards, and an esky full of Coronas – and I reckon you’ll be just about done.