You know when you've 'arrived' on Straddie – it doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen. The bloke at the corner shop gives you a knowing nod; the café owner brings you a flat white without you even asking; the bait shop boys tell you the secret spot for a catch. Suddenly, after four or five trips to North Stradbroke Island, the joy drops like a penny – you're accepted, not quite a local, but a mate, a regular.
Buoyed like an ocean liner, you're sailing smooth. Sitting on the rocks, baiting up at the 'secret' spot, you know you've hit paradise at a million miles an hour – no more asking directions, no more checking your watch for tide times. No, you're well researched and clued up – you've made your claim on Straddie.
I first started coming to this wonderful island, just 90 minutes from downtown Brisbane and the largest of Moreton Bay's islands, 10 years ago after escaping from the southern capitals. This place epitomised the reasons I'd made the big migration to Queensland – sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, a gentle pace and nature in all its glory.
Drive off the barge from Cleveland in Brisbane's east onto North Stradbroke Island and you are immediately on 'island time'. For the uninitiated, the sleepy atmosphere of Straddie may take a little getting used to, but it takes only a few seconds to appreciate the island's natural beauty.
First stop for the newcomer has to be Main Beach – a 32km straight run of wide white sand to the island's southern tip, ideal for island-style camping, swimming and fishing. Join the locals for a surf, a swim or dig up some pippies for bait and go fishing.
Any uninhibited camper would love Main Beach. After a 4WD south along the beach for 13km, you're free to choose your own campsite. If you want to camp behind the dunes with nothing else but a tent, good mates, smelly bait, no toilet or water, and some beer, then Main Beach is the perfect place for some bonding.
Take the 4WD off the beach and up a dried up creek bed to the Keyhole Lagoons and Brown Lake, an area is considered an open-air aviary for more than 250 species of native birds. Here, native ducks swim lazily on the water's mirror-perfect surface looking for their next meal as the sun sets over the wetlands.
Flinders and Cylinder Beaches are popular with families and Cylinder Beach is a favourite with surfers as it dishes out long barrelling waves that break some distance offshore.
Flinders Beach, situated between Amity Point and Point Lookout and 19km from Dunwich, offers beach front camping, accessible only by 4WD from Amity Point or Point Lookout.
Fresh-from-the-boat seafood can be found at the tiny fishing village of Amity Point – beautiful fish and juicy prawns washed down with a coolie is the perfect Straddie fare.
From the town of Point Lookout head to North Gorge and South Gorge to walk off lunch. Walking along the edge of majestic rocky outcrops, staring down at the crystal-clear water below, it's easy to spot a giant manta ray flapping its 'wings' as it glides through the water. This is also a great spot for dolphin and whale watching with Humpbacks migrating past the island on their way north starting every June.
Many of the island's secrets are best found by four-wheel-drive. Don't worry if you haven't got your own, because operators like Coastal Island Safaris or Straddie Kingfisher Tours will guide you along hidden tracks behind the dunes. Amp up the excitement, and the personal effort, with Straddie Adventures, and try your hand (literally) at sea kayaking. If that doesn't float your boat so to speak, head inland to the huge dunes and transform into a human bullet with sand-boarding.
North Stradbroke Island is fully accessible by private 4WD's and conventional vehicles from the mainland using Stradbroke Ferries from Cleveland. There are 14 vehicular ferry services each day, but it is still wise to book. Permits are also available for beach driving from either the ferry operator and selected outlets on the island.
North Stradbroke or "Straddie" to the locals (and their trusted mates) offers a range of accommodation from the hotel on the bluff near Point Lookout to caravan parks, backpacker hostels and luxury homes and flats. The island's National Park includes the strikingly beautiful Blue Lake and was once considered the site for the capital of Queensland. It was home to Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), an Aboriginal activist and one of Australia's best known poets.
Word Count: 756
Author: Julie McGlone
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