Island of contrasts

North Stradbroke Island. ‘Straddie’ to the locals. Paradise to anyone lucky enough to visit.

As a born and bred Queenslander, I’ve been fortunate to visit many of the state’s off-shore gems – Hamilton Island, South Molle Island, Dunk Island, Long Island, Magnetic Island, Green Island, Heron Island. Yet despite living less than 100km away for the last decade or so, I’d never been to North Stradbroke.

I now know what I’ve been missing. The wait to board Stradbroke Ferries Big Red Cat alone provided much insight into what North Stradbroke had to offer. There were vehicles laden with fishing rods, surf boards and camping gear, others (like ours) with just the kids and a few suitcases. The demographic was broad – families with young children, couples, men of all ages escaping for a boys’ weekend, grey nomads. What was it about this island that attracted such a diverse array of travellers?

Getting there

The ferry ride itself was a highlight. The choice is yours to sit in your vehicle or venture up to the on-board café with panoramic views across the ocean. We opted for the café, and spent the next 50 minutes in airconditioned comfort. Go one level higher to the upper deck for the chance to see dolphins or, if the season’s right, maybe even whales. We saw jelly fish; lots of bulbous, blue jelly fish … and were happy with that.

The Big Red Cat travelling on Moreton Bay to Stradbroke Island

The first thing you notice about Straddie is its size – about 38km long and 11km wide. There are three townships – Dunwich, Point Lookout and Amity Point – the largest being Dunwich, home to most of the island’s services.

Allure Stradbroke Resort

Our base for the weekend was Allure Stradbroke Resort, within walking distance of Point Lookout and across the road from Home Beach. The self-contained shacks and villas define what it means to be at home away from home. My clan stayed in a three-bedroom villa, complete with full kitchen, three bathrooms and, best of all, separate parents’ retreat.

A central deck with barbeque facilities was the perfect common room, a great place to shake off the sand and regale each other with tales of the day’s adventures. And there are many of those to be had on Straddie.

Adventures

Our first was courtesy of Straddie Adventures, which promises ‘nature, action and education with a cultural twist’. We met Mark Jones and his family –  descendants of the Traditional Owners of Quandamooka – at Brown Lake, a stunning expanse of fresh water tinged brown by the native tea trees.

Located about three-and-a-half kilometres inland, the lake is a popular swimming spot. We boarded kayaks and paddled across the lake, one of the two largest and most sacred lakes on the island. Mark’s daughters told their family story of Brown Lake being a ‘Woman’s Lake’, where Aboriginal women would go to give birth. That insight into the family’s heritage and culture set the tone for the extraordinary experience that lay ahead.

Returning to the sandbank, we were treated to a traditional Quandamooka lunch with Mark and his family. I won’t lie – some of the delicacies on offer took me by surprise. Understanding that this was tradition for the family, passed down from generation to generation, helped me not only to rationalise the experience, but be unexpectedly humbled by it.

An afternoon of sand-boarding followed, on the dunes near Cylinder Beach. Armed with a special board, a block of wax and steely determination, we trudged up the slopes and slid down with reckless abandon. Yes, there were plenty of face-plants, but it was a lot of fun.

Sand boarding on Straddie Stradbroke Island Queensland

North Stradbroke Island is renowned for its swell, so a visit wouldn’t be complete without a surf. If you’re like me and don’t know how, Mick and the team from North Stradbroke Island Surf School can help. Lessons are held at Cylinder Beach, for groups and individuals, and all equipment is supplied. Standard lessons run for about an hour-and-a-half.

Man surfing with Stradbroke Island Surf School

Despite staying at Straddie for only a short time, our visit will long be remembered. The diversity of the island’s landscape and warmth of its community were like nothing I’ve experienced before. This may have been our first trip to North Stradbroke, but it won’t be our last.

The writer travelled courtesy of Brisbane Marketing and North Stradbroke Island tourism operators.