Geographically, it’s not quite Brisbane but it terms of the lifestyle on offer, Moreton Island is worlds apart from the Queensland capital, even if it is only 40 kilometres away.
The world’s third largest sand island is carving out a niche for itself as a destination for cruise tourism in its own right, with more ships identifying it as an ideal resort-style hub to which it can transport guests seeking an island holiday experience without trekking too far up the Queensland coast. While the Moreton Island National Park dominates the landscape, the western side houses the Tangalooma Island Resort, a well-established and popular retreat for tourists both local and international. Cruise Advice paid a visit to the island this week where we spent the day exploring the activities on offer.
Cruise ships navigate their way into Moreton Bay via the channel between Moreton Island and North Stradbroke Island, but due to sand banks cannot approach too close and certainly cannot dock right at the island, instead anchoring offshore. Guests are tendered to the island separately in a process that takes around 20 minutes. Throughout the day, multiple tenders are running back and forth between the vessel and the pier and guests can move between the two as often as they wish in the time permitted.
Moreton Island is home to a number of popular activities available both to Tangalooma guests as well as visiting cruise ship travellers. Many of these can be purchased in advance as a shore excursion through your ship, with tickets delivered to your stateroom advising you to tender to the island at least one hour ahead of your scheduled departure time. However, with no shortage of things to do on the island, you’ll want to spend a good chunk of your day there being as active or lazy as you like.
In the area immediately around the pier, an extensive beach stretches far into the distance in both directions, providing plenty of space to lay out a towel and soak up some sun. This pier is the main access point to the island with daily ferry services taking inhabitants to and from Brisbane as well as Stradbroke Island. There are also two privately owned airstrips in the far corners of the island however the ferry is the more commonly used mode of transport.
Tangalooma Island Resort is also built around this pier, with guests and visitors having access to a general store selling essential food, beverage and medicinal items as well as tourist knick knacks, bait and tackle for fishing enthusiasts and general items. In addition, if you fall in love with the island instantly, a real estate agency can help you find somewhere more permanent in the general vicinity. There are also multiple dining outlets, a pub and other business services available to visitors and Tangalooma guests.
Along the beachfront, cruise visitors will find a variety of meeting points for the variety of tours purchased onboard the ship. Once reaching the end of the pier, turn right to head towards the helicopter landing pad and Quad-Bike parking bay, while heading left will take you along a path, past a small function room and along to where activities such as stand-up paddleboarding, snorkelling, parasailing, sea scooters, 4WD driving and sandboarding among many others depart.
Moreton Island is a perfect destination for families, with plenty of amusement for kids of all ages along the beachfront. As you walk along, you’ll notice tents featuring activities including henna tattoos, plaster painting and even sandcastle building, with a resident expert shaping one of his elaborate creations right there for you to view and photograph.
On our visit, curiosity on what exactly a sea scooter can do got the better of us, leading us to this tent, where we were fitted with a wetsuit, snorkel and flippers and transported by boat our near the famous Moreton Island shipwrecks – many of which date back to the island’s days as a whaling station, while more recently, the Queensland Government has deliberately scuttled decommissioned vessels for the purposes of building an artificial reef for marine life.
A sea scooter is a small propeller which, when held out in front and depressing a pair of toggles where the right and left index fingers are positioned, uses a concealed motor to send a user gliding through the water with great ease. The devices are quite remarkable and easy to use, even for a first-timer like us. Along with our snorkel and mask, we were able to see many fish species swimming around the wrecks, a wobbyegong shark and even a stingray. The sea scooter tour runs for around an hour and a half, after which the same boat takes you back to shore.
To maximise your day on Moreton Island, here are some handy hints.
- If you’re an early riser, take advantage of the first few tenders leaving the ship, which will usually be around 7:30am or 8am depending on when the ship receives clearance to disembark. Doing so will mean you’ll have little to no wait time to board a tender and will avoid the post-breakfast crowd. Tenders depart regularly, around every 20 minutes, however you probably don’t want to be waiting in line for too long as there are not many places to sit down while progressing from the ship to the tender.
- Pack a small bag to take ashore with you. Include items such as sunscreen, hats, your camera, bottled water and towels at a bare minimum. Also don’t forget your cruise ID card / room key. You will need it to get off the ship and of course to get back on.
- On arrival at the pier, scope out the meeting point for your booked activity as signage is not as good as it could be. Meeting points can stretch for some distance along the beach and it is easy to walk past areas which look like meeting points but which are not accommodating your particular tour. In the case of our sea scooter tour, the meeting point was located right at the end of the beachfront walkway as far as day visitors can go. You don’t want to be rushing to find it as you can easily miss your departure time.
- If snorkelling or swimming around the shipwrecks, heed the advice of the tour operator and take a wetsuit and flippers. There are no fences around the wrecks and while most poke out of the water, some are fully submerged and can’t be seen from above the water. These rusted relics can have razor sharp edges and you don’t want to cut up your hands or feet by pushing off them, especially as the current is often quite strong.
If you opt not to go in the water, you can still have a great day on Moreton Island as there are plenty of places with undercover seating, including a great pub and bistro about halfway along the walkway left of the pier. As well as affordably priced food and drinks, you’ll likely be able to enjoy some musical entertainment as you admire the ocean and your cruise ship parked in the distance.
A full day on Moreton Island is a great change of scenery from your cruise ship and offers an experience nothing like the major city that is Brisbane (which in turn has its own highlights). Soak up the relaxed beachside lifestyle, the day will tick away faster than you’ll like.