Australia: Straddin’ Straddie

For my last few days in Australia, I wanted to get out of the city so decided to head to North Stradbroke Island (‘Straddie’) just 30km south of Brisbane. The second largest sand island in the world (sitting just behind Fraser Island, also in Queensland to the north), Straddie is easily accessible and blessed with stunning natural duty. As such, it’s a popular holiday destination for the Aussies and a fantastic way to escape the city if you’re in nearby Brisbane or Gold Coast.

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Cylinder Beach on North Stradbroke Island

I went from Brisbane but if you’re taking the train from either of those cities, you want to get the train to Cleveland. It’s easy enough since it’s the last stop on the line. From Brisbane, it’s round A$5 with a Go card for a one way trip. The journey should take around an hour and trains usually depart from Roma Street or Central every half hour or so. Once you get to Cleveland, take a right out of the train station to find the bus stop, from which buses depart to Toondah Harbour, the departure/arrival point for ferries to and from Straddie. The buses are all timed to meet the ferries but which one to take depends on which ferry company you are taking to Straddie. Gold Cat has a free bus from Cleveland and costs $20 return, whereas Stradbroke Ferries costs $14 return but you have to take the number 258 bus to get to Toondah, which costs around $3 each way. There really isn’t much (any?) difference pricewise so I’d just take whichever bus comes first. I took bus 258 which times to meet the Stradbroke Ferries. Note that you cannot use a Go card on the ferries – you can only pay with cash or credit card.

The smooth crossing takes around 25 minutes and you end up in the small town of Dunwich, which is basically Straddie’s capital, mainly because it has more than two shops and a cemetery. Straddie’s only bus will be waiting to meet you. This loops round the main areas of the island every hour and costs $4.80 for a one way ticket. Again, you cannot pay with Go card. The bus terminates at Point Lookout, the main touristy area on Straddie. I was staying at Manta Lodge & Scuba Centre, Straddie’s only hostel. It’s a little outside of Point Lookout but is handily equipped with its own bus stop. The hostel sits right on a bend so I wasn’t quite fast enough at pressing the stop button in time. Luckily there’s another bus stop about 100m down the road. Sit on the left hand side of the bus and keep your eyes peeled!

The hostel was great, doubling up as accommodation and a dive centre. It had two chill out/TV rooms, a decent kitchen and was situated a stone’s throw away from the gorgeous Cylinder Beach. It’s further out from most eateries but there’s a handy store next door which also does a range of unhealthy fast food bound to give you a heart attack. Still, it’s handy in emergencies. The beach is spectacular. After 6 years of travelling, I have never felt sand as soft as on Cylinder Beach – it was squeaking under my feet! The beach stretches for a long way which makes it perfect for a stroll, especially at sunset when it is paricularly beautiful. When I visited, a couple of huge lagoons had formed on the beach, sometimes making it more difficult to get across but also making the view that little bit more special.

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Bat migration at sundown

One incredible sight on Cylinder Beach you absolutely should not miss is just after sundown when the hundreds of trees just behind the beach come alive. I was wandering back to the hostel when I noticed a couple of birds flying in the sky… then some more… then suddenly hundreds. I soon realised they weren’t birds at all but bats! Literally thousands of them were waking up and migrating from their trees just as the last touches of light left the sky. It was breathtaking and so unexpected. I had seen a similar migration in Battambang, Cambodia but it had been a pre-planned spectacle with many tourists gathering to see it. Here I was on a deserted beach seeing this marvel right on my hostel’s doorstep. I was blown away.

And Straddie didn’t stop there. One of its most iconic sites is its North Gorge Walk, situated in Point Lookout. From Manta to Point Lookout, you can either wander down the road for around half an hour or follow Cylinder Beach all the way down. There are a couple of smaller beaches to visit before you come to the town also. Deadman’s Beach in particular is lovely and secluded and is another good sunset spot. Point Lookout has a large (well, about 5) collection of cafes and restaurants. The bakery does good takeaway pies for $5. There’s also a fab lookout point before the beginning of the Gorge Walk. But it’s the walk itself that took my breath away. Crashing, frothy waves hitting the rugged cliffs; the distant splashes of migrating whales; the relentless, gale-force breeze. It was a really easy walk but on that packed such a punch. If you do nothing else on Straddie, do this!

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Straddie’s fantastic North Gorge Walk

It rained pretty much non-stop during my penultimate day on the island but on my last day I ventured out to Amity Point, on the north-western tip of Straddie. From Manta, this was a long walk across Flinder’s Beach which is about twice the size of Cylinder. Due to the rain, this was a difficult beach to traverse, with huge lagoons and some difficult crossings. Of course, the odds weren’t in my favour. As I reached a particularly large lagoon, I noticed a crossing made of sticks, debris and mud. I put my foot on it… and realised it wasn’t a crossing at all, it was just sticks, debris and mud floating on the water. Through it I went, plunging waist deep into the lagoon. I was soaked, filthy and had finally managed to finish off my phone. It was a good job Amity Point was worth it…

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Pelicans at Amity Point

And it really was. After the beach, I was able to dry off by taking a winding forest trail until I finally reached Amity Point. There was a store there selling hot pies and so I took one to the picnic area and admired the ace view, golden sands and chilled out pelicans which come to hang out here. It was another long walk back to the hostel (I took the road this time, it took about 90 minutes) but I was glad I’d managed to explore this new area, even if it had cost me my phone and my dignity.

Actually, I’m not sure I had any dignity left anyway.

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