How to Barely Survive Camping on Moreton Island, Brisbane

Moreton Island is the third largest sand island in the world. It lies only 58km off the coast of Brisbane and has become a popular tourist destination because of its beautiful beaches, diverse wildlife, huge desert sand dunes, and shipwrecks (which you can snorkel around). Here is our guide to ensuring you have a great experience on Moreton Island, and come back alive.

Make sure you go in a 4 wheel drive truck

This is somewhat self-explanatory as you’re going to an island that is comprised completely out of sand, minerals and vegetation.  If you are going camping, you’ll need to take all of your equipment and food with you, so it would make sense to have a suitable vehicle. Jo and I did not have a truck. We didn’t have our licences so we couldn’t even rent a truck. We lugged all of our gear all the way to our campsite (40 kg for me, 30 kg for Jo). It was a rather epic trek, and not one I would suggest for the faint of heart, the hater of exercise, or people who don’t want to die of heat stroke.

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This was the halfway point of our walk. Our campsite was the furthest point that you can see in this photo.

If you are walking, don’t choose a campsite 8km away from where the ferry drops you off

This is, unfortunately, exactly what Jo and I did. We got off the ferry just north of the wrecks, and proceeded to walk all the way to Comboyuro Point, a breezy 6 hours away. That’s how long it took us; walking through blistering heat, with 3 big bags each, along the beach the entire way. It was exhausting! My calves took a full week to recover from the trek, but the pain from walking was somewhat overshadowed by the horrific sunburn that Jo and I suffered.  We also got muscles spasms in our shoulders and necks from carrying the bags the entire way, as well as rashes from the sand being trapped by our sweat and ground into our skin. Oh the memories…

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Our sunburn after the trek to Comboyuro Point

Don’t schedule your trip for immediately after floods and storms

We had planned this week away at Moreton Island for a while. Unfortunately, Brisbane had just experienced flooding as a direct result of Cyclone Oswald. We’d booked time off work so there was no way we were going to cancel, besides, our campsite was reserved for a week or two after the cyclone had hit. We really didn’t think that it would affect us on Moreton Island. Boy, were we wrong. On the ferry ride out to the Island, we came across a visible section of the bay where the dirty, brown, flood water had reached. It was only about halfway in between Brisbane and Moreton so we still remained optimistic that it wouldn’t reach us on the island. Unfortunately, we didn’t take into account the fact that the storms from Cyclone Oswald had passed over Moreton Island as well. This meant crap water visibility (we were most looking forward to snorkeling, so that was a bit of a downer), uprooted trees, eroded beaches, and a shit load of drift wood. We were also unfortunate enough to have booked a campsite that was located within a small forest of pine trees that had obviously been affected by the cyclone. The danger of this became apparent to us when a large tree fell over about 20 meters away from our campsite.

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Don’t watch “The Descent” before you go camping

If you are anything like us and you suffer from overactive imaginations, DO NOT watch any horror movies before you go camping.  Moreton Island is a fabulous destination if you seek isolation. Unfortunately, when you’re by yourself, you are less distracted and have a lot of time to tune into your surroundings. This means you start to hear noises that you aren’t used to. You hear trees creaking, leaves rustling, twigs snapping, and strange animal noises. At night, these are all somewhat terrifying, especially when your campfire is the only source of light and everything beyond its reach is pure darkness. I spent the vast majority of the first night draining my iPhone battery by looking up the types of predators on the island (there are absolutely none) as I was convinced something was circling our tent. This fear was only exacerbated when we awoke to find that some of the pots and pans we cooked with had been moved away from our campsite.  It turned out that possums were looking for an easy feed. I caught one the next night trying to drag a plate away from the campsite… little bastard.

For some strange reason, from the moment we got to the campsite, I heard and saw wild dogs everywhere. Even though dingoes are now extinct on the island, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something canine-like watching me. I remember going to the bathroom, and on the way back, seeing what looked like paw prints in the sand. I could have sworn that they weren’t there when I had first walked along the track, and they were pointed in the direction of the bathroom, almost as if I was being followed.  I also remember going for a walk by myself to get some water from a nearby convenience store. It was very quiet and still, which is usually the point in a horror movie when something bad is about to happen. Suddenly, I heard this horrendous panting noise right next to me! I shrieked, jumped and turned, expecting to see a wild beast. Instead, I saw Jo stumble past me, completely out of breath. Apparently she didn’t want to be left by herself at the campsite, and had come running after me. After I recovered from my heart attack, we proceeded to the store without being mauled.

The nights were definitely the worst though. Four sleeps into our trip, we were caught in a huge storm. We tried to sleep through lightning, thunder, swaying branches, creaking trees, and heavy rain. We also couldn’t see anything outside of our small tent so it was very difficult to distract ourselves from all of the noises. I started hearing rustling around our tent. I asked Jo if she could hear it as well, hoping that she would be the voice of reason in the situation and tell me I was being silly. Jo freaked out and said that she could also hear the rustling noises. I spent the rest of the night imagining our tent being circled by the crawlers from “The Descent”. We awoke in the morning to find more trees had fallen around our campsite and decided that it wasn’t safe for us to stay in the tent anymore.

If you don’t have a truck, take the Moreton Island Taxi

After the longest night of our lives, we decided to leave the campsite and stay at Tangalooma Resort. Unfortunately, Tangalooma is 11km away from our campsite. We couldn’t face the prospect of walking any further; so we went to the convenience store to ask if we could pay anyone to drive us. We found out that there is a Taxi service that will take you anywhere on the island. Although we were happy we didn’t have to walk, all I kept thinking was “That would’ve been really great if we’d known about that a few days ago”.  Nevertheless, we were relieved. That was until we were told by the gruff, brusque man at the convenience store that the taxi service only accepts cash up front.

“Well that’s okay. Can you do cash out?”

“Nope,”

“Okay. Are there any ATM’s around here?”

“No. There’s one at Tangalooma,”

“Of course there is…”

We only had $30 on us, which was enough to get us 5km of the way. The rest of the 6km, we walked.

Take advantage of what Tangalooma has to offer

Upon arrival at the resort we booked our room, had epically long showers and got straight into bed with some room service.  After we recovered from our walk with the best night’s sleep I can ever remember having, we started taking advantage of the resorts great facilities. You can hire kayaks, fins, snorkeling gear, motorized boats, fishing gear, and a range of sport based equipment for free. All that’s required is a small deposit.  Despite the options for recreation, Tangalooma itself is a very old and tired looking resort. It felt as though now we were there, we would never be allowed to leave…The resort had a certain malaise to it. We decided to get away from the depressing surroundings by hiring a two person kayak and paddling off to the wrecks. It was on the way that we discovered another unexpected occurrence caused by the floods. Thousands of jellyfish had made their way across to Moreton Island to escape the flood waters. This was immediately noticed by Jo, whose first reaction was to point, lean out of the kayak, and capsize us into the water.  After scrambling back into the kayak, we continued to the wrecks with Jo forbidden from paddling. The wrecks are hauntingly beautiful to swim around, and have a variety of different fish for you to chase. It truly is spectacular to have something different and interesting to do so close to Brisbane. I would recommend snorkeling near and over the wrecks to any visitors.

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Don’t skip feeding the Dolphins…or Dolphin

The attraction that seems to get the most attention at Tangalooma is the nightly dolphin feeding show. All guests of the resort receive free admission to this, and it is incredibly popular. The event takes place next to a jetty on which there are a large number of seats. The staff will give you a brief rundown of the protocol behind feeding the dolphins. The most important rule is that you are not allowed to touch the dolphins. We were told that you can be fined $5000 for touching them as it is against the law. The guide for the evening suggested putting one hand behind your back, and feeding the dolphin with your other hand.  With that firmly in mind, we awaited their arrival. On a typical night, around 8 dolphins will usually turn up for feeding. When we were there, only one came to shore. Even so, we were told to join one of five lines on the beach, and head down to the water’s edge. Jo and I lined up next to each other and waited our turn. Five people at a time would wade out into the water up to their waists and stand in a line. The dolphin would circle around and swim along the line, eating the fish out of their hands. When it was our turn, I knew I would have difficulty not patting the dolphin, so I put my hand behind my back. I was first in line, with Jo next to me and one of the Tangalooma staff was in between us. The dolphin came around, I held my fish under the water, and he took it from my hand. I then proceeded to furiously pet the dolphin using the same hand I fed it with while saying “There you go buddy”.  I realized what I had done, froze, and suddenly became very aware of the 200 Japanese tourists all watching from the jetty with their cameras. I immediately turned around, ignored the look of horror on Jo’s face, and walked back up the beach. Apparently Jo had been talking to the member of staff standing in between us, so she hadn’t noticed me stroke the dolphin like a common household cat.

Above all else, enjoy every moment

It doesn’t matter what happens to you on Moreton, just enjoy the abundant beauty the island has to offer. We walked about 20km with heavy backpacks, got horrifically sun burnt (twice), suffered painful sand rashes, were nearly crushed by multiple trees, slipped into delusional paranoia, were stalked by imaginary wild dogs, capsized into jellyfish infested waters, and committed the atrocious act of illegal dolphin petting.  Almost everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong. Despite all of this, it was an incredible week away.  We both look upon our trip to Moreton Island with absolute blissful nostalgia. We swam, snorkeled, and washed in the beautifully temperate water every day. We ran, jumped and rolled our way through vast, pristine sand dunes. We witnessed and experienced the most seemingly untouched paradise, and no matter what had gone wrong, it was everything we wanted it to be.

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Here are a few quick tips that will help you on your trip to Moreton Island:

-If you’re camping, take firewood. It’s illegal to use flora from the Island as fuel according to strict conservation laws.

-Take your own water. Most of the campsites do have water available for use, but it isn’t filtered and needs to be treated. It also tastes like a combination of bacon and Cholera.

-Don’t stay in one spot. Take a day out and go exploring around the island. You’ll see completely different landscapes and there’s a lot you’ll miss if you don’t. Head up north to the Blue Lagoon for a refreshing swim or down south to the massive desert sand dunes (great for tobogganing)

-Head to the east side (ocean facing) of Moreton. This is where all the best surfing spots are, especially in North Point.

-Ask the staff members at Tangalooma about the best spots to go snorkeling. They’ll tell you where you can find all the most interesting aquatic life, including the islands resident Wobbegong Shark.

-For information about the Moreton island Ferry services visit: http://www.moretonislandadventures.com.au/travel/fares

-To book a campsite visit: http://www.visitmoretonisland.com/sleep/camp

-For information on the Moreton Island Taxi service visit: http://www.moretonisland.net.au/taxi

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Have you ever been to Moreton Island?  Have you had a disastrous holiday? Did it turn out okay in the end? Feel free to leave a comment or email us at dirtypawsblog@gmail.com

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