When COVID-19 travel and border restrictions are lifted where are you going on your first family holiday?? Our first stop will be Moreton Island!
We were lucky to spend a few weeks there over summer with relatives visiting from the UK before COVID-19 turned the world upside down. It is heaven, sand, sea and serenity! And even luckier to be rescued by Isuzu and an MU-X when our family car broke down just hours before we were due to board the ferry!
“I’m just checking if there’s a hole in the CV boot and if I can stick my finger in it, that could be the cause of the smell and the smoke.”
The morning of our ferry crossing to Moreton Island for our three-week family Christmas camping holiday, these are not the words you want to hear from your husband as his feet are sticking out from underneath the car.
If we were in any doubt at that point as to the ability of our vehicle to last the trip, by the time we’d driven another 10km into Brisbane in a cloud of smoke we knew the answer.
As I quickly pull our daughter out of the smoking car she cries at the sight of our beloved family car “Gump” looking very sorry for itself and the prospect of making the ferry in two hours time look pretty slim!
It’s one of those times in life when you are extremely grateful to be a couple of car journalists! When hubby finds no mechanics who can fix our car at such short notice right before Christmas he makes a few begging calls to car industry contacts and Mark from Isuzu Ute Australia VERY kindly offers to lend us an MU-X for the month. The mad dash was then on to collect the MU-X and transfer all our camping gear, Christmas presents AND roof tent (luckily the Isuzu came with a roof rack already fitted) and still make the midday ferry!
It is an epic effort on everyone's part and our daughter soon forgets about our family car's decline when she is offered Peppa Pig to watch while we four adults face the time challenge of undoing the rusted tight bolts holding our roof tent on to Gump. They haven’t been undone for five years since we put the tent on but after a struggle we have success! Lifting the tent onto the MU-X roof and fixing it on in 38-degree sun and heat with 15 minutes left on the clock is a memory it will take a while to forget!
Rolling into the ferry terminal just in time were five relieved faces and after letting down our tyres it called for celebratory cheers with a cold beer on the boat!
We settle into the MU-X quickly and all our belongings find their place. Driving off the ferry and onto the sand feels AMAZING! We all thought it was never going to happen so we are definitely elated as we switch our walkie talkies on with a lot of “Roger, Roger” and the usual quips we are off!! Let the Christmas camping adventure begin!!
The tide is quite high in so there isn't much beach to drive on as we make our way north but the view of the water is spectacular! It's crystal clear and reflecting the bright blue sky. The bush fires have just torn through Moreton Island and we can see as we make our way north and onto the Cowan Bypass inland track that the sand is dry and chopped up where there's been no rain for quite some time.
It isn't long until we have to stop for someone who is bogged a few cars in front of us. We wait until it is clear and then give it our best shot and the MU-X makes it through easily! This short 50m stretch of sand becomes our test of conditions on Moreton Island over the coming weeks as we watch the tracks change with the weather and increased numbers of campers on the Island.
Just past Bulwer, the northernmost settlement on Moreton Island, we make camp at Comboyuro Point. A thankfully shady campground nestled in the dunes and trees behind the beach, with cold showers, bore water and drop toilets. That, of course, comes with the usual selection of eight-legged locals!
After sussing out the options, we find our spot and nestle our two cars in amongst the burnt trees and set up camp.
It's just a short walk through the trees to a stunning, quiet beach with calm flat water, making this camp spot is perfect for families with young kids and a love of paddleboarding. As the days go on, more family groups arrive. We make the most of the paddleboarding opportunity and by the end of the holiday, our daughter can paddleboard too!
It's a west-facing beach so we have beautiful sunsets every evening over Moreton Bay and the Glass House Mountains. On a good day, we can almost see the skyline of our neighbourhood on the Sunshine Coast, which we look for daily during our ‘cold beer o'clock' sunset tradition while watching the pods of dolphins swim by. If you paddle out at the right time it's pretty special to have them swim by you!!
It is a short walk, swim or paddleboard down the beach to Castaways at Bulwer, the only shop at the northern end of Moreton Island. The staff are really helpful and friendly and they serve up some pretty tasty meals too!
Castaways is also a small shop of essential supplies, ice creams, ice and beer. The prices are a bit more than the mainland but if you are lucky enough to be on the beach on delivery day you'll get to see why! You can see them drive enormous beach tractors along the beach to the ferry port and load up with supplies and take them all the way back to the shop. It's pretty impressive to see and that alone I think justifies the island tax!
We stick to our good intentions of morning beach runs for the first week until we totally unwind and all slip into island time!
Our first few days are spent paddleboarding off our ‘ensuite' beach and popping back through the trees for lunch or to boil the billy. Lazing in the hammock and reading a few pages of a good book, camp life is so relaxed that we almost forget there is the rest of Moreton Island to explore!
We are, however, eager to put the MU-X through its paces and see how it performs driving around this sandy island. Once we've settled into Island time and slowed to an almost stop, we venture out to explore.
First stop is the shipwrecks. We head south along the western beach while the tide is quite high and we are just out of the water with a slim bit of beach to drive on. The Isuzu MU-X is confident in the already rutted sand and I don't doubt it's ability. It does get tricky passing another bogged vehicle or passing oncoming cars but it all gets worked out. We head inland on the Cowan Cowan bypass as the beach is cut off here at high tide.
As we rejoin the beach we see the shipwrecks as we pass Ben-Ewa, between where we got off the ferry and the Tangalooma resort a little further south.
We park up alongside the other holidaymakers and the water is so inviting that we instantly roll out the paddleboards, inflate them and paddle out.
Conditions are perfect! The sea is calm, the tide is out and the sky is blue! We make our way out with our daughter on the front of one of the paddleboards. We stop at a shallow area that you can stand up in, between two wrecks where there are hundreds of fish and it is breathtaking!
The water is so clear you can see the fish without really putting your head under. We all have snorkels and the variety and colours of fish are fantastic! Our daughter is sated with her experience and eager to build sandcastles, so I paddle her back to the beach.
Everyone else continues to explore all the wrecks and variety of fish and sea creatures.
Back on the beach, I enjoy overhearing other peoples' tales of what they have seen as they swim in elated from their experience at the wrecks.
If you don't have your own equipment or would prefer to go with a group, there are equipment hire companies and tour groups with different masks and vessels you can go out with from the beach too.
Sun setting and beer o'clock calling, we make our way north and back to camp at Combouyuro for a cold shower, a bit of camp cooking and a night under the stars.
The MU-X is considerably higher than our family car and so we are not used to climbing up as high to get in and out of the roof tent. However, we seem to embrace it and our little girl takes herself up there to bed in the evening quite happily. It is just a bit trickier if she's fallen asleep and we are lifting her up into the tent!!
Nights are blissfully quiet, the stars and milky way put on a fantastic display and with a fire ban in place because of the tragic national bush fire crisis, people turn in early.
Awake with the sun and the kookaburras, we have breakfast and unanimously decide to head to Kooringal at the most southern part of Moreton Island, attracted by the promise of the nearby oyster farm. We take the inland tracks across the island; some remain compacted and smooth while other patches have become more chopped up with the increase in people arriving but the MU-X still has no struggles with any of it.
Going through kilometres of burnt bush from the recent bushfires, there are small patches untouched and you wonder how it survived. On some tracks, one side of the road is all burnt and the other side fine.
Learning about driving on different depths of sand and whether it's loose or compacted, I think I have it nailed until I spit out onto the Warrajamba Beach on the eastern side of the island where suddenly the MU-X almost stops and it's like we're in sinking sand! Momentum is key here and this vast, Mars-like cratered landscape is unrelenting. Driving with the open ocean and its pounding surf to my left, the beach is untouched compared to the western side and we pass just one other vehicle in the whole east coast drive, which it is clearly struggling here too!
The concentration required is exhausting and I was very happy to see the signs eventually for Kooringal and even happier to reach the Gutter Bar!
The only little bar in the south of Moreton Island, the Gutter Bar is well known for its fresh fish and oysters we celebrate not getting bogged on the way here with a cold beer…
…and sample the local oysters and prawns on their seafood platter. Which I can tell you are delicious!!
The local beach here is mangroves and fun for walking off lunch with the kiddies because there are thousands of soldier crabs to attempt to round up as they disappear beneath the sand!
Aware of the gruelling task ahead driving back, we head off but quickly stop to remove an unwelcome traveller!!
The return journey is completely different. The sand has hardened and it's a stress-free return, highlighting the difference time and tides can make to driving on the sand.
Our daughter is a great passenger now she's older and loved being in the back and having a great view out of the windows!
Home in time for sunset, camp dinner and a well-earned early night!
The next day we drive to the northeastern point across the island and beaches are quiet with some wide-open tracks of incredible white sand.
The beaches are so remote and we feel like we are the only ones in the world!
The beach is barren and we can see not many campers make it to this point.
Walking for an hour along this remote beach we discover all sorts of shells and also plastic so end up with a good plastic collection to take back to the rubbish bins at camp!
Our daughter finds creative spaces in the MU-X to store her shells and the Isuzu's shelf under the steering wheel clearly comes in extra handy.
Navigating the inland route around Honeymoon Bay to the lighthouse, the tracks, birdlife and views are spectacular.
The short walk up to the lighthouse gives breathtaking views and if you are on Moreton Island at the right time of year (June-October) you can see the whales from here. Being summer, there are no whales but we are more than happy with the display of dolphins, turtles and rays…
…with beautiful views down the east coast.
Even though the side steps on the MU-X offer a good opportunity to stand and tap off your feet before getting in, a week into our island adventure the Isuzu has gathered a good collection of sand throughout!
Of course, we got bogged! It wouldn't be sand island driving without a good bogging!! It actually happened twice! The first time was coming back across the island after the lighthouse from east to west. It was a pretty soft track and all of a sudden the ground dipped away and we were stuck!! With our Maxtrax and snatch strap unpacked, a friendly oncoming family soon got us out, only to watch the next car in line behind us do exactly the same thing!!
We did make it out and home…
…in time for another beautiful sunset!
We wake up to a beautiful Moreton Island Christmas morning. Santa drives by on what else but a quad bike and stops with a Ho, Ho, Ho!!
Although it was overcast nothing could dampen our spirits!
And this little one was very excited to see Santa managed to find her even though she wasn't at home!! 😉
Our Moreton Island Christmas is spent between camp and the sea with plenty of beach games, mince pies and the usual array of festive snacks and food! Of course, Santa forgot when giving our daughter a make-your-own jewellery box that constructing it in a sandy campsite might not be the best idea!!
Happy to have some of our family here to share it with!
After a fun and festive day, of course, we were all on the beach for our Christmas sunset!
Our lazy camp evening is somewhat interrupted by heavy rain and a storm and just before I fall asleep with my little girl in the roof tent I look out to see the beleaguered silhouette of hubby working out what to do with the gazebo roof that is bulging with the weight of the water that has pooled right above his swag!! Deciding to leave him to it, I roll over and close my eyes!!
We survive the wet and stormy night although hubby is a little damp in the morning!! We decided we can't leave Moreton Island without sandboarding so head there for some Boxing Day fun! The track there is gnarly…
…but the rocks, rich coloured dirt…
…and scenery is beautiful.
I'd been bogged on this Tangalooma Bypass track out to the sandboarding a few years earlier so it is with butterflies in my tummy that I drive the track and it's made even more challenging by the unyielding and constant stream of 4WD tour buses. It turns out to be great fun and I am relieved to make it without getting bogged again!!
It's a little walk out to the dunes which in the full midday sun is hot but worth it! Interestingly you can see small, irregular, metal-like rocks in the sand on the walk between the car park and dunes and this is apparently sand that has been struck by lightning, which we found quite cool to see!
The sand dunes are epic and looking down them I am surprised by my little girl's gung ho enthusiasm!! We have bodyboards and ply-board strips we bought from the Castaways shop at Bulwer. A local tip is rubbing a wax candle on the back of them and we smell beautiful after rubbing ours with our citronella camping candle!
The climb back up from the bottom is tiring but you do it with the biggest grin on your face and if you forget to close it then a mouthful of sand too!!!!
Our last thing to do and explore on the island is to the beaches around North Point campground, with stunning views across the ocean…
…and a short walk around to the Champagne Pools…
…where we enjoy a private jacuzzi with stunning tropical fish all in among the rocks…
…with time for a bit of driving fun on the way home too!
Home in time for another stunning ‘beer o'clock' sunset and swim!
Inevitably, the final morning comes and after packing away our campsite we have a few hours for some last-minute beach fun and paddleboarding before taking our trusty steed…
…the Isuzu MU-X and our companions…
…back down the island in time for our ferry over to the mainland.
We are all sad as the ferry pulls away after such an amazing trip.
The only thing that can make it right for our daughter is the promise of the jetwash the following day!!
And just like that all the sand and dirt are washed away! 🙁