Make a plan to go island hopping from Brisbane with the best things to do on Moreton, Stradbroke and St Helena islands.
Those in the know rave about its azure waters, whale-watching opportunities and herds of bashful dugongs that graze on its seagrass; others might only recognise its name when ordering Australia’s most famous (and delicious) bug. Just an hour north of the Brisbane CBD, Moreton Bay and three of its islands – North Stradbroke, Moreton and Saint Helena – are certainly no secret to locals.
While the bay has long been traversed by ferries, with holidaymakers and daytrippers heading for its prime diving spots and quiet beaches, a tour by River to Bay hops between the three islands in a single day. The eight-hour Best of Moreton Bay adventure sets off from the Northshore Harbour pontoon at Hamilton (about 15 minutes by CityCat from the CBD) at 8am four times a week, including weekends, with experienced guides on board to help reveal the wonders of each stop.
The essentials are included, from snorkelling gear to snacks and lunch, so all you have to do is sit back – or dive right in.
Stop 1. Mulgumpin (Moreton Island)
The sand island of Moreton is famous for its golden dunes, long beaches and superb water clarity. Just offshore, a jagged line of deliberately scuttled ships known as the Tangalooma Wrecks has created a diverse marine ecosystem. Don a mask and flippers, jump off the boat into the crystalline water and follow your guide between the rusted hulks and over gardens of brain and branching coral. Spot green turtles, electric-pink and turquoise-tailed parrotfish, graceful rays, silvery schools of yellow-tipped butter bream and, occasionally, wobbegong sharks.
SEE ALSO: How to Spend a Day at Tangalooma
Stop 2. Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island)
Moreton Bay brims with marine life, most famously the humpback whales that pass through on their migration north and often pause to play. It’s a little over an hour of sailing time between Moreton and Straddie but the boat’s open sides make it easy to watch the water for bottlenose dolphins, turtles or, if you’re really lucky, a dugong. Lunch is at Little Ship Club overlooking the sheltered bay at One Mile near the main settlement of Dunwich. The laid-back boat club has been serving up solid pub food and priceless views for 70 years. Nab a table on the grass beneath a palm tree and try a local Straddie Brewing Co ale with your fish and chips. After lunch there’s time to spot koalas in the eucalypts that fringe the historic Dunwich cemetery.
Stop 3. Noogoon (St Helena Island)
Once nicknamed “the hellhole of the Pacific”, this tiny isle just 45 minutes from the mainland was a high-security prison for hardened criminals from 1867 until its closure in 1932. The island was self-sufficient and you’ll see the remains of a kiln used to make bricks for many of Brisbane’s buildings, along with a bakery, workshops where prisoners made boots and candles, warders’ accommodation, the ruins of a sugar mill and Queensland’s first tramway. For all its harsh history, it’s surprisingly picturesque and small enough to comfortably walk around.
What to do in Brisbane when you're done
Where to stay: Keep the river within your sights by checking into the Crystalbrook Vincent, formerly the Fantauzzo, tucked beneath the metal girders of the Story Bridge. The sustainability-minded hotel has stylish rooms and a rooftop pool with stunning city and water views. Over 500 original artworks by Vincent Fantauzzo, the hotel's original namesake, are displayed throughout. There’s the lively dining precinct of Howard Smith Wharves just beyond the lobby doors and it’s a short walk to a CityCat stop to explore more of Brisbane’s riverside attractions.
Eat and drink: For casual dining, check out German-inspired Felons Barrel Hall at Howard Smith Wharves. Order a plate of grilled Moreton Bay bugs and a crafty from the tap to toast the River City.