Not only is Brisbane a growing metropolis with booming arts, culture and hospitality scenes – it is also just a stone's throw from picturesque islands with pristine white sand beaches, tropical reefs and wildlife.
Two of the largest sand islands in the world, Moreton Island and North Stradbroke Island, are just a short boat ride from Brisbane, perfect for day trippers or weekenders – or even longer if you're a serious adventurer.
Moreton Island magic
Accessible only by 4WD – and only 35km and a 75-minute ferry ride from the heart of Brisbane city – Moreton Island is a haven for adventurers, nature-lovers and serious surfers.
If you're more of a 'scenic route' type traveller, opt for the Amity Trader barge, which takes just over two hours from the mainland and arrives at Kooringal – a small township on the southern tip of Moreton Island.
While there, don't forget to sample the fresh local oysters or a bucket of prawns at The Gutter Bar, a laid-back establishment with a dress code to match.
Snorkellers can make the most of Moreton Island's breathtaking reefs, including the Tangalooma Wrecks, located just north of the Tangalooma Island Resort. Home to all manner of reef fish, coral formations and marine life, the wrecks are steeped in history, with a total of 15 vessels sunk in the area in between the 1960s and 1980s. Visitors can explore by snorkel or even sea scooter – and if you get lucky, you might even spot a dugong.
Talking about rare experiences, you can't go past the freshwater Blue Lagoon – a great spot for both swimming and birdwatching. Also nearby is Honeyeater Lake, a peaceful and scenic location for spotting its namesake, the local honeyeater birds who take up residence in the nearby banksias.
Home to Mount Tempest – the world's largest vegetated sand dune – no trip to Moreton Island is complete without trying your hands at sandboarding. At 285m above sea level, the journey is worth it for the unmatched views of the mesmerising Moreton Bay and beyond to Brisbane and surrounding regions. If you're game, wax up a board and launch yourself down the dune.
Some of the best activities at Moreton Island are saved for when the sun goes down. At Tangalooma Island Resort, a group of wild bottlenose dolphins visit the jetty each night at sunset. Elsewhere, night-time thrill seekers can kayak the wrecks at night: Australian Sunset Safaris offer an experience where transparent kayaks fitted with LED lights allow you to look down a brilliant spectrum of sea life and shipwrecks.
Wildlife and culture at North Stradbroke Island
Only one hour by car ferry (or 25 minutes by water taxi) from east Brisbane, North Stradbroke Island is a great destination for groups. Unlike Moreton Island, a 4WD isn't a must-have for a trip to Straddie, but it does help if you're visiting for more than a day.
Made up of three townships– Point Lookout, Amity and Dunwich – each part of the island has a unique offering for all kinds of visitors.
But no matter where you are on the island, native wildlife is abundant. Dolphins bookend the day at Amity Point, paying a visit at both sunrise and sunset; while at North Gorge Walk you can catch local kangaroos having their breakfast and dinner at the top of the 1.2km boardwalk each day.
The stunning, crystal-clear waters of the North Gorge Walk make it easy to spot all kinds of marine life along the way, like turtles, manta rays, dolphins and even the occasional shark. If you're travelling between June and November, it's also a great place to spot humpback whales as they migrate along the coast.
If you're visiting on the weekend, be sure to visit the Point Lookout Markets at the Point Lookout Bowls Club. Every second Sunday of the month, these morning markets bring together some of the island's best local vendors to offer coastal fashion, local produce (including organic Island honey), soaps, jewellery, food and even a game of barefoot bowls if you're up for it.
Just five minutes away, the Point Lookout Surf Lifesaving Club is a great spot for sunset drinks on weekend late afternoons or head to Kokomo Beach House for pina coladas, island-style.
At the core of the Moreton Bay islands is their Aboriginal culture. Quandamooka Country includes the waters and islands of Central and Southern Moreton Bay and the coastal land and streams between the Brisbane to Logan Rivers. It gave life to Quandamooka people in a time beyond memory – and the distinctive culture remains strong.
A must-visit is the Salt Water Murris Art Gallery - established to showcase and maintain the Aboriginal culture through a diverse and inspiring display of traditional and contemporary art.
To immerse yourself in this ancient culture, take a tour with Yura Tours, run by proud Quandamooka mother, daughter and wife Elisha Kissick, who is passionate about sharing her culture and mother country with visitors to the island.