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Moreton Island

Moreton Island is located off Brisbane. It is a 1.5 – 2 hour ferry ride from Brisbane. It is similar to North Stradbroke Island but is smaller and without the abundant wildlife. The most popular destination on the Island is the Tangalooma Resort. Day trips can be very pleasant but your enjoyment will be dependent on weather conditions. Pick a good sunny day to maximise your enjoyment. Activities and food can be very expensive so best to pack a picnic lunch.

Moreton Island is a part of the great sandy region, which stretches north of Ballina in northern New South Wales to encompass the Stradbroke, Moreton and Bribe Islands, the Cooloola sand mass and finishing at the northern tip of Fraser Island. The Great Sandy region is the largest accumulation of coastal sand on the world. Moreton is the only sand island within the region to have escaped major disturbance by mining or logging.

About 38km long and 9.5 km at its widest point, the Island covers around 19000ha. It has about 90km of coastline. Except for the volcanic rocks of Cape Moreton, the island is formed entirely of sand. Approximately 98 percent of Moreton Island is now protected as the Moreton Island recreational area. The only parts of the island falling outside the protected area are three small town ships, a resort on the western beach and areas used for oyster farming on the south west coast.

Moreton Island is located around 40km from the centre of Brisbane. Clean beaches and largely undisturbed natural environments have made it a major resource for nature based recreation. Moreton Island is also important as a valuable scenic, educational, historic and scientific resource. Close proximity to a major city has made Moreton Island one of Queensland’s most popular protected areas.

The first area of national park on Moreton Island was declared in1971 and cover 6719ha in the centre of the island. It was called Mount Tempest National Park, after the dune it encompassed. Mount Tempest is the highest coastal sand dune in the world rising to 285metres above sea level. With further additional areas added, the Moreton Island recreation area now encompasses more that 98percent of the Island.

European settlement

Captain Cook made the first recorded European sighting of Moreton Bay and Moreton Island in 1770, followed by Matthew Flinders in 1799. European settlement began in 1848 when the Amity Point pilot’s station on North Stradbroke Island was relocated to Cowan Cowan, Moreton Island. The move was due to several shipping disasters through the South Passage. The northern end of Moreton Island became the main passage to Brisbane.

Once occupied by the Ngugi Aboriginal people, European settlement began in 1848 with the building of a pilot station. This was followed by a lighthouse positioned on top of the cliffs at Cape Moreton, which is still standing and in operation today. During World Wars I and II, Moreton Island became an important part of protection for Brisbane from enemy ships. Ruins of the gun emplacements and fortifications built during the war can still be found at Cowan Cowan and Toompani Beach.

A telegraph line was built in the 1890s to service the Cape Moreton lighthouse and link North Stradbroke Island, Kooringal and Bulwer with the lighthouse. In 1952 the line was abandoned, but relics of the old line are still visible along the Bulwer to North Point track and the Telegraph Road. A further signal light was built at Cowan Cowan in 1874, followed by a lighthouse in 1899.

Cape Moreton was the first lighthouse to be built in Queensland, but was not the first lighthouse built by the Queensland Government, indeed it was built as a New South Wales light in 1857 one year before Queensland became a separate colony.

Whaling Station – Tangalooma

Queensland’s only whaling station was also built on Moreton Island and the remains of the station can still be found at Tangalooma Resort. Like Fraser Island, Moreton Bay was subject to sand mining (on a smaller scale), which ended in 1992 when the mining leases were added to the Moreton Island National Park.

In 1949, Tangalooma on Moreton Island was chosen as the site for the largest Whaling Station in the Southern Hemisphere.  This choice was made because it was considered to be the most accessible point prior to the migratory track of the huge herds of Humpback Whales which travel up and down the East Coast of Australian each year. Whaling was carried out from the Moreton Island base from 1952 to 1962 when it was closed because of the dwindling numbers of whales.

The reason was simple, their Norwegian built whale chasing boats were such effective killing machines, that in just ten years, the whalers had decimated the population of Southern Humpback whales from over 10,000 to just a few hundred. This rapid annihilation put the continuation of the species at high risk, and the southern humpback whale sadly became endangered.

War History

In early 1942 the Queensland Main Roads Commission was directed to erect buildings, anti-aircraft gun emplacements, command and battery observation posts, underground plotting room, magazines, accommodation for officers and men, a 20,000 gallon concrete tank, and a 20 bed hospital at Cowan Cowan (aboriginal Kau-in Kau-in) on Moreton Island. There were also instructed to build a controlled mines station with accommodation for officers and men of the Australian Navy. The former Navy Signal Station at 25 Dorothy Newnham Street, Cowan Cowan (Fort Cowan) is listed on the Heritage Register of the Brisbane City Council (ID No. 601097).

Quandamooka country

Moorgumpin meaning “place of sandhills” is the Aboriginal name for Moreton Island. Moorgumpin lies within the area referred to as Quandamooka, which is commonly defined as the region and indigenous people of Moreton Bay and its islands. The indigenous people of Quandamooka include the Ngugi (Moreton Island), and the Gorenpul and Nunukal clans (North Stradbroke Island).

Extensive site surveys have established that the Ngugi people lived on Moreton Island on a permanent basis maintaining a marine-based lifestyle for over 2000 years. Fish, shellfish, dugong, turtle and crustaceans formed a major portion of their diet, which was supplemented by bungwall fern Blechnum indicum, midyim berries Austromyrtus dulcis, pandanus and honey.

Their connection with the land and sea has a strong spiritual basis and some animals are strongly linked with traditions and customs. Archaeological sites on the island are important to the Ngugi descendants as a reflection of their heritage. Up to 330 cultural sites have been recorded and include shell and bone scatters, large shell middens and a stone quarry.

Move to Stradbroke

When the “Sovereign” sank in the South Passage in 1847, considerable recognition was granted to the Minjerribah people and the Ngugi people of Moreton Island for their valiant efforts to rescue the stricken crew. They were rewarded with a boat and breastplates in gratitude for their assistance. It was in this year that all the Ngugi people moved to Minjerribah, leaving Moreton Island permanently.

Queensland Day Tours does not operate any tours to Moreton Island. We do however operate tours to North Stradbroke Island 6 times a week.