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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Island time on laid-back Straddie


In a State blessed with beautiful islands, Sue Fuller discovers a quiet achiever lying right on Brisbane’s doorstep.

With empty beaches as far as you can see, frolicking dolphins and whales, spectacular coastal gorges and rich indigenous history, it’s perhaps not surprising North Stradbroke Island, affectionally known as Straddie, has long been a favourite escape for locals in the know.

Just 45 minutes by barge (or 25 minutes by water taxi) from Cleveland, Straddie is all about pristine nature and low-key pleasures like beach combing, barbecuing fresh seafood and playing beach cricket.

It’s home to just three villages – Dunwich where the barges arrive, the sleepy fishing village of Amity, and Point Lookout with its multi-million-dollar views. A single bitumen road links the three villages while 4WDs are only necessary to explore the island’s interior or if you want to drive on sections of the beach.

If you don’t own a 4WD, Lynn Jones of Straddie Guides will help you get off track on his half or full day eco-accredited tours to explore not only the more obvious highlights of the island but also some secret spots that take true local knowledge to uncover – or even find!

But first to answer a question he’s been asked hundreds of times: how did he get his first name?

“My father took a letter from the names of the four men he was in a trench with during the Second World War and he came up with Lynn,” he said. After dad told me the story that none of them came home except for him, and then Johny Cash bought out the song `A Boy Like Sue’ I felt I wasn’t the only one with a funny name.”

During our half day tour Lynn shows us the island’s freshwater keyhole lakes – a 4km continuously connected lake that looks like a series of keyholes and a magical spot filled with hundreds of grass trees only a kilometre from the popular Brown Lake.

We enjoy a swim in the tannin-stained waters of Brown Lake and take in the spectacular views on the North Gorge Walk which starts on the other side of the island at Lookout.

Lynn drops us back at our accommodation which must be one of the best located pubs in the country. The Straddie Pub, or Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel/Spa Resort as it’s known after a recent multi-million-dollar makeover, has just 12 hotel rooms plus spacious two and three bedroom apartments.

Our hotel room is stylish and comes complete with a bath offering glimpses of the sea but I resolve to gather some friends or family and splash out on a three-bedroom apartment next time. The apartments are truly spectacular, generously-sized with pandanus-framed views of the sea.

Dining at the “pub” also means guaranteed ocean views – from the casual restaurant and public bar. There’s also a day spa which offers a range of treatments, some loosely based around indigenous techniques. Highly recommended is the spa’s signature treatment - ocean dreaming – (three hours for $295) combining a facial, hand and foot treatment, body exfoliation, mud wrap, hair and scalp treatment and massage.

Feeling scrubbed and soothed, the rest of the day is spent on leisurely exploring Point Lookout on my hire bike fuelled by a sensational gelati from the Oceanic Gelati & Coffee Bar.

Point Lookout offers a range of accommodation from architect-designed beach houses, self-contained apartments and million-dollar homes for rent. It’s almost too good a secret to share.

For more information visit www.experiencebrisbane.com.

How to get there

North Stradbroke Island is located 45 minutes by car ferry from the Brisbane bayside suburb of Cleveland or a 25 minute water taxi ride. Taxis and a local bus service connects with the barge.

Some useful sites

www.stradbrokeferries.com.au
www.stradbrokeholidays.com.au
www.straddieguides.com
www.stradbrokeislandbeachhotel.com.au
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