Australia, Beach & Coastal Walking, Hiking
Comments 4

King of the Sand Castle


Lunch over, I left the shipwrecks and moved out onto the flats. When the tide recedes, vast sandy plains open up and you no longer have to hug every indentation of the coast. Twice a day this whole densely populated realm is revealed, washed clean and smooth; then the birds and crabs and worms emerge and start plying the surface, leaving their characteristic marks before the water creeps in again to erase all trace…

I went out far enough to spot the Big Sandhills, then aimed straight at them. Occasional seagrass beds necessitate careful walking — you can feel their delicate grip on the sand underfoot. Razor clams are found here, a real hazard if you’re wading in barefoot from a boat:

In Australian English, that vehicle the Americans call a pick-up is a ute. This one was making its way south along the only north-south “road” on the island — the beach — towards tiny Kooringal on Moreton’s big toe:

There’s a WWII-era water pump in the trees at the base of the Sandhills. Odd that all this sand can hold underground reserves of water, but they’re tapped at a few points around the island:

Drinking the stuff is not exactly appealing…

..but it hasn’t made me sick yet, and it’s really satisfying to crank that thing. Actually, there’s a strong iron taste, presumably from the plumbing, and I only use it, where possible, boiled in tea or to cook dinner.

It would have been nice to put my feet up, here at Sand-Everest Base Camp, but I had a mountain to climb…

..and when I went out onto the beach, two middle-aged women driving that ute had stopped at the base. I told them my (vague) plan to bush-bash over to the ocean side, and they smiled.

“You must like adventure,” one of them said.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. This is probably my favourite place in Brisbane.”

An odd thing for me to say, since it certainly didn’t feel like I was even in Brisbane anymore. They wished me luck, I pulled my UV-proof Buff bandana-thing over my face, and up I went:

Here’s the old-growth banksia that’s been there for as long as I’ve been coming to the island and obviously a lot longer:

It’s survived and thrived  in pure sand — I’m sure there’s a parable in there somewhere. Others have come and gone before it:

There are two parallel ridges that form twin spines, the second one the high point. I was utterly alone up there; a few sets of human prints fading with every breath of breeze preceded my own. The sun, peering through the curtains of persistent cloud, flooded the sandscape with an eerie, otherworldly light.

Moreton, like the other sand islands of the South-East Queensland coast, was once mined for its minerals, which streak the sand in ever-changing lines, loops and doodles of black:

The summit ridge. Sorry, I’ve read a lot of Joe Simpson, and squinting into the glare, it’s not too hard to imagine you’re pioneering a new alpine route (special bonus: no frostbite!):

The Bay is flat and still, with the Glass House Mountains squatting in a row like great beasts taking gulps at the waterhole edge:

I made a pretty wretched mountaineer in the Sierra, but today the proud alpinist poses for a shot near the summit (times like this, lacking a convenient Sherpa, I really appreciate my tiny Gorillapod wrapped around a trekking pole):

The summit. Gazing across Moreton Bay, Brisbane, though nearly 60km distant, seemed close enough to hit with a skipping stone. Looking south, you can see the Little Sandhills poking through the bush, and beyond them, the foot of the isle and North Stradbroke Island, another great wedge of sand a little bigger than Moreton.

The brownish area is “ironstone”; I aimed to push through the dense bush beyond it to the ocean beach:

I’ve probably been up here a dozen times since my first trip as a child…

With my sister & brother on Moreton in the early 70s

..part of a family that spent a lot of time exploring Moreton Bay in the boats my father would design and build (usually in the backyard of our beachfront home): a small wooden yacht (or “keeler” as he described it)…

On our first boat: my grandparents, father, siblings & I

..a wooden trimaran…

Launch of 'Ghengis Khan', 1973

..two fast, fibreglass racing trimarans, and the cruising catamaran my parents have now.

I won’t say we took it all for granted — we definitely knew how lucky we were — but it’s taken me all these years to realise how that kind of childhood moulded my worldview and shaped my predilection for quiet, empty, un-“developed” places. I sometimes wish I could live it all again, this time gratefully, take the time to savour it…

But that being out of the question till the boffins at Apple release their forthcoming iTime Travel ™ device, I would have to savour it today.

I took a compass bearing — 130 degrees — and started back along the ridge…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. It’s a great idea posting those pictures from the early 70s. Perhaps the essence of the Island and that of the Goat have stayed consistent since then

    • Thanks, Carl. I wish I could find more old pictures. Not everything is the same though — I certainly have less hair now than I had in the 70s. Think some of it’s still over on the island…

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