Ultimate Visitor Guide to Moreton Island – The Western Side
Moreton Island is like two different Islands depending on if you’re on the Eastern or Western side.
Australian 4WDers are spoilt with incredible 4X4 destinations on the mainland, but just off the coast, there’s some equally great tracks on the many Islands made accessible by car ferries and barges.
Taking your4WD onto these islands allows you access to some of the best sand driving and camping experiences along the Aussie coast.
Out of all the Islands accessible to 4WDs off Queensland, K’Gari (formerly Fraser Island) would be on most people’s bucket list, but for my wife Gab and I, our favourite Island is Moreton. It simply offers so many benefits for sand driving, camping and fun experiences.
Moreton Island is like two different Islands depending on if you’re on the Eastern or Western side. Today, we’ll be covering the West and will explore from Karingal in the Southwest to Taylor Bight on the Northwest coast. This section of coastline is the best spot for people seeking a little more relaxation and calmer conditions, while photographers will love the range of shot opportunities, different every time they visit.
Moreton Island Map
How to get there with your 4WD
Moreton Island Adventures offers access to the Island in your own 4WD via their Micat Ferry. The landing point is directly on the beach in the waters literally metres north of the Tangalooma Wrecks.
Bookings are essential for both vehicles and passengers, so try and plan your Moreton Island experience and book early.
Like any 4WD adventure which takes you away from your local support network, make sure your 4X4 is well prepared and serviced by someone who knows what they’re doing.
We wrote an article about pre-trip inspections and the little time and money spent on ensuring your 4WD is fit for the adventure is well spent. Check out our article here.
The ferry doesn’t wait for latecomers, so ensure you’re on time and your fuel tank is full, as fuel on the island is expensive and hard to get. If you get stuck short, fuel is available from Castaways Resort by the 20 litre Jerry can, but it’s at a rate which will make your think you should have upgraded your fuel capacity to a long-range fuel tank.
Take plenty of drinking water and all the supplies you’ll need including camping gear, fishing gear, sun protection and something to repel the sand flies which you may experience depending on the time of year.
The next most important thing is recovery gear for either you or that friend of yours who always gets stuck. Recovery boards like Maxtrax or Treds are essential if you are travelling alone, and every vehicle should be equipped with a snatch strap and rated recovery points.
It's worth checking your insurance before you head off to see what sort of recovery support they can provide if you find yourself stuck and unable to safely recover your vehicle. Club 4X4 have off-road recovery cover available to provide peace of mind when you adventure off the beaten track.
If you’re planning to run mapping, download the area for offline usage as mobile service can be patchy across the Island. Google lets you do this and if you’re running other mapping systems, I’d recommend checking out their detailed offline map downloads beforehand to ensure you don’t get lost on this great Island.
Your 4WD Moreton Island experience starts from the moment you drive onto the ferry.
Make sure you let your tyres down to suit driving on the Island and prepare your vehicle to be in 4WD before you leave the ferry. I always leave a note on my steering wheel to remind me to do this to save the embarrassment of getting bogged when hitting the sand. It really does happen, and I had a near miss some years ago!
If your vehicle is struggling in the sand, you probably haven’t let your tyres down enough. Adjusting your tyres is easy and will create a much more enjoyable experience. For this reason, having a good tyre gauge is a must. I’ve helped many people on Moreton who are struggling because their tyres are at the wrong settings. You might need to run different pressure depending on your 4WD set-up, but as a guide, if you start at somewhere between 16 and 20, you’ll be doing well. When the sand is wet during rains, it will be firmer and therefore creating a harder surface so you can run higher pressures. When the sand is dry and the temperatures are warmer, you’ll need lower pressures as the tyres will tend to struggle.
As always, being prepared and having the right 4WD gear makes a huge difference to a trip like this. Being able to add air via a good air compressor and remove pressure with an accurate gauge means that you can adjust the way your vehicle operates and maximise your enjoyment.
Keep in mind that you will use more fuel when driving in sand. The Island is quite large, and you’ll run many kms during your time, so expect to chew through the fuel.
Take a long-handled shovel. If you get yourself bogged, a short shovel might help to clear sand from under the tyres, but a good quality long-handled shovel will allow you to pull away sand from under the diffs of your vehicle. This is probably my tip for one of the best additions to your 4WD.
Also make sure to take a camera as this is one of the most spectacular Islands you will ever drive your 4WD on.
What to see
Most people will be familiar with the imagery of the beautiful wrecks of Tangalooma and the white sand hills on the western shoreline of Moreton Island. If you have been here before, this is where the MiCat vehicle and passenger barge lands.
These wrecks form a man-made reef and harbour as a refuge to shelter boats from the sea swells on the bay created by westerly winds. Fifteen wrecks have been purposely sunk here since 1965 establishing a haven for many fish species and making it a great snorkeling experience. There are also wrecks south which are absolutely stunning for the keen photographer.
Birdlife on the west coast is aplenty. Watch the sea birds working along the shore picking off schools of fish as they work the coastline. Look hard enough and you might be lucky enough to see dolphins and dugongs. It’s not uncommon to also spot star fish on the shoreline.
And a favourite… everyone loves watching soldier crabs working their way across the sand flats. The closer you get, the less you see. These can be easily found at low tide down south.
As a photographer, the amazing textures in the sand and the driftwood always draws me in. That and the sunsets, so definitely bring that camera!
The sand dunes down the west coast are stunning and should provide a lot of fun to explore on foot.
This is a great spot for the kids to release a little energy or for the family to check out the views.
If you are lucky enough to be there during the Anzac weekend, head to Bulwer for the dawn service. The people are welcoming, and the experience is overwhelming.
Where to stay
Accommodation is available at Tangalooma if that’s what you’re into, but I like the less touristy areas. So,let’s head north. You can chase house-style accommodation through different means, but Castaways near Bulwer offers a couple of fabulous experiences.
You can get accommodation for groups and family stays or stay in their glamping tents which are well set up for you to enjoy the full Island-life experience.
If you’re wanting to camp, there are many great spots to choose from, you need to book your site, but you really can’t go wrong as if you are a first timer on Moreton. All the camp sites on the west coast offer the advantage of a location to simply chill and watch the sunsets each day. Booking your site through the National Parks which will provide you access to an area, but you can’t reserve an actual spot. When you leave the ferry, you simply head to the area you’ve booked and find a spot that suits. I always keep a lookout for the perfect spot for my next trip.
Why the West Coast of Moreton Island?
If you’re chasing relaxation and a more chilled adventure, choose the west coast for its calm waters and quiet campsites. If you want the wind in your hair and the challenge of holding down your awning under ocean breezes, beach fishing, surf waves and the constant bustle of ocean sounds, you would probably like the Eastern Beaches (more on which next time).
What to do
For the 4WDers…in a nutshell… heaps.
If you’re into fishing, the East and West sides of the Island allow you to take your pick of the style you enjoy. Surf fishing can be found in the northwest around Taylor Bight and the east coast allows you to take advantage of a variety of beach fishing. All along the west coast in the quiet waters you can simply throw in a line and chill or walk the shoreline while you cast looking for a flathead or whiting.
You can tow your tinny or jet ski onto the Island if you’re into boating. It requires a little more effort and an understanding of beach launching, but on the quiet side of the island, it’s not such a big deal. There’s a couple of spots you need to get a run up but otherwise, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. There are some amazing waters to explore so if you’re up for a little more adventure and have good sand driving experience, definitely give it a go.
For you avid explorers, there are plenty of things to see along that west coast. Part of your exploration should be keeping an eye on the tide charts and times. Keep in mind in the East and West coasts run on different tide charts. Whenever you’re off-road travelling, make sure you’re aware of the height of the incoming tides to avoid getting stuck in a section of the island where you can’t get back to camp. Tides can be extremely high here, so a good rule is to always venture as the tide heads towards low and make sure to leave plenty of time to get back to camp. To do this you will see the height the waters are on your way to your destination and will understand how high they could be on your way home.
We were on the island when a westerly system blew up and the waters heights reached higher than expected, so factor in wind conditions as well. If you follow this guide, you really shouldn’t get yourselves into trouble and simply being prepared will make your time less stressful.
Importantly, the beach front of Moreton Island changes all the time. The coast that you drive on today will often be a different coast tomorrow due to erosion constantly changing the shoreline. Some sections of shoreline are not driveable during high tides and inside tracks are required to be used.
Make sure you obtain a vehicle access permit for your 4WD to be driven around the island.
Food on the Island
There are a couple of great eating spots on the Island. My favourites are Castaways Resort in the north (near Bulwer), and I highly recommend you make a day to visit the Gutter Bar down at Kooringal. Why a whole day? To ensure you get the tides right of course!
The Gutter Bar serves locally caught prawns which are always a hit. Both locations have fantastic hospitality and I’m sure you’ll find a favourite menu item.
If you’re heading south down the west coast on your way to the Gutter Bar from up north, you’ll be able to adventure onto the Little Sand Dunes. This adventure is on foot, and you’ll be faced with a steep walk in the sand rising to join a lonesome tree, but it provides stunning views of the bay to the west.
If you have spare time, I also recommend a visit to the Big Desert, now known as the Tangalooma Desert where you can do a little sand boarding.
It’s a hike from the carpark, but worth every step.
Afternoon sunsets are an everyday opportunity to improve your photography, or simply wind down for the evening. You get some stunning sunsets in the area, made all the sweeter by Island life. The Bulwer Wrecks are a great spot to enjoy the sun dropping below the horizon. If you’re camping on the coast, drag a chair out to the water’s edge, or park your 4WD on the shore near the wrecks, enjoy a cheese plate or some nibbles and sit back to the sounds of small waves rolling onto the shore while you watch the sun go down. It really doesn’t get any better than that.
If you’re into history, Moreton has numerous stories from whaling to the military posts and there are still locations you can look up and explore while on the island.
And of course, there is the sand driving. If you’re not smiling immediately after leaving the ferry, you either haven’t set your tyre pressures correctly, or you probably should turn your out of office on.
Driving on Moreton Island shouldn’t be stressful, it should be the start of a big adventure that you'll enjoy time and time again !I’d be surprised if you didn’t fall in love with this amazing place off Queensland’s coastline. It’s one of my favourite places and actually, my wife’s favourite place in Australia.
Next week we’ll cover the East coast of Moreton Island… so tune in!
If you are new to 4WDing, travel with friends and enjoy the experience together with them.
-Michael Ellem | Offroad Images
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