Australia: We came in search of paradise...

...and left it just as we found it. Tom Adair takes the new eco-tour of Brisbane's Stadbroke Island

The Landcruiser bumped to a halt and we – all six of us on the new Kingfisher "City to Straddie" one-day eco tour – gazed back through a gap in the trees. Two hours ago, we had been sitting in the maw of traffic in downtown Brisbane.

Now, here we were off the Queensland coast – another world.

Brisbane sizzled in the distance, a high-rise shimmer. The day before, while I'd browsed in the tourist information shop in Brisbane's main retail drag, one of the assistants, seeing me pause at a rack of North Stradbroke Island brochures, had said emphatically "paradise island" – a phrase so twee that I inwardly groaned.

But here, with the waft of eucalyptus scenting the breeze, the distant murmur of the ocean, and a single dazzling puff of candy-floss cloud in a sky of blue, I was persuaded to concur that this, "the second largest sand-island in the world", is one of Australia's most precious places.

David Threlander, our guide, rolled down his window and grasped a branch. "You can make beer from this," he said, like a man who'd sampled the result. He stroked the bark of a "scribbly gum". "Look at the squiggles, the work of a worm, and, over there – Banksia. Four Septembers ago the fires came, cracking the seed pods. Fire is what the Banksia needs to propagate."

There was propagation everywhere, in profusion, stretching all the way to Brown Lake, a five-minute drive. At its widest point, North Stradbroke island is barely seven miles across (it's almost 22 miles long). Nothing is much more than a hop from wherever you are.

We stared at Brown Lake, flat-calm and warm when you waded in. It was stained by the tea trees that curved around its gently shallow rim. The sepia-tinted water was great for the skin, according to David.

We had been promised a day of nature-spotting, but no one had mentioned cane toads. "Look at this," said Joel, wading from the water, cupping his hands. "There's dozens more." The toad was thumbnail-sized, still evolving. "Chuck it away,' said David, explaining that "canes, fully grown, are a regular menace." He described them, eating stick insects "like chewing a chocolate bar" – which we pondered over damper cake and coffee.

The drive to Main Beach took us close to Mount Hargrave (barely a 700ft blip) and to the wide blue yonder of sky and sea. Scoured by breezes and planed by the tides, the broad golden swathe of pure sand abutting the gleam of unbroken ocean, was perfectly empty, or so it seemed.

There, parked in glorious isolation, we flung the doors wide and dashed for the waves to cavort like exhilarated school kids. I scanned the horizon for humpbacked whales. "They mostly come between June and November," David said, as if reading my mind.

"A couple of years ago I watched them from here, just 100 metres off shore. One even calved here." He dug up a cockle, absent-mindedly, with his toes. When he lifted it up, it opened its shell and spat at him. "That's what they do," he laughed. "Self-protection." We watched it burrow beneath the sand to disappear with a soundless suck. The scene was pristine, almost abstract: a band of sky, beneath which the dunes and beach and ocean were broken only by a scattering of oyster-catchers and gulls, and the sea's soft tinnitus as our soundtrack.

Barely five miles, and half an hour later, at Point Lookout, life by comparison seemed hectic. A backpackers' hostel and trickle of B&Bs were served by a café or two, a takeaway, and a grocery store tucked under the shade of the headland. Near the toilets, the path was occupied by a dozing blue-tongued lizards, 10 inches long, each keep one scummy, vaguely hung over eye on you.

Ahead lay the Gorge Trail and Frenchman's Bay – "the most photographed beach in Oz," according to David. Beyond us, a sloping flank of solid rock formed a perilous grandstand on which to perch, and from which to "ooh" and "aah" at manta rays and dolphins, and at the specks of baby green turtles riding the wave-surge into the narrow tapering entrance.

We drove due west to Flinders Beach to enjoy a lunch of salad and steak, (David barbecued; we swam). There, in the trees behind the dunes, I watched a goanna, two feet long, creep up through the branches of a tea-gum, flicking its tongue. The accruing impression of Stradbroke Island as a latter-day eco-Eden was undeniable.

To keep it that way requires a tricky balance between the growing trends of tourism and nature conservation. David told us that fewer than 3 per cent of Brisbane's population had ever been here. The other 97 per cent, as we witnessed later, were missing the sight of koalas earthbound, trundling in search of more luscious bowers of eucalyptus, and the scene, just outside Dunwich, the island's town, of flying foxes draped like duffel bags in the trees.

Even the return ferry journey to Cleveland provided appearances by a bull shark, and the day, as we closed in on Brisbane, veered towards afternoon tea at Indigiscapes, Australia's first environmental centre for indigenous plants. There they walk you through the gardens to the background sounds of a lorikeet and water birds, and serve scones with lemon-myrtle butter and bush-tucker jams.

By 5pm David had dropped me outside my hotel, where I'd been picked up just 10 hours before. "Door to door delivery," he grinned. "The tour that delivers." You couldn't argue.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Tom Adair travelled to Brisbane with Qantas Airways (qantas.com), which offers return fares from £1,095. He stayed at the Sofitel Hotel (00 61 7 3835 3535; sofitelbrisbane.com.au), which has superior double rooms from £208 per night. Straddie Kingfisher Tours (00 61 7 3409 9502; straddiekingfishertours.com.au) offers the "City to Straddie" 4x4 Eco Tour for £117 per adult, £83 per child.

Further Information

Tourism Australia (australia.com).

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain