The Wrecks

Moreton Island, known as “The Place of Sandhills” (“Moorgumpin”) in the Quandamooka language, is the gem of Moreton Bay – a special place that should be on every mountain bikers bucket list.

Ready to Go
To see the island properly, Darb, Paul, Troy and I decided to take Friday off, load our bikepacking gear onto the fat bikes, and catch the “Micat” ferry across the Bay for the weekend.

Troy has an excellent blog and has also written up our ride. You can read his account here.

We rolled the heavily laden bikes onto the Ferry, alongside a couple of dozen four-wheel drives, and lashed them securely for the 75 minute trip.

On the Micat
Like most cruises (only shorter) we felt our worries fade away as the city receded towards the horizon.

The Wrecks
A little more than an hour later, we arrived at the Tangalooma wrecks for the start of our adventure.

Day 1.

Top | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Western Beach

We rolled off the Ferry straight onto the beach, and headed north towards Cape Moreton. We glided effortlessly over the firm sand which had been left by the receding tide.

StarfishContainer Ship
Shag on a WreckWestern Beach

When you ride on the beach – there’s no rush. It’s a time to soak up the surroundings.

We smiled and chatted happily as we slowly made our way northwards past birds, starfish and container ships.

Yellow Patch

The coast at “Yellow Patch” was tricky – the wet sand broken by creeks and lagoons in many places. Salt water is cruel to metal, and our bikes were too heavy to carry, so we meandered around the inlets until we found a shallow spot that was easy to cross.

Yellow Patch

The clouds closed in as we progressed up the beach, confirming the bureau forecast of showers. We were wearing the right clothing for a wet winter day, so a bit of rain wasn’t going to be a problem.

North Point

North Point marked the extreme northern tip of the island.

Moreton Island is the third largest sand island in the world (after Fraser and Straddie). North Point is the only place on the island where you’ll find rocks like this.

These rocks are important from a geological perspective – they’re what made the rest of the island.

As sand drifted along the east coast of the continent, it struck these rocks forming sand bars from which the island slowly grew.

North Point

Since this was a camping trip, we had brought decent food instead of the usual cycling snacks. North Point was the perfect spot for lunch as we huddled out of the rain and enjoyed our unusually pleasant food.

North Point

The tide had started to rise over an hour ago. While we looked from the safety of the headland, a solitary figure braved the incoming waves, hoping to catch a fish.

North Point

The rain fell heavier after lunch. We zipped up our jackets and started the short trip up to the lighthouse.

Cape Moreton

A lighthouse has shone from these rocks for over 150 years, warning ships of the dangerous reefs.

Cape Moreton

The views from this high vantage point are amazing too.

Cape Moreton

We could almost see the entire island.

Cape Moreton Whale

A majestic whale surfaced close to the shoreline below. This was the first of dozens of whales we would see this weekend, migrating from Antarctica to warmer waters for the winter.

Beach Ride

The tide was rising as we followed the coastline south. There was less firm sand on which to ride, and when we had to ride on softer sand, I was grateful for the nice fat five-inch tyres.

Despite the fat tyres, riding on soft sand is hard work.
Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon
We took a short detour at Blue Lagoon to check out the large freshwater lake, and to top up with water.

There would be no water at our camp ground, so we wanted to make sure we had enough drinking water for dinner that night, and for the next day.


A little later we made our camp in a quiet spot behind the dunes.


It was only a short walk to the beach where we sat and watched the light slowly fade…

Whistling Kite

… while the birds hunted for dinner.

All up we had ridden 45km in about 6 hours. Apart from the soft sand at the end of the day, this was a reasonably easy pleasant ride. I’ll rate it 6 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.

Go to Day 2.

Day 2.

Top | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

We awoke before sunrise.

We had no campfire the night before. So once we had finished dinner, we all went to bed really early.

I was surprised how well my camping gear had worked. I was warm, and comfortable, and am grateful for soft thick sleeping mats.


I’m hopeless without a cup of good coffee in the morning. I didn’t have room for a coffee plunger, but was able to make a decent cup by mixing the ground coffee in a bowl, then pouring it through a tea-strainer. With the essentials sorted out, I sat at the door of my luxurious tent and enjoyed breakfast.


Our equipment packed away surprisingly quickly, and it wasn’t long before we were ready for our second day.

Middle Road

After a couple of minutes riding back up the beach, we pushed through the soft sand and onto Middle Road. As its name suggests, this track traverses the island. The fat tyres of the bikes worked well in the soft sand.

Middle RoadMount Tempest Track

We took a short detour from Middle Road to follow the Mount Tempest track. Today was a crystal clear day and we wanted to have a look at the view from the highest point on the island.

Mount Tempest Track

It was a one kilometre steep walk to the summit – too steep for heavy bikes – so we hid the bikes in the bush and did a quick hike to the top.

Mount Tempest Summit
Mount Tempest Summit

At the summit we could see forever. Troy pointed out Mount Tambourine on the horizon, way to the south, and Mount Coolum & Ninderry to the north. To the east we could see the D’Aguilar Range and the spires of the Brisbane CBD in the clear winter air.

This climb was well worth the effort.

Mount Tempest formed as a huge dune, which was later secured by vegetation. At 280 metres – it’s the largest coastal sand dune in the world. For larger dunes you’d need to go to the deserts of the Middle East.

Moreton Island from Mt Tempest from Darb Ryan on Vimeo.

Here’s Darb’s video of the summit.

Middle Road
Middle Road

After recovering our bikes we rejoined Middle Road for a long slow climb towards the top of the ridge that runs down the middle of the island. The road is narrow in places, and one-way (there’s a parallel road a few hundred metres to the south). The sand was damp, and had been compressed by vehciles before us, so it was rideable.

Sometimes it’s unrideable and you have to push bikes through the sand. Today we were lucky.

The Wrecks

After a short roll down the other side of the hill, we rolled past the wrecks and into the resort for an early lunch. After the serenity of the rest of the island, the bustle of holiday makers was an assault on the senses. But it was a great spot to top up on food and water.


Because of their size and huge tyres, fat bikes are heavier than normal bikes. When you load them up with camping gear, food and extra water, they’re massive. So pushing a fully laden fat bike up steep stairs is hard work.

After our lunch, we were headed for the “Desert”: a large sand blow near the resort. For us, the quickest way there was also the hardest way – up the stairs and along the walking track.

Walking Track

We enjoyed riding along the narrow walking track at the top through the forest, although we had to get off and push up (and down) a couple of really steep bits.

The Desert

I was exhausted. We stopped on the edge of the Desert for a quick break, while we watched crazy tourists on the other side of the vast expanse, as they slid down the slopes on sand toboggans. As I sipped my cool water I could hear the screams of excitement as they slid to the bottom, or crashed halfway down in a plume of sand.

The Desert
The Desert
The Desert

Then came our turn for excitement.

My friend Wayne described riding through the Desert as being like a big BMX park for fat bikes. We shot across the firm sand, following a contour round the edges.

I let out a huge “Whoop” of joy. This was heaps of fun. The bikes rolled effortlessly over the hard surface. I followed a large gentle arc around the edge of the sand-blow, and a couple of minutes later found myself on the other side with a manic grin.


We stopped at “Lightning Ridge” where repeated lightning strikes have fused the sand into a form of glass called Fulgurite. Picking up two pieces we could “clink” them together, making a sound like two wine glasses.

The Ngugi people of Moorgumpin call these large sand-blows “The Lightning’s Playground”. For thousands of years they would watch rumbling storm clouds build up over the coast, then roll across the bay towards the sand hills of their island. The rain falling on the sand would filter downwards, eventually emerging as crystal clear creeks from which they could drink. From the storm clouds, the lightning would strike the sand, forming beautiful coral-like structures.

For the Ngugi this was like witnessing an act of creation. In their stories the storm was a powerful man, the island his beautiful lover, and as they met in the midst of the tempest, new life was formed.

Rous Battery Track

From the desert we followed the Rous Battery walking track back across the island to the south-east.

Rous Battery Track

During the Second World War, army trucks drove along this track to build a complex of bunkers and gun emplacements to guard against enemy attacks from the east.

Today the beautiful scribbly-gum forest seems far-removed from the rumblings of war.

Rous BatteryRous Battery
Rous BatteryGun Turret

Although other ships had entered the bay earlier, HMS Rainbow was the first war-ship to enter Moreton Bay in 1827, captained by Henry John Rous. Rous Battery is named in his honor. The powerful guns are long gone, but the turret remains, along wth concrete bunkers.

We thought that a military stint at Rous Battery during the war might have almost been like a sea-side holiday for the soldiers.

Rous Battery

We rolled the bikes down the last part of the track towards the beach. The afternoon shadows were lengthening and it was time to find a campsite.

Neil in the Dunes

We found another perfect spot behind the dunes and pitched our tents.

Moreton Island Campfire

Sitting around the camp fire after a warm meal by the beach… it doesn’t get much better than this!

On our second day we had ridden just over 30km in about six and a half hours with about 760m of climbing.

The climb up to the top of Middle Road was challenging. Pushing the bike up the stairs was really difficult.

I’ll rate this section of the ride 7 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.

Go to day 3

Day 3.

Top | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Sunrise on Moreton

Snug in my warm sleeping bag and tent, bird song awoke me before dawn on our third day.

After a sleepy breakfast we made our way down to the water tap to fill our packs for the day while the sun slipped up over the horizon and peeked through the casuarinas.


A strong south-westerly breeze had sprung up overnight, whipping spray from the wave tops.

I took the easy option and rode behind Troy, sheltering from the headwind as much as possible.

Beach Tracks

I continually ask myself what divine lottery I won to experience places like this. I am a fortunate man.

Moreton Island Whale

Behind the whitecaps a pair of whales splashed playfully, slapping their fins on the water.

Riding Through the Dunes

A few minutes later we left the beach and followed a faint path through the dunes.

The Little Sandhills

The path emerged on the edge of a vast range of sand hills as far as the eye could see.

The Little Sandhills

As we made our way into the sandy expanse, the horizon disappeared. All we could see was sand. In some places it was rideable. In other places we had to get off and push.

The Little Sandhills

This was a stunning experience. The strong wind whipped up the sand and blasted our faces. We cringed from the onslaught as each grain stung our skin.

The Little Sandhills

How strangely exciting: On a Moreton Bay island just over an hour from a busy city, we were like “Lawrence of Arabia” pushing through an endless expanse of shifting sand.

The Little Sandhills

As the wind roared, I pulled my riding buff over my face.

The Little Sandhills

The Little Sandhills

The Little Sandhills

The Little Sandhills

As we neared the western edge of the sand hills, something strange happened.

I could see the water below, and the city on the horizon, but I was unable to see the shoreline.

This robbed me of any perspective of our height.

I knew we were up high, but had no way of gauging it.

The Little Sandhills

The final descent to the beach was too steep to ride directly, so we zig-zagged the bikes down the hill as though we were on skis, turning from left to right every 30 or 40 metres.

With a final scream of excitement I shot out on to the beach.

“Wow. That was awesome!” I gushed as I high-fived Troy.

“What an experience!”

Big Sandhills

Troy has recently completed a tough fat bike race through the snow in Alaska. He thinks this environment is a good place to train for such an event.


We slowly made our way northwards towards our ending point past more shipwrecks.

King of the World

“I’m king of the world!”

Unsinkable II

The “Unsinkable II”. Hilarious. I wonder what happened to the original “Unsinkable”?


To the north-west I could see the odd shapes of the Glasshouse Mountains.

D'Aguilar Range seen from Moreton Island

To the west I could see the D’Aguilar Range.

My tyre tracks were all over these mountains. Even from this far away I could see those imprints in my imagination.

Like the Ngugi of Moorgumpin, I thought to myself “I belong to this place”. Over the years something in this land has reached out and claimed me as its own.

Yes, I’m very fortunate.

Riding Buddies

Even more fortunate to have riding buddies with whom I can share such experiences.


As we rounded Tangalooma Point, the resort came into view.

We pedaled slower. I was sad that this adventure was coming to a close. I think we all wanted to drag it out a little longer.


After another lazy lunch at the resort, we slowly rolled down the beach towards the ferry.

Boarding the Micat

What an amazing experience.

Yellow PatchRiding Buddies

I’m so glad I could share it with friends.

Little Sand Hills on Moreton Island from Darb Ryan on Vimeo.

Here’s Darb’s video of the Little Sandhills.

The final day’s ride covered about 25km in about 4 hours with about 230m of climbing.

I’ll rate it 6.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter, although you should exercise care crossing the Little Sandhills.

Thanks, Darb, Paul and Troy for the trip of a lifetime.

Let’s do it again!

3 comments to Moorgumpin

  • Ian Morrison

    A Friday off!! Great adventure. Moreton Is – one of the best places in the world and so close to BrisVegas. Went to Moreton a lot in the early 80’s in a rust bucket 4wd, Toyota FJ50 wagon. But never went to Mt Tempest. I dream of a fat bike and Moreton Is, Moorgumpin. [I always thought bigger than Straddie]
    Thanks Neil

    • Thanks for reading, Ian. Fat Bikes are getting pretty cheap now. Of course, the cheapest ones are those you can borrow from a mate. You can’t get a better bargain than that 🙂

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