It was the shortest day of the year. Forecasters predicted it would probably be the coldest day of the year too. What a perfect excuse to go camping!
June is Solstice time. In the northern hemisphere this marks the longest day of the year. #SwiftCampout16 is a global event where adventure loving cyclists pack their camping gear on the bikes, and enjoy a night out under the stars in the wild.
Here in Australia it’s the shortest day. But even so, in South-east Queensland the sun still shines for about ten a half hours. My friends and I decided we’d add a “fat” theme to the event. We loaded up our fat bikes and caught the Micat Ferry to Moreton Island for the weekend.
The day was cold, but the sun shone brightly as we sailed out of the Port of Brisbane and across Moreton Bay.
A little over an hour later our Ferry glided onto the beach at Moreton, past the rusting wrecks submerged in gentle turquoise water.
We rolled off the ferry and straight onto the beach. It was great to be back!
There are no paved roads on Moreton Island. The road to anywhere is paved with sand. It’s perfect fat-bike territory.
We rode south along the beach and past the wrecks. Everyone was smiling. With a gentle breeze and the recent low tide, it was an effortless glide over the sand.
The easy roll ended quickly as we carried the bikes up the stairs towards “The Desert”.
This is more of a walking track than a riding trail – so we had to work hard to get our heavily laden bikes up some of the hills.
We stood on the edge of this vast expanse of firm sand – a perfect playground for the bikes.
After tentatively coaxing the tyres over the first few metres of soft sand, we quickly accelerated down the slope and shot across beige colored bowl of sand.
It was like being at a big BMX park. Rather than just ride to the other side, we let the bikes coast around in large leisurely arcs.
The tyres hummed as they rolled over the sand. Our tyre tracks crisscrossed the desert.
At one point, small coral shaped nuggets covered the ground. Known as Fulgurites, or “Petrified lightning” these strange-looking rocks are formed when lightning strikes sand, fusing the silica.
Picking up two pieces we could “clink” them together, making a sound like two wine glasses.
The Ngugi people were the original inhabitants of Moreton Island, which they called “Moorgumpin” meaning “Place of Sand Hills”. They called 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 they created new life.
“The Desert” seemed a lot less imaginative name than “The Lightning’s Playground”.
We continued towards the eastern beach along the Rous Battery Track.
Covered with small ferns, this gentle track stretches for about ten kilometres through open forest.
I concentrated on the ground ahead, avoiding twigs which could be hard to see under the ferns and might damage my tyres.
As we rode I eavesdropped on conversations behind me: Adam talking about his adventures on Fraser Island, Wayne quizzing Troy about bikes and camping gear, Chris reminding someone to keep an eye out for sticks… After a while they blurred into a chatter of happy voices. The words didn’t really mean as much as the fact that everyone was having a good time – totally immersed in the experience.
The trees grew closer and thicker. From memory I recognized this as a sign that we were approaching the eastern beach. I could make our the faint low rumble of the surf in the distance
Rous Battery is a set of Second World War gun placements and bunkers, built atop the dunes to defend against a seaborne enemy attack…
As you would expect of a well-constructed gun placement, it has panoramic views of the ocean and the coastline to the north and south. We could see forever.
A couple of the guys told me their grandfathers had served in the army at Rous Battery during World War Two.
We visited three different military buildings at different points in the dunes.
It was easy to imagine young khaki-clad men briskly marching up the stairs instead of relaxed mountain bikers. It was only seventy years ago – a mere blink in the historic timescale.
We set up camp atop a dune not far from the military buildings.
It was high enough to give us a pleasant view of the beach, but still sheltered from the wind.
Some hotels charge thousands of dollars per night for these sorts of views. All it cost us was $5 per night for a QNPWS permit.
We had pitched our tents, but it was barely lunch time.
Rather than laze around on the beach, we decided to do some more exploring.
Without the camping gear on them, our bikes were much lighter and easier to pedal.
We headed south along the beach to the sandhills.
Unlike “The Desert”, these sandhills seem limitless. Standing in the midst of them, we could see nothing but dunes.
There were many soft patches. Ben tried to ride up on the edge of a dune but instead executed a spectacular but unintentional somersault over the handlebars.
I watched in awe, grateful for the entertainment.
The soft sand broke his fall and he wasn’t injured.
On the steep dunes, some of us dismounted and trudged upwards on foot.
Chris and I decided to “tack” left and right up the hill like a sailboat beating into the wind. I figured that by approaching the hill at an angle, the gradient would be lower, and I’d be able to continue riding and turning the pedals instead of getting bogged in the sand.
This worked well for us until we approached the hilltops where the slopes grew too steep and the sand too soft.
At the top of the higher dunes we could see the city on the western horizon, its urban spires poking into the air. To its right the D’Aguilar Range stretched northwards. And to the north of that, the Glasshouse Mountains with the Conondale Range behind. To the city’s left the Teviot range stretched to the south with the peak of Mount Flinders crowning it. South of that we could even see Mount Barney, Mount Maroon and the barely visible summit of Mount Lindesay in the Macpherson Range.
This panorama stretched about two hundred kilometres. I can’t think of any other places with such a wide view of South-East Queensland.
We then turned left and followed the sandy 4WD track south towards Kooringal.
Kooringal is a small town on the southern tip of Moreton Island. When Chris told me there was a pub there, I didn’t believe him…
“The Gutter Bar” is a delightful little pub at the end of a sandy track. It serves cold beer and hot food…
I was impressed.
My smile widened even more when Chris offered to pay for the drinks.
As the sun sank westward, we felt the chill in the air, and remembered this was a very short winter day. It was time to make our way back to camp, fifteen kilometres away.
This time we rode northwards along the “surf” side of the island.
We dodged a few obstacles on the beach.
Mirapool Lagoon flows into the ocean here making the beach impassable, so we followed the muddy shoreline of the lagoon until we were able to rejoin the sand.
The sun sank low, etching elongated shadows on the shore. In the distance we could see the summit of Mount Tempest, the highest peak on the island, and the tallest sand dune in the world.
The sensor on the GPS said the temperature had dropped to 9C. Although we felt the encroaching coolness, we kept warm by turning the pedals. I was grateful the breeze was only blowing gently.
As the sun slipped below the horizon, the eastern sky transformed into a spectrum of vibrant colors.
Wayne had stayed behind for the afternoon. He had a warm fire crackling for us when we arrived back.
I quickly changed out of my riding gear into some warm clothes and parked myself in front of the hot flames.
Wayne and Adam chattered. I took on the role of spectator again. Often it is more entertaining than TV to watch mates prattle on about nothing.
Everyone sat around the fire in the encroaching darkness. Gas stoves hissed, water boiled, twigs crackled. We all ate heartily, then had an early night.
I woke several times during the night. The moon shone bright, making it difficult from inside the tent to tell whether or not it was morning.
I need not have worried. A golden pre-dawn tinge glowed on the tent fabric. Birds started singing. There was no need to check my watch.
We rolled out of our tents, stood on the hillside and watched the magic of the dawn unfold before us.
Although the fire-place was cold and long extinguished, we sat around it and ate our breakfast. Perhaps the memory of last night’s flames warmed us psychologically.
The camp-making events of yesterday played out in reverse. We folded up tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear, and meticulously loaded them all back on our bikes.
Adam suffered a puncture shortly after we started riding. Some of us helped him. Some of us watched…
Some of us phoned home.
We made our way back through the sand hills we had climbed yesterday.
Pushing up to the top…
…riding down the other side.
This time, when we reached the western beach we turned right and rode northwards back towards the ferry.
Here numerous rusty old wrecks litter the beach.
We stopped to take photos. But I think we really stopped to delay the inevitable. Our time here was drawing to a close.
The Micat had pulled up on the sand, waiting for us to embark for the return journey.
What an amazing experience. I never tire of Moreton Island, and am looking forward to coming back.
Here’s Darb’s video of our adventure:
Max elevation: 81 m
Min elevation: -44 m
Total climbing: 676 m
Total descent: -702 m
Average speed: 12.09 km/h
Total time: 06:48:51
Day 1 Stats:
We rode 45 kilometres in almost seven hours including lots of breaks. I burned about 3,100 kcal and we climbed just under 400 metres in elevation.
I’ll rate this 6.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter, add an extra point in summer. Be careful on the stairs up to “The Desert”, and exercise caution through the Little Sandhills. Some of those dunes are very steep.
Max elevation: 32 m
Min elevation: -14 m
Total climbing: 206 m
Total descent: -208 m
Average speed: 11.97 km/h
Total time: 03:29:11
Day 2 Stats:
We rode 25 kilometres in three and a half hours including breaks. I burned about 1,300 kcal and we climbed about 100 metres in elevation.
6 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter with the same warnings as for day 1.
Thanks Chris, Darb, Justin, Adam, Troy, Wayne and Ben for a memorable adventure. Let’s do it again!