Brisbane has many small islands lying just off North and South Stradbroke Island that are worth visiting. One of these lesser-known enclaves is Coochiemudlo Island. Prior to visiting, the only things I’d heard about the place were that it had a café and it was small. My expectations, which were low, were setting me up for a nice surprise. If you’re wondering what to do on Coochiemudlo Island, you’ve come to the right place!
About one hour and fifteen minutes after leaving Brisbane City, we arrived on the island. I was with my partner, my dog and my son and as the latter was hungry, we decided our first port of call would be the Curlew Café. I certainly didn’t want to be exploring with a hangry 12-year-old.
There are a few places to eat on the island, but the more conspicuously located ones are the Curlew Café and the Coochiemudlo Island Beach Bar. As the latter wasn’t dog-friendly, we went to the Curlew Café. It does the job well, burgers and chips were had in pleasant surrounds and we even saw the eponymous curlew dashing across the floor. However, the best part about this experience was popping next door to Catherine’s art stall.
Meeting more locals
I’m always curious about the choices people make in their lives and I had an interesting chat with resident artist Catherine Bishop. Catherine is originally from Paris, she’s part Greek and has been living on Coochiemudlo Island for 29 years. When I asked her about the mainland, she and her friend remarked they go there as little as possible. They’re perfectly happy on their little island paradise.
As you can see, Catherine’s pictures are nature-oriented, depicting predominantly the local surroundings, using vibrant colours. Catherine only takes cash for her paintings and as I didn’t have any, this is one more reason for me to return to the island. So if you’re reading this and you like Catherine’s pictures, bring some cash with you. Support local artists and get a seasoned perspective of Coochiemudlo for your home.
What to do on Coochiemudlo Island – The Tree Cemetery
Coochiemudlo Island has a circumference of approximately 5km. As we intended to circumnavigate the island, we set off in an anti-clockwise direction towards Norfolk Beach. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for and I’ll just say that while I wouldn’t call Coochiemudlo’s coastline stunningly beautiful, IT IS beautiful in its own way and it’s most certainly interesting.
The water is crocodile-green and the sand is littered with stones and has a rocky outcrop. Walking along Norfolk Beach, we came to the ‘tree cemetery’, where ‘century-old trees’ had become the victims of storms and erosion. The coastline is atmospheric, there’s plenty to see up close if you look and we saw some kids getting as muddy as humanly possible. They didn’t look keen to leave. My son and I were also quite entertained by the hundreds of soldier crabs that scurried, then burrowed furiously out of sight (see my reel at the end).
British Navigator Matthew Flinders allegedly landed on this beach in 1799, although the local indigenous Quandamooka people had been coming here long before…
There is evidence of aboriginal occupation on nearby North Stradbroke Island dating back 25,000 years. The name Coochiemudlo means ‘red earth’, or ‘red stone’, named after the cliffs on the island’s south-west side. As Coochiemudlo Island contains no freshwater, the Quandamooka – who represent the Nughie people of Moreton Island, and the Noonuccal and Gorenpul people of North Stradbroke Island – regularly visited the island but didn’t stay long.
What to do on Coochiemudlo Island – Explore Morwong Beach
Heading further north from Norfolk Beach we rounded a bend and came to Morwong Beach. Morwong Beach contains a number of Aboriginal middens hidden amongst the mangroves. While I failed to find any, I did see a ‘scarred tree’, which is a tree that shows outward signs of use for Aboriginal shield or canoe construction.
It was here we saw the kids playing in mud and we found shelter under mangroves near the shoreline. Nearby was a seat with a plaque which read ‘WILLIAM FREDERICK ROSS – “TILL ALL THE SEAS RUN DRY”’. This got me intrigued about the story behind it. It seems William enjoyed a very fine part of the world indeed and I felt fortunate to be staring out across the flats into the afternoon sun right at this moment.
It was also on Morwong Beach that we chatted with a few more locals, who were friendly and seemed happy with their lot in life. This certainly got me thinking, and I visualised living on Coochiemudlo Island, exploring everywhere while surrendering to the chilled Coochie vibe.
By this point, the day was speeding away, and it was apparent that Coochiemudlo Island deserves quite a bit more time than just a few hours.
Now at the top of the island, we headed south, back through the middle and I went in search of the island’s Quirky Train Farm. After waving to another friendly local from her garden, it was here that my partner and son went to the Coochiemudlo Island Beach Bar, as my son was getting tired. Cookie (my dog) and I wandered fruitlessly past quirky suburban homes, before finding ourselves back at the ferry departure jetty.
The red cliffs and a golf course
It was now 4 pm and my son wanted to leave. I made a deal to do some more exploring and I was glad I did. This time I went in a clockwise direction from the jetty landing, heading left. I wandered past the dog ‘off leash area’, past a small, marooned boat and up to the red cliffs, which looked like an interesting place to investigate.
One thing I noticed was the beaches were expansive on the south-western end and Cookie had a run while I took in the landscape and marvelled at the house, perched, it seemed, precariously on top of the cliff. Running short on time I took a track inland just below the cliff and found myself standing on par 3 of the Coochiemudlo Golf Course. It looked like a beautiful course too, surrounded by bushland and I thought, wow, so much to do, so little time.
The Quirky Train Farm – Finally!
It wasn’t until I took the road back along the bottom end of the island that I walked right by the Quirky Train Farm. I had been looking on a bogus website, it seemed, and had the location entirely wrong. It was closed when I was there and I was in a hurry, so I stopped for just a few moments. According to the island’s website, it’s a good spot for kids to play and explore. I also couldn’t help noticing it’s a popular spot with ducks!
Shortly afterwards, just before sunset, we were on our way back to the mainland. Time, it seemed, had sped up while we were on Coochiemudlo Island. My partner wants to return to see the red cliffs. I want to return too, as the small taste of Coochiemudlo I experienced left me wanting more. So, if you’re wondering what to do on Coochiemudlo Island, you’d best stay for more than a day.
Are there any things to do on the island that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!
A Few Fast Facts
- Coochiemudlo Island is dog-friendly and dogs are allowed on the ferry. Off-leash areas are only open certain times of the year. Check out the Redland City Council website for more info.
- Ferries are privately run by Amity Trader and depart every 30 minutes from Victoria Point. Ferries to the island take approximately 10 minutes.
- The rocks on Norfolk Beach are slippery as they’re covered in mud, so be careful! I consider myself an agile person and I stacked it, taking skin off my foot and knee.
- The Melaleuca Wetlands propose a nice walk through the island, but as we had a dog (dogs aren’t allowed), we skipped this.
- Turtles and dugongs are known to hang out in the area!