Tangalooma Island Resort hotel review, Moreton Island, Queensland: Like a Thai beach resort holiday, but in Australia

Our rating

3.5 out of 5

THE LOCATION

You should have to fly further north for this, surely? Moreton Island has that tropical island magic, with palm trees and golden beach giving way to turquoise and teal waters. Garish shirts with parrots on and extremely sugary cocktails are optional.

That it's just 75 minutes by ferry from Brisbane feels both mildly outrageous and weirdly underplayed. Stick this in Thailand or Bali, and Australians would be fighting over themselves to get here. But the world's third largest sand island is slightly unfortunate to have the two bigger sand islands – Fraser and North Stradbroke – nearby, as well as the competition from the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.

Tangalooma Island Resort's villas  line up just behind the beach, past the two pools at the northern end of the resort, which also has standard hotel rooms and apartments nearer the jetty.

THE SPACE

That melange of accommodation options goes some way to explaining the resort's rather hodge-podge vibe. It has the mildly incoherent character of somewhere that's clearly had bits added over time. That's before you consider the villas are privately owned, and thus look a little different from each other, and throw in hundreds of day visitors coming from Brisbane on the catamaran.

The resort's oldest structure is the flensing​ deck of the old whaling station that once occupied the site. That's been given over to a basketball court and table-tennis tables, which is a decent indication of Tangalooma's focus on activities. The watersports centre – kayaks, banana boats, parasailing, snorkel hire, the works – is a short stroll from the villas. The famous evening wild dolphin feeding session takes place near the jetty.

THE ROOM

The deluxe beachfront villas have recently undergone a refurbishment and had airconditioning installed. From the outside, there's an adorable daintiness to these blue and white, two-level wooden buildings – they wouldn't look out of place in a seaside town in Maine, USA. Inside, there are a few nice touches – lots of photos of the island, wooden fish sculptures below the wall-mounted TV – but it's otherwise about space and facilities. Three bedrooms, full kitchen, washing machine and tumble dryer, a six-seater dining table and high stools at the breakfast bar fit in without feeling cramped.

 The space feels refurnished rather than refurbished. The dark grey couches, chairs and bed bases are clearly new, and the electronics have been upgraded, but there are still scuff marks on the walls and a few windows are in need of a clean.

The idea that the villas are a missed opportunity to be special is quickly ditched the  moment you sit out on the porch or balcony, peering above lush green gardens over the beach. It makes you want to stay for a month reading books and drinking rosé. It's a properly astonishing spot.

THE FOOD

The concept of the Fire and Stone restaurant – Asian "fusion" on one side, stone-cooked meats on the other – is brave if nothing else. As a dining experience, however, it feels a little functional and charmless. There's no service theatre and, with some dishes coming in over the $40 mark, it should feel more like a treat.

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Sadly, this isn't made up for by great food. The $25 kung pao chicken – admittedly one of the cheapest things on the menu –  seems pretty dire to me and it's overloaded with peanuts to the detriment of any flavour that might be trying to escape.

The other option is the utilitarian Beach Cafe, which churns out pizzas, pastas and burgers. They fill a hole, but without any panache, and in an atmosphere-free work canteen-esque setting.

STEPPING OUT

No one would think any less of you for just lazing on the beach all day, but Tangalooma's strength is in the range of activities on offer. Further up the beach, an artificial reef has formed around 15 shipwrecks – take a snorkelling or kayaking tour, or just grab a snorkel and splash around face down in the fish extravaganza.

Sandboarding, quad biking and island cruises are also on the menu, but bushwalking behind the dunes and free, ranger-led kookaburra and pelican-feeding sessions mean you don't necessarily have to keep shelling out for tours.

THE ESSENTIALS

Rates start at $459 a night; villas sleep eight. See tangalooma.com

HIGHLIGHT

Watching two squadrons of kookaburras face off against each other on top of opposing signposts, waiting for their daily feed.

LOWLIGHT

A high-quality dining option could be transformational; alas, what's available barely scrapes into the mediocre category.

David Whitley was a guest of the Tangalooma Island Resort.