Tangalooma Island Resort, Queensland
Situated on the sunset side of Moreton Island, Tangalooma is 75 minutes by high-speed catamaran from Brisbane's Holt Street Wharf, which is 15 minutes from the CBD or 10 minutes from the airport. Natural beauty is its main drawcard. The 317-room resort, which has been owned and run by the Osborne family since 1980, occupies just two per cent of this 38-kilometre-long sand island, the third largest in the world (after Fraser and North Stradbroke islands); the rest is Moreton Island National Park, surrounded by Moreton Bay Marine Park, home to an abundance of dolphins, dugongs, turtles, whales, tropical fish and seabirds.
What started as a few bungalows when the resort opened in 1963 after the island's whaling station closed (the concrete-roofed flensing deck is still in the resort grounds) has become a sprawling beachside complex of low-rise apartment blocks, holiday villas, the Deep Blue luxury apartments overlooking the dolphin-feeding area, and architect-designed houses a short walk from the resort centre. There's also a spa, two swimming pools and free Wi-Fi in the communal areas (with plans to expand Wi-Fi coverage to the rooms).
My Hotel Deluxe room on the top floor of the four-storey Kookaburra block has a modest, motel-room decor that almost makes me forget I'm on an island, but what it lacks in style it makes up for with panoramic views from the balcony – of the beach, Moreton Bay and, on a clear day, the Glasshouse Mountains on the mainland. In keeping with the resort's eco-consciousness, the bathroom has refillable shampoo, conditioner and soap dispensers instead of those tiny bottles. There are also bathrobes, cable TV channels, a hair dryer and room service.
There are five restaurants, all with friendly service and outdoor terraces facing a wide boardwalk that runs the length of the beach. The two newest, which opened last year, are the Sichuan-style Fire and the adjacent Stone, where meals are cooked at your table on sizzling hot rocks. The breakfast buffet at Tursiops (named after the genus of bottlenose dolphins) is impressive; it even has a pancake maker and Asian breakfast options. Then there's the bistro-style Beach Cafe, the Coffee Shop (with good espresso coffee) and Whaler's Bar.
Tangalooma's must-do experience (it's included in most accommodation packages) is hand-feeding the wild bottlenose dolphins that swim right up the beach every evening. It's also worth taking an island tour in one of the resort's purpose-built 4WD buses or a "desert safari" that includes sand-tobogganing down the 285-metre Mount Tempest, the highest coastal sand dune in the world. The Marine Education & Conservation Centre runs historic whaling station tours, whale-watching cruises to Cape Morton (July to October), dolphin information talks, free guided walks and other nature-based activities. Or just snorkel the "wrecks", 15 ships scuttled in the 1960s to form a now coral-encrusted breakwall off the beach.
Tangalooma is a comfortable, family-friendly crowd-pleaser with accommodation options for all budgets and an ideal base from which to explore this incredible island.
Transfers to Moreton Island cost $80 return ($45 for children). Rooms from $165 a night for up to four people. Phone 1300 652 250 (reservations staff can prevent date clashes with cruise ships). See tangalooma.com.
HIGHLIGHT: Hand-feeding wild dolphins from the beach beside the jetty
LOWLIGHT: Sharing the resort with 2000 cruise ship passengers one day
The writer was a guest of Tangalooma Island Resort.