No, not the Harry Belafonte hit from many years ago ...
There is a string of pearls, real getaway gems, in Moreton Bay, not far from Brisbane. These are the islands of southern Moreton Bay. Most Brisbane-ites know at least something about the big islands, Moreton and North Stradbroke (Straddie), but are not very aware of several smaller specks of land, all inhabited to some degree or other, sheltering just behind Straddie. Coochiemudlo, Macleay, Lamb, Karragarra, and Russell – all are small islands with well-established populations and varying degrees of infrastructure. They are all delightful and easy to reach.
You access them by water taxi or vehicular ferry from several spots on the mainland: Cleveland, Victoria Point, and Redland Bay. I've had a couple of very successful holidays on Moreton many years ago, but until very recently, had never visited any of the small islands. This year, I've remedied that defect.
I was on Coochie (as it is generally known by the locals) several months ago. Only a 10 min water- taxi ride from Victoria Point, both ferries and island are easily wheelchair-accessible. It's a pretty spot. It has the best beaches of any of the smaller islands, and is still extensively wooded, the trees and bushland interspersed with houses and roads, most of the latter sealed. Almost no infrastructure, just classy residences for several hundred people who live on the island or have holiday hideaways there. When I was there, the island had just two coffee shops/restaurants; now I'm told there's only one. The island is so small you can walk (or wheel) around it easily.
A week or two ago – on Remembrance Day, 11 November – I took the train to Cleveland, met my friend with her wheelchair-friendly van, and drove down to the ferry terminal at Redland Bay. The water taxis from here run regular services, all wheelchair friendly, to Macleay, Karragarra, Lamb, and Russell Islands. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day, with light breezes and almost a flat calm. The particular ferry we caught ran a service to all four islands, so we got to see them all, though we only got off at Russell, our destination for the day. The trip out to these four takes about 20 – 25 min. However, the first three island ferry terminals are very close to each other – the three islands are only about a 10 min ferry ride apart. Russell Island is a little further out.
The water taxis that do the service are large, fast catamarans carrying about 100 people, rather like the City Cats on the Brisbane River. The craft are easy to get a wheelchair on board – provided the sea is calm. I wouldn't like to transition from wharf to ferry in a wheelchair on a rough day! (I once had to cancel my first-ever planned trip to Coochie because of blowy, choppy conditions.) The on-board staff are used to wheelchairs and handle them smoothly and without fuss. Going out and coming back, the ferry was packed – locals, schoolkids, tourists, and day-trippers like us.
Russell Island, where we had lunch at Aunty Alice's Cafe (I had a real-life Aunt Alice years ago) on a small hill near the terminal, was a great surprise to me. Although wooded and bushy, there are a lot of people living there – about a couple of thousand. Houses, good roads, infrastructure – there is a substantial small town at the point where the ferries come in: IGA, council library, ambulance, police station, arts-&-craft shops, a recreation & entertainment centre, bakery, a couple of coffee shops, a medical service, lawyers who visit by appointment – and real estate agents, at least 3 that I counted. The island also boasts a primary school and a golf club, so we were told. I'm pretty sure I spotted a maxi taxi there too.
It was a delightful, dreamy experience munching our sandwiches and drinking our (delicious) coffees at Aunty Alice's, gazing out over the blue waters of the bay to the other islands, watching the ferries come and go, and counting the yachts floating at their moorings a little way along the shore. It seemed like a million miles from the rush and bustle of the metropolis, yet it is little more than an hour's travel from the city. Quite enchanting.
30 or 40 years ago, Russell Island was the site of an infamous land scandal. An unscrupulous developer was selling blocks of land for residences, but not telling buyers that the blocks were submerged at high tide. Apparently many locals feel that this unsavoury reputation still taints the name of Russell Island (named after Lord John Russell, one of 19th-century England's more honourable politicians), so much so that there is a movement afoot to change the island's current name back to its traditional Aboriginal name,Canaipa, so as to escape its dark history (and prop up property values, I'll be bound). Judging by the number of real estate offices I saw on the island, past scandals don't seem to have much affected the modern real estate industry there.
If you are looking for an enjoyable, wheelchair-friendly day trip, with the excitement of an ocean voyage thrown in, then (provided the weather is calm and fine), take a ferry out to one of the southern Moreton Bay islands and have lunch there. I'll be going back again, I can assure you.