The great irony of Brisbane is that the capital of Queensland, a state famous for its golden coastline, has no beaches itself.
For visitors, though, another great way to get in the water is a day trip to the Tangalooma Island Resort.
An iconic family resort, easily accessible from Brisbane, Tangalooma Island Resort has long been a popular holiday destination for locals who pop over for a few nights to get away from the city. Just a short boat ride from the Centre of Brisbane, it’s an easy (and relatively affordable) Queensland island escape.
If you’re visiting, heading over to the island is certainly one of the best things to do in Brisbane. And, while you can stay overnight (more on that soon), you might find the best use of your time is a day trip to Tangalooma.
I suppose it’s important at this point to actually talk about what Tangalooma is, because it definitely confuses people.
So, Tangalooma Island Resort is a tourism site that is part of Moreton Island. (There’s no such place as Tangalooma Island, for the record.)
For day-trippers, it’s the base for a range of activities including guided snorkelling tours, ATV quad bike rides, and helicopter flights – although there’s nothing (other than logistics) that prevents you from leaving the resort.
It has a huge range of accommodation, from hotel rooms to apartments and even houses, and most overnight guests stay here. Although there are other places to stay on Moreton Island (including public campsites), Tangalooma Island Resort is by far the largest development.
Moreton Island is one of the main islands in the bay around Brisbane. About 35 kilometres long, it’s the world’s third-largest sand island. (Of course, K’gari/Fraser Island is the largest.)
Most of Moreton Island is protected as a national park. Large parts of it are covered in green heath, but there are also a few striking inland lagoons.
There are also sections of Moreton Island that have dramatic sand dunes cut across them.
Around the island, much of the coastline is define by beautiful gold beaches. The western side is much calmer, while the eastern side bears the brunt of most of the waves rolling in from the Pacific Ocean.
In this article, I’m focusing on doing a day trip to Tangalooma Island Resort from Brisbane. But it’s also worth noting that you can visit Moreton Island independently.
There is a car ferry from Brisbane that you can use to take a vehicle across – although it needs to be a good 4WD that can handle the sandy roads. With a car, you can drive to one of the half-dozen camping sites on Moreton Island, or to some of the private accommodation that is dotted around the island.
Things to do at Tangalooma Island Resort
Moreton Island is huge and you won’t be able to get around much of it on a day trip. But, don’t worry, there are still lots of things to do within Tangalooma Island Resort, which is where you’ll base yourself if you’re not staying overnight.
Some people like to just hang out around on the sand and use the resort facilities, treating it a bit like a day at the beach. While other visitors want to make the most of all the activities on offer here (some more adventurous than others).
To give you an idea of what to do at Tangalooma Island Resort, I’m going to run through the main activities (some of which are worth booking in advance as part of day trip packages – more on that in the next section!).
This is an obvious one, but still worth mentioning, I think. Stretching out in either direction from the resort is a long golden beach, almost five kilometres long. All of it is able to be used (other than just around the jetty, for obvious reasons) so swimming at the beach is certainly a good way to pass the time – and there’s not much surf on this side, which is good for young kids.
On a day trip to Tangalooma, you’re also able to use most of the resort facilities, which includes two large outdoor pools. So, if you don’t fancy the saltwater at the beach (or just want a change of scenery during the day) grab a lounge next to one of the pools for a dip.
One of the nice things about using the beach at Tangalooma is that there’s lots of equipment here that you can use, without having to bring it yourself. However, most of it isn’t free unfortunately.
Using the kayaks, for example, requires you to rent by the hour (or for longer periods for a cheaper hourly rate), but it’s a nice way to be able to explore a bit further from the resort, going for a paddle along the coast for the afternoon to quieter beaches, for instance.
There are solo kayaks and tandem kayaks for rent. And there are also kayak tours, where a guide will take you out to the wrecks and explain what you’re seeing.
One of the most iconic landmarks on Moreton Island is the Tangalooma Wrecks, a series of 15 ships that were intentionally sunk here between 1963 and 1984.
Originally the intention was that they would create a barrier for boats to safely anchor next to the coastline. But over the years the rusting wrecks have taken on a life of their own as a haven for dozens of species of fish and other marine creatures.
The closest point of the wrecks to the beach is only about 30 metres, and the furthest is about 100 metres, so you can just swim out yourself with a snorkel and mask to have a look at the wrecks. Tangalooma Island Resort does offer snorkelling tours where you’ll get the right equipment and have a guide to show you some of the most important spots and marine life.
Speaking of local wildlife, one of the things Tangalooma is particularly famous for is the opportunity feed the wild dolphins that come into shore every evening.
Around sunset, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some bottlenose dolphins, with a large family that comes in for food. Some visitors will choose just to watch from the viewing area, but you can also get a package where you can go down into the water and hand feed the dolphins.
Although I am normally a bit wary about the sustainability issues with feeding wild animals, this program is run by rangers who only feed the dolphins a maximum of 20 per cent of their daily food requirement so they don’t become reliant on human intervention.
Back on land, there are some incredible landscapes across Moreton Island (most of which is protected as a national park). As the world’s third-largest sand island, it’s no surprise that sand is one of the focuses of the scenery, which is why a ‘desert safari’ is a great way to see things.
The resort uses its 4WD bus to take you up into the desert (the bumpy journey is half the fun) where the rolling sand dunes cut through the green heath, offering views down to the water.
If you want to get a little bit closer, you can then grab one of the toboggans and go racing down the sand dunes!
ATV quad bikes
If you want to go even faster on the sand, the answer is the ATV quad bike tour, where you’ll drive one of these four-wheel bikes through some exciting tracks in the wilderness outside the resort.
Starting on the beach to get a feel of the vehicle, you’ll then head up into the trails that swerve between trees, across sand dunes, and around some of Moreton Island’s best scenery.
You can go slowly until you’re comfortable, but most people end up enjoying a bit of speed (within reason) on the tracks that are designed for the quad bikes, with the right angles and slopes.
Helicopter scenic flight
There really is no better way to understand the majesty of Moreton Island than from the air, where you can see the interplay of the different parts of the ecosystem.
From the quiet western coast to the rougher eastern coast, you can see the green foliage that covers much of the island, the sections of sand dunes, and even the glimmering turquoise lagoons inland. When I went up in the helicopter, I could also see lots of animals in the water, including dugongs, turtles, and dolphins.
There is a range of helicopter flights you can choose from, with the shortest one (about 6 minutes) focusing on the wrecks, and the longest one (about 30 minutes) going all around the island to see the nature, heritage sites, and spot lots of animals.
While the helicopter rides aren’t cheap, they are really special and the views are spectacular. I think choosing one of the day-trip packages with a helicopter ride is worth it if you’re not going to see much else of the Queensland coast from the air.
During whale season (approximately June – November), Moreton Bay is the closest area to Brisbane where you can go whale watching. There are a few tour companies that offering whale watching from Brisbane, but Tangalooma Island Resort has the benefit that you can combine it with some time on Moreton Island.
The whale watching cruise leaves from Tangalooma at about midday and goes for about three hours, including a light lunch. That means it takes up a fair amount of the day, but if you get the early ferry over, you’ll still have a few hours of free time before the cruise leaves.
You can book the whale watching cruise on its own if you’re staying at Tangalooma, but you’ll need to arrange it as part of a package for a day trip.
Tangalooma day trips
Where is Tangalooma Island Resort?
Tangalooma Island Resort is on the western coast of Moreton Island, about 40 kilometres from Brisbane.
You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to Tangalooma Island Resort?
The main way to get to Tangalooma Island Resort is on the ferry that is run by the resort. It leaves the Holt Street Wharf in eastern Brisbane at 7:30, 10:00, 12:30, and 15:30. It takes about 75 minutes each way and costs $88 return for an adult or $48 for a child up to 14 years. (Those prices are for accommodation guests – day visitors get different packages).
When can you visit Tangalooma Island Resort?
Tangalooma Island Resort is open all year round and the different seasons offer different experiences (although I would recommend avoiding school holidays, if possible). For day-trippers, the earliest ferry you can get from Brisbane is 7:30, and the last ferry from the island leaves at 19:00.
How much does it cost to visit Tangalooma?
For a Tangalooma day trip, the cheapest option is $95 for an adult and $55 for a child. This includes return ferry ride (coming back on the 16:00 departure), use of resort facilities, and a lunch voucher ($25 for adult/$20 for a child).
Are there packages for Tangalooma day trips?
Other than the standard ticket, there are lots of packages for day trips to Tangalooma with extra activities. For example, there’s this trip that includes ATV quad biking, or there’s this trip that includes a snorkelling tour of the wrecks, or even this trip that includes a whale-watching cruise.
Staying at Tangalooma Island Resort
If you’re only staying in Brisbane a few days, you obviously want to make the most of your limited time, which is why a day trip to Tangalooma is the perfect way to squeeze in all the island fun.
But, if you’ve got a bit longer up your sleeve, you might want to think about staying overnight – or maybe even for a few nights.
Compared to a Tangalooma day trip, staying overnight is even more relaxed because you don’t have the stress of the ferry departure time in the back of your mind (well, not until the last day, at least). It means you can spend hours on the sand, in the water, or out one on of the island’s hiking trails.
There are quite a few different types of accommodation at Tangalooma Island Resort, catering for different types of travellers and with a range of price points. (Nothing is super cheap here, but the basic rooms are still definitely affordable.)
The cheapest option is a budget room, which is just as it sounds. It won’t necessarily have kitchen facilities or ocean views, it doesn’t include daily cleaning, and you won’t be able to choose the exact location of your room. But it’s a clean and comfortable place to stay, start from $189 a night for up to three people.
The next option up, the standard hotel room, can fit up to four people with a king (or twin) bed and a sofabed. The large rooms have been recently refurbished and include a balcony. These rooms are set in a quiet part of the resort and come with the usual amenities. From $249 a night.
Although they’re quite similar in size to the standard option, the deluxe hotel room takes things up a notch, with wine and chocolates on arrival, for instance, as well as bathrobes and slippers. Ocean views are guaranteed for these rooms, which start from $299 a night for up to four people.
If you’re planning to stay a bit longer, or don’t want to eat at the restaurant for every meal, you might want to consider a resort unit, which comes with a kitchenette with a friend, electric frypan, microwave, and toaster. Perfect for families, they start from $279 a night for up to four people.
For an even bigger group, a family suite is another great option, with room for up to six people. There’s a separate bedroom for two people, and then the other beds including a sofa bed) are in the living area. There’s also a kitchenette in the suites, which start from $319 a night.
If you have an even larger group (family or friends), then the next accommodation I would recommend is a beachfront villa. The largest ones have two separate bedrooms and can accommodate up to eight people. They’re split over two levels and have a lot more living space. They’re also a bit quieter because they’re slightly further from the centre of the resort. They cost from $449 a night.
And finally there’s another level called a Deep Blue apartment. Set within two apartment blocks in the centre of the resort, these modern units are the most luxurious accommodation at Tangalooma. There are different sizes (and styles) ranging from two-bedroom, to three-bedroom, and even a penthouse across the entire fifth floor. Prices start at $529 a night, which is decent value for all the space and amenities you get.