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Fatpacking Straddie: an island bike escape

Troy Szczurkowski's picture
Wayne and Troy bikepacking on fatbikes on Stradbroke Island, Queensland. Cycle Traveller

A loose itinerary, sketchy details, a map that closely resembled a pirate map of hidden treasure and a couple of blokes escaping something – responsibilities, society and good hygiene. Yep, that about sums up a fatbike trip to the islands.

A buddy and I planned out a weekend ride on North Stradbroke Island – another island jewel in Moreton Bay, off the coast of Brisbane (read, From fatbiking Moreton Island to the wilds of Alaska). 'Straddie' is a bit different to nearby Moreton Island, in that it has pristine beach oceanside, with mangrove on the bayside and countless inland tracks, including a bit of secret single-track. It also has lots of route choices and no shortage of 'million dollar' camp sites.

Getting there from Cleveland, it's a water taxi with my Surly Moonlander fatbike to Dunwich on the bayside of the island. It's then approximately 13km overland to the beach via the East Coast/Mining/Tazi Rd, which is a good bitumen road with a few hills. A few showers had rolled through and plenty of puddles about. The tide was still going out, which meant plenty of firm, packed beach so I was able to maintain a fast pace.

Wayne, my biking mate, was already at a random south camp location. He had set up his blinky light as a locater beacon for the beach exit. However, several other campers had a similar system. Before long, I spotted him with head and taillights signalling like he was guiding a jet to land on an aircraft carrier, or some sort of “moon landing” (boom-tish).

Hammock and tarp bikepacking setup. Cycle TravellerThe camp

Dinner was basically whatever I scraped out of the camp larder – I had some cup noodles left over from a trip to New Zealand, cheese wedges with vegemite on multigrain muffins, cup-o-soup and bacon cheesy mac and tinned tuna. English muffins are an awesome staple as they squash down into any carry spot. I had made up a 'fourth pocket' to carry overflow food and junk.

On to my sleeping set, which consisted of a bivvy: a simple hammock, siltarp, bug net and hoodless down bag. I use the bag over the hammock to maintain insulation loft. The bugnet clips to a loop on the bottom of the siltarp. A siltarp is so versatile for simple or complex setups, and I had mine angled for any rain runoff and prevailing winds.

I reckon the mozzies (Aussie for mosquitos) were sent by the Red Cross because they sure did extract a lot of blood. You'd climb into the bivvy, clear out of any bugs that followed you in, then settle in. Five minutes later you'd be getting hits, and my head torch revealed the bug net full of mozzies - they were getting in via the smallish gap between hammock and bug net. I normally just drape the bug net and weight it with pegs, but this time the biters were voracious so I pegged the sides of the bug net together underneath the bag like a chrysalis.

Day one

I woke before dawn to take in the majestic first light, to beachcomb and to explore. After leaving camp we had about 10km of double track through she-oak trees.

Along the way I found a wild white passionfruit vine high in the tree and the ground was littered with fruit. I grabbed four and shoved them in the fourth pocket for later. Bush tucker for dessert later that night!

The views would poke through occasionally, the offshore breeze glazed the ocean into a turquoise pool.

Troy Szczurkowski fatbiking in Stradbroke Island. Cycle Traveller

We meandered along some sidetracks, until the trail led us back to the beach. We passed many fishermen with stunned faces, and as usual they thought we were motorbikes. Also met a lady from Point Lookout; she was a wealth of information on the future of a trail network on the island – after the sand mining is done.

Blue Lake

We were now heading back inland. Wayne had to catch the ferry back, so we planned a stop at Blue Lake. This is a window lake – that is, a depression in the topography reveals the water table in that area – and the water was pure and clear with excellent visibility to the white sandy bottom.

Wayne eventually dragged himself away for the ride back to the ferry, while I was more focused on making an arse groove in the hammock for the arvo. Blue Lake drains off into Eighteen Mile swamp. The water here is quite pure and provides a significant amount of fresh drinking water to the Redlands Shire on the mainland. Non-toxic traceable dyes have been added at several locations, even several hundred kilometres away in Toowoomba, to trace the source. The thought of a swim was tempting, but I had so many synthetic chemicals on me (sunscreen, DEET in the Bushmans insect spray etc.) and I was in no mood to destroy what I came to enjoy. The frogs thanked me with their song.

The passionfruit tasted as good as they looked. The mosquitos here were pretty hungry too, so dinner and washup was done before sundown, and I was in bed by 6pm.

To better seal the bugnet, I slept with the sleeping bag inside the hammock. I knew this was a bad move insulation wise (you lose loft and insulation power when you compress the air space around the fibres/down filling of your bag) and woke up shivering a few times. Your body is an amazing heat machine though – a few ab crunches and muscle flex-and-holds (just like you do in the mirror at home, right?) of the larger muscle groups creates a lot of warmth. The topography added to the cold too; cool moist air pools in the valley.

Blue LAke, Stradbroke Island. Cycle Traveller

Day two

The overnight discomfort was worth it when you can enjoy a stunning sunrise during breakfast.

Recent fires raged through the next part of the island I rode in, but it was great to see so much fresh growth. Some forests need fire for seed germination and nutrient cycling, but no forest needs a fire that's been caused by an untended campfire, which was how this fire started.

I explored a few 4WD tracks, one of which led to a place called Keyholes, a series of clear freshwater lagoons at the northern tip of Eighteen Mile swamp.

Bikepacking tips

Back to the fourth pocket bag mentioned previously. I often ride in a long sleeve shirt with no pockets on the back, yet still need to carry overflow food and other junk. So I made a fourth pocket using an old single knee warmer and the straps and clips from an old helmet – total recycling – with a short strip of Velcro sewn into the top as a closure. There's a single strap over the shoulder with a stabiliser around the left hip, just like any messenger style bag. It works very well, the fabric stretches well to suit the load and still enables your back to vent heat and the sweat. Why is this important? On ultra multiday rides, you want to minimise the sweat in your clothing layers (including chamois), so your body is better vented. This means you'll be drier at the end of the day, your body will be more efficient at cooling, (you may consume less water, lose less electrolytes and stink less when you rock up to the pub for a counter meal) and you can minimise chamois/skin related issues.

I rode as much beach as possible from Point Lookout. I had planned to ride to Amity but only got as far as Flinders Beach, due to the tide and lots of tree debris at the high tide mark.

Fatbiking the coast of Stradbroke Island. Cycle Traveller

Was it worth it?

Summing up, Straddie is a great fatbike destination, with enough asphalt infrastructure to traverse some sections quickly, but enough solitude to pack into a week. Once the sand mining operations wind up, this should open up more areas to recreation, however there are plenty of established fire and maintenance tracks to keep the explorers happy. We'll be back.

Troy Szczurkowski's is a bicycle mechanic with extensive bikepacking and fatbike adventure experience. You can follow his many adventures and tap into his bike knowledge on his blog, or catch him at River City Cycles at Yeronga, Brisbane.

Images from top: 1. Wayne and Troy ride the tracks along the coast of Stradbroke Ialsnd. 2. Troy's bivvvy setup. 3. Troy Szczurkowski. 4. Blue Lake, Stradbroke Island. 5. Troy fatbiking along the coast of Stradbroke. (Images copyright Troy Szczurkowski.)

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