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Best-Kept Secret Islands

Best-Kept Secret Islands

You can experience a rustic island lifestyle just a short boat ride north of the Broadwater in the southern Moreton Bay. The little known Southern Moreton Bay Islands, locally referred to as the Bay Islands, are an ideal day-trip destination. There are plenty of sheltered anchorages for overnight stays too.


The Bay Islands include Russell, Macleay, Lamb, and Karragarra Islands. The area offers the intrepid many secluded fishing spots, interisland transport, heritage walks, a museum, local markets, festivals, and other local events. The islands are a treasure trove of plentiful wildlife. There are littoral rainforest, rocky shores, sandy beaches, mangrove areas and vistas to the mainland and surrounding islands. The Bay Islands offer cultural and natural attractions, and also serve up some good value dining options, great views, and good vibes.

Russell Island. This is the more developed of the islands with some 4,000 residents. It is a large stretch of land 8km long and nearly 3km wide.

Russell Island has most of the same services as the Redlands mainland that span across the island. These include a medical centre, a supermarket, a library, and a public pool. There is a small shopping strip with a good selection of stores, cafes and restaurants.

The waters around Russell Island are fascinating in their own way. “A few great spots for boating families are Sandy Beach Park to the south and Jock Kennedy Park to the north, which both have great BBQ facilities,” recommends Stuart Slocum, captain of the Russell Island RSL Fishing Club.

While boaties will always find floating around a delight, the locals of Russell Island encourage visitors to find the time to explore the island itself. “When you are exploring Russell Island, there is a few things to see in the Kite wetlands, turtle swamp, and the only grave on the islands,” says Stuart. “Once you make it to shore, the local taxi is cheap to get around. Both the local RSL and the bowls club each have a free courtesy bus that pick up and drop off anywhere on the island.”

With around 30% of the dwellings used as family holiday homes, the island is virtually yours midweek. Do not be discouraged if the town may seem too quiet. Graeme “Woody” Leifels, president of Russell Island RSL Fishing Club, says, “On your first visit, the locals might initially seem a little reserved. But once you get to know a few, they can be very warm. We have a wonderful social life in this close-knit community. By night, the RSL and bowls club provide entertainment and bistro facilities. Don’t forget to try Aunty Alice’s for a great meal and views across the Krummel Passage.”

Macleay Island. This is the second largest island and has become a trendy residential hotspot offering a country life right by the water. The island is now a popular sea-change location for artists and sustainable lifestylers. The weekly markets, and the cafés and restaurants are abuzz with creative people – painters, sculptors, potters and poets. The island boasts an organic farmers market every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning.

Macleay Island has a community arts complex, a pottery shed, and several art galleries and studios. There is even an opportunity to undertake an art retreat. Various classes in martial arts, tai chi and yoga are offered.

The island is not all alternative or bohemian though. For the more conservative boatie, Macleay Island is home to a golf course and a sailing club. Bird watching is also a popular activity. Dragon boating has recently commenced from the boat club on Sundays.

A good launch spot is the Dalpura Ramp towards the north of the island.

Lamb Island. This laidback island has several inviting accommodations with really beautiful outlooks, as well as a modest general store, a licensed club and a tennis court. Urban legend claims that some of the world’s most successful maritime drug runners have landed on Lamb Island and stayed. So do not be too surprised if the locals do not want to join you for a selfie!

A visit to the islands’ wetlands will showcase birdlife, frogs and a green carpet of algae. The original name of the island was Nguderoo, an Aboriginal word that means paperbark trees, referring to the trees that surround the wetlands area.

There are a few interesting residential architecture that may be of interest to the visitor – such as a dome house and a hexagonal one – that can be sighted along the roads. For any grocery and meal needs, the Lamb Island Convenience Store is a kiosk and a general store that serves meals and snacks at outdoor tables in a bush setting.

Karragarra Island. The smallest of the islands, it is just 2km long and 500 metres wide. There are no shops on this island, but it has the best white sand beach among the four bay islands, and offers spectacular views of the other islands and the Gold Coast hinterland. The highlight of visiting Karragarra is the safe swimming enclosure beside the boat ramp, which is an ideal spot for a boatie’s picnic lunch. Although small in size, this island has its long history of being a farming town that serviced Brisbane.


The Bay Islands promote conservation tourism and sustainable development. On the shores, you can be assured of unspoiled beaches, uninhabited walking paths and bird-watching opportunities (migratory birds visit yearly).

“The boater will be thrilled by the variety of waters and shoreline, with all islands in close proximity to one another,” says Stuart. “As you discover the waterways by boat or even kayak, be sure to keep an eye out for the dolphins, turtles, dugongs and other marine life that frequent these areas.”

While nature comes first for the community, the passion for conservation has slowed some of the much-needed improvements on boating infrastructure. Some of the boat ramps may not be accessible during low tide. There have been calls for a deep-water marina in the area. Woody points out that there are also plans for an upgrade of the waterbus jetty with further talk of waterfront retail and hospitality stores.


If you are travelling by car with a trailer boat, take the water barge at Redland Bay, and drive off on Russell or Macleay Islands. If you base yourself on Russell Island, there are several boat ramps you can launch your boat. Both the Jock Kennedy Park and Barcelona Terrace Boat Ramp have water access almost all of the time.

If you plan on staying on land overnight, there is abundance of accommodation to suit your budget – from waterfront AirBnB holiday homes to luxury B&Bs. Camping at Sandy Beach at the southern end of Russell Island is also always an option. ARRIVING BY SEA

Woody advises overnight cruisers to drop anchor on the north end of the Russell Island in the Krummel Passage. “We have a shopping centre with a bakery, an IGA, and a take-away shop within walking distance of the jetty. Our local servo carries some essentials like bait, tackle and fuel.”

The channel separating the islands from the mainland is known as Main Channel. The channel separating the islands from North Stradbroke Island is known as Canaipa Passage. These are two deep-water anchorages with beautiful views and are usually a hub of activity.

Boaties will have many exploration opportunities in this area. “The Bay Islands are a great base for exploring the surrounding islands of Moreton Bay,” says Woody. “It is an easy trip through the marked channels to more well known destinations such as North Stradbroke, Moreton, Bribie, Coochiemudlo, and Peel islands. In this paradise at your doorstep, you can also try surfing down a sand dune before you dive into the clear waters of the bay.”

It is an art form to not become beached in the Bay Islands area. Shallow waters surround most of the islands, with the mud flats exposed at low tide. Plan your arrival and departure carefully. Like most of southeastern Queensland waterways, the area is notorious for sand bars. It is advisable to navigate channels with the Beacon-to-Beacon water maps, and to always consult with the locals.

If you want to access Russell Island during the low tide, you can dock small vessels on the back of the ferry jetty in the Krummel Passage. Larger cruisers can simply anchor out in the channels. However, be sure to let out plenty of anchor rope as the tides run fast on their way out.

Woody strongly recommends to come to the area well prepared. “Maintenance and supplies are at Cabbage Tree Point, Horizon Shore and Raby Bay, all about an hour slow cruising from the Bay Islands,” points out Woody.


“Fishing in our area is great with pristine conditions, fish stocks are abundant as the green zones and mangroves help keep the area alive with various fish,” proudly shares Stuart who is an enthusiastic angler. “It’s common all year to land flathead and bream while you wait for good size mud crabs. In the winter months, you can target snapper and jew fish. Right about now, the prawns come out to the waters of the Bay Islands.”

Woody also has some advice for those local boaters who think they have seen it all. “Try dropping anchor at the less visited St Helena, King, Cobby Cobby, Short, Eden, Mud, Green and Crab Islands. These less known islands boast a diverse marine life popular with fishos who know of a few secret high productive locations.”

Some of the well-known fishing locations frequented by locals are Jumpinpin, Giants Grave, Blaksley’s, The Bedrooms, Tiger Mullet Channel, and around Slipping Sands.


The Bay Islands are a must for adventurous urban explorers looking for a seaside village full of handicraft and homemade delicacies. It is an easy get-away from the noise, and hustle and bustle of city life to simply take a break without breaking your budget.

Stuart sums it up best: “Most of the Bay Islands have generous public spaces, unspoiled natural environments, and really wonderful local people, which makes the area a great boating destination. And most importantly, the best place to end each day is moored on the western side of the islands to watch our fascinating sunsets.”

By Andy Kancachian