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Perfect Peel

Perfect Peel

Like that well-known song by Montgomery Gentry, there is a fine line between heaven and hell. For me, part of Peel Island’s allure is that it is the living embodiment of both.

Today, the scenic island is one of Moreton Bay’s most popular getaway anchorages, with dozens of private vessels anchoring there on weekends and holidays. On fine days, you can hear laughter as visitors swim and play games on the beach – an idyllic scene. Ironically, in a past life, Peel Island was a quarantine station, a home for alcoholics, and a leper colony. The fact that it was four kilometres east of the mainland and that there were sharks in the surrounding waters made it a good place to contain exiles.


Teerk Roo Ra National Park

The island was declared a national park in 2007. Called Teerk Roo Ra, which is Aboriginal for place of many shells, the park is jointly managed by an Aboriginal corporation and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. Access is restricted to some areas to protect the environment and Aboriginal and European history, but there is still plenty to see and do.

Horseshoe Bay on the southeast is the island’s main anchorage, and boasts a long sandy beach and some beautiful red sandstone outcrops. This area has good shelter from northwesterly winds. However, watch the tides because it is shallow a fair distance out.

Platypus Bay just to the east is an easy stroll off an old track from Horseshoe Bay. You can also anchor near the remains of the old stone jetty, although Horseshoe provides a better overnight anchorage. The ship’s hulk in Platypus Bay is home to a variety of marine life, and is a popular snorkelling destination.

Just inland at Platypus, you will find the remains of an old bakehouse-cum-gaol that was part of the quarantine station and housed convicts from St Helena when they were working on the island. This is a favourite stop for photo-ops.

If you want to overnight ashore, there are bush campsites at Horseshoe and Platypus. However, you must apply for a permit online ahead of time. Apart from these two bays, mangroves surround the rest of the 519ha-island.


Bring it with you

There are some pit toilets off Horseshoe Bay, but that is it. So make sure you come well prepared. The most memorable time for my partner and me was when the Aerogard went AWOL.

The northwest side of the island still houses the remains of the leper colony, or lazaret, as it is officially known. Some of the buildings have been restored, but access is restricted. You need to join a guided tour or a Friends of Peel Island Association working-bee to enter the buildings. Do not try and wing it; rangers patrol the area and you will be fined if caught.

The jetty off the lazaret is also long gone. It can be a long wade through the mangroves to get there if you do not time the tides right.

Despite the lack of shore access, you will still frequently see boats anchored off here in what is known as the “lazaret gutter” because it is protected in southeasterly winds. Fishermen and women also enjoy fishing near the reef to the north.


Marine zoning

Teerk Roo Ra is surrounded by Moreton Bay Marine Park. Restrictions on recreational activities apply, so check the Moreton Bay Marine Map before wetting a line.

Make sure you also navigate with care and look out for cardinal marks. Reefs, rocks and wrecks are just some of the things you need to watch out for. All are marked in the Beacon to Beacon guide which can be downloaded from Maritime Queensland’s website.

While you are exploring, do not forget to keep an eye out for the 74 identified species of birds, the dugongs, the turtles, the dolphins, and, of course, the great descendants of the sharks that made the island such an effective containment area. With that in mind, it is a good idea to restrict swimming to clean waters, and avoid swimming at dawn and dusk.


Little Ship Club


(Photo by Luke Casey)


Pencil in a stop-off at The Little Ship Club at Dunwich just to the east on North Stradbroke Island. You can pull up to the beach nearby, or tie up on the back of the jetty, although fees apply for the latter if you decide to overnight. A visit to this iconic watering hole is a great way to cap off our island experience.

Yes, while Peel may have been a sad place years ago, today, in my book, it is about as close to perfect as you can get when it comes to idyllic island getaway destinations – unless you forget the Aerogard, of course!



peel island boat gold coast 2

Visitors start arriving at Horseshoe Bay to explore.
peel island boat gold coast 3
Perfect beach spot 

peel island boat gold coast 4

Simply sublime. Horseshoe Bay is a popular destination for people of all ages, including families.






History At A Glance

Peel was a quarantine station from 1874 to the 1890s.

The leper colony/lazaret opened in 1907 and housed leprosy patients for 52 years. It was the only multiracial lazaret in Australia. Leprosy is now known as Hansen’s Disease.

Peel was also the site of a home for inebriates from 1910 to 1916.



Getting There

Peel Island is situated southern Moreton Bay, just off Cleveland, approximately 87km north of the Gold Coast, with the coordinates 27.5006° S, 153.3476° E.

Peel Island is the 30nm mark from the Gold Coast Seaway. You can download a boating map of southern Moreton Bay at:

For more information on getting there from the Gold Coast, see the article Gold Coast to Brisbane by Nic Welch,



Useful Links

Campsite booking:

Friends of Peel Island Association:

Tours: Peter Ludlow, Moreton Bay historian:

Marine zoning map:



By Caroline Strainig

*A journalist by profession, Caroline was at the helm of leading Australian sailing magazine Cruising Helmsman for 12 years. She learned to sail as a young child on a Mirror dinghy on the River Dart in Devon, UK. Recreational sailing has remained a passion ever since. Today, she is semi-retired and lives in Wynnum-Manly.


Photos by Caroline Strainig/Richard Pyne (unless stated otherwise)