There’s something just simply relaxing about Bribie Island. As you drive over the bridge connecting the island to the mainland, glance left up Pumicestone Passage, a 35 kilometre estuary which is a haven for bird and marine life, you see the mesmerising Glasshouse Mountains in the background, you’ll take a sigh of relief – you’ve arrived.
Bribie Island, situated an hour North of Brisbane, an hour south of the Sunshine Coast and 2 hours from the Gold Coast, is in fact the 4th largest sand island in the world. One of the three islands in Moreton Bay, Bribie is the only one connected to the main land via a bridge making it easily accessible to day trippers and a popular holiday destination.
A short history of Bribie Island
Named after a convict from the Moreton Bay penal colony who chose to live on the Island once granted his freedom, Bribie Island was historically the home of the Gubbi Gubbi Aboriginal people prior to European settlement.
In 1799 Matthew Finders, the first European to land on the Island, stopped to make repairs to his ship although it is said that he never realised at the time it wasn’t part of the mainland. One area of the Island, Bongaree, is thought to be named after Flinders’ Aboriginal travelling companion Bungaree.
During World War II Bribie Island was seen as an important first line of defense against the invasion of Brisbane. Remnants of these fortifications can still be seen on Bribie today.
Over the years development of the Island occurred at a relatively slow pace until 1963 when the Bribie Island bridge, connecting the Island to the mainland was built. From then onwards residential and tourist development has progressed steadily, although almost one third of the Island continues to be protected national park with a further area reserved for forestry activity.
Now, notionally split into 4 areas – Bellara, Bongaree, Banksia Beach and Woorim, despite sustained development over the past 50+ years, we believe that it still retains a small country town feel but on the doorstep of both Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. The locals prefer to refer to Australia as the large island off the west coast of Bribie, which is what help creates an ‘away from it all’ feel. So come on now, drive over that iconic bridge, set your watch to ‘Bribie time’ and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
Here are our thoughts of the best family things to do on Bribie Island.
Life’s a beach
Given that Bribie is a sand island, beaches are not in short supply.
Whatever your chosen activity there’s a beach that fits the bill.
If want to swim or hit the waves on your surf or boogie board, head over to pristine Woorim Beach on the east of the Island. With Morton Island, which lies 15km east of Woorim, providing some protection from the sea’s swells, the waters are relatively sheltered and perfect for families. Life Saving Surf Rescue Bribie Island are present to keep a watchful eye so be sure to read their information board when you enter the beach for up to date advice on wave and weather conditions.
Take a picnic or get a bite to eat at one of the many cafes. There is plenty of parking, toilet, changing facilities, beach and indoor showers, as well as a good size children’s playground.
If you’re after a little more seclusion, wander further up the beach away from the patrolled area and you’ll probably have a stretch of paradise all to yourself.
Red Beach has a ‘Robinson Crusoe’ feel to it, with the bush forming the backdrop to the white sandy beach. You’ll find a selection of driftwood huts created by a local artist, which our kids love to play in, making for a great desert island adventure. It’s not unusual to have the beach almost to yourself, adding to the feeling that you’ve left the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world far behind you. Spot sea eagles soaring in the skies above and pelicans and dolphins in the ocean.
If your family includes members of a canine variety, both Red Beach and Woorim Beach have designated dog friendly areas so your four legged friend can join in the fun.
Bongaree water front, on the west of the Island, faces onto the protected waters of Pumicestone Passage. Along Welsby Parade, which leads into Toorbul Street or vice a versa, you will find stretches of white sandy beach where you can gaze out towards day to day life in the passage, a haven for water based activity and wildlife alike. The sheltered waters make it a perfect location to try kayaking or stand up paddle boarding, have a dip, build a sandcastle or two, or just sit relaxing with a coffee. Scattered all along the foreshore are seating areas, picnic tables, toilet facilities, playgrounds, as well numerous cafes, take away food retailers and restaurants.
Further down towards the bottom of the island, Buckley’s Hole is a wetlands area that is a haven for shore birds, which you can spot from a hide, or observe whilst playing on the wide stretch of sand and paddling in the shallow waters.
Sylvan Beach Esplanade stretches all the way up to Sunset park. Here, you can enjoy the same sandy beaches and calm waters that Bongaree boasts but with less crowds to share it with. There are a couple of playgrounds and a few shops; Sylvan Beach Seafood serves delicious calamari if you’re feeling peckish.
Solander Esplanade is located at the top of Sunderland drive in Banksia beach. Enjoy a walk along the water front, stop at the two playgrounds, explore the wetlands area and make use of the barbecues and picnic area. There are toilets close to the playground. This is one of our favourite spots for launching our kayak into the sheltered waters of Pumicestone Passage and enjoying views towards the glasshouse mountains.
White Patch is the more rugged water front in Banksia beach where the beach is accessed via paths through the trees. The only other signs of life you’re likely to encounter here the majority of the time are kookaburras, ibis and the odd kangaroo.
Get out on the water
If you are enjoying looking out from the Island to the water, be sure not to miss the opportunity to do it the other way around too. A day or two in or out on the water is a great way to enjoy the whole Island experience.
Pumicestone Passage, with its multiple sand banks, islands, channels and creeks, offers sheltered waters for exploration or for you to undertake a range of water-based activities. With a large variety of bird species in the air and dolphins, dugongs and turtles in the water, there is always something to see.
If you’re bringing your own boat or jet ski, there are public boat ramps at Spinnaker Marina in Sandstone Point, on Marine Parade in Bellara and Welsby Parade in Bongaree. For smaller boats a beach ramp is available off Solander Esplanade in Banksia Beach. Kayaks can be easily launched from any of the beach areas.
For those with a boat license who are hoping to see a bit more of the passage Boab Boats will hire you a boat that will do the job.
Those without a boat license needn’t miss out; you don’t need one to hire a 4-man fishing boat from Bribie Boat on Sylvan Beach Esplanade on the water front immediately after you cross the bridge. If you really want to push the boat out (pun definitely intended!), why not consider a BBQ boat for a half or full day, either from on Bribie or across the bridge at Sandstone Point. In various sizes to seat between 6-12 people, their small engine enables you to meander up into the passage. As the name suggests, they all contain a BBQ for you to knock up your lunch as well as an on board toilet which we find essential with 3 kids on a full day trip. If you’re feeling confident throw a line in to see if you can catch your own lunch!
If you prefer to travel under your own steam, the calm waters of the Pumicestone Passage are ideally suited to kayaking and paddle boarding. These, as well as water bikes are available to hire from Bribie Island Hire Hut. We’re fortunate enough to own a double kayak and we all love taking it out for a paddle and spotting rays and fish in the clear waters of the passage.
Stu prides himself on being an excellent rower whilst Lizzie tends to specialise in circular routes through the water! The great thing about this sheltered waterway however is that even beginners won’t get themselves into too much trouble whilst they learn.
Ferryman Cruises offers a range of very affordable tea and lunch cruises where you can combine a tasty bite to eat whilst enjoying an exploration of the Island coastline if you’d rather let someone else take the helm. They are also available for private hire in the evening if you have a special event. We enjoyed a beautiful evening cruise shortly before Christmas, admiring the Christmas lights of the waterfront properties along Bribie’s extensive canal network, watching the sun set over the glasshouse mountains as day gave way to a starry night and marvelling at the thousands of blue blubber jellyfish pulsing along the surface of the Pumicestone passage.
For a truly unique and romantic experience, the Bribie Island Gondola brings a little taste of Venice to Australia. Seating up to 6 people, the Gondola offers breakfast, lunch, and sunset or moonlight dinner cruises along the passage.
The reasonably protected waters of Woorim Beach offer a great place to Boogie board or kick off an interest in surfing. If you want to get some expert guidance, Sunshine Coast Surf School offer tuition on the Island.
Hit the tracks on foot or on two wheels
Bribie is a perfect place for an easy stroll or to explore on two wheels. The Island is relatively flat and has a good network of cycle paths connecting many points on the Island. If you haven’t brought your own bike fear not, you can hire one, even one with a bit of electrical assistance!
For walking, try the easy 3.8km return Bicentennial Trail which departs from the Bribie Arts Centre. You can do it in shorter sections or complete the entire circuit, which we usually do. It will take you about an hour. The trail takes you through a changing landscape of wetlands, heathlands and forests. On route you’ll see an array of bird species and quite likely the odd kangaroo.
Get your feet sandy whilst taking in the sea air on a beach walk. We love the walk from Woorim to Red Beach which is why we’ve included it on our best family walks on the Sunshine Coast post.
The path hugging Pumicestone Passage, stretching from Bongaree up to Sunset Park at the top of Sylvan Beach Esplanade is a nice gentle walk (1 hour) or bike ride (30 minutes). This is our family favourite bike ride on the Island and one we’ve done many times. We never grow bored of the views over the Passage to the Glasshouse Mountains National Park in the distance. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and dugongs in the water, whilst you’re sure to see lorikeets galore and possibly a possum on land.
On the way you’ll pass by lots of places to stop and take a breather, toilet facilities, cafes and, for the kids, at least 4 playgrounds. When you arrive at Sunset Park go right to the end, next to the entrance to the Banksia Beach canals and look out over Pumiscestone Passage. It’s a beautiful view. If you are there close to sunset you won’t be alone as many locals and visitors alike take a bottle of wine and a chair to see out daylight watching the beautiful sunset.
For a safe cycle through the bush with the chance to see wild kangaroos head towards Bribie Island Shopping Centre. To access the shopping centre from the main roundabout you initially turn into Hornsby Road. Follow the road and you’ll come to a locked barrier which allows only walkers or cyclists to continue forward. The road then continues at a gentle incline, traffic free, on a tarmacked track, for approximately 5km through the bush, finally arriving opposite the Pacific Harbour Golf & Country Club.
Although the bush itself is rather featureless, the highlight is the high chance of wild kangaroo spotting and, of course it is free of traffic and therefore very safe for junior riders to explore.
The Butterfly House started out as the hobby of local retirees Ray and Delphine who started breeding butterflies in their own garden, a great passion of Rays. Over the years, their delicate winged family expanded and their neighbours became tired of the ever increasing stream of visitors to their property.
The couple were granted a plot of land by the local council to expand their hobby into what is now a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike. Opened in 2017 it is run exclusively by volunteers. The Butterfly House is a not for profit organisation with all proceeds being donated to charities, both local and further afield. It is affiliated with several others in the State who share information as well as insects.
Visitors are greeted by the friendly and knowledgeable volunteers who are delighted to tell you all about the chrysalises and caterpillars on display next to the reception area. Butterfly eggs laid by adults in the gardens are harvested by the volunteers and kept in optimal conditions allowing them an 80% success rate in maturing to adult butterflies compared with just 2% in the wild where predators, lack of availability of food and climate conditions all hamper success.
From here, a short tunnel takes you through to the immaculate gardens where you will be immediately surrounded by hundreds of beautiful butterflies fluttering between the butterfly friendly blooms.
Sam was very quick to cotton on that he mustn’t pick the flowers or touch the butterflies and was equally quick to remind other visitors of the same!
During the summer months, you may be lucky enough to see the stunning Ulyses butterfly, however the Cairns birdwing, monarch, varied eggfly and red lacewing butterflies are plentiful year-round along with a population of curious leaf insects.
Take your time to spot the different species using the free guide you receive at reception which also details the story of the attraction and the lifecycle of a butterfly on the reverse side.
If you are wearing white or bright colours, there’s a good chance that these fluttering beauties will use you as a landing spot for a few moments which makes for a great photograph opportunity; they were particularly fond of Daniel’s rainbow hat and he became a regular perching site during our last visit.
The Butterfly House is only open on Wednesday’s and Sundays, even during school holidays, so you will need to plan your visit accordingly. There is a toilet and a small seating area where you can bring your own snack as there is no food or drink available for purchase.
Take a step back in time at the Seaside Museum
To learn more about the interesting history of Bribie, its aboriginal founders, European settlers and development up to the modern day visit the free to enter Seaside Museum.
Situated on South Esplanade, Bongaree, overlooking Pumiscestone Passage, the museum uses a range of visual displays and presentations, memorabilia and interactive activities to help you to learn about the changing Island life through the years.
There is plentiful free parking both at and around the museum.
If you’ve enjoyed your history lesson in the museum, consider taking a wander to the nearby Bongaree jetty. There you will find the start of the Bongaree Walkabout that takes you past 16 historical buildings and landmarks on the foreshore. The gentle walk takes about an hour. Information boards will provide a focused history at each location … look out also for the ones along the way.
Hunt out a treasure at the Bribie Island Community Arts Centre and Vibe Markets
The Bribie Community Arts Centre is a real gem on Bribie Island, especially on market day. The gallery displays the work of local artists and crafters with some beautiful pieces offered at very reasonable prices. There are rotating themed exhibitions in addition to the usual display which are always impressive and have served as a useful source of gifts for our family members. The woodworkers exhibition especially is worth a visit.
The centre hosts the annual Mathew Flinders art prize in July with a broad range of subjects being portrayed in a variety of media. Visitors are invited to pick their own winner via a ballot system in addition to viewing the judges choices and other entries. All our boys enjoyed picking their own winner for the latest instalment and it’s fair to say we were all at odds with the judges! Many of the works are of a very high standard and all are available for purchase if something really grabs you. The junior edition of the competition is also very impressive, showcasing the works of up and coming artists.
If you’re staying longer than a visit, there are a number of creative groups you can join to unleash your own creative genius.
On the last Sunday of every month, the art centre hosts the Vibe Markets during which the venue comes alive with music performances, woodworking and other creative demonstrations and a selection of stalls selling quality handmade arts and crafts. The markets regularly welcome new vendors which keeps it fresh and interesting for returning visitors; we seldom leave empty handed! For the kids, there is the opportunity to have a go at gem fossicking under the guidance of the Gem club (free of charge) or to crack a thunder egg (small charge applies).
There is also a café offering coffee’s and breakfasts if you need a little time to consider your purchases or just want to soak up the atmosphere.
There are markets held at Brennan Park in Bongaree on all of the other Sundays, each supporting a different charity. These markets feature second hand books, bric a brac, plants, clothes and some hand crafted items. There is of course the opportunity to grab yourself a sausage sizzle to enjoy whilst you browse the stalls, pat the many canine visitors and watch the Corellas fighting in the trees. Once you’ve exhausted the stalls, you can enjoy a stroll along the water front whilst you decide which of Bribie’s other attractions you want to try next.
Ride a steam train
Before you start planning your return journey to Brisbane via rail, bear in mind that the train we’re referring to you can literally step over and will only take you back to where you started!
Located at Melsa Park in Bongaree, these charming miniature trains, a mixture of electric and steam locomotives, transport passengers through the wooded areas of the park on a 500 metre track. Although miniature the trains can pick up a fair pace. We felt there was something quite nostalgic and romantic about the smell of the coal, the feel of steam droplets on your face, the throaty whistle of the engine and the feel of wind in your hair as we rode through the wooded park.
Each ride goes twice around the park and lasts a good 10 minutes. They run on the third Sunday of every month between 10.00-14.30 for a $2 donation, or $15 for ten rides. Be sure to invest in a sausage sizzle courtesy of the local Lions Club after your ride.
Catch a flick at the Bribie Island Cinema
‘’Visit the cinema?’’ I hear you ask, ‘’But you can do that anywhere!’’. True enough, but the Bribie Island Cinema isn’t just any old cinema. Privately owned, it has a small and intimate feel to it with retro design and friendly staff. There are 2 full sized screens where you can enjoy all the latest movies in comfort for a very affordable price and choose from a small selection of drinks and snacks including the fresh popcorn which is essential to the enjoyment of any cinema experience!
Situated on First Avenue on the left side as you drive towards Woorim, the black and red cinema is the last building before civilization gives way to the bush. This is certainly our first choice for cinemas when there’s a movie we want to catch!
Exercise the kids at a local playground
We still find it incredible how many playgrounds there are on what is a relatively compact Island. You don’t have to walk or drive far to find a community park with beautifully maintained playground equipment to let the kids let off steam. We’ve visited them all so we asked the boys for their favourites. In no particular order, they recommended the following –
Brennan Park in Bongaree contains a good sized playground with a full sun shelter. With climbing frames, slides and swings as well as a sit on circular zip line it’s easy to see why it’s on their top list.
A few minutes in the car, or a 20 minute walk north up Welsby Parade will bring you to Pumicestone Lions Park. The park, semi-circular in shape, curves out and round into Pumicestone Passage. As well as multiple sheltered picnic tablets affording great views, there is a pirate themed playground where the kids can play captain of the ship as well as another sit on zip line.
In Crest Park, the other side of the bridge on Sylvan Beach Esplanade, is a playground that they can climb, jump and slide to their hearts content whilst you make use of the plentiful seating to get a moments rest.
If speed and a bit of healthy competition is on your mind, grab a cardboard box and head over the bridge to Oxley Place Park in Sandstone Point, known as ‘Cardboard Hill’ to the locals. Here, a grassy hill leading down to the beach provides an ideal run for your own cardboard box toboggan. Once everyone has raced their hearts out, there is a small playground with a climbing frame and other play equipment to continue the fun. There are shaded picnic areas and barbecues as well as toilets. There is a pleasant walk along the water front and at low tide, you can cross the beach to the oyster beds, although do watch out for sharp shells.
The Island has two skateboard parks, the larger one off Sunderland Drive not far from where you enter it off Benabrow Avenue and a smaller one in Tintooki Park, located on Second Avenue in Woorim. We find the Tintooki Park area better for younger kids were there is also a small playground.
In any park on Bribie, you’ll never be far from toilet facilities and a public BBQ to knock up that sausage sizzle.
Try your luck at finding a Bribie rock or hunt down a Geocache
The brainchild of a local woman, Kaye, Bribie rocks is a hugely popular activity on the island. Local people paint and hide rocks around the island for others to find and stumbling across one of these beauties is sure to brighten up your day. You can choose to keep or rehide your find, but you are asked to share your find on the group’s Facebook page.
Our boys simply love stumbling across these sometimes beautifully painted rocks. They’ve also created a few to hide and been excited when the picture of someone who has found them appears on the Facebook page.
If you’re in for a bit of treasure hunting, why not try your hand at Geocaching. This ‘secret’ society is a great activity to do for adults and kids a like. See our post geocaching with kids for more information – we’ve hidden two around the Island.
Become Tiger Woods for the day at a local golf course
Bribie island has not one, but 2 golf clubs, both offering day passes.
Pacific Harbour Golf Club in Banksia Beach is a well manicured course where kangaroos will appraise your swing from the sidelines. If you are visiting with the kids, you can buy a bucket of balls for $6 with free golf club hire and see how far you can send your ball on the driving range in front of the club house. Unsurprisingly, this gets very competitive with our boys!
If all that competition leaves you hungry, the hole in one-s belly (sorry!) can soon be rectified at The Deck Bistro.
Switch your car to 4 wheel drive to explore the Bribie Island National Park
For 4 wheel drive enthusiasts, a day or two in the Bribie Island National Park is a must. With a mixture of beach and bush driving, you can combine stunning coastal views with an interesting bush and forest landscape.
Within the national park are a couple of bush camp sites where you can stay a night or two in a simpler way of life or just take a picnic and spend the day having a dip in the waters of Pumicestone Passage. Be sure to check out the lagoon and creeks.
To access the National Park by 4 wheel drive you’ll need an access permit. A separate permit is required for camping.
Both the beach and inland tracks can be challenging even for experienced drivers. Make sure you carry the right equipment in case you get bogged. Police patrols are common so be sure you’re aware of what’s expected of you.
If you don’t have a 4 week drive vehicle, or you’d rather not use yours, you can hire an ex-army Landrover to make the journey or join an adventure day tour – the local Gday Tours get very well rated.
Enjoy a birds eye view of the island with Bribie Skydiving
OK, we admit that we haven’t been brave enough to give this one a whirl yet but we have been shifted along when visiting the beach a couple of times when we’ve inadvertently set up camp on the landing spot.
Skydiving Australia on Bribie allows you to take a tandem skydive from 15,000 feet so you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of Moreton Bay before you land on Woorim beach. Go on, you know you want to!
Stray over the bridge to the Sandstone Point Hotel
People have been shot for suggesting less than to actually leave the island, however, with the Sandstone Point Hotel increasing in popularity as a concert venue and now featuring the Big4 Sandstone Point Holiday Resort, you may be forgiven for a short diversion.
The hotel offers regular events, including giant inflatables during school holidays, an annual rodeo, strawberry festival and regular music concerts.
Helpful info about facilities
There is a wide range of, mainly, self catering accommodation on Bribie. When travelling we always use Booking.com to find accommodation.
For motel style accommodation, the only option we are aware of is the Bribie Island Hotel.
The Island boasts 3 caravan parks. The newest is the Big4 Sandstone Point Holiday Resort offering powered and unpowered sites for your own tent or caravan, or a selection of villas and safari tents if you don’t want to bring your own. The resort has a range of facilities including a swimming pool, kids waterpark and playground. For a more traditional touring site check out Bongaree Caravan Park or Bribie Island Caravan Park in Woorim.
There is no shortage of places to eat out on Bribie, be it a formal meal at a restaurant, a quick snack at a cafe or a take away treat. We’ve eaten our way around most of the Island now and have our definite favourites.
For breakfast, our top choice is the Bribie Island RSL’s Social Café. Situated at the back of the building, this fresh modern café boasts a delicious and reasonably priced menu, spacious outdoor dining area, retro style games room and quirky décor. Best of all, it is dog friendly (outside eating area) so you waggy friend can come too. The staff are full of smiles, service is prompt and most importantly, the coffee and Eggs Benedict gets a thumbs up from Stu!
The café also serves lunch and there is a bar, games room and a restaurant inside for a main meal.
Over the bridge, the Sandstone Point Hotel in our opinion serves the best fresh sea food locally at the Oyster Shed; our family favourite is the seafood sharing platter. The main restaurant serves a wide selection of different foods. There is a huge grassy area where you can sometimes catch ‘jazz on the jetty’ (free) as well as ticketed entry concerts and events. There is a petting zoo, playground and games room to keep the kids entertained and a selection of beautiful home wares for sale (be suspicious if mums bathroom visit takes a little longer than anticipated!).
If you’re keen to enjoy fish and chips, Sylvan Beach Seafood offers dine in with views across the Pumicestone Passage or takeaway options.
For a snack at lunch time, head to Bongaree Hot Bread for a delicious selection of hot pies and cakes. Unfortunately, the pies are a poorly kept secret and you’ll need to arrive before midday to stand any chance of bagging one on busy days.
If you’re on the run and want a good take out coffee, the Two Sister Cafe is Stu’s favourite. They also sell a small selection of tasty freshly made snacks.
If you’re self catering, there are 4 supermarkets on the Island from which to stock up – Aldi, Woolworths Bongaree, Woolworths Bankia Beach and IGA in Bongaree. We find Aldi the most competitive on price, with us visiting ‘Woolies’ for anything we can’t get in Aldi.
There are a number of independent butchers and bakers (no, no candlestick makers!).
For non food related items, the Bribie Island Shopping Centre has a number of shops including Target, Mitre 10 and a couple of hairdressers to name but a few.