Our time in Australia up until now consisted solely of heaving cities and bustling towns, and North Stradbroke Island (or Straddie, as its affectionately known by locals) is an absolute breath of fresh air. Having caught the Scuba bug in Koh Tao, when we read that Manta Bommie off Straddie is a popular haunt for Manta Rays it was an obvious choice to head there for our next diving adventure.
Unfortunately, this was slightly easier said than done! From Surfers Paradise, we needed to take a tram, to a bus, to a coach, to a train, to another bus, to a boat, to another bus, to our hostel. Held up on our coach by a minor drama (which we were becoming used to in Australia!) involving the police, we arrived in Cleveland for our ferry slightly later than intended.
According to the ferry schedule printed on the bus shelter, we had plenty of time to kill, with the bus due to arrive twenty minutes before the boat departed. Just across the green there was a Christmas Market, with amazing street food and attractions, a very pleasant surprise in the quiet suburb.
The good mood generated from the charming market dissipated somewhat when the bus decided not to turn up! Ten minutes late the driver cruised languorously up to the bus stop, and in no rush tootled us down the road.
There are two ferries companies operating the route to Straddie, one of which had a cheaper, slow boat option at half the price. After arriving at the port we rushed our way to the (cheaper) vehicle ferry booth to buy a ticket, to find that despite us researching the times and for no given reason, the ferry was not running. Pegging it back down to the Stradbroke Flyer we arrived just in time to see the other boat detach from the dock and leave.. Fantastic! We were told there was one more boat in an hour at 19.25, but as it was the last boat of the day there was no bus service on the other side, so our best bet was to beg a lift off of one of the other passengers. While this was against every instinct of us Londoners, the Straddie locals couldn’t have been friendlier or happier to help, and we were inundated with offers of rides, for which we were very grateful!
Upon our late arrival at the hostel cum diving centre, we had just about enough energy for a quick hello to our room mates then straight to bed. We had found Manta Lodge and Scuba online with great TripAdvisor reviews, and the lady working the front desk was incredibly helpful when we booked over the phone, and even more so face to face, which I shall touch upon later.
The following day we were up at the crack of… well, about 6. I had an agonisingly long struggle squeezing into a wetsuit – the ones we wore last time had been shortys, but due to the unseasonably cold water off of Straddie we had to wear a full length suit, much to my dismay – and after this minor embarrassment we were ready to go. A group of about ten of us clambered onto the back of a boat strapped onto the site’s tractor and we rumbled our way down the beach to the seafront.
As bumpy as this ride was, it was nothing compared to how choppy the sea was that morning. Both of us were more than a little green after a few minutes out on the water, and were actually grateful to plunge into the bracing depths of the big blue at Manta Bommie, even if it was 16°!
Visibility wasn’t the best, and the cold made for a less enjoyable dive than our last, but nonetheless it was worth the discomfort to see the marine life. Manta Bommie consists of several rocky reefs, sand patches and small caves, making it an ideal habitat for all kinds of aquatic creatures. This also means migrating Manta Rays use it as a cleaning station, stopping in to visit reef-dwelling cleaner fish for a quick touch up! There were huge Bull Rays resting on the bed of the sea, totally disinterested in the divers making their way respectfully around them. However, if you excuse the pun we were after bigger fish and right at the end of our dive we were rewarded with a Manta Ray!
Distinguishable from other Rays by their cephalic lobes (protuding structures on either side of their face) and thankfully their lack of poisonous sting, the Manta Ray’s habit of approaching divers suggest they are often as interested in us as we are in them. They can grow to 25 feet in length, the one we saw definitely wasn’t that big, but it was mindblowing watching the majestic Ray make it’s unhurried way past us. Again, our second dive was disappointing in that we couldn’t see a huge amount around us, a lot of sediment had been kicked up due to the rain the previous day. We did catch a glimpse of a Leopard Shark though!
We were pretty exhausted when we got back to the hostel, but the lady on the front desk (who’s name we have since forgotten. Poor effort.) had recommended making the trip down to Point Lookout. We hadn’t given ourselves long in Straddie, which in hindsight was a mistake, as the idyllic calm and friendly ambience was the perfect antidote to the claustrophobia we were beginning to develop after so many heaving cities. We had only given ourselves the one full day there and that was taken up by diving, so we decided to make an early start the following morning and take the walk to the Lookout before heading out.
We were glad we did, on the way down we spotted our first wild Roos in the woodland! Foraging for food, they definitely weren’t quite as comfortable with us being in the vicinity as the ones at Currumbin and Australia Zoo so we left them to it. The lady from Manta Lodge also had one more suggestion for us; Koalas had been spotted on a quiet residential street just off the walk down to the town a couple of days before, so we thought we would pop in and see if we could spot any.
Success! Once again, the little guy was quite wary of us and watchful, so we didn’t want to get too close, but there is something very special, and a little more real about seeing the animals naturally in the wild, rather than at a zoo or sanctuary.
The walk round Point Lookout was immaculate, and complimented the islands peaceful, unspoilt vibe. There were a fair few people taking the walk, locals and tourists alike, and everyone had a smile and greeting for those who passed them.
We returned to the hostel relaxed and rejuvenated, with Straddie being the perfect wind-down to a hectic few weeks. Thankfully we were able to carry our newfound state of zen back to the mainland, with a much smoother journey off of the island than on!