If luxury to you is a remote bush meets beach holiday destination that's blessed with abundant natural beauty, loads of sunshine and few people, Moreton Island offers all that and more.
So where can you find this Australian paradise isle? Its location is part of its allure because you don't have to travel to the tropical Far North, rugged South or remote West as you might expect. Moreton Island lies on the Queensland capital's sub-tropical doorstep - a 75-minute catamaran cruise away or a mere 25 minutes by chartered helicopter.
International visitors to the region may be more familiar with stunning Fraser Island - 3.5 hours further north of Brisbane on Queensland's Cooloola Coast - renowned as the largest sand island in the world. But some may argue that the island's beauty and tranquillity has been overexposed and is now being is being somewhat spoiled by the growing numbers of visitors, who come to spot the island's unique community of wild dingoes, or take a dip in the crystal clear waterholes in the interior. Indeed, on a summer's day Lake McKenzie can resemble Sydney's Bondi Beach with barely a skerrick of its fine white sand not covered by a towel. Spoiling it for other pleasure seekers are the swarms of young backpackers - inexperienced four wheel drivers/cowboys - who occasionally delight in playing chicken on its kilometres of uncrowded beaches.
Incredibly Moreton Island (a smaller version of Fraser) has managed to keep its serenity intact (but perhaps not for long, thanks to your tell-all TLTB correspondent).
I confess I've been in on one of Australia's best kept secrets for a while as I am lucky enough to share the same Moreton Bay address. But while I've leisurely fished and sailed the surrounding blue waters on small runabouts and luxury yachts, and sunbathed on its inhabited western beaches I hadn't really explored it all properly - until an invitation arrived from Jeep Australia, to test drive its latest model Grand Cherokee there.
Not only did it have to be visually spectacular but provide the right driving conditions.
The setting was important. Not only did it have to be visually spectacular but provide the right driving conditions. As the second largest sand island in the world there are no proper roads on Moreton. And that was the point - to experience the newly refined comforts of the award-winning SUV beyond the smooth sealed urban thoroughfares and (while we were at it) celebrate the arrival in Australia of the fuel efficient 3.0 litre V6 turbo diesel version. They didn't have to ask twice!
Stretching 35 kilometres long and 13 kilometres wide, over 95 per cent of the island is national park - making this island getaway ideal for avid off-roaders (permits are required). To conserve the island's natural assets, narrow trails through the interior bushland linking both sides of the island have been cleared but you still need know how to navigate in the soft sand, negotiate fresh water creeks, rocky outcrops and the occasional steep hill descents. Might I add that despite my limited off-road experience this all proved a cinch in the Grand Cherokee with its Selec-Terrain feature and Quadra-Lift air suspension (which varies the vehicle's height by more than 100mm at the push of button and which the makers point out allows you to 'tackle anything from a short skirt arrival to a boulder strewn trail'. Nice).
And while we're on the subject... I'm highly unqualified to talk about 'diff' and' torque' and those other terms that arouse Top Gear's most ardent fans, but as a cultivated woman I can appreciate good style, form and function and was especially impressed by the Grand Cherokee's well crafted and spacious interiors. The Independent suspension was helped by soft leather seats which proved super comfy on the bumps. The wide use of leather trim and real wood along the instrument panel and steering wheel and the smooth river-stone feel of touch points on the doors, consoles and armrests as well as French seam stitching on the dash and aircraft inspired LED lighting created a genuine sense of luxury. I also love the fact that everything happens with a push of a button - even the engine. Then there's those clever and convenient features like shopping bag clips in the rear, reversing camera, sun roof (to enjoy Queensland's good weather), rear door sensors, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, automatic wipers, MP3 and Sat Nav tools (they have been known to save marriages), reclining rear seats, power liftgate, abundant coffee cup holders, heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats with lumbar adjusters and memory features. It does everything but cook a Sunday roast. Need I go on?
Okay, okay, so I'm obviously a soft touch when it comes to such things? But what else can you expect from Chrysler's German-born Head of Design Klaus Busse, who joined the American car company in 2005 after 10 years with Mercedes Benz Design. The re-energised Detroit-based car manufacturer seems determined to give its competitors in the premium car industry a serious run for its money offering this luxury vehicle from A$45,000 for a petrol model or A$50,000 for diesel.
If you're lucky enough to own one of these off-road toys you can ferry it over on from Brisbane on the MICAT which carries up to 42 vehicles and 400 passengers. If you're not, you can always hire a 4WD or take a guided 4WD tour - which can include sand tobogganing on some of Australia's largest sand dunes around - a thrill for any child (in mind and body) tagging along. Quad Bike Tours offer another exhilarating way to see the island while snorkelling/diving along around the rusting hulls of the old whaling ships that once ferried their cargo to the whaling station at Tangalooma, is a must-do. The Moreton Bay Marine Park and surrounding sea is home to an extensive array of marine life, including dugongs, turtles, and dolphins. Those staying overnight can be lucky enough to feed a pod of wild dolphins which return to the same spot in front of the island's Tangalooma resort every evening. During the mild winter months (June to October) migrating humpback whales can often be spotted from shore. The end of my Jeep adventure was delightfully delayed as our shiny convoy was treated to a lengthy display of tail slapping just beyond the breakers.
Fishing and camping are other popular island pastimes but if you're not that much of an avid outdoorsman/woman the island's Deep Blue absolute beachfront two-, three- and four-bedroom fully self-contained and air conditioned apartments - part of the Tangalooma resort on the protected western side - and wide choice of luxurious holiday houses on the hill, or at the small communities of Bulwer, Cowan Cowan and Kooringal - all provide somewhere civilised to crash after cocktail hour.
Debbie Neilson-Hunter 28/8/11