Beach at low tide
Pebbly beach
Forest to the beach
Intertidal plant
Mudcrab claw
Pebbles meet mud
View from north cape


Circumnavigating Big Woody Island

Coral reefs around Big Woody Island


Big Woody Island (Tooliewah)

Big Woody Island (Tooliewah) is located in the sheltered waters between the coast of south east Queensland and Fraser Island. About 8 km long and no wider than 1.5 km at its widest the island is, as its name suggests, well covered by forest. In contrast to Big Woody's famous neighbour, Fraser Island, it is not composed of sand. Its substrate is a hard, red sedimentary rock which stains yellow when exposed to seawater to give the shore of the island its distinctive orange colour. The rocky composition gives it a more rugged landscape than similar-sized sand islands with a highest point at about 50 m and steep slopes along its east coast. From the west coast the rise upwards is more gradual. Lining much of the shore of Big Woody Island are rocky beaches composed of smooth red and yellow pebbles ranging in size from 2-15 cm. In most places forest grows down to the rocky shore and hardy mangroves sparsely colonise the wide pebbly beaches. The places where there are sandy beaches have casuarinas lining the dunes.

In only a few locations are there sandy beaches suitable for landing a sea kayak on Big Woody Island. Two sites that I've kayaked into and camped at are the south-facing beach at the north west of the island (25 deg 17.17' S, 152 deg 56.69' E) and the beach on the south east of the island (25 deg 18.92' S, 152 deg 59.24' E). Access to both sites is easiest closer to high tide. At low tide the NW site has large areas of sand flats exposed requiring you to lug your boat further and the SE site has exposed rocks at low tide. The sand on the island is coarse and littered with shell and coral rubble. Pleasant camp sites can be found in the shelter of the casuarinas just above the beach taking care that the sharp fruit of these trees doesn't puncture your sleeping mat through the lining of your tent.

A variety of shore birds feed on the exposed flats at low tide, including pied oystercatchers, curlews and egrets. Exploring the shore at low tide you will find several types of marine snails and in places oysters thickly cover the rocks. The island may be an important habitat for sea turtles due to the absence of dingos. Paddling around the island I saw several turtles and when I walked along the western shore of the island I found the remains of three separate turtles of quite different sizes.

Although relatively sheltered, the body of water between the mainland and Fraser Island, the Great Sandy Strait, it is not without hazards. In particular, when there are strong S to SE winds the strait, which is very shallow between Big Woody Island and the mainland, becomes quite choppy especially when combined with a rising (opposing) tide. In the absence of significant wind the tides become the main factor for sea kayakers with up to 3 kn currents being produced. In this part of the strait they run southward with the rising tide and northward with the falling tide.

Most of the shoreline of Big Woody Island can be walked especially at low tide when the rocky flats are exposed. These can be safely walked over with sturdy footwear but closer to high tide the rocky beaches are steeper, dotted with mangroves and harder to walk along.