Nestled in Moreton Bay, partially protected from the full onslaught of the South Pacific Ocean by North Stradbroke, Peel Island lies about 4km east of Cleveland and is fringed by sandy beaches at Horseshoe Bay and Platypus on its eastern side. Lined by mangroves on its northern, western and southern facing aspects, the island is ringed by a shallow reef, beds of sea grass and coral detritus.
Island celebration to a keen outdoorsman no longer here
Bypassed by ferries on its eastern side as they travel between Redland bay and Kooringal on Moreton, and from Cleveland to Dunwich on North Stradbroke, Peel has a rich and diverse history. Matthew Flinders is recorded as the first European to sight Peel in 1799. The island was named 'Peel' by colonists around 1824 after British 'statesman' Sir Robert Peel.
Initially a place of ceremonial celebration and ritual, Peel Island then served as a quarantine station for incoming ships, a place for 'inebriates' and was later proclaimed a leper station in 1907. A lazaret (leprosarium) was built to treat those suffering from leprosy (Hansens' Disease), ensuring their isolation and segregation from society – pretty harsh. Their travails and the history of the island are well documented by local author / historian Peter Ludlow.
The lazaret was closed in 1959 and the heritage listed island "in shark infested waters" remains a place of historical and cultural significance. In 2007, the island was proclaimed Teerk Roo Ra National Park and Conservation Park, meaning "Place of many shells" in the Quandamooka language. Home to four species of mangrove, abundant marine life, about 74 bird species and both agile and swamp wallabies, the island is a great place to enjoy outdoor activities - kayak, camp, swim, snorkel, fish, walk and explore.
Though restricted access applies to much of the island and the disused buildings of the lazaret, the park is patrolled by wardens with camping allowed at Platypus and Horseshoe bays – book on the National Parks site. There is a composting toilet facility at Horseshoe but no fresh running water or shower facilities - revel in warm, salty sea bathes in the calm, shallow bay waters. Over weekends, many boaties anchor in Horseshoe Bay, a good place to shelter from the north-westerlies; during low tide, boats moored too close to shore can become stranded until the high tide returns. Over good weather weekends, the Horseshoe bay is often congested, with peace only returning once the sun begins to sink and they head back to the mainland.
At low tide, explore the richly coloured red / ochre hues of weathered sandstone rock ledges that line the island between Horseshoe and Platypus bays. The rusted, partially submerged wreck of the Scottish built dredger "Platypus" lies just off the eastern point of the island, adjacent to the old stone causeway. Vis is sometimes not great but snorkelling around this area is often productive; beware of tidal currents and sharp, rusty edges around the wreck. Discover remnants of old buildings such as the weathered brick "cell block" near the bluff at Platypus.
Accessible from the mainland, Peel is a favourite kayaking and overnight destination – check the winds and launch with mates from Victoria Point going via Coochiemudlo, or Raby Bay and Cleveland Point, taking care to avoid the rocks; in calm waters the crossing is easier but be aware that conditions can change quickly and suitable kayaking skills are required to cope in rough weather. Spot turtles and dugongs, pass through seasonal, pulsating blooms of luminescent jelly fish on the move and be mindful of tidal flows which determine access into Horseshoe Bay. Referred to by a local kayaking club as the Free Republic of Kayakistan (not to be confused with the real entity on facebook), Peel / Teerk Roo Ra is well worth a visit.