It's often disappointing for newcomers to Brisbane to find that there are no golden-sand beaches a short hop away. Tidal mud flats and mangrove swamps are not what we Europeans have been led to expect of the Aussie seaside experience.
You have to drive north or south of the city for 45 minutes or so, or sail to the ocean sides of the larger islands in Moreton Bay if it's sand or surf you're after. I have grown to love a few places on the Bay over the last year, however; and Cleveland Point is one of them. I've been there in all weathers; high tide and low tide; night and day. I have come to appreciate this mangrove coast: I love the Moreton Bay islands, dotted about large and small, some with giant, almost snowy-looking, sand features visible even from the top of Mt Coot-tha west of Brisbane; and the huge cranes of Brisbane's container port, like something out of War of the Worlds, on the horizon to the north.
Cleveland Point is a narrow peninsula jutting out into Moreton Bay. It was the site of one of Queensland's earliest European settlements, established when Brisbane was still just a penal colony. Cleveland grew as a port, being highly dependent on supplies and transportation by boat, and later, when Brisbane's future as a port looked doubtful because of sandbars at the entrance to its river, Cleveland's destiny as Moreton Bay's major harbour seemed more likely. It was not to be, however, despite the construction in 1864 of a rather unusual weather-boarded, hexagonal lighthouse to aid safe navigation of big tides, shifting sand and mud bars, and rocks in the Bay.
The lighthouse functioned until it was replaced by a beacon atop prefabricated concrete columns in 1976. During its history, the second keeper, one James Troy, held the post from 1877 until 1927, the longest-serving keeper at one lighthouse on record in Australia. The old lighthouse has recently been substantially renovated and looks very smart, accompanied by its Norfolk Island Pine. The beacon was removed in 2009 to allow for a film set for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to be constructed. The Cleveland Point Reserve continues to be improved – with a shelter, toilets and information panels. At the time of writing, it hasn't yet been decided whether or not the beacon will be reinstated, but surely it's a safety issue?
Cleveland Point is a place to stand and stare at Moreton Bay, beachcomb – there are lots of coral fragments (but leave them where they are) – birdwatch, and study mangroves, which are fascinating. They are medium-sized trees or shrubs that grow in saline soils or saltwater along coastal fringes and in estuaries where a lot of sediment is deposited, in subtropical and tropical regions of the world. Their extensive root systems help trap sediments and slow tidal flow. They thus help to 'construct' the coastal environment and prevent erosion. There are people who argue that, had extensive mangroves along the Queensland coast not been cleared to make way for development, the region would be at less risk of flooding from storm surges.
Some species of mangrove have aerial (or aerating) roots, known as pneumatophores, which stick up through the soil rather like snorkels and enable them to access oxygen. They make for a curious shoreline (below). Mangroves deal with salt by their roots filtering out sodium salts so that most don't reach the rest of the plant. Those salts that do reach shoots accumulate in old leaves which are then shed. Other mangrove species secrete salt through salt glands on their leaves – and you can taste it if you touch the undersides of the leaves. Another talent in the mangrove repertoire is turning their leaves so they're less full-on to the sun, reducing evaporation, fresh water being limited to tropical rainstorms. They are also able to regulate the amount of transpiration through pores in their leaves. Clever plants, mangroves, if a bit smelly*.
If you're feeling peckish, The Lighthouse restaurant and cafe offers an extensive sit-down fish menu, takeaway fish 'n' chips, and a cafe for snacks, teas and gelatos. You can sit practically in the ocean and take in one of the best views up and down bayside.
At Cleveland Point you will always be able, especially at low tide, to watch crabs scrabbling over stones, and seabirds such as cormorants or pelicans poking about, or Darters drying their wings (below). Even if the tide is in, you may see a stand-off between a Masked Lapwing and a Bush Stone-curlew beneath the Norfolk Island Pines.
It's an hour-long (round-trip) escape to the coast from East Brisbane if you need a breath of sea air to blow the cobwebs away. Try it – it will grow on you, too, you'll see.
* relatively still water and a lack of oxygen encourages decomposition