Coastal fortress, quarantine and a historic prison—discover the heritage parks of Moreton Bay!
Issued: 3 Jun

Did you know you can experience echoes of our colonial past within a stone’s throw of our capital city? Living history on our very doorstep!

Photo credit: Steve Browne © Queensland Government

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Did you know you can experience echoes of our colonial past within a stone’s throw of our capital city? Living history on our very doorstep!

At the little-known heritage-rich national parks of Moreton Bay—Fort Lytton and St Helena Island—you can explore a nineteenth century fortress surrounded by a water-filled moat (sadly, no drawbridge!), and discover ‘disappearing’ guns, tunnels and passageways.

You can also walk amongst the buildings from Lytton Quarantine Station and check out the Visitor Centre in the old laundry. Explore on your own or take a guided tour—the choice is yours. Either way, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover a novel way to spend a free Sunday.

Hidden fortress waiting to be discovered

Ruins of buildings sit in green grassy surrounds.Fort Lytton National Park ruins | © Tourism and Events Queensland

Discover a slice of history concealed behind grassy embankments at the mouth of the Brisbane River. The scenic Fort Lytton is hidden behind a moat, surrounded by grass. The Lytton Quarantine Station buildings tell their own story of early quarantining in Queensland. A visit makes for a fun-filled day trip with a difference, for all the family—oldies and young ‘uns alike.

Fort Lytton was built to defend Brisbane, and was also a major training ground up until the end of WWII. Spectacular military manoeuvres and ceremonial displays attracted much interest from the locals.

Among the fort structures you’ll find search light and gun emplacements. Built in 1881 during the days of the British Empire to protect Brisbane from invasion, the fort’s armaments are impressive.

Discover the cannons (64 pounder guns, technically) and the ‘disappearing gun’ (or 6-inch 5-ton breach-loading Armstrong) that could be raised to fire above the fort’s ramparts then lowered again. Then, venture through the tunnel to the Engine Room which housed the generators, crucial to the operation of the Fort.

The fort is open every Sunday (and most public holidays) between 10am and 4pm, and entry is free. Bring a picnic to enjoy after an eventful morning’s exploration. Fort Lytton makes a great day visit for your extended family—grandparents and grandkids alike will enjoy this experience.

History comes alive

Image of historic 64 pounder gun in green surrounds.Entrance to Fort Lytton | © Niels Juel

Forget the (boring) history books—at Fort Lytton history truly does come alive in many fun and exciting ways!

  • Join the fort’s free guided tours on Sundays and public holidays to hear the stories that make this place special.
  • Immerse the kids in the drama and fun of the unique ‘Holding the Fort’ holiday programs run by professional actors. What better way to learn about history in a real-life setting?
  • Step back in time to WWI with ‘Fort Lytton at night’, a live theatrical tour and performance that tells a lost story from the Great War, an unforgettable historical journey.

The ‘Go Back in Time’ program for these activities is affected by COVID-19 so make sure you regularly check what's on and book early, details below!

Queensland’s only prison island

Ruins of two building set in grassy green area under a cloudy sky.St Helena Island, prison buildings | © Queensland Government

When you visit St Helena Island these days, you know you can go home again. But, in the late 1800s, the island was Queensland’s high security prison, and the ‘guests’ of Her Majesty Queen Victoria were going nowhere! St Helena was a ‘model’ prison—security was tight and escapes were few.

Things are more relaxed today. If you arrive in your own boat, you can explore part of the island on your own, following short walking tracks to the old quarry, lime kiln and cemeteries, then enjoy a picnic on the island’s scenic shores. As you gaze over the idyllic surrounds, muse over the fate of those long-ago prisoners—they had to clear the native vegetation, plant crops and construct buildings, quarrying claystone and making lime. They also made uniforms, saddles and other items which were sold to make the prison profitable.

Access to the stockade area is restricted. You can explore it by booking with one of the tour operators. If you have your own boat, you can join a ranger-guided tour, held when rangers are available. You’ll tour the museum, prison stockade and sugar mill. and hear fascinating stories from the island’s past. This program may be affected by COVID-19 so make sure you check regularly what's on, details below! Bookings are essential.

Now you just have to visit!

Stone ruins set against grassy backdrop with school group in backgroundSt Helena Island National Park | © Tourism and Events Queensland

Learn more about each heritage park:

Find out more about guided tours, special events and holiday programs in our Go back in time program. And always check Park Alerts before you go.