I return from weekend kayaking breaks as though I’ve been away for weeks, not merely one night camped on a beach. I’m conscious of grinding as I force my gears back into workaday routines.

Where does this sense of expanded time come from? Is it any more than being an active part of every fat moment?

It is nothing to do with the bare facts: 10 of us—four in single sea kayaks and six in doubles—departed from Cabbage Tree Point, near Jacob’s Well, at about 9 on a Saturday morning in the subtropical summer, paddled the channels of southern Moreton Bay, crossed the main channel, known as The Broadwater, to South Stradbroke Island, set up camp at The Bedroom, and watched the full moon rise as we shared stories and wine. On Sunday, we did most of it in reverse, arriving at Cabbage Tree Point in time for lunch.

This is a trip we have made several times. Once the kayaks are packed, we decide on which of the many routes we will take along channels and over mudbanks sunk beneath the full-moon high tide. We paddle off, higgledy piggledy, keeping at least one other kayaker in sight, and after an hour or so, come through the Mosquito Islands and gather under the scant and wonderful shade thrown by a venerable mangrove in the lee of Cobby Cobby Island.

old magrove Cobby Cobby Island Moreton Bay

Venerable mangrove, Cobby Cobby Island

This trip, we’re there at high tide. I dally, drifting over the mangrove leaves and branches that take on shape and colour as they emerge from the milky depths. It looks magical, and I want to be able to dive in, bud gills and fins, and explore the submerged world. In a few hours, these mangroves will have returned to the element of air.

Mangrove partly submerged at high tide

We head generally east. Dip, pull, release. Dip, pull, release. My body and mind settle into the rhythm of paddling, observing what we glide by: trees, water, birds, an occasional fish that arcs silvery through the air. Sometimes turtles coming up for air. If we’re in shallow water, we might frighten stingrays, which levitate out of the sand and flip away.

Kayakers pulled in on small low island to rest Moreton Bay

We pulled into an island for a snack … for us and for the juvenile prawns that nibbled our toes

I  smile to see Marilyn and Rachael, who share a kayak, chewing gum in rhythm with their paddling. Over the trees comes the racket of dozens of sleek motor boats tearing along The Broadwater at full throttle, and I am thankful for the relative peace of the channels we use, which are too shallow or strewn with banks for them. A few fishers putter by in tinnies, dropping a line, or pulling up crab pots. The heat is too heavy to use more energy than I have to. We gather near the eastern tip of Kangaroo (or Boonnahbah) Island to judge the best point and angle to cross the main channel. The tide is falling fast now, sucking the waters out to the open ocean through Jumpinpin bar and creating turbulence that we have to avoid. We also have to avoid the squads of motor boats and jet skis that crowd the main channel.

We all paddle hard across the current, angling sharply south of our destination, and beaching with precision right at The Bedroom, on the southern bank of Jumpinpin bar. We set up camp on a bed of sand and casuarina needles. It’s lovely. And still, almost airless, behind a dune that protects us from the Pacific Ocean and the sea breeze. The protection is welcome not just to us: we slap at hordes of sandflies during the day, and mozzies as darkness falls.

Camp site under casuarinas South Stradbroke Island Moreton Bay

Camping among the shady casuarinas at The Bedroom

In the last of the afternoon, with perfect (some might say practised) timing, we lug snacks and wine, stoves and the makings of dinner, and stories up onto the dune to watch the sun set over the bay and, minutes later, a full moon rise burnished out of the sea. The beauty of the night fills all of us.

Last light on the southern bank near Jumpinpin bar, Queensland

On Sunday morning, we set off towards the mainland. Dip, pull, release, this time working against the current. We pause occasionally in some shade (blessed shade!). The tide is high and most of the mudflats under water, so we use our hands to anchor ourselves to tree branches.

These low-lying islands and banks of the southern bay look so definite on the boating map, strong green, yellow and brown against the solid blue of water. At water level among them, the boundaries blur and it’s as much a place of the imagination as of the physical world. Every trip here is different, and I enter a spell in which I wonder, half seriously, if I lost myself in the shifting maze what world I might emerge into.

Then the infernal noise of a boat motor rips over the top of the islets and I remember we are only 40 minutes’ paddle to Cabbage Tree Point, and fish and chips for lunch.