Fraser Island: let your air down
October 28, 2018 • suzanne
7 min read
Have a squiz at the track record of any adventure-craving Aussie, and we’d bet Fraser Island gets a mention. With a bizarre combination of stomach-lurching 4WD tracks, fantastical lakes, monster dunes and eerie wrecks, you’ll need at least a week to uncover everything this crazy old pile of sand has to offer.
Like so many of Queensland’s natural attractions, Fraser Island is one of a kind. At a blip over 1800km², it’s bigger than any other sand island in the world. It’s also got a fair whack more going on than other sand islands – which for the most part are just that – sand. Fraser’s soils benefit from more nutrients than most, which allow it to support an otherwise improbable variety of ecosystems: rainforests, mangroves, coastal vegetation, more than 100 lakes, peat swamps, plus the many hundreds of resilient critters that call these environments home.
Fraser has been piling up 15km off the Queensland mainland for the past 750,000 years. It earned its English name from the sole survivor story of Eliza Fraser, who in 1836 was shipwrecked and marooned on the then-called “Great Sandy Island” before eventually being rescued. To the indigenous Butchulla people who have inhabited the island for possibly 50,000 years, it is known as K'gari, meaning ‘paradise’.
If, like so many others, your single motivation is the chance to see dingoes in the wild, be prepared to get a lot more than you bargained for. Among the highlights are: visiting the many, many lakes (some swarming with turtles, some with catfish, others with rollicking people), splashing about in dreamy crystal-clear creeks, driving the epic 75 Mile Beach Road which makes up a big slab of Fraser’s eastern side, bathing mermaid-like in effervescent tide pools, and if you’re not afraid to rough it, camping dune-side with the roar of the wild Pacific only metres from your tent door.
Flanked by a steep sand blow, Lake Wabby gets deep quick and is filled with inquisitive freshwater fish
To get to Fraser Island, you’ll need to jump on a car ferry from Hervey Bay, which usually takes around an hour. But first, it’s kind of important that you have or hire a 4WD, the latter of which can be done in Hervey Bay. Every rented vehicle going over to Fraser Island involves an hour-long safety induction, so in terms of travel time, you could be looking at a good half a day just to get there.
If you head over to Fraser without a 4WD, you’ll be limited to the delights of Kingfisher Bay’s resort: pool, massages, fine dining and lovely mainland views from the docks. Of course, you can always book in with a tour operator so you can see the sights while leaving the off-roading to someone else.
Fraser's inland tracks cut through dreamy rainforest
Besides a 4WD, you’ll need two things to self-drive Fraser Island safely. A map, and more importantly, a schedule of the tides, both of which will be readily available from the transport hubs. Seasoned off-roaders will find Fraser’s well-worn rainforest tracks and the immense 120km beach highway to be child’s play, but since it’s a beginner-appropriate kind of experience, it’s worth mentioning that beach driving can be a hazardous undertaking.
Our only mishap was ill-timed acceleration through an incoming wave, which resulted in spraying the fourby in salt water as seafoam frothed beneath us (something we were strictly told not to let happen - oops), but other noobs haven’t been so lucky. At best your car will end up full of rust, at worst you’ll have to bail and watch on as it’s taken by the sea. So yeah, tides. They’re a big deal here.
You’ll also need a permit if you’re camping, and reservations are a good idea if you plan on making use of any of the two island resorts. That said, we were able to make last-minute check-ins when a slump in morale required us to change plans… thanks, tent-flattening wind, sand in our driver’s eyeball, and the plague of bitey flies. (We were softer back then, you’ll be fine. Just pack insect repellent… and an eye bath.)
These few administrative tasks, your camping kit, and a stomach for the bumps aside, you can pretty much proceed however you want. Exploring Fraser Island is a ‘choose your own adventure’ kinda deal, but in case you want some inspo, we’ve selected a few of the highlights.
Pack your blow-ups to enjoy a peaceful float down kid-friendly Eli Creek
Exploring Fraser Island
Unsurprisingly, many of the best attractions are also the most popular. What is surprising though, given Fraser’s visitation numbers can exceed half a million a year, is that it’s quite possible to feel like you’re all alone depending on where and when you go. Aim to arrive at the crack of dawn and you’ll see many of sights people-free and in the best light!
Late-risers will still find that many of the must-sees, like the mesmerising Lake McKenzie, are big enough to be shared. Spend at least a couple of hours swimming in the bright blue water here, or better still, walk your kit in and camp overnight.
With white sand and crystal-blue water, Lake McKenzie is the jewel of Fraser Island
Lake Wabby’s 11m-deep bottle-green water pools between dense forest and an enormous, golden sand blow. The shifting dune will fill this amazing lake sooner rather than later, so stop here for a swim with its 12 species of slithery freshwater fish while you still can.
Mid-way up the beach highway you’ll find Eli Creek, which is the closest you’ll come to swimming ‘at the beach’. In stark contrast to the thunderous shark-infested waves pummeling the sand, the shallow, freshwater stream trickling gently into the sea is lilo heaven – ideal for the littlies.
Continuing north, stop off to marvel at the SS Maheno, Fraser Island’s (and perhaps all of Australia’s) most photographed shipwreck. The New Zealand vessel has been lodged here since 1935, slowly rusting away by the ebb and flow of waves, and is really quite the sight. Try to get there for sunrise.
Not far from here you’ll find further distraction in the striking sandstone cliffs known as the Pinnacles. The ancient layers of sunset-coloured stone are said to feature more than 70 different colours.
Make sure you align yourself with the tides so you can make it all the way up to Waddy Point, where you can relax in the salty bubbles of the Champagne tide pools before scouting out a place to beach camp for another night.
Leave late-risers snoozing in their tents to see the Maheno Wreck in its best light
Camping on Fraser island
There are over 30 camping areas scattered across Fraser Island, some of which are park-run campgrounds with dingo fencing, bathrooms, showers and facilities, while many are small informal campgrounds, designated areas of beach or bush set behind the dunes. There are even a few walk-in campsites if you’re after total seclusion.
As mentioned, you’ll need to get your camping permit in advance to avoid copping a fine. There’s a lot of campsites to choose from, but remember if you’re beach camping you won’t be able to light a fire and there won’t be any bathrooms. Dingo habituation is a bit of a problem on Fraser, so be mindful not to inadvertently encourage them by leaving food scraps lying around. As always, Leave No Trace applies.
Lake McKenzie offers awesome camping if you're prepared to walk your kit in
Get Out There
Fraser Island isn’t your typical island paradise; go there expecting to loll about in a crystal-blue palm-fringed lagoon and you’ll be in for a shock. Go there with an appetite for adventure, and you’ll go home with one of Queensland’s most unusual destinations seared into your memory – and a huge desire to go back!