Given that previous entries in this series have focused on entire states, it may seem a bit odd to dedicate an entire article to one small island off the Queensland coast where we only spent three days. But Fraser is a very special island, and I believe you will agree, entirely worthy of it’s own piece.
Some quick geography for you. Fraser Island is located just off (literally about 500 metres) the Queensland coast, some 300km north of Brisbane. It is 120km long, 24km wide, and it is the largest sand island in the world. Yes folks, it’s just one giant sandbar.
This presents some issues to the traveller. For starters, the entire island is four wheel drive only, because the entire island is sand. The main “road” (which doubles as a runway for the scenic flights) is the beach on the east coast, which stretches up the majority of the island. Interior tracks exist to get you to some of the interior highlights (more on those later), these are seriously deep sandy trails. This article, in fact, would happily fit into the off-road in Oz theme.
There are some differences however. Fraser, whilst harder to get to on your own wheels (unless you have a 4WD), certainly has no shortage of tour operators running trips. Which is good news if you want to get out there and see the place without buying your own vehicle. You can also hire a 4WD just for the trip, but do take care if you are not an experienced off-road driver. Rules of the road apply on the beaches, and there are police patrols who enforce the islands speed limits (80km/h on the beach, 40km/h on the interior tracks).
If you are doing the trip on your own, you just need to get the ferry (and a permit to visit the island, from the rangers office), which takes you from one sandy beach point to another. 4WD tip – deflate your tyres before setting off across the beach to the ferry.
So, enough about all that, what is the point of visiting Fraser? All of these roaming backpackers and tours, what is the lure? Well, Fraser is, in a word, stunning. As soon as you arrive onto the island, and start driving up the beach, the place just feels magical. The surf crashes on one side, the sand dunes give way to tropical rainforests on the other. There is nothing quite like driving along the beach, gulls screeching in indignation, to get you in the mood for enjoying Fraser.
There are a number of absolute must-sees when visiting the island, top most at this list being a visit to one of the islands lakes. A giant sand bar may not seem to be the most logical place for lakes to form, but Fraser has over one hundred, and they are particularly special. Known as “perched” lakes, the fresh water is prevented from draining away by compacted sand and vegetable matter.
It is some of the cleanest lake water in the world, and it is absolutely clear. We visited perhaps the most popular of the lakes, Lake McKenzie, where pure white sand meets turquoise water. In fact it is hard to believe you are not on a tropical seashore. Certain parts of the beach were absolutely stuffed to the gills with tour groups, but the end we were at, just around the corner from all of this, just had us on it. We could have been all alone in the world.
Beyond the lakes is a lush tropical rainforest, just perfect for a bit of hiking. We did an 18km loop, which included the stop over at Lake McKenzie, which was wonderful. Interior hikes don’t seem to be at the top of the tour groups to-do lists, so for the majority of the time you are walking alone, with just the green canopy and bird song for company.
There are other highlights that must be visited. Eli Creek is Fraser Islands largest freshwater “river”, pouring 80 million litres of water into the sea everyday. This water takes hundreds of years to filter through the sand dunes into a giant aquifier, and is bloody freezing when it emerges into the light of day, to flow into the ocean. A refreshing spot for a dip.
Further along the coast from Eli Creek is the wreck of the Maheno, a former Edwardian liner which wrecked on Fraser Island in 1935, as it was being towed to Japan to be scrapped. The ship has sat forlornly on the beach ever since, getting rustier and more barnacle covered with every passing year. It’s a great spot for photography, the mix of rusted metal shapes, pure white sand and azure ocean may capture you for hours.
If astounding views are more your thing, then driving further along the 75 mile beach to the Indian Head headland will be for you. Named by Captain Cook in 1770, this raised rocky spot offers superb views along the 75 mile beach in one direction, and the rest of the northern part of the island in the other, with the fabulous lushly green interior to your back and the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean providing the soundtrack.
We spent three nights in total on Fraser, which was enough to see some of the highlights and get a feel for the place, but honestly, we could have stayed for much longer.
There are a number of accommodation options, ranging from the luxury, through to the backpacker, through to the do it yourself camping on the beach behind the first line of dunes. Being on a serious budget meant that we opted for the latter option, which was, in my opinion, by far the best. We were far away from the madding crowds, usually having no-one else anywhere near us, with just the glorious night skies, crashing surf and moonlit sands for company. Oh and the dingoes, the Australian wild dog that exists on Fraser in perhaps it’s purest form, unfettered by cross breeding.
If you are visiting Australia, you will meet people who have been to Fraser Island. They will no doubt wax lyrically about it. There will come a point where you will start to believe that it can’t be as good as everyone says it is. I certainly was at that point before we went. Luckily, it is exactly as good as everyone says it is, if not better. I cannot recommend it enough.