Heritage listed since 1992, Fraser Island is about 120km long and 24km wide. It’s the largest sand island in the world, and the largest island on the east coast of Australia. The island was made over the last 750,000 years by sand accumulating on a volcanic bedrock that acted as a catchment for the sediment. The island is covered in various landscapes, from bare dunes and coastal grassland to eucalyptus woods and rainforests. The reason why so many plants can grow in sand is because of a naturally occurring fungus in the sand that releases nutrients which are absorbed by the plants.
The island was named after Eliza Fraser, wife of Captain James Fraser who was sailing the Queensland Coast in 1836. When their ship struck a reef, they made for the great sand island and Eliza was captured by aborigines. She was rescued six weeks later. The traditional name is K’Gari, which means paradise.
You will most likely see dingoes lingering on the beach. These dingoes have the reputation of being the last pure dingoes in Australia. They used to be quite common but their numbers decreased considerably after a tragedy in 2001 when a boy wandered away from his family’s camp and was attacked and killed by a pack of dingoes. Over 120 dingoes were killed in retaliation for this and since then, the dingo population on the island has been strictly managed.
Other than dingoes, you will see plenty of tour buses and tag along 4WD groups. While the 4WD groups aren’t that bad, try to steer clear of the big tour buses because the drivers are jerks.
Our day started slowly as we had spent the night with a hospitable legend from the Troopcarriers of Australia facebook page. Not only was it great to meet Rodney, but he introduced us to two of his friends, Rob and Leith, who had just embarked on a year long trip around Australia. We swapped stories all night and during breakfast, and it was great to see another couple excited about what was ahead.
We finally got our shit together at around 10am and booked our barge ride from River Heads over to the island ($95 one way off peak), as well as our camping permits ($11.50 per night) and vehicle permit ($45). By the time we were sorted, we had 50 minutes to have a quick whiz around Hervey Bay, stop in at the supermarket for some supplies and get down to River Heads for the barge.
The 50 minute ride over the strait to the island was pleasant. There was a bar on board and a viewing deck just in case some dolphins wanted to come out to play. We disembarked the barge and rolled along a jetty to Kingfisher Bay, a resort village.
As soon as the sandy tracks began, we put the Troopy into 4WD and plodded along towards Lake Mackenzie. The track weaves through forests of varying density, some with ferns, palms and vines, and oscillates between relatively smooth to so bumpy it was as if the Troopy was bouncing on gangster hydraulics.
Lake Mackenzie is one of the most popular places on the island and is a lake full of clear and beautifully blue fresh water, with shores of white fine sand of near pure silica. We had a quick dip before realising we had a long way to go before dark.
We made it to 75 Mile Beach on the east coast of Fraser Island just before the beginning of sunset. 75 Mile Beach is a national highway and there are several sections that are reserved for planes. The tide was up and the sand was soft so we dropped our tyre pressure down to 22psi.
Because we were racing the sun to get to camp, we cruised past the Maheno Wreck and managed to get to Dundabara just as it got dark. The whole camp ground was fenced off and the entrance was an electrified grid to keep the dingoes out.
We got up nice and early to cover as much of the island as we could. The condition of 75 Mile Beach was a big improvement from the night before. The low tide meant we had more wet sand to drive on and we even got up to 80kph.
Our first stop was the Champagne Pools – if it wasn’t so cold and windy, we could have stayed here all day. The rock pools were a striking turquoise colour, but the shallow parts were coloured peach by the sand. Every time a big wave crashed over the rock, foam would cover the water. It was beautiful. Make sure you bring your snorkel so you can see the colourful little fish in the pools, and don’t miss the brilliant view of the beach and Indian Head from the lookout on the cliffs above.
It was time to start heading south and the wind was blowing hard by the time we got to the Pinnacles – a haze on the sand was swirling around our feet. We had a quick look at the colourful sand cliffs and kept moving.
The most anticipated stop on our journey south was the Maheno Wreck. This is one of the best landmarks on Fraser Island, and is the rusty skeleton of the SS Maheno, which got beached on Fraser Island in 1935 because of a strong cyclone.
Before heading back to the lakes, we did a quick walk through the Kirra Sandblow and marvelled at the massive dunes and different coloured sands.
Before going back to Lake Makenzie for another dip, we stopped by the Lake Wabby lookout. Lake Wabby is the deepest lake on the island, and the least acidic, making it home to the largest range of fish species on the island.
We stopped in at Central Station and did a quick walk along Wanggoolba Creek. It’s amazing how different the plants are in this section of the island. Massive pine trees stand around the old settlement, adorned with huge epiphytes that look like giant heads of lettuce. Down by the crystal clear creek, the rainforest is super green – everything that isn’t already green is covered in green moss and lichen.
Further south, we stopped by Lake Birrabeen but it was late in the day and the lake was cast in shadow, making it grey and drab, with foam lapping on the shore. With the sun setting, we arrived at Lake Boomanjin and quickly decided to spend the night here instead of back on the beach. We simply didn’t want to set up in the dark again. We went down to the lake at both sunrise and sunset and were treated with gorgeous smears of colours on the water.
Our departure from Fraser Island would be from the south via the Mantaray Barge. We heard a rumour that the beach to the barge was impassable at high tide and by the time we got there, it was on its way down. We waited by the mouth of a small creek for the tide to come down, and watched the stained water from the creek mix with the salt water on the beach.
Soon enough, we were able to get to the barge waiting area, boarded the barge and paid the $75 one way ticket back to the mainland. The barge runs on demand and there were plenty of cars on the other side who wanted to get across to the island and start their Fraser Island adventure.