Ecotourism extraordinaire in the world’s largest sand island.
So we wanted a getaway within THE Getaway.
And we wanted it to be close-by, and not be cold, and be extra beautiful. With these non-negotiables Fraser Island was a one-way street.
A relatively short drive from our Sunshine Coast location, the World Heritage Listed island sits at the start of the Great Barrier Reef and it is the world’s largest sand island. Consisting of uninterrupted sandy beaches, spectacular dune blowouts, tall rainforests, perched dune lakes, fast-flowing, crystal-clear creeks, coloured sand cliffs, banksia woodlands and more, it boasts outstanding examples of diverse ecosystems and is a rare and unique holiday destination.
Access to Fraser Island is through River Heads, near Harvey Bay, via a short (~30 min) ferry ride. The barge lands at the Jetty, directly leading you to the famous Kingfisher Bay Resort – the island’s main accommodation option. Other options include the more affordable Eurong Beach resort and after that it is camping.
Kingfisher Bay is a (much awarded) purpose-built ecotourism resort, designed to blend with the natural environment. It is like a nano-town on its own: it comprises of the hotel and an assortment of self-contained villas, bars, restaurants, cafes, a night club, tennis courts, water sports, spa, kids clubs, as well as a general store, gallery, 4WD hire and petrol station. The resort offers a daily program of guided walks, talks and 4WD tours as well as dolphin and whale watch cruises whenever applicable.
We arrived at noon and by the time we settled and scanned the premises it was time for sunset cocktails at the (aptly named) Sunset Bar. Then it was dinner and back to the room. A smoking veranda (it had great views AND you could smoke on it) allowed us to enjoy a final nightcap under the starriest sky I have ever witnessed. In the morning we set out for our 4 WD adventure. We saw several beautiful sites; what follows is my top of the tops.
Lake Mc Kenzie is by far the most famous lake of Fraser Island (there are many of them all around) and it is said to be the most beautiful. I cannot speak of the rest of them but McKenzie was spectacular, with its vivid blues and greens and its pure white silica sand. It is a perched lake, which means it contains only rainwater, it is not fed by streams and does not flow to the ocean. Despite arriving early (and it being winter) it was packed with people – the setting resembled a proper beach. McKenzie is in fact said to feature among the top places to swim in the world (a quick google search doesn’t support this claim!).
Subtropical rainforests can be found in the centre of the island. What is unique about them, and the local vegetation in general, is that everything grows on sand, at the world’s highest elevations over 200m. The dominant trees are the Fraser Island Satinay and Brush Box. They are centuries old and home to the living fossil Staghorn ferns, the beauty of which is out of this world. Pile Valley in Central Station, Fraser Island’s ranger information centre, felt like a set from “Game of Thrones”.
Fraser Island is World Heritage listed by UNESCO in recognition of its natural values. It has specifically been listed for its “exceptional natural beauty” and it is hard to argue this. Driving along its coastline and walking through its various sites we were bombarded with images of striking, unforgettable beauty. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
The island has an extensive range of habitats and is home to an array of native animals, many of which are rare or vulnerable. There are ~47 species of mammals and some 354 recorded bird species. It is also home to 79 species of reptiles, including 19 kinds of snakes (fortunately we didn’t run into any). We spotted hundreds of birds on 75 Mile Beach, both flying and stationary. It was beautiful to see them up-close, at ease with the environment, ignoring us while enjoying their day.
The dingos of Fraser Island (originally named “Wongari” by indigenous people) are one of the purest strains of dingo surviving today and some of eastern Australia’s last wild dingos. Allegedly they are very dangerous and it is advised to follow a certain etiquette with them (see below, “Fraser Island rules”). We were lucky to run into one while driving through Happy Valley. We stopped and photographed it (from inside the car) and it looked benign, minding its own business. We opted to stick to the rules and not take chances despite it looking extra cute and deserving of a petting.
Fraser Island is strictly 4-wheel-driving territory. Seventy-Five Mile Beach is an actual beach highway that runs up the surf side of the island. Cars share the highway with planes making joy flights. Driving conditions vary with weather and tides but all normal road rules apply; the speed limit is 80 kilometres (35km on inland roads) and you must give way to aeroplanes landing and taking off! Despite its wild beauty, it is sadly not advised to swim at the sea: the strong undertow and abundance of sharks make it unsafe.
The SS Maheno is the most famous of Fraser Island’s wrecks. Built in 1905, it was one of the first turbine-driven steamers and one of the fastest ships of its time. In 1935 a cyclonic storm claimed it and it drifted helplessly upon the shore of Fraser Island, where it lies today. Attempts to rescue it were futile and eventually it became a landmark attraction. It is already impressive with its 2 decks rustling on the beach – imagine there are another 5 decks buried below the sand. And yes, it is a killer background for selfies & pictures of all kinds.
The Pinnacles is a spectacle of sand towers and spires comprising 72 different colours. The immense sand blows and cliffs of coloured sands are part of the longest and most complete age sequence of coastal dune systems in the world and they are still evolving. I must say reading about the 72 colours of sand in sculptural formations had me a lot more excited than actually seeing them (as a visual artist I had lifted my expectations a tad too high). They remain nonetheless a miracle of nature and I am happy to have seen them.
We booked our 4WD from Aussie Trax, an adventure travel company that caters for Fraser Island’s driving needs. Before giving us the keys they made us watch a 30 minute video to familiarise ourselves with the basics of driving in the island’s conditions. Our first thought was “ugh” and we were planning to pretend-watch it and get it over with. It turned out to be extremely interesting, educational and clearly essential to get through the day. After that they provided us with recommended routes, a cheat sheet of tips covering all possible scenarios and plan Bs and Cs in case things really go south. Luckily nothing did and we had a blast. It is a daunting drive but it makes for an unforgettable experience.
FRASER ISLAND RULES:
- Protect Native Animals (no feeding, no touching, no approaching and also, no domestic animals are permitted on the island)
- Care For the Waterways (Keep lakes and creeks clean)
- Be Forest Friendly (care for plants and trees, be careful with your waste)
- Keep On The Track (adhere to normal road rules)
- Be Dingo Smart (don’t feed them, don’t encourage their attention, watch them quietly, stay calm, walk in small groups)
Take with you only photographs and happy memories. Leave only footprints.
The 2-day getaway was not enough to explore the island in its entirety – it was more than enough to determine what a special place it is though. I doubt that I will ever return but if I do I look forward to discovering the rest of it.
Butchulla, the indigenous people of Fraser Island, traditionally called it “K’gari“, which means paradise – I think they were on to something.