As my small plane approaches the world’s largest sand island and one of the very few places in Australia you can land an aircraft on the beach, I watch white waves race toward a wide stretch of sand. A 4WD cruises beneath us, along a 120-kilometre-long beach officially designated as a highway. I spot campers wandering out of tents they’ve pitched in the dunes. Behind them, swathes of rainforest are interrupted by more than 100 freshwater lakes.
This is K’gari, 166,000 hectares of sand off the Fraser Coast in Queensland. Unseen from my window are the myriad walking trails that weave from south to north where, if you are lucky, you will spot wongari, the last of Australia’s pure-bred dingo population, or the tracks from green turtles, returning home every nesting season.
Summer is the most popular time to visit World Heritage-listed Fraser. Despite the 2020/2021 season being marred by bushfires that charred the landscape and kept tourists away for a month, the island is quickly regenerating and visitors have returned.
Through the efforts of the pilots of water-bombing aircraft who worked around the clock, supported by crews on the ground, and nature bringing late-season rains, the fires were stopped at the mid-point of the island. The major icons drawing thousands each year, like the rainforests of Central Station and Pile Valley, the resorts, the southern lakes including Lake McKenzie, and the beachfront campgrounds were unscathed and are back to their pristine best.
To celebrate K’gari’s resilience, here are five reasons you should visit this year.
One of the biggest drawcards to Fraser is the awesome network of 4WD tracks that snake from the forests to the beaches. The island is only accessible by 4WD, making it an adventure playground (vehicle access permits required). If you don’t own a 4WD, you can hire one in Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach, sign up to a driving course, or join a tour (Kingfisher Bay Resort has great coach tours).
Along with 4WD adventurers, fisher folk flock to the island for seriously good beach fishing, especially when the tailor are running, and if you’re not set up to cast a line alone, you can meet up with seasoned professionals who’ll show you the ropes (and the best spots).
2. The island offers some of Australia’s great wilderness adventures
If you’re after a location that’s easy on the eyes (and who isn’t?), you won’t be disappointed with Fraser, originally called K’gari (pronounced ‘gurri’) by the Butchulla people who lived there for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The 123-kilometre-long island is an intoxicating mix of aqua ocean, golden and white beaches, towering sand cliffs, rainforest and lakes so clear you’ll second guess there’s water in them.
It’s best seen from the seat of one of the light aircrafts that whisk visitors from the mainland and pick up island day-trippers. Now is the ideal time for a scenic flight, as passengers will be privy to exposed views of the giant sand blows and dunes, not fully covered by wallum scrub growing back after the fires.
If a flight is out of the question, you’ll find panoramic beach views from Indian Head lookout (keep your eyes peeled for mantas and humpbacks). You don’t have to be up high to see the majesty of this special place, though. Catch the sunset from the end of the Kingfisher Bay Resort wharf, or take a moment to stop and stare at The Cathedrals, sand cliffs coloured rust-red, yellow and orange.
3. A place to reboot and regenerate
Island access is via vehicular ferry (either from River Heads in Hervey Bay or Inskip Point at the tip of Rainbow Beach). K’gari is a place to recalibrate life after the journey we have all been on in a COVID-disrupted year. Think about kicking back at some of the island’s popular spots, such as the gin-clear Lake McKenzie (where they say the silica sand is so fine you can clean jewellery with it).
Complement a freshwater swim at Lake McKenzie with a gentle float underneath the pandanus palms lining Eli Creek and a stroll around the nearby rusting hull of the SS Maheno, once a hospital ship standing off Gallipoli and Australia’s largest First World War artefact, blown ashore in 1935 during a cyclone and stuck fast on the eastern beach.
4. You can take your pick of campsites (or accommodation)
Whether you like pitching a tent in a fenced camping area or setting up in the dunes, you’ll have plenty of choices (camping permits required). A couple of favourite spots include the centrally located Beach Camping Zone 4, between Happy Valley and Eli Creek, and Central Station Camping Area, a fenced site suitable for tents and trailers. Check the National Parks website for campsite availability and updates.
If you prefer to bed down in a hotel room or holiday house, Fraser Island can accommodate you. SeaLink operates family-friendly resorts on the western (Kingfisher Bay) and eastern side (Eurong) with pools, bars and restaurants, and daily activities such as a bush tucker walk, while the beach ‘shacks’ around Kingfisher, Orchid Beach, Happy Valley and Eurong will have you unwinding before you can unpack your bags.
5. The hiking is epic
The island is at the top of many serious bushwalkers’ wish lists as it is home to one of Australia’s most diverse trekking adventures: the 90-kilometre-long K’gari Great Walk. But you don’t have to dedicate a week to exploring the trails that curl through the ancient rainforest, with plenty of short routes for ‘holiday hikers’.
The 900-metre return Central Station to Wanggoolba Creek walk is an easy, peaceful option, and wheelchair-accessible, while the (8.3-kilometre return) walk to Dilli Village to little-known gem Wongi Sandblow is great for a full morning. If you’re in need of buddies, Fraser Island Hiking has a new range of walks, including pack-free and luxury options. (For information about what to take on your wilderness walking adventure, including updates on trail openings, visit the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Services website