Discover the Fraser Coast, a marine mecca that beckons with tales of adventure, where majestic oceanic beings compete for attention with the timeless beauty of one of Australia’s most treasured islands.
“We’ve got two males without a calf, let’s go!” Captain Grant McCaffrey shouts just as lunch is served onboard M.V. Arcadia, Hervey Bay Dive Centre’s whale swim vessel.
I drop my sandwich and start running from the upper deck to the back of the boat where the other passengers are already plunging into the water. They’re drifting out into the open ocean, holding onto a rope that’s attached to the port side of the boat. Just as I throw my snorkel on, our instructor Mathew Bradley says the rope has reached capacity, but I can hold onto the ladder on the starboard side instead.
After diving in, I’m underwater when I hear muffled yelling. I can’t quite make out what they’re saying, so I lift my head out to hear Matt say, “They’re right there! Two of them! Quick!” I put my head back under just in time to see a huge, majestic humpback swimming to the left of me and then another, right behind it. They are gone as quickly as they came, and I am beaming as I emerge from the water.
Swim with whales in the world’s first Whale Heritage Site. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
To my complete surprise, no one else had seen the whales underwater. As is the way with nature and wildlife, you can’t pinpoint exactly where the whales will go or when they’ll come – and much to my delight, and my fellow passengers’ dismay, they had only passed by the side of the boat I had chanced my luck on.
The whale swim usually finishes by early September when more calves arrive in the bay. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
The world’s first Whale Heritage Site
Hervey Bay on Queensland’s Fraser Coast is the world’s first Whale Heritage Site. The whale season here runs from July to October, but the whale swim usually finishes by early September when more calves arrive in the bay (it’s a Great Sandy Marine Park requirement that you can’t swim with calves). I am here right at the end of the peak swim season. And while we see plenty of glorious humpbacks and their babies, we only get one opportunity to swim with them.
The Fraser Coast is the whale-watching capital of the world.
Swim with whales from July to September at Hervey Bay Dive Centre; $225 for adults and $150 for children. Or go on a whale-watching tour from September to October; $185 for adults and $120 for children.
We see plenty of glorious humpbacks and their babies. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Beyond being the whale-watching capital of the world, the Fraser Coast is a destination bestrewn with marine experiences. After a short ferry ride departing Hervey Bay, I arrive on K’gari (pronounced gah-ree) and am instantly welcomed by the warm, golden hues at Kingfisher Bay Resort’s aptly named Sunset Bar.
At 123 kilometres long and 22 kilometres at its widest point, K’gari is the largest sand island in the world. This haven boasts misty rainforests, rugged wilderness, more than 40 stunning freshwater lakes and abundant wildlife, including its famous wongari (dingoes).
K’gari is the largest sand island in the world.
A K’gari highlight reel
There are myriad ways to experience K’gari. Whether you’re camping and driving around the World Heritage-listed site or staying at one of the resorts like I am, there’s a way to explore. I only have one day to see the sights, so I jump onboard Kingfisher Bay Resort’s Beauty Spots Tour – a highlight reel of K’gari.
As I approach the humongous 4WD bus I know it’s going to be a bumpy ride. “Sit at the back if you want to be thrown around,” our guide Ian ‘Butch’ Butcher says with a laugh. Our group comprises a largely older demographic, so I trudge towards the back end of the bus with my coffee in hand (first mistake) to take one for the team. I set myself down five rows from the back (I’m only human) and hope for the best.
As soon as Butch starts the journey my coffee is shooting out of the spout and I’m desperately trying to drink it without scalding my mouth. Every time we go over a huge bump, we erupt into fits of laughter. I am astonished at how fast it feels like Butch is fanging this monstrous bus through rough, sandy terrain, but I know experience is on his side.
The Beauty Spots Tour is a highlight reel of K’gari. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
75 Mile Beach
Our first stop is K’gari Beach Resort for some lunch before we start the drive on 75 Mile Beach, a sand highway that runs the length of K’gari’s east coast. We see an alpha male dingo on the beach near Yidney Rocks and watch the whales out at sea as Butch flies along the shoreline.
We see an alpha male dingo on the beach near Yidney Rocks. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
The bus makes a couple of stops along the beach; the Pinnacles – 700,000-year-old unique sand dunes that have formed into spires and towers; the iconic Maheno shipwreck; and Eli Creek, where visitors float down the tree-lined waterway.
We stop by the iconic Maheno shipwreck. (Image: Emily Murphy)
Scenic flight over K’gari
When we arrive at Eli Creek, an Air Fraser scenic flight has just landed on 75 Mile Beach and has availability for some extra passengers. I put my hand up and within minutes am onboard and ready. Pilot Hugh Weber gives us a quick safety briefing and we are off. I’ve never been on such a small plane, and I can’t take the smile off my face. The whirlwind flight takes us over Butterfly Lake – so named because of its shape from above, Boorangoora/Lake McKenzie, Eli Creek and the ocean.
The scenic flight takes us over Butterfly Lake. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
The 15-minute scenic flight is only $100 per person.
See K’gari from above on an Air Fraser scenic flight. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Finally, we stop at the unmissable Boorangoora. The perched lake is recognisable by its gradient of blues that reflect the depth of the water. The pure, white silica sand acts as a filter, creating water so pure it can’t support any marine life.
Boorangoora/Lake McKenzie is recognisable by its gradient of blues. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
I sit in the lake with my friend, and we lather ourselves with the sand, scrubbing away any impurities. Butch laughs at us and says it won’t do anything, but I tell you, my skin has never felt so smooth.
Boorangoora/Lake McKenzie’s pure, white silica sand is the perfect exfoliant. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
The Beauty Spots Tour that takes you to K’gari’s highlights starts at $249 for an adult and $169 for a child aged between four and 14.