There are many parts of Australia where you can escape from billboards, concrete, ringing phones and dress codes, but none other offers quite the tranquillity you’ll find on Fraser Island. It would be hard to imagine a more ambrosial holiday spot than Australia’s natural theme park.
The sun is shining, the forest is standing tall and proud, and there is fun to be had on this island paradise. With more than 90 kilometres of walking tracks to be found, 1500 kilometres of road tracks to explore and around 100 freshwater lakes to be swum in, Fraser is something of a natural theme park. Attracting a mix of solitude-seeking nature lovers and adventure-loving four-wheel-drivers to play amidst her treasures.
Even if you’re staying at Kingfisher Bay Resort or Eurong Beach Resort (both of which have well-established restaurants), a good stock of groceries including snacks bought beforehand at one of Hervey Bay’s grocery stores, won’t go astray. All rooms are self-catered and shops are few and far between, plus island prices are… well, island prices. If you’re camping at one of the many campsites, bring all the usual suspects.
The food at Kingfisher Bay Resort and Eurong Beach Resort isn’t quite Michelin-starred, but both options cater to sophisticated tastebuds with some surprisingly upmarket offerings. Our pick is Kingfisher Bay Resort’s Sand Bar Bistro, which does generous lashings of good, hearty food in a casual, family-friendly atmosphere. Or Eurong Beach Resort’s main restaurant – skip the buffet and order à la carte to see what the chef can do.
Accommodation rarely strays from the bright and the basic (nor would you want it to) in the townships clustered around the island’s edges.
Kingfisher Bay Resort
Kingfisher Bay Resort, on the island’s sheltered west coast, is the most sophisticated, with a 4WD hire store, decent coffee and a beautiful swimming pool set amongst gum trees and natural waterholes.
Eurong Beach Resort
This beachside resort is a low-key beach village on the island’s east coast and serves as a jumping-off point for 75 Mile Beach. It also offers general services including a newsagent and the aforementioned bakery, as well as a great pub.
Happy Valley, Dili Village, Orchid Beach and Cathedral Beach are smaller townships found at various points along 75 Mile Beach, which have holiday homes and camping accommodation.
It is sometimes said that there is more sand on Fraser Island than in the Sahara. That’s incorrect, but the sentiment is close enough: there’s certainly more than enough here to ensnare you and your 4WD in a mire of soft, despicably fine, white mush.
No surprises as to why this experience has been voted ‘best guided tour’ in 2013’s Australian Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards. Bumping and skidding around Fraser could be its own category of adventure sport. Two minutes later we are reversing gently up the sandy path before our driver and guide for the day, Kristy puts the car in gear.
“To make it through this section here, we’re going to need to drive it like we stole it,” she says. “Everybody hang on.” She floors it, and we skitter and slide over the talcum-powder-fine surface up the hill. The sand here is white, soft and quite beautiful, but by the end of this trip, I will understand why the locals (lovingly) refer to it as a nuisance.
Lake McKenzie, arguably Fraser’s most photographed of them all, should be your first stop on the island. A perched lake built on top of organic leaf matter, McKenzie is a phenomenon rarely found elsewhere on earth, but one of 40 found on this island. Such lakes are just one example of how Fraser often seems to operate on a different wavelength to the rest of the world.
75 Mile Beach
Tackle the epic beach drive up 75 Mile Beach; a wide, golden strip of sand that doubles as a gazetted highway, slash runway (joy flights are a daily service), slash fishing spot. Normal road rules apply here, along with a few extras: time your trips carefully with the tide; don’t drive through seawater; watch out for migrating birds that have landed to rest. Though driving requires extra concentration, the sights along the way provide great entertainment: massive sand blowouts over the dune vegetation, Champagne Pools, the abandoned hull of luxury cruise ship SS Maheno; the occasional frolicking whale.
Because Fraser is the world’s largest sand island, there are plenty of opportunities for sand-surfing here. Buy a $10 boogie board and head over to any of the dunes. Waddy Point, Orchid Beach and Sandy Cape have the best hills for a great surf (and possibly, tumble). But if you’re just keen on having a frolic during surfs, Lake Wabby is the perfect location. The small freshwater green lake is slowly moving into the lake. It’s predicted that it will disappear in the coming years.
Despite being entirely sand – not the most nutrient-rich of soils – the island is home to an ecosystem of incredibly diverse proportions. Majestic dunes, turquoise lakes, crystal clear water and dazzlingly white sand: the local indigenous population named this island ‘K’gari’, meaning ‘paradise’, some 40,000 years before UNESCO defined it “a place of exceptional natural beauty”. (Indeed there are still several sacred middens and burial sites to be found here, although, in the interests of preservation, their locations are kept secret from the public.)
It is a common occurrence for island staff members to arrive with intentions to work for a season but end up staying for years. Park ranger positions are even more coveted, Webber says longingly, and nigh on impossible to nab. Then there are the 194 people who love Fraser so much that, despite no electricity, supermarket, bank, post office, doctor, hospital, newsagent, or school, they’ve permanently relocated to the island. (Houses are required to be equipped with solar panels and generators and pump water from an underground source, and shopping is done on the mainland at Hervey Bay, via the one-hour local barge ride.)
Fraser Island was once a popular site for logging; a practice that occurred from 1863 to its eventual cessation in 1991. But its subsequent listing as a UNESCO world heritage icon in 1992 has seen it largely untouched since then, and thank God for that.
Lying just off the coast of Australia’s whale watching capital, Hervey Bay lies Fraser Island. You can most definitely find a flight to Hervey Bay from most major capitals in Australia. If you’re looking for a cheaper way to travel, head to Brisbane airport and grab a shuttle service to the coast (it’s only a three and a half-hour drive from there).
To make your way over to Fraser Island you’ll have to go via barge from River Heads (only 15 minutes south of Hervey Bay). Choose either the Kingfisher Bay Ferry, dropping you at Kingfisher Bay Resort. This trip will take 50 minutes and get to the western side of the island. Or the Fraser Venture Ferry, dropping you off at Wanggoolba Creek 20 minutes later, still on the western side but only a 30-minute trip across the Great Sandy Strait and another 45 minutes will take you to 75 Mile Beach. The tickets start at $180 per return.
If you’re heading to the island from Rainbow Beach’s Inskip Point, approximately 2 hours south of Hervey Bay, to Hook Point (on the southern end of the island). The tickets start from $110 vehicle return and $5 person return.
You can hire 4WDs on the island with AussieTrax at Kingfisher Bay Resort. Prior experience is ideal but not necessary. You will receive a half-hour briefing before you can use the car. You’ll also be required to purchase a national park driving permit, valid for one month from $275 per day.