Don’t give up on summer just yet – it’s waiting for you on the Fraser Coast, writes Elisabeth Knowles The journey begins…
Before I came to Fraser Island I knew just two things about the Queensland island: it’s great for 4WDing and fishing. In my mind, I suppose I’d labelled it as either a “bloke’s island” or “family adventure island”. As a 30-something single woman I’d never really thought about going there.
But then a number of my friends started visiting. They came back with stories of a World Heritage-listed beauty spot that’s on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. They spoke of beautifully cool rainforests, white-sand beaches and a lake filled with 100 per cent fresh rainwater, which feels silken on your skin and is so pure that it washes your hair for you. They said that if you rub your gold jewellery with a handful of sand from the bottom of this by now near-mythical Lake McKenzie, it sparkles like new.Could it really be the same place? Could this place even be for real? It was beginning to sound a bit like the fantasy planet in Avatar.
But something must have resonated, because when I started thinking of somewhere for Australian Traveller to reveal as the perfect spot to squeeze the most out of your summer, it suddenly seemed custom-made. Not only is Fraser good for families and boys’ weekends, it’s ideal as a girls’ getaway. Many places promise it, and it sounds like a throwaway line, but perhaps Fraser Island really does have “something for everyone”.
Day 1: Hervey Bay & its scallops
Truth be told, the start of my trip is a disaster. Having flown direct into Hervey Bay from a rain-soaked Sydney, I’m keen to get out on the beach. However, I land less than two hours later to yet more rain. It’s a beautiful 27ºC, but bucketing down. I want to try my hand at the stand-up paddle-boarding craze that has taken over Australia’s coastal communities, but it is not meant to be. I don’t even make it out of my hotel room to Enzo’s, a shack-style café on Scarness Beach, which offers not only paddle board and kayak hire but kite-surfing lessons, too. Instead, I hole up at the Ramada, with one eye on the rain (in case it clears) and the other on the TV.
Oh well, you take your chances on holiday, and if there’s a time you’re actually supposed to zone out and do nothing, this is it. The Ramada is like being in your own little apartment. It’s a self-contained modern unit with a beachy vibe and comfy furnishings. And the restaurant downstairs does an excellent linguine with plump, fresh local scallops. There are worse places to be a prisoner of the weather.
*Enzo’s on the Beach // 351a The Esplanade, Scarness, Qld.
*The Ramada Hervey Bay // 627 Charlton Esplanade, Urangan Qld.
Day 2: fraser island, ferries & fine food
Next day, the sun struggles through morning cloud cover to jubilantly shine on my ferry crossing from River Heads to Kingfisher Bay Resort, the place I’ll be staying for the next three nights. Apparently, Fraser’s weather is often completely different from the mainland’s and Kingfisher has enjoyed full sun the past few days.
The resort is an intriguing mix of old-school holiday resort and tranquil township. It has won many eco-tourism awards and I can see why. The accommodation is tucked into bushy enclaves, and both the architecture and landscaping blend seamlessly with the natural environment. Some lagoons and waterholes around the resort are man‑made, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell which ones.
My room is on the second storey of a Queenslander-style timber pavilion with external covered pathways. Its balcony looks out to the Great Sandy Strait. It would be lovely to sit here and reflect if it weren’t for a death-metal-loving inhabitant on next-door’s balcony. Thankfully, she’s a polite metalhead; when she notices me she disconnects her speakers and puts her earphones in. Now all I can hear is frogs and birdsong.
The big surprise at Kingfisher is fine-dining restaurant Seabelle. The chefs create incredible dishes using bush tucker ingredients such as lemon and aniseed myrtle, lilly pilly, bush tomatoes and Warrigal greens. Many of these are grown in the resort’s own gardens.
I order a K’gari tasting plate (pronouned “gurri”, with a silent ‘k’), which includes lemon tea-tree-smoked kangaroo, braised emu rillette and grilled crocodile, served with bush tomato, rosella plum jam and bunya nut pesto. I could happily eat that pesto on toast for the rest of my life and not feel I was missing out.
As previously hinted, the clientele at Kingfisher is mixed. You’ll see honeymooners, families with teens and retirees (backpackers stay down the road at the Wilderness Lodge). But the eclectic mix of guests contributes to the feeling that you’re visiting a vibrant town rather than stuck in a resort. While the accommodation is above average, it’s laid-back rather than luxurious. There’s nothing uptight about the resort; it’s just clean and unpretentious.
And to be honest, everyone here seems so completely knackered by the end of a day’s 4WDing, trail-bike riding, fishing, swimming, walking, kayaking, etc, that they’re all… completely… calm. It’s a bit weird, but I promise it’s the kind of thing you’ll get used to.
*Kingfisher Ferry Service // Passenger and vehicle ferry with six services daily from River Heads to Kingfisher Bay Resort Jetty. Journey takes 50 minutes. Return adult ticket, $50; vehicle and four passengers, $155.
*Kingfisher Bay Resort // Hotel rooms from $213 per night; seasonal specials available online. 1800 072 555; www.kingfisherbay.com
Day 3: a flight & four-wheel fun, followed by food
This morning I head out on a ranger-guided 4WD eco tour of Fraser Island beauty spots. It turns out there are quite a few of them – each completely different from the last. Ranger Bec Whyte does the driving, which is good because the soft sand tracks seem difficult to negotiate. Our first stop is Lake Wabby Lookout, where we can see spectacular sand drifts and an idyllic little lake, perfect for a dip.
Not long after, we hit the coast and join the 4WD highway along Seventy Five Mile Beach. There, we come across a couple of small planes parked incongruously on the sand. When the weather’s good, the third-generation beach pilots behind Air Fraser Island choose a stretch of beach to become their take-off and landing strip, then offer impromptu joy flights. Similarly spur-of-the-moment, we decide to take one.
I love to get perspective on a place from the air. As we take off, we can see that Fraser Island is a long, thin piece of land, densely covered in rainforest – 123km long and 22km wide, the pilot tells us. There’s a network of yellow-sand 4WD tracks crisscrossing the island, but from the air you can see many rainwater lakes that can’t be accessed by car, such as the aptly named Hidden Lake.
As we turn back over the beach we pass over the rusted carcass of the SS Maheno, which was wrecked here in 1935. Judging by the groups of people below, it’s now a favoured fishing spot.
Far from being treacherous, our beach landing is so smooth I barely notice touchdown, although it is disconcerting to sneak in between a convoy of moving 4WDs; but I suppose it would be even more worrying to be that last tag-along tour driver looking in his rear-view mirror to see a plane appear on his tail from nowhere.
We continue our way up Seventy Five Mile Beach to Indian Head, and along the way Bec decides to give me a go behind the wheel. It’s not a very long go, because it turns out I’m not an intuitive soft-sand driver. There are rules. One of which is to “keep up momentum”. I translate this as “go fast”. The car translates my translation as “be wobbly”. When I was learning to ride a bicycle, we called these the “death wobbles”, and they usually came just before a crash. Unsurprisingly, no-one likes this sensation – me included – so I’m happy to get back in the passenger seat and never speak of it again.
When we reach Indian Head, we get out of the car, quietly kiss the ground and climb up to the point, where we take in a majestic panorama. On one side, Seventy Five Mile Beach stretches away into the distance, while on the other, a series of sand dunes frames Great Sandy National Park. In the clear turquoise ocean below, we spot a manta ray. Apparently this is also a breeding ground for tiger sharks, though we don’t see any today. Just north of here, Champagne Pools are volcanic rock pools so named because as waves crash over the rocks they fill with foaming water. They are shallow, kid-friendly and shark-free.
The sun is biting today, so we decide to head inland for lunch, to the shady, tranquil rainforest near Central Station. Unlike its Sydney namesake, there is hardly anyone around but a few frisbee-playing foreign men with no shirts on. Central Station was a logging centre from the 1920s until 1959, and some of the cute workers’ cottages still stand. But the area is better known for Wanggoolba Creek, so clear and slow-moving that it doesn’t look like it has water in it at all. It’s a bizarre optical illusion.
There are some wonderful hiking tracks from here too, which are cool and shady and meander between tall kauri pines, satinays, piccabeen palms and giant Angiopteris ferns.
By the time we get back to the resort, I’m as knackered as all the other guests. We have a couple of social sunset drinks at the Jetty Hut, share a pizza at Sand Bar Bistro and it’s lights out.
*Air Fraser Island // You’ll find them “somewhere” along Seventy Five Mile Beach if the conditions are right. From $125 per person, minimum two passengers. (07) 4125 3600; www.airfraserisland.com.au
Day 4: please don’t make it stop
When you’re somewhere as special as Fraser, it pays to fork out on something that seems like a silly splurge at the time you book it, but actually turns out to be one of Life’s Great Adventures. Along with a similarly single 30-something local woman, Jodi, we book a jetski safari via Hervey Bay’s Aquavue Café Watersports. Sensibly, our jetski hire comes with a guide, who arrives at Kingfisher and tells us how to start, stop and keep moving. Turns out these things are much easier to handle than the car. And a lot more fun because the only person I can hurt is me.
We zip along Fraser Island’s coast, passing mangrove swamps before stopping at Moon Point to consider where to go next. We agree on Pelican Banks, a tiny sand island – more of a sandbar, really, but for its vegetation and the fact it no longer gets fully submerged by tides. It’s incredible to think that this is how the much larger Fraser Island began its life. When we get there, there is indeed a flock of pelicans hanging out on the bank. We return to Kingfisher via Big Woody, yet another unpopulated island, and across a stretch of dark open water that makes me remember the words “tiger shark breeding ground” from yesterday. Ah, well, it all adds to the thrill.
Bright blue skies spur us into packing a picnic and taking off in Jodi’s 4WD to see Lake McKenzie, THE lake I’d heard so much about. That’s it pictured on the opening pages of this story. It’s a peculiarly beautiful location: white sand as soft as talcum powder underfoot and water which is bright turqouise at the shoreline before taking on emerald and sapphire tones the deeper it gets. The water does feel silky; my gold ring does turn brighter when I rub it with sand; and my hair does feel amazing when I fully submerge myself.
“Drink it,” says Jodi. “It’s just like bottled water.”
I’m sure she’s right, this lake has been filled with pure rainwater, but I’ll take her word for i- … oh stuff it. I pretend to “accidentally” swallow some. And it is like bottled water. But I wouldn’t recommend tasting it if you’re swimming close to children.
*Aquavue Cafe Watersports // Safaris from $320 per jetski (each takes two, but it’s more fun solo). (07) 4125 5528; www.aquavue.com.au
Day 5: back to reality…
The fun has got to end sometime, I suppose. But I’m already thinking of coming back. This would be a great trip to do with a couple of couples, or even with a whole gang of friends. I’d love to hire a 4WD next time – perhaps after taking a few lessons! – and really explore this incredibly interesting and diverse part of Australia. (Fraser Island locals recommend not taking your own car, even if it’s 4WD, especially if it’s new and shiny!)