Queensland’s Fraser Island is one place all true adventurers should have on their bucket list. The largest all-sand island in the world is home to many animals that have adapted to and thrive in the island’s remote and unique ecosystems. Giant lizards, possums, echidnas, turtoises and dingos inhabite a wide variety of different vegetation zones like desert, wetlands, heath and rainforest.
Preparation is key
As the island is based on sand, getting around isn’t easy. Here are the options you have to access this amazing wilderness area:
- by foot
- by four-wheel drive (4WD) bus (as part of a group with about 30 other people)
- by 4WD vehicle (as part of a group with about 8 other people)
- by your own 4WD vehicle
Visting the island on foot is a wonderful way to experince the island especially for those who like the simplicity and solitude of walking tours. While there are a number of very well maintined hiking trails on the island, the downside of hiking is you will most likely only be able to explore a small amount of this enormous paradise. Also, hiking in the sand can be much more tiring than you would think and it can rain quite a lot in this part of Australia.
Bus tours are good if you’re short on time, but you’re going to be part of a large crowd and will miss the special feeling (and freedom) of exploring the island on your own.
Booking a tour in a car with strangers can be a bit sketchy as I saw a lot of people driving like maniacs on the beach, and there were a number of bad automobile accidents reported when I was last there.
All this being said, my choice for touring the island, and one that I will explain in detail here, is to rent your own 4×4 vehicle with people you know (find out how to offset your carbon footprint).
Just like with hiking, you will need to get a permit for camping, and you’ll also need a permit for your vehicle. You can get these at any national park office. Make sure that you know the exact dates that you want to stay (I recommend at least a week to be able to enjoy it all).
As you prepare for your trip, remember that Fraser Island is very rudimentary, and there are barely any places to stock up. In fact, the only places where you can get (overpriced) supplies are the tiny settlements of Eurong, the Kingfisher Bay Resort, and Dilli Village. So bring a fully equipped camping kitchen, and plenty of food that lasts without refrigeration (like rice and pasta along with various sauces, and vegetables and fruit only for the first few days). Once on the island, beware of the infamous dingos and keep all food safely stored as they are smarter than you think.
If you don’t have a built-in bed in your 4WD (like I did back then), bring your own camping equipment, as there are plenty of campsites on the island. There are a few “proper” accomodations in the mentioned villages, but once you are out exploring the island, it is not always convenient to have to return to the village at night to sleep as driving here is very slow.
Fraser Island is a year-round destination, though temperatures drop in the winter months of June, July, and August. Rainfall is quite high all year round, with a low from September to November, and a high from January to May. So, whenever you go, make sure to bring something for the rain.
You have a choice between two ferries to get to the island. One leaves from River Heads at Hervey Bay and arrives at the west coast of the island, the other one leaves from Inskip Point at Rainbow Beach and arrives at the southern tip of the island. My personal favorite is the latter one, as it’s way less crowded.
Make sure you let some air out of your tires before you get on the ferry at Inskip Point, as the landing is sandy and tires work best here if the pressure is lowered and your 4-wheel-drive is engaged. You’ll need this for driving later on anyway. It’s also handy if your vehicle has high clearance, as this can also help you avoid getting stuck—a constant concern on this island.
Driving on sand requires a whole new skill set. So take it slow, and get used to it first. The beach is inviting for fast driving, but is restricted to 80km/50mi per hour for a good reason. Also inland, you should stick to the 30km/20mi per hour limit, as mainly single lane tracks will challenge your driving skills. Another good tip: when driving over a sand dune, make sure that nobody is coming from the other side as this can be very messy. Oh, and bring a small shovel. I used mine more than once…
This all might sound a little challenging, but I promise you, this is an adventure of a life time! And to make sure you don’t pass by the best spots because you are so focused on the driving, I’ll give you an overview of my personal don’t-miss-highlights.
Places not to miss on Fraser Island
75 mile beach
This seemingly endless stretch of sand serves as the main highway on the east coast. It’s the fastest way to get up or down the island, but also serves as a landing strip for airplanes, so keep an eye out for them. Also be aware that the sand can suddenly give way and send your car flying, and high tide sometimes forces you to drive further inland on the beach where the sand is much softer and harder to navigate. On that note, don’t drive to close to the water’s edge, as I’ve seen more than one car stuck in the water and destroyed by the incoming tide. My advice: take your time, relax, play it safe and drive at low tide when the sand is harder. While you’re waiting for the tide to go out, join the crowds of local fishermen standing in the surf, especially during “tailor run” season, when these popular game fish are in abundance. This littel fishing break will also augment your food stuffs and it might be the only protein you will have on this trip.
Back in the days when they logged the island, before it was a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Central Station was the original forestry camp. It’s not particularly interesting itself, but a display explains the development of the island and its flora and fauna. What fascinated me most was the beautiful rainforest in this area, which you can explore on a short boardwalk around Wanggoolba Creek. It’s really intriguing seeing giant trees and lush green jungle growing on an island that is entirely made of sand.
The awe-inspiring beauty of this lake makes it a place I could hang out at all day long. Filled by rainwater only, with no creeks flowing in or out, you would expect it to be swampy and not have such a surreal blue color. But the white silica sand purifies the water to a degree that it can support only very little life and is therefore so clear.
Getting to Lake Wabby is an experience on its own. You first have to cross a little “desert”, which makes you appreciate the deep green of the water even more. One side of the lake is bordered by dense forest, and a huge sand dune squeezes it in on the other side. They say in a century or so the dune will completely swallow the lake, so make sure to see it before it’s gone.
This large and swiftly flowing creek on the eastern side of Fraser Island is a popular picnic spot with a boardwalk that follows the creek inland through banksia and pandanus trees. Go with the flow and float down the strikingly clear creek from the bridge at the far end of the boardwalk. It’s great fun and the perfect alternative to the often rough and wild ocean if you’re looking to cool down. You might be forced to a stop here and enjoy it whether you want to or not anyway, as the deep channel this river carves out of the sand can be uncrossable at high tide.
Fraser Island claimed many ship wrecks, though the most famous one is the Maheno because the remains of the ship lie right on the beach. One of the first turbine-driven steamers, she sailed a regular route between Sydney and Auckland until serving as a hospital ship in Europe during the First World War. In 1935, the Maheno was sold to Japan for scrap and was being towed there when a cyclone snapped the tow chain and she drifted until she ran aground on Fraser Island. Here the ravages of time and the pounding surf feed on her rusty hull, providing an excellent photo opportunity.
The Cathedrals are colored sandstone cliffs that have been sculpted by the wind and rain blowing in from the Pacific Ocean. The red, brown, yellow, and orange colors are spectacular and best viewed in the early morning light.
One of only two sections of rock on the entire island, Indian Head got its name from the famous explorer Captain James Cook when he sailed along the Queensland coastline and saw a group of Aboriginals standing on the headland. From this rocky outcrop, you have a great view over the island and you often can see sharks in the surf below. If you’re lucky you might even see the magnificent humpback whales passing by between May and November.
The waters along Fraser Island’s east coast are not the best place for swimming due to extremly strong currents and hungry Tiger sharks. However, there’s another great way (besides the inland freshwater lakes and Eli Creek) to cool off: the Champagne Pools. At low tide, these sandy tidal pools provide a popular swimming holes. They got their name from the foaming and bubbling seawater crashing over the enclosing rocks and spilling into the pools.
Next time you are in Down Under, make sure you visit this amazing and unique island. And for those that can’t await it we have more pictures on our Top Spots in Australia page.