First-time visitors to Fraser
Island often struggle to find the right words to describe the appeal of
this magical mound of sand off the southern coast of
Queensland. For some,
the enchantment lies in its diversity: Fraser's habitats range from
luxuriant subtropical rainforest to melaleuca swamps, eucalypt forests,
heaths, mangroves, beaches and freshwater lakes. For others, it owes much
to its fascinating and highly visible wildlife: the island is home to more
than 230 species of birds, numerous reptiles and the purest strain of
dingo in Australia; in addition, migrating whales and other marine life
are regularly spotted off its shores. Yet other visitors delight in the
bewildering choice of recreational activities, including fantastic fishing
in both surf and calm marine waters, idyllic swimming in pristine rivers
and lakes and superb bushwalking. The simple fact that Fraser has
something for almost everyone goes some way to explaining why the island
has become one of the country's most popular travel destinations.
Measuring 123 km (76 miles) from north to south, and 25 km (15.5 miles)
across at its widest point, Fraser is the biggest sand island in the
world. It is part of the Great Sandy Region, which formed over the course
of at least one million years as rivers washed eroded rock fragments to
the coast. Slowly, the grains of sand and gravel piled up, forming
beaches, dunes and, in the case of Fraser, a large island. Seeds carried
by birds and ocean currents then germinated in Fraser's sands, creating a
layer of vegetation that helped stabilise the dunes and, in turn, allowed
further life to flourish. These processes continue today.
Fraser Island -Great Sandy National Park
Fraser Island is now part of Great Sandy National Park, which also
includes the Cooloola region on the mainland. In addition, the entire
island, apart from a few freehold areas, is managed by the
Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) as a Recreational Area. The
international ecological significance of Fraser was recognised in 1992,
when the island was declared a World Heritage area by UNESCO.
These reserves protect a landscape that is continually being refashioned
by shifting sands. On the eastern side of the landmass in particular,
tides slowly form and reform sandbars, gutters and bays, and wind creates
huge sandblows. The east coast is also noted for its richly coloured
sands. Their hues, ranging from yellow through orange and rusty red to
brown, are the result of thousands of years of weathering of iron-rich
minerals in the sands.
Inland, a range of sand-adapted vegetation blooms on the dunes, including
grasses, eucalypt and banksia woodland, and subtropical rainforest. This
blanket of green is studded with more than 40 perched lakes, rain-fed
lakes that form in the dunes when the sand mixes with organic debris and
peat to form an impermeable base. Fraser's perched lakes contain some of
the purest drinking water found anywhere in the world, even though some of
it is stained the colour of tea by tannin from plants. Rain and
underground springs also fuel a number of pristine streams that flow to
the coasts. The biggest is Eli Creek, which runs onto the eastern beach
south of the Maheno wreck.
A 4WD vehicle is essential if you want to explore the island fully. The
eastern beach is the island's main thoroughfare, but should only be driven
within two hours either side of low tide, when the sand is firm. The
inland tracks are narrow, so keep your speed down and watch for oncoming
traffic. During prolonged dry spells, some of these tracks may be very
sandy and therefore difficult to negotiate. Always carry a spade to dig
yourself out of soft sand and bogs, and deflate your tyres to around 175
kPa (25 psi); you may even have to drop them back to 140 kPa (20 psi) to
deal with very soft sand.
For more than 70 years, visitors have been travelling to Fraser Island to
enjoy its excellent and varied fishing. At the height of the season each
year, between July and October, hundreds of anglers gather on the east
coast beaches to fish huge schools of tailor then migrating up the coast.
Other fish found off the eastern shore include silver bream, jewfish and
golden trevally. In the calm waters on the western side of the island,
whiting, flathead and bream can be caught throughout the year. Plenty of
bait can be gathered on Fraser by digging for bloodworms, pumping up
yabbies from sandflats at low tide, and gathering pipis. Fishing or
collecting bait in lakes or streams is not permitted.
Bushwalkers can hike for miles along the magnificent beaches and also
explore numerous delightful forest trails in the interior. The 6-km
(3.7-mile) Lake Birrabeen to Central Station walk, which takes about two
and a half hours, meanders through varied vegetation, including banksia
heathland, eucalypt woodland and, near Central Station, subtropical
rainforest. You can explore this last habitat more fully on a short
walking track at Central Station (requiring 25 minutes each way), which
follows crystal-clear Wanggoolba Creek through towering stands of brush
box, hoop pine, white beech, ribbonwood and strangler figs. Often, you
will be accompanied by conspicuous rainforest birds such as the eastern
yellow robin and rufous fantail, and you may also come across less common
bird species such as the noisy pitta, emerald dove, white-headed pigeon
and wompoo pigeon.
Wherever you travel on the island, you will almost certainly see dingoes.
Indeed, Fraser Island is probably the best place on the continent to see
these wild animals at close quarters. In most other parts of the country,
they have interbred with domestic dogs, but the dingoes on Fraser remain a
relatively pure strain. If you do encounter a dingo, keep your distance
and do not be tempted to offer it any tidbits. Feeding these animals
interferes with their natural hunting instinct, leading them to depend on
scraps and handouts. In turn, they lose their natural fear of humans and
can become aggressive.
Fraser is approximately 250 km (155 miles) north of
Brisbane and can be
accessed from the mainland by vehicular barge or ferry, passenger launch,
aircraft or private boat. Barge services operate regularly from Inskip
Point, near Rainbow Beach, to Hook Point; from River Heads to Wanggoolba
Creek and Kingfisher Bay; and from Hervey Bay to Moon Point. There are
airstrips at Toby's Gap, Wanggoolba Creek and Orchid Beach. A number of
commercial tour operators also run day trips and multiday camping safaris
to the island. If you don't have your own 4WD, you can hire one at Hervey
Bay, Rainbow Beach, the Sunshine Coast and
Brisbane. All vehicles must
carry an access permit, available from QPWS offices.
There are QPWS camp sites at Lake Boomanjin, Central Station, Lake Allom,
Waddy Point, Wathumba, Lake McKenzie and Dundubara. Facilities include
toilets, picnic tables and showers (except at Lake Allom). Dilli Village
and Dundubara are the only sites suitable for caravans or camper trailers.
Beach camping is permitted in most areas unless signs indicate otherwise.
Cabins can be rented at Happy Valley, Eurong, and Dilli Village; Fraser is
also the site of one of AustraliaŐs leading luxury ecoresorts, Kingfisher
Bay, situated on the north-east side of the island.
The Fraser Island Trek
This trek travels the entire east coast of Fraser, while a detour permits
exploration of the interior. The main route starts at Hook Point on the
southern tip of the island. From here, a road leads inland to Dilli
Village, a distance of around 23 km (14 miles). If you arrive around low
tide, you can cut across to the eastern beach via tracks at the 7-km
(4.4-mile) and 13-km (8-mile) points. When the tide is at its lowest, the
beach is up to 100 m (110 yards) wide. Even if conditions are good,
however, you should take your time and watch out for rock bars and creeks.
Dilli Village, located just off the main beach, has a camp site and
holiday units (which must be booked in advance). From here you can detour
inland, see the Southern Lakes Drive section below, or continue up the
main beach to Eurong, a distance of 10 km (6 miles). This small settlement
has accommodation, a general store and fuel station. Nearby is the Eurong
QPWS Information Centre.
Heading north from Eurong, take the detour off the beach after 3 km (1.9
miles) to avoid One Tree Rocks. Just beyond the rocks, a walking trail
leads to Lake Wabby, the deepest lake on the island. This trail measures
about 2.5 km (1.6 miles) each way and crosses a large sandblow. A side
road 1 km (0.6 miles) further north leads to another trail to the lake.
Five kilometres (3.1 miles) further up the main beach, take the inland
bypass around Poyungan Rocks. About 5.5 km (3.4 miles) beyond the rocks,
at Rainbow Gorge, a walking track leads through dramatic, multihued
Continuing north, take the bypass at Yidney Rocks to Happy Valley, the
island's largest settlement. It offers a range of accommodation and a
store with food and fuel. From Happy Valley, it's 6 km (3.7 miles) to Eli
Creek. This crystal-clear stream is one of Fraser's most delightful
features, offering excellent swimming and picturesque picnic spots. About
3 km (1.9 miles) further north, the rusting wreck of the Maheno sits in
the middle of the beach. This ocean liner was blown ashore during a
cyclone in 1935, as it was being towed to Japan to be scrapped.
For much of the run north from here to Indian Head, imposing cliffs tower
over the beach. Called the Cathedrals, they contain some of the most
colourful sands on the island, ranging from pure white through reds and
yellows to jet black. Just off the beach and 6 km (3.7 miles) north of the
Maheno is Cathedral Beach Resort, which offers accommodation, camping and
a general store with food and fuel.
QPWS rangers are located at Dundubara, 6.5 km (4 miles) further north,
76.5 km (47.5 miles) from Hook Point. From here, it is nearly 20 km (12.5
miles) to the great basalt promontory known as Indian Head. The top of the
headland provides magnificent views, and the waters below are thought to
offer the best fishing on the island. On the northern side is a short
stretch of beach that is popular with swimmers and picnickers. Continuing
along the main beach track, you soon come to Middle Rocks, where a
boardwalk leads to the Aquarium or Champagne Pools. These natural rock
pools make fine swimming holes, but watch for waves breaking over the
Just beyond the next headland, at Waddy Point, there is a pleasant camp
site among the coastal banksias, as well as a QPWS ranger station. You
have now travelled 103 km (64 miles) from Hook Point. Orchid Beach, just a
couple of kilometres (1.9 miles) further north, once housed a resort, but
now has only a general store providing limited food and fuel.
The long run north from Waddy Point to Sandy Cape and its lighthouse
traverses a remote area of the island and is undertaken by relatively few
visitors. The area inland is closed to vehicles and, on the main beach,
the sand soon gets softer. Moreover, South and North Ngkala Rocks pose
significant obstacles and although both have bypass tracks, they can be
hard to negotiate.
For those who do venture northward, it's 31 km (19 miles) to Sandy Cape,
where a sandbar known as Breaksea Spit stretches for 30 km (18.5 miles)
out to sea. Beyond the cape, the beach narrows and becomes steeper. Bush
camping is permitted here on the sheltered sands, and there's a walking
track to Sandy Cape Lighthouse, 8 km (5 miles) south of the cape itself,
where the beach track ends.
The Southern Lakes Drive
This sidetrip from Dilli Village on the east coast takes in many of the
highlights of Fraser's interior. From the northern edge of the village,
head inland, turn right at all the minor track junctions and then turn
right again at the major track junction 7 km (4.4 miles) from the beach.
Just over 3 km (1.9 miles) beyond this turn-off lies Lake Boomanjin, the
world's largest perched lake. A good camp site with toilets, fireplaces
and cold showers is located among the trees here.
Heading north from Lake Boomanjin, you pass Lake Benaroon and its bush
camping area and then, after 11 km (7 miles), come to the shores of Lake
Birrabeen. With its clear turquoise waters and white sands, this is a
lovely spot for a picnic and a swim.
Continue another 3 km (1.9 miles) to a road junction, where either track
will take you to Central Station, less than 6 km (3.7 miles) away. This
was once the heart of logging operations on the island. Today, there is an
excellent camping area with toilets, showers, fireplaces and rubbish
disposal, as well as a QPWS ranger station. Make sure you take a walk
along enchanting Wanggoolba Creek. Next, head toward Eurong and after
about 1 km (0.6 miles) turn left, or north, to Pile Valley, 2 km (1.2
miles) away. Take some time here to explore and admire the rainforest's
magnificent giant satinay trees.
Turn left at the next couple of junctions and just over 5 km (3.1 miles)
from Pile Valley you come to Lake McKenzie, 37 km (23 miles) from Dilli
Village. Lake McKenzie is perhaps the island's most picturesque lake, with
its perfect white sand and searingly blue water meeting beneath an
exquisite backdrop of thick, verdant forest. Nearby, a good camp site has
toilets, showers and fireplaces.
From the lake, return to the main road and turn left. Continue straight
ahead at the first crossroads. About 3 km (1.9 miles) further on, you come
to a major crossroads where you should turn right. After another 11.5 km
(7 miles), a track on the right leads a short distance to Lake Wabby
Lookout car park and a trail to the lake itself. The walk downhill is easy
but the return seems twice as steep, although the trees here at least
provide some shelter from the often-fierce sun. The deepest lake on Fraser
Island, Wabby is slowly being engulfed by a vast sandblow which has formed
a huge, steep dune at the water's edge.
The main road continues to wind through thick forest, then reaches the
junction with Smith Road after 2 km (1.2 miles). Turn right here and you
will soon reach the top of a hill where a car park on the left provides
access to a lookout over the immense Stonetool Sandblow. Like many other
sandblows on the island, Stonetool is being driven slowly inland by the
prevailing south-easterly winds.
From the lookout, the main track drops steeply down the hill. This was
once a terror strip for drivers, before a series of chained wooden rails
was laid down to prevent vehicles bogging in the soft sand. Beyond this
slope, and just under 20 km (12.5 miles) from Lake McKenzie, you return to
the eastern beach, about 6 km (3.7 miles) north of Eurong. From there you
can retrace your steps southward to Dilli Village and your starting point
at the island's southern tip.