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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 Queensland 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 sandstone formations.

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 rocks.

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.

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