20 things to do on Queensland’s Fraser Island

5 years ago
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1. Fly in

Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island. At 150 kilometres long, it’s hard to understand its vastness from ground level. Flying from Brisbane to Orchid Beach, you can see all the island’s landmarks, which you can then go explore close up once you arrive. To quote our pilot, “it sure beats the hell out of walking”. A bonus is you get to see the Great Beach Drive, something that will book-end the trip nicely. The only downside is because the planes are so small, you’re allowed only 10kg of luggage. The others found this easy, turning up with backpacks and tiny suitcases weighing much less. Which was lucky for me, as I unfortunately am not skilled in packing light.

2. Four-wheel drive

On Fraser Island, if you’re not getting places by foot, you’re getting there by four-wheel drive. Drivers have to dodge dunes, rocks, waves, dingoes, people fishing and, because there’s no particular side to drive on, other cars as well. It certainly adds to the adventure, bunny hopping up and down and rocking from side to side in our car seats while going over the rough terrain. Over the course of four days we covered around 550km, going from the very top of the island right down to the bottom to catch the barge back to mainland.

Flying into Fraser Island.

Natasha Thyne

Flying into Fraser Island.

3. Lunch at Waddy Point

After a long morning driving up and down the island in the hot Australian sun, it’s nice to pull up at Waddy Point, set up a few deck chairs and have a relaxing lunch on the beach, watching the waves wash up on the shore and kids running in and out of the cool water.

4. Indian Head

Indian Head is a hard place to get to in jandals but totally worth it. The view from the top looking over the water and other parts of the island is sublime, and if you’re lucky enough you might even see some whales. Our tour guide Paul  from Adventure Australia Treks and Tours led us up the steep hill, explaining the flora and land as we passed it. About halfway up we found a peaceful grassy spot and were told the story of the Butchulla people, the island’s native people, and how Indian Head was used as their tribal council spot. We also learnt the sad story of how poorly they were treated by the Europeans. You can’t share the history of the island without knowing the darker side too.

Helping someone out of a bog at Ngkala Rocks is an everyday occurrence on Fraser Island.

Natasha Thyne

Helping someone out of a bog at Ngkala Rocks is an everyday occurrence on Fraser Island.

5. Lake Birrabeen

Aboriginal legend says when man was created and needed a place to live, the god Beiral sent Yendingie, his messenger, with the goddess K’gari down from heaven to create land, mountains, rivers and seas. K’gari, which means paradise, fell in love with earth and did not want to leave. So Yendingie changed her into an island – Fraser Island. The beautiful crystal-clear lakes on Fraser Island are said to be the eyes of K’gari looking to heaven. One of the most popular lakes is Lake McKenzie, but Lake Birrabeen is just as stunning and less populated by tourist buses, which makes finding carparks and a spot to relax next to the lake a lot easier. Lake Birrabeen is a perched lake, sitting 80m above sea level. The sand is so fine you can exfoliate 10 years off, scrub your jewellery good as new and, if you’re game enough, you can even clean your teeth with it. A viewing platform lets you look over the striking view before a short walk down to the water. Large picnic tables are also set up for lunch after the refreshing dip.

6. Help someone out of a bog

It wouldn’t be a complete day on Fraser Island without helping someone out of a bog. It could be a 10-minute fix with a snatch strap or it could be a three-hour job requiring 20 different men in stubbies and cracking a cold one afterwards.

Most tourists who go to Fraser Island don’t usually make it past Ngkala Rocks and there’s a reason for it. Ngkala Rocks are located halfway between Orchid Beach and Sandy Cape on the northeast side of the island. Although they don’t look too menacing, crossing them certainly isn’t for the faint of heart or the inexperienced – having a trailer hitched on the back of the truck usually doesn’t help either. What usually gets people stuck is the air pressure in their tyres.

Experienced drivers like Paul and our other guide Martin know to take air out of the tyres before crossing – usually set to 40PSI, it was lowered to 16PSI to make it over in one piece. Others can cause a three-hour “Fraser Island traffic jam” for not knowing to do so. Because of this, you have to be prepared to be flexible with plans  as you never know how long it’s going to take, or when you’ll be able to go to a proper toilet.

The good thing about Fraser Island is everybody is mates and helps everybody out. And then you get back in the car and criticise their driving afterwards.

The view from Indian Head.

Natasha Thyne

The view from Indian Head.

7. Drive to Sandy Cape

If you’re determined to make it passed Ngkala Rocks without having to dig anyone out, you’re in for an early start. Once you make it over glitch-free, you can drive to the northernmost point of the island, Sandy Cape. That early in the morning there are hardly any tyre marks, and only the dedicated few who have had their campsites set up “since Jesus played for Jerusalem” have made this part of the island their home. However, time is of the essence to make it around the cape to the lighthouse and back again before the tides come in.

8. Walk to the Fraser Island lighthouse

At 8am, the sun is already striking hot on my lily-white Kiwi skin. But we make the 1.2km steep walk to the magnificent Sandy Cape lighthouse. The lighthouse, which stands 26 metres tall and has a light span of 21 nautical miles, was constructed in 1870 due to the growing number of ship wrecks occurring. It is the tallest lighthouse in Queensland andoffers one of the best vantage points of the whole island.

Lake Birrabeen has sand so fine you can exfoliate ten years off, scrub jewellery and even clean your teeth.

Natasha Thyne

Lake Birrabeen has sand so fine you can exfoliate ten years off, scrub jewellery and even clean your teeth.

9. SS Maheno wreck

A New Zealand link to Fraser Island, the SS Maheno ship was a trans-Tasman passenger ship as well as a hospital ship during World War I. The Maheno had a vivid and rough history and it shows, as the wreckage continues to shrink to a vestige of its former majestic self. The ship was sold to Japan for scrap metal and became wrecked on the eastern beach in 1935 as it was being towed and got caught in cyclone conditions. During World War II, it was used for bombing practice. Busloads upon busloads of tourists pull up to take pictures of the rusty ruin everyday. It currently sits 20 metres deep in the sand and it may not be much longer before it gets completely covered.

10. Eli Creek

After standing in the sun at the Maheno and running away from march flies, there’s nothing like floating down Eli Creek without a care in the world. Eli Creek is the largest creek on the eastern beach and transfers millions of litres of clear, fresh water into the ocean at an hourly rate. Starting from the top of the creek, lie back and let the current carry you down to the other end.

The picture-perfect Champagne Pools.

Natasha Thyne

The picture-perfect Champagne Pools.

11. Champagne Pools 

When the waves crash over the Champagne Pools, it creates a spectacular moment, bringing to mind a victorious racecar driver spraying Champagne over everyone at the podium. The only thing that would have made Champagne Pools better would have been actual Champagne. Clearly other people had the same idea, as when we arrived a wedding reception was setting up – unfortunately for them, the spot is popular with tourists and those with a good spot weren’t willing to get out of the way of the happy couple.

12. The Pinnacles

The Pinnacles are ancient coloured sand formations that were created hundreds of thousands of years ago by wind and water. The grains of sand have been stained red, yellow and brown colours by the iron-rich minerals in the clays that bind them. The Pinnacles area is considered significant to the Butchulla people and is particularly sacred for women.

Early risers are the only people walking along the beach at Sandy Cape.

Natasha Thyne

Early risers are the only people walking along the beach at Sandy Cape.

13. Walk to Lake Wabby

Being the first to put footprints in the sand is one of many rewards for early risers on Fraser Island. There is also the added bonus of uninterrupted views of landmarks before anyone else arrives. When Paul, our tour guide, threw out the idea of adding a walk to Lake Wabby into an already packed day, I wasn’t so taken by the idea, especially when he added we would need to be heading off at 5am to get there and back before the breakfast buffet at Eurong Resort opened at 8am.

After a bit of bartering over start times and a lot of persuasion, I was locked into the morning walk. While some chose to do the walk barefoot and others in sandals, I chose what I thought was the best option; sturdy sneakers. I instantly discovered that was the worst idea and I must apologise to the person who had to clean my room after I took my shoes off and unloaded half the beach on the floor.

Lake Wabby is surrounded by a huge sandblow which was once used as an aboriginal warrior training ground.

Natasha Thyne

Lake Wabby is surrounded by a huge sandblow which was once used as an aboriginal warrior training ground.

After a 40-minute walk we arrived at the Hammerstone Sandblow, which surrounds the lake. Wow. Yellow sand stretches for miles, instantly dwarfing us and Lake Wabby. In ancient Butchulla times, the Sandblow was a men-only part of the island and was used as a warrior-training zone. Men would have been kept fighting fit running up and down the sand dunes. Two minutes there and I was already feeling it in my thighs. This walk probably isn’t suitable for unfit people – I’m a keen crossfitter and still found it challenging – or during the heat of the day. After taking time to relax at the lakeside while others did a few laps, it was time to walk back to the eastern beach on the same track.

14. Get off the beach and into new terrain

Fraser Island’s unique ecosystem boasts both beaches and rainforests. After spending two days around the eastern beach it was time to go inland and into the rainforest area. It ‘s hard to believe you’re still on the same island as it doesn’t take long before the beach and ocean are replaced with greenery.

The water at Wanggoolba Creek is so clean and crystal clear it doesn't look like it's there.

Natasha Thyne

The water at Wanggoolba Creek is so clean and crystal clear it doesn’t look like it’s there.

15. Wanggoolba Creek

This was a sacred place for the Butchulla women to give birth and it’s easy to see why they found it so tranquil and special. It’s also easy to see why it is one of the most photographed places on the island. From a distance the creek looks empty, but when up close you can see the water is just so clean and clear it looks transparent. Flanked by tall camouflage trees and with the ground beneath you covered in moss, it’s hard to believe you’re still on a sand island. A 450m boardwalk allows you to walk along the creek at your own pace and take in its beauty. In Butchulla history, men were allowed at the creek only when their child was being born.

16. Central Station 

Fraser Island is a unique spot with both beaches and rainforests.

Natasha Thyne

Fraser Island is a unique spot with both beaches and rainforests.

Central Station is located on Wanggoolba Creek and was formerly a forestry station, but has since been replanted. From 1920 until the late 1950s, Central Station was the headquarters for the island’s forestry operations. A historical display has been made out of some of the remaining houses from the old logging village, which gives insight into what life was like there. A story that caught my eye was that of Violet, the wife of former forester Frederick Epps. She lived at Central Station between 1921 and 1923. Diary entries tell of what she spent her days doing while the men worked, including taking her sewing down by Wanggoolba Creek and having fun listening to the piano brought to the island especially for evening entertainment.

17. Pile Valley

Home to the 800-year-old satinay tree. This tree and its 300-year-old cousins that surround it are all more than 60 metres tall, dwarfing any others in the area. Logging began on the island in 1863 and Pile Valley was named after the satinay trees that were once harvested for wharf piles to build part of the Suez Canal and the London Docks.

The Fraser Island Lighthouse is the tallest in Queensland at 26m tall.

Natasha Thyne

The Fraser Island Lighthouse is the tallest in Queensland at 26m tall.

18. Drinks at the Kingfisher Resort jetty

After days of endless driving, hiking, walking and picture taking, there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting down with newly acquainted friends and enjoying watching the sunset with a few drinks in hand while at the jetty at the Kingfisher Resort. Follow it with a stunning meal at the resort’s Seabelle restaurant.

19. Ferry ride off the island

Alas, it was time to leave the island; but not without some more four-wheel driving/bunny hopping to the southern point to catch the barge off Fraser and back to the mainland onto Rainbow Beach. Cars make an informal queue on the beach and then file onto the barge. Usually a short and uneventful trip, in fact I hadn’t even noticed we were moving until the radio announcer said there had been an earthquake off the eastern coast of Fraser Island. Luckily no tsunami warning followed and we arrived without a glitch.

20. Drive along Rainbow Beach

Technically not on Fraser Island, but still stunning and worth doing. The Great Beach Drive connects the Sunshine Coast with Fraser Island and the Fraser Coast – forming a large part of the Australia’s Nature Coast. The peaceful drive along the beach (although drivers still must keep a lookout for people enjoying themselves on the beach) extends the holiday feeling for just that little bit longer.

Eliza Fraser: The island’s namesake

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story and according to history, Eliza Fraser certainly did not. Eliza Fraser was a Scottish woman married to Captain James Fraser, master of the Stirling Castle. She is also the namesake of Fraser Island.

After hitting a reef, the Stirling Castle became shipwrecked off the coast of Queensland on May 22, 1836. Two boats were launched and the one carrying Eliza ended up at Waddy Point on Fraser Island. It was there Eliza claimed the Aborigines captured her. There are differing accounts of how her husband died; either from starvation or he was killed by the Aborigines – because he couldn’t carry wood or because he continued to be a captain, which did not go down well. Eliza was looked after by the Aborigines and was found six weeks later and taken back to the mainland. Upon moving back to England, she remarried and began to tell stories of her time on the island, totally sensationalising how she was treated by the Aborigines including tales of slavery, cannibalism, torture and murder.

This would have been one of the first encounters the Butchulla people had with white people. Since creation, Butchulla people have had three laws they live by: what is good for the land comes first, if you have plenty you must share and do not take or touch anything that does not belong to you. Respecting the rights of others and the land was an important way of life for the Butchulla people, something that is still evident on the island today.

GETTING THERE
Air Fraser is an air charter business based in Hervey Bay that specialises in beach landings on Fraser Island. It operates GA8 Airvans for the majority of the beach operations. See airfraserisland.com.au and mantarayfraserislandbarge.com.au. The trip on the barge to Fraser Island from Inskip Point Rainbow Beach takes around 10 minutes and there are two to three barges operating seven days a week between 6.00am and 5.30pm. Prices range from A$30 (NZ$33) for motorbikes up to A$180 for a return trip for car and trailer.

TOURING THERE
Adventure Australia operates in a specialised small group format, providing guided tours and guided tag-along tours for couples, small groups and corporate clients. Tours are run by two experienced and knowledgeable guides and are tailored to provide the best and most meaningful experiences.

STAYING THERE
Eurong Beach Resort is located on the eastern beach. The resort is accessible only by four-wheel-drive.

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