‘Take nothing but memories and photos… leave nothing but tyre tracks and footprints‘
After reading plenty of magazines, 4WD and camping books and doing our research, we were finally heading to the great sandy isle!
Located off the coast of Queensland, World Heritage ‘Fraser Island K’Gari’ is one of the most popular 4WDing and camping destinations in Australia and had been on our bucket list for a very long time.
Built up over 800,000 years of tidal action – this island is the world’s largest and oldest dune system and the largest sand island in the world measuring approximately 123-kilometres in length and 22-kilometres in width.
First sighted by Captain James Cook in 1770 while travelling up the east coast of Australia, the island was originally named ‘Great Sandy Peninsula’ in the mistaken belief it was connected to the mainland.
It wasn’t until 1799 when Matthew Flinders came along in the ‘Norfolk’ and explored parts of Hervey Bay that he discovered this peninsula was in fact… an island.
Some years later in 1836 a brig by the name of ‘Stirling Castle’ captained by James Fraser was wrecked at Swain’s Reef, north of the island. His wife Eliza Fraser was the only survivor… and hence, the island came to be known as ‘Fraser Island’.
The Butchulla people are the indigenous people of the island and they call it K’gari (pronounced Gurrie) meaning ‘paradise’.
It was named because of its Dreamtime creation story that tells of a spirit princess called K’gari who helped Yindingie, a messenger of the great god Beeral, create the land.
The story goes that K’gari loved the island so much she was rewarded for her help when Beeral changed her into an idyllic island with trees, flowers, and lakes. He put birds, animals, and people on the island to keep her company – and there she settled for eternity.
The Butchulla people sent to keep her company once consisted of six clans and a population of about 700 people with sometimes as many as 2,000 during the winter months when other tribes came to visit and feast… but today there are only a handful of surviving descendants.
Unfortunately, these people closely guarded many of their traditions, legends, and laws with much of the evidence of their way of life on the island destroyed after European settlement but with their history an important part of this island, every effort is being made to find, recognise and manage the cultural sites of these people so that future generations can learn, understand and respect their way of life.
It may look a gentle tropical paradise from the mainland shores, but Fraser Island-K’Gari is as wild and unpredictable as it is beautiful… so with our history lesson over let’s leave the crowds behind and hit its sandy shores!
Fraser can be accessed a few ways including via ‘Fraser Island Barges’, which leaves from River Heads just 20 minutes south of Hervey Bay, you can fly in and take an organised tour or like us catch the barge from Inskip Point… regardless, whichever way you choose to explore this island – you will need permits and a 4WD!
Permits, barge tickets and camping tags can all be purchased online, but we had decided to wait until we reached Rainbow Beach where we immediately headed to the ‘Manta Ray Permit Office’… then with our return barge ticket, tide book and the necessary vehicle and camping permits/ tags for the next 10-days clearly displayed on our windscreen we completed a few obligatory last-minute preparations – topped up with diesel, water, gas and groceries then headed to ‘Inskip Point’ to set up camp for the night.
Inskip Point is a narrow, sandy point that over the years has been built up by wind and waves and forms a natural breakwater at the entrance to Tin Can Inlet and Great Sandy Strait.
It has a rich history dating back to the 1860s when it first started as a light and signal station for the Maryborough port but today is a very popular ‘first in, first served’ camping area shaded by coastal trees and shrubs and enclosed by beautiful open ocean beaches and sheltered inlet shores.
Because of its fishing and beautiful beaches, Inskip attracts many holiday makers but being one of the gateways to Fraser Island it also attracts a few overnighters like us taking advantage of the campground before boarding the ‘Manta Ray Barge’ that runs continuously to and from ‘Hook Point’.
Many would know it in more recent years for its unstable shores when in 2015, 300 campers were evacuated when a large portion of this coastline plunged into the water, swallowing a car, caravan, tents and a trailer… but in actual fact there are 5 very safe camping areas to choose from. The S.S. Dorrigo and M.V. Sarawak arethe only campgrounds suitable for 2WD vehicles and caravans and Natone, M.V. Beagle and ‘The Oaks’ camping areas being best suited to high clearance 4WD vehicles because of their soft sandy conditions.
With so many camping areas available you wouldn’t think it would be hard to find a camp spot but with school holidays only a week away it was already very crowded with families taking an early break.
Normally we would bunker down somewhere less populated to avoid these peak times but as the black tar gave way to the deep sandy tracks, we wove our way through a network of winding trails, eventually tucking ourselves into a hard to get to (for most anyway) small open area amongst the trees at M.V. Beagle, with the beach only a 50-metre stroll from our campsite.
Thank heavens for our rooftop tent!
After years of camping on the ground around Oz, we were thankful we had invested a few years back in a more comfortable option that’s not only easy when it comes to set up and take down, we can tuck ourselves into hard to get places, get to more remote places… and we don’t have to camp with wolf spiders anymore!
The Manta Ray Fraser Island barge service operates two barges back and forth all day everyday (around every 30-minutes) from Inskip to Hook Point, with the first leaving at 6.00 am and the last at 5.00 pm.
With the school holidays almost upon us we knew both Inskip and Fraser were only going to get busier so to avoid the onslaught of crowds and the fact we didn’t want to miss a day on the island we decided to leave as early as possible the next morning… not perfect timing for the tide but it ensured we had all day to explore and find a good camp spot.
The sandy peninsula of Inskip has no jetty, just deep sand and wheel ruts to the barge ramp with beach driving here quite a tricky business!
We were told if we could successfully cross the deep sand at this point to board the barge then we would have no trouble with the islands sandy tracks and beaches so the following morning, having already deflated our tyres to access the campgrounds, we packed up early and joined a queue of vehicles… and it wasn’t long before someone was bogged!
For us, any hope of being on the first trip across was soon dashed when more vehicles followed suit… but we did make the second barge for the 10-minute trip across the strait!
If you’re yet to witness this trip then you will be in for a thrill as there’s nothing more exciting than rolling off the barge and onto such a picturesque island where the white sandy beach, that seemingly stretched forever, contrasted so vividly against the bright blue waters and dark green forest.
Being first on the barge and first off we soon discovered how popular this sand island really was as we watched a queue of 4WDs line up to take their place for the trip back to the mainland – and another queue disembark and make their way along the beach for as far as the eye could see… regardless of the near high tide!
Others decided to head for the short cut inland track to be bogged only metres from the entrance.
This inland road takes you around the headland to allow you to pass Hook Point if the tide is high, but we had been warned it was rough… so after pausing to take a few photos and deflating our tyres a little more, we decide to push on along the beach – the other vehicles long gone!
Fraser is one of the few places in Australia where your movements are dictated to by the tide… so just a word of warning make sure you carry a tide chart with you!
The rule of thumb according to a fisherman on the barge was to travel 2 hours on either side of low tide, and avoid beach driving 2 hours either side of high tide but even he seemed to disregard this rule and we were soon guiding Harry Hilux along 75-Mile Beach in his wake! We decided by travelling early if we got stuck we had a better chance of being pulled out by passing travellers!
Driving for kilometres along a wild beach is about as free-spirited as it gets on land… and I have to say driving along this iconic highway was quite an experience and lots of fun as we attempted to manovour through the deep thick sand and wayward tracks formed by the other 4WDs that had proceeded us… and by the time we arrived at our first stop at Dilli village, we were thoroughly shaken from the humps and bumps of the rivulets flowing into the sea and dodging and weaving through the soft wet sand!
Dilli Village is a fully fenced facility that was once, in sand mining days, the base of Dillingham Mining.
Today it is privately-owned fenced area providing private guest accommodation, powered and unpowered camp sites and is used as a Research and Learning Centre for schools and universities.
With 45 camping areas to choose from on this island including privately run facilities we were certainly not short of somewhere to camp.
Central Station, Dundubara and Waddy Point in the National Parks provide camping within the safety of dingo deterrent fences and there are 9 camping zones from Dilli Village all the way north to Sandy Cape set high on the edge of the sand dunes overlooking stunning ocean views.
We didn’t even consider the isolated western side of this island as not only did the mention of crocodiles scare us off, but it is much more remote with tides dictating much of the time you can move around.
Moon Point and Wathumba Creek (on the western side) are supposedly quite remote campsites and as well as being well prepared with recovery gear you also need to be stocked up on food and water and all the emergency essentials as you are a long way from help.
Around an hour from Hook Point we arrived at the largest settlement on the island.
Eurong boosts a beach resort, a residential area, has a couple of restaurants, a police station and a general store. The total number of residents on the island is around 100 with some 48 rangers who either live on this piece of paradise or are flown in and out daily.
Leaving the beach and making our way through the small village we came to one of the few entrances onto a remote track that leads into the heart of the island.
It was here, on the next part of our journey that we caught our first glimpse of the impressive rainforest environment unique to this ‘island of sand’ we had heard so much about… an area where impressive giant trees dominated the landscape and the odd piccabeen palm graced the forest floor.
Central Station was to be our first inland camp for the next couple of nights.
A world away from the bustling train station you might immediately think of, this is one of the most popular camping areas on the island and is located near the major tracks that lead to beautiful Lake McKenzie and surrounding Southern Lakes area.
In the early days of European settlement it was a major centre for timber logging with a community of more than 100 people and the site of an old logging station, which even included a school.
Logging was started on Fraser Island in 1863 by ‘Yankee Jack’ Piggott with the first trees taken by the loggers, kauri pine, hoop pine and cypress pine then in the early 1900s hardwood species such as tallowood, blackbutt and brush box were targeted.
In 1925 satinay became the major timber logged on the island as it was found to be resistant to marine borer… thus sought to build the Suez Canal, the Urangan Pier and rebuild London Docks after World War II.
After logging ceased sand mining began in 1949 but was stopped in 1976 with an estimated 200 hectares of dunes removed from the island.
This former logging camp is now a beautiful fenced camp area that offers excellent facilities and is surrounded by one of the most picturesque regions of century old trees in a beautiful, canopied rainforest. Fraser Island being the only place in the world where rainforests grow in sand at elevations of up to 240 metres with the Giant Tallowwood the largest known specimen on the island!
Being relatively early when we arrived at Central Camp we set up a few basics to indicate the camp site was taken and headed off on a short (8-kilometre), very bumpy off-road sand drive through the beautiful cool Pile Valley to Lake Mackenzie…
… stopping along the way at an information area showcasing the history of the area along with several forest walks – Wanggoolba Creek walk being the main drawcard.
This creek weaves its way through the surrounding rainforest to an incredibly rare fern – the magnificent giant King Fern (Angiopteris evecta) that’s root structure is supported by the water due to its primitive origins.
It has the largest fronds of any fern on earth and cannot be found anywhere else on Fraser Island.
Known by the traditional owners as ‘Boorangoora’ meaning ‘waters of wisdom’ Lake Mackenzie is one of the most visited natural wonders on this island and is often referred to as the ‘Jewel of the Island’… but just a word of warning – be ready for the crowds!
It’s a good idea to visit here before 10am and after 3pm just to miss the tour buses and although it was fairly busy when we arrived late morning, surprisingly, we shared the sandy shores with only a few people – a group of backpackers sunbathing and splashing in the shallows, and a couple wading in the water at the far end of the beach.
From the carpark we headed straight for the attraction we had heard so much about, stopping briefly at the entrance of the walkway to read the information boards that explained the history, the flora and fauna and screened a video showing footage of dingo encounters.
The rangers are very serious about dingo safety on this island and prominant signs were everywhere warning of their presence.
Camping (for walkers only) and all food here at Lake Mackenzie must be eaten within an enclosed ‘day use/camping area’ and having food outside this area or at the lake beach is strictly prohibit and regularly policed by the rangers – which we were soon to witness on the beach when the backpackers were asked to leave!
This island is home to the purest breed of a dingo (Wongari meaning wild dog in the local aboriginal language) and although these wild animals might look friendly they should be admired from afar as they are known to become quite aggressive around food.
Infact, you can incur a heavy fine here if you eat outside the designated areas… or feed a dingo anywhere on the island, so please keep this in mind!
From the moment we walked down the path to this tropical paradise we were in awe of the lakes beauty. With its pure white sand, turquoise water plus a beautiful day it made for a photographer’s delight and the perfect backdrop for the obligatory selfie! We considered ourselves very privileged to witness it in all its glory before the afternoon sun began to throw its silhouettes.
At only 5-metres deep and stretching a bit over 1-kilometre in each direction, this lake is the ideal swimming spot on a warm day – and the water temperature was just perfect!
There are three types of lakes on this island: window lakes (Ocean Lake and Lake Wabby), barrage lakes (Lake Wabby) and Lake McKenzie, one of the islands many perched lakes.
Perched lakes, also known as coastal dune lakes can be found dotted along Queensland’s coast from Cape York to the NSW border with 40 of these lakes on Fraser Island, over half the known perched lakes in the world.
Being a ‘perched’ lake, Lake McKenzie only contains rainwater and is not fed by creeks or natural springs.
Like many of the lakes on the island, because of purity, acidity and the waters low nutrient levels, it is almost void of plant and fish life with only some frog species called ‘acid frogs’ having adapted to survive in the environment.
Formed from organic matter that has gradually decomposed and hardened into depressions created by the wind this lake is a very sensitive ecosystem and its pure white sand known as white silica is not only beautiful to look at and soft to walk on but also acts as a natural filter leaving beautiful crystal clear blue waters.
It is because these lakes are so sensitive that all perched lakes on Fraser Island are protected waters and visitors are asked to be mindful that sun lotion is not worn in the water.
Around mid-afternoon as the shadows crept over we packed up and headed back to camp.
The short drive to and from this perched lake was certainly a demanding but spectacular journey through bush scrub, tall Kauri pines and rainforest, with Basin Lake (another perched lake) a bonus along the way!
While beach driving poses the greatest danger on this island due to speed and hooning, these inland tracks are not for the faint hearted and pose another challenge being narrow with lots of sharp bends and steep crests and cavernous ruts where you almost need your head lights to get out.
Whether it’s driving along the beach or following the off-road nature trails, these tracks are certainly ever-changing… and meeting other 4WDs at the same time can often result in a line of vehicles waiting their turn to get enough momentum up a hill, through a sand bog or over ruts!
Not surprisingly, 4WDs have a major impact on the island’s tracks and therefore its ecology but what was most surprising is that the ‘Fraser Island Defenders Organisation’ estimate that as much as one tonne of sand is shifted with each 4WD on these island’s tracks resulting in a damaging impact on the lakes.
A stop at Basin Lake came highly recommended by the two rangers at Lake McKenzie and was a welcome relief after negotiating the track… and whilst nowhere near as picturesque as Lake Mackenzie, it was a lovely bush walk to get there and great place for another cool dip and to wash off the dust.
With half the world’s freshwater perched lakes on this island, and many more to see we were so pleased we had booked 2-nights at Central Station before moving north. This gave us the opportunity to visit the southern lakes of Birrabeen, Benarron and Boomanjin.
Next morning following another sandy track we left Central Station climbing along an extensive, rugged sandy ridge where vegetation morphed from rainforest to open woodland of melaleucas, brushbox and scribbly gum before descending, and eventually skirting the shorelines then exiting at Dilli Village and back onto the sand highway.
Our first stop was the stunning, yet shallow, tea-tree stained lake of Lake Boomanjin.
Surrounded by beautiful greenery, colourful birds and striking rusty coloured waters, Lake Boomanjin is the largest perched lake on the island (in the world actually) and a stark contrast to the clarity of Lake McKenzie making swimming a less likely proposition for us.
There is a lovely picnic area and camping area here (tents only) and is surrounded by a dingo-deterrent fence, which we assumed with ‘The Fraser Island Great Walk’ passing through this area, would only be used by walkers.
The Fraser Island Great Walk traverses 90-kilometres of stunning landscape between Dilli Village and Happy Valley and takes between 6-8 days to complete. It combines challenging and remote routes for experienced walkers and shorter, easier treks for day or overnight visitors.
After stopping to enjoy the scenery and a cuppa we then pushed on to Lake Birrabeen.
Almost as beautiful as Lake McKenzie, Birrabeen’s silica sands and crystal-clear blue waters were striking… and being off the beaten track it was such a peaceful place away from the crowds.
This is one of the few lakes still known by her Aboriginal name and is a sacred and special place on this island – but unfortunately I was unable to find out any more information or the meaning of its name.
Back on the beach we made tracks from Dilli Village back to Eurong then headed inland to Central Station for our last night amongst ‘the valley of the giants’!
After a peaceful two nights in camp on our last morning we woke to ‘the sounds of nature’ and the piercing laugh of one of our iconic Aussie kookaburras.
Hearing kookaburras in full chorus is one of the most extraordinary sounds of the Australian bush that I really love – and it didn’t take long for several others to join in… then soon the whole family had gathered and filled the forest with ringing laughter.
Consequently, our day began early so after devouring our breakfast and retracing our tracks back to the beach we continued our journey north.
Our next stop was Lake Wabby just up the road – or should I say just up the beach!
While Lake McKenzie is the most photographed lake on this island, Lake Wabby and the surrounding scenery was just as spectacular… even though the trek from the beach was an exhausting slog.
This is one walk where you don’t want to forget your camera as there are so many photo opportunities along this short but invigorating track!
After traipsing through forests of bent and twisted trees growing tentatively in their sandy foundations the hardest section of the walk came as we crossed the alien landscape of exhausting and muscle wrenching sand dunes where the deep soft sands of Hammerstone Sandblow, coupled with the wild winds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean, no shade and the hot sun burning down, had us desperate to cool off in the emerald green waters of a lake we wondered if we would ever reach.
Being only mid- morning when we arrived, we weren’t surprised to find, this popular spot already occupied by a small group of tourists. Packed to leave we chatted for a while then after climbing the steep dune out of the lake they bid us farewell and we had the place to ourselves… aside from the inquisitive catfish lurking nearby.
It was the perfect setting to pull out the camera and snap the giant sand dune surrounding us… then shed our clothes and enjoy a solitary moment before the midday crowds descended!
Located on the edge of spectacular dunes, Lake Waddy is only small but the deepest of all the inland lakes on Fraser sinking 11.4 metres down.
Being both a ‘window lake’ and a rare ‘barrage lake’ Lake Waddy was formed when a creek became blocked by a shifting sand dune causing the water flow to be dammed… and unlike the lifeless ‘perched lakes’ we had visited this one is home to freshwater turtles and 13 species of fish including quite a large population of catfish that like to nibble on toes.
Its an interesting lake in that having been originally shaped by the giant Hammerstone Sandblow… the very sandblow that created it, is slowly encroaching upon its deep green waters and filling it with sand.
Hammerstone Sandblow has already swallowed up what used to be an entire forest eco-system… and now, according to nearby signage, it has a lake in its path that will be completely engulfed by the dunes by the turn of the century.
For the past 700,000 years, these sand dunes (the highest being over 240 metres above sea level) have flowed like rivers shifting and changing the shape of this island.
Before leaving, and not far from the lake itself was the access to the ‘Fraser Island Great Walk’ where we hiked a short distance to Lake Wabby Lookout.
There are only 2 ways to get to this lookout… high clearance 4WD, or on foot – and once there the views over Dulingbara, the Hammerstone Sandblow and the lake itself were stunning.
Heading back the way we came we again crested one dune after another only this time we were privy to incredible ocean views that stretched out between the white sand and the blue sky.
Finally, we reached 75 Mile Beach, grabbed a bite to eat and a cuppa then headed on again and with the map in front of us we decided we couldn’t bypass Kirrar Sandblow.
Lacing up our walking boots once again we followed another windy track emerging from the coastal forest to the striking sands of Rainbow Gorge and its weathered and coloured walls… then just 200-metres on the surrounds opened out on to the sandblow where markers led us to more dunes.
With the sandblows done we were finally back on track detouring inland at Poyungar and Yidney Rocks to avoid the rugged, rocky outcrops on the beach… then with windows down and the salt breeze blowing through our hair we cruised along the beach to Happy Valley.
This is the second largest community on the island and pretty much marks the halfway mark along this beach.
Surrounded by lush sands and incredible sea views, this community provides a charming selection of restaurants, hotels, and retreats, of which the ‘Fraser Island Retreat’ is the most well-known.
Further on we came to the very popular, must-see Eli Creek.
Fraser Island may have had its challenges in the past from logging and sandmining but I’m sure todays biggest challenge is tourism!
While the beach we were driving might look like a great place to take a dip it pays to know there are dangerous currents that torment this coastline… as well as a large shark population (even crocodiles on the western side) – so beach swimming isn’t really an option in this part of the world.
That leaves only the lakes, Champagne Pools and Eli Creek safe areas to bath… and this particular swimming area was jam packed with 4WDs, kids floating on noodles and blow up toys, and families set up with sunshades and picnic blankets along the banks.
Eli Creek is the largest freshwater creek along the east coast of Oz and pours an amazing 4.2 million litres of water into the ocean every hour.
For those who don’t want to get wet this natural beauty can be viewed via wooden walkways that snake around its edges but with so many tourists entrenched around banks we decided a swim could wait for our return journey.
With Eli Creek disappearing in the rear vision mirror we soon came upon the rusty red metal of a once grand old lady, the SS Maheno sitting all alone on the sandy shore.
These hazardous waters around Fraser are home to 23 wrecks having succumb to their fate between 1856 and 1935 – with the last being the Maheno.
This stunning sight against the white sands and blue seas was another very popular attraction on everyone’s to-see-list!
‘Maheno’ meaning ‘island’ in the native New Zealand Maori language was built in 1904 in Scotland weighing a massive 5323 tons.
She was once renowned for the fastest transatlantic crossing, served as a passenger ship to New Zealand, a hospital ship during World War 1, then met a stormy end to a cyclone in 1935 while being towed to Japan for scrap metal.
This wreck was also used for bombing practice during World War II by ‘Z Special Unit Commandos’ and the ‘Royal Australian Air Force’ and it was a touching moment to know my dad, as a commando, was also a part of this islands history.
A short while later, after soaking up the sun and enjoying the scenery and the company of our Tassie friends, Bron and Kerry we made tracks… this time passing a number of 4WDs hooning around the beach, all exceeding the speed limit.
If we‘re driving a beach or sandy tracks, we have to accept the inevitable that at some point we’re going to get bogged…but hooning on the beach is not the way to do it.
There are safety and environmental considerations that need to be heeded especially on this island and on this highway the biggest roadblock is the unknown with the ‘edge of the road’ constantly moving.
It only takes one rogue wave or a wash away to lift or roll a vehicle and this beach drive is well known to cause disastrous and sometimes fatal accidents! Infact there have been over 120 vehicle accidents on this island since 2003 with more than one quarter of them being serious.
As well as doubling as a gazetted highway where all the normal road rules apply – keep left, wearing seatbelts, following the speed limit, indicate if overtaking, pass on the right and no drink driving – it is also a landing strip for light aircraft and well signposted and marked with orange cone markers as a constant reminder of aircraft landing… so if you decided on being a bit silly remember this highway is regularly patrolled by marked and unmarked police cars and rangers.
Most people drive this beach for the love of it, so let’s keep the good vibes going and leave the drama at home. There would be nothing worse than becoming a casualty on the ‘Wall of Shame’ back in Rainbow Beach after being stranded with your 4WD slowly sinking into the sand… or worse still causing an accident!
As our journey continued north, we came upon the incredibly colourful ‘Coloured Sand Pinnacles’.
These multicoloured dunes, created by the slow release of iron-rich minerals being released through the silica sand have been shaped into sculptures and sand cliffs by the wind and rain blowing in off the Pacific over hundreds of thousands of years.
Other displays of coloured sands can be found along the beach at ‘The Cathedrals’ and ‘Red Canyon’ with the vibrant reds, oranges and sometimes purple colour creating a photographer’s delight at the right time of day, especially with the vivid green leaves of the trees and bushes growing from the sand.
These mystical sands also feature in the traditional people’s sacred stories and are believed to be a site of good luck and fortune for the Butchulla women.
One story tells that the gods brushed up against them leaving the cliffs permanently stained.
Another is of a beautiful woman named Wuru who was promised to marry an older man named Winyer, but she had fallen in love with Wiberigan, the Rainbow Serpent and would visit the Pinnacles every day to see him.
One day on seeing them together, Winyer was angered and threw his boomerang at Wuru. To protect her Wiberigan (the Rainbow Serpent) stepped in front of her and as a result, shattered into thousands of heart broken pieces that fell upon the Pinnacles – creating the coloured sands.
The ocean was wild and pounding as our journey continued but still beach fisherman lined up along the foreshore in the hope of a catch for their pending meal.
In the beach camping zones, we were entertained by banners, flags, character post boxes and various setups of camper trailers and tents set amongst the dunes.
Football clubs rated highly as did Aussie flags and of course in an attempt to be witty the odd unsavoury blow up toy made an appearance!
Many of these camping zones were like little communities with the campers set up for a long haul! Apparently they even arrive with full size refrigerators and washing machines – and I guess the kitchen sink too!
The Cathedrals further on was another stunning array of coloured sand cliffs and inland Lake Allom is home to a large turtle population.
This lake can only be accessed via a very challenging 4WD track that winds its way to a walking path that then leads to a lookout. Due to this lake’s sensitivity and concerns that close proximity of people may irreversibly alter and damage its delicate ecosystem this lake is strictly prohibited.
Back on the beach ‘Cathedrals on Frasers’ is one of the few privately owned campgrounds on the Island providing basic non-powered campsites to cabins, a well-stocked store, fuel and laundry and ablution facilities.
4WDing alongside the ocean with nothing but a stretch of pearly-white sand and the white foam from the surf breaking in front of us soon became our quintessentially Australian pastime with the means to the end… another beautiful remote camp site and our home for the next 2 nights.
Dundubara is set in coastal woodland and is a huge, fenced area encompassing many campsites, hot showers ($2 for 3 minutes), toilets, gas barbecues, phone access… and it was only a short drive along the beach to the rubbish disposal area. Thankfully there are a few fenced Waste Transfer stations located at the villages, Central Station and along the beach.
Queensland Parks also man a station near this camping ground so it was good to have some firsthand knowledge on the scenic walking track to Wun’gul Sandblow, which was well worth the short scramble to explore another sand expanse.
Ranger Todd warned us to be cautious of dingos especially when walking the nearby sand drifts or bush walks and while spotting one of these iconic wild canines would be a memorable experience for most, we were not that keen on meeting one on the dunes.
Consequently each trip outside of the campground surrounds we carried a walking pole ready to defend ourselves in case of an unexpected dingo encounter.
That said, there are other creatures on this island you don’t really want to meet either – namely SNAKES!
Fraser Island is home to more than 15 snake species, which include the eastern brown, red-bellied black and the coastal taipan… all very dangerous snakes.
Our two days passed very quickly at Dundubara, and as we waited for the tide to change on our last morning we headed to the beach where our attention was drawn to a commotion at the entrance to the campground.
We had heard the parks fire engine earlier in the morning but thought nothing of it… and now here it was madly pumping water into a vehicle in the hope of removing a deadly red-bellied black snake that had curled itself tightly up in the engine.
The snake had been returning from a swim in the ocean the day before and after being harassed by a driver in a passing vehicle made its escape straight into the campsite and vehicle of some unsuspecting campers… and there it stayed for the rest of the day, all night and well into the next morning.
This sneaky visitor had curled itself so tightly under the bonnet that even the local National Parks guys couldn’t dislodge it and after failed attempts at trying to hose it out and driving backwards and forwards through the nearby freshwater creek it just buried itself deeper and still hadn’t shown its fangs by the time we left Dundubara for Waddy Point.
Further on we passed Red Canyon aptly named because of its unique red coloured sandstone cliffs… then as we neared the end of our beach drive a large volcanic outcrop loomed up in front of us.
Indian Head, named by Captain Cook in 1770 when he passed and saw aboriginals on the headland (the term ‘indian’ used at that time for the native people of many lands), is the most prominent landmark on 75- Mile Beach and at 60-metres high this rocky bluff has a spectacular viewing platform that offers 360 degree views on the headland overlooking 75-mile beach in one direction and the bubbling ocean in the other.
Leaving Indian Head, we headed inland over the Indian Head bypass track with our first hurdle exiting the beach where we were confronted with a fairly steep climb.
Stabilising matting had been installed across the track making things somewhat easier, but we still plunged into a deep hole at the front of the matting coming to a grinding halt!
From here on in and around the headland from Eastern Beach we climbed steep dunes with very soft, deep sand and while there were wooden slats to assist with traction the steering wheel was turning constantly.
Halfway between Indian Head and Waddy Point we came to Middle Rocks, home to the largest true rock pools on the island being the famed ‘Champagne Pools’, often referred to as ‘The Aquarium’.
Formed over hundreds of years as the surf has crashed over the rocks these small pools were once used as natural fish traps by the Aboriginal people.
Today, this collection of shallow, sandy swimming holes on the edge of the ocean are continually filled with water as each wave rolls in creating bubbling seafoam for which this unique bathing spot is named.
It’s quite an amazing experience to feel the full force of the bubbling waters washing over with each wave but being high tide we were on constant watch for the occasional large wave that swept into the pool catching us unawares.
Continuing inland from the Champagne Pools a narrow, sandy, windy track led us to Waddy Point, our next camp for a couple of days.
Beyond, the northern tip of Fraser along the Coral Sea coast is wild and remote, and access difficult – a trek notorious for stranding vehicles and only recommended for experienced and well-equipped 4WDers.
Ngkala Rocks, one of the largest exposures of what is called coffee rock is the first hurdle past Waddy Point. The track from there on in is narrow, steep and rocky and the northern most beaches hard to negotiate… and if you make it through there and as far as the north-eastern tip then the heritage listed Sandy Cape Lighthouse is a sight to behold.
Knowing Fraser Island beaches could be unforgiving we decided to end our journey at Waddy Point. We didn’t want to be one of the 4WDs swallowed by the sea and become a statistic on the ‘Wall of Shame’ at Rainbow Beach.
Waddy Point is a crowd favourite on this island and with school holidays now upon us pre-booking a site was well worth it. The fenced campground was filling up fast and there wasn’t a spot to be found at the beachfront camping area. Luckily, we found the perfect campsite sheltered from south-easterly winds and although not beachfront it only took us a couple of minutes to walk to the beach.
Our days at Waddy Creek were filled with beach combing , climbing to the cliff top where we were rewarded with impressive views over the ocean and an abundance of sea life below, or wandering along the beach to Orchid Beach Village… and at night the silence was only broken by the distant howl of dingos and the wind whipping up the waves!
Orchid Beach Village is only a short distance from Waddy Point, but it’s a rough sandy track to get through by car.
It’s an enchanting little fishing village where there’s no tour buses, very few day trippers and much less beach traffic.
A small group of houses support several residents and a handful of holiday makers and the only shop is Orchid Beach Trading Post, which sells fuel, bait, alcohol from a licensed bar and limited basic provisions. They have a public phone, an ATM but there are no restaurants or cafes.
After two wonderful days we left Waddy Creek and retraced our tracks back along the eastern side of the island.
Having already checked out the sights on the way up it was to be a straight run back along the bona fide 75 Mile beach highway , our only stops – a swim at Eli Creek and our last night beach camping.
By mid-morning we had pulled in at the not so crowded Eli Creek and donned our swimmers but by the time we’d cooled off, hordes of fresh holidaymakers were already flocking to the water’s edge.
This swiftly flowing creek is a very popular spot for swimming and picnics and with around 4 million litres of water pumped from the creek into the ocean each hour it made for a very refreshing experience on a hot day.
Afterwards we enjoyed walking along the tranquil boardwalk deep into the forest then wading through the crystal clear, freshwater creek back to the bridge and although only waist deep, many enjoyed floating in the current on inflatable pool toys and noodles.
It’s pretty amazing to think that much of the water from the annual average rainfall here on this island is absorbed into an enormous dome shaped water table below the dunes and stored 30-metres or more below sea level for up to 100 years before resurfacing then flowing into the ocean!
In the time we spent at Eli the low tide turned into high tide and with a south-easterly wind blowing strongly and the sea surge lapping at our tyres we decided, after a couple of kilometres, to called it a day and find a camp.
With the high tide, there wasn’t a lot of beach to drive on – just very deep, soft sand and deep ruts where the heavy beach traffic had churned it up but it didn’t seem to stop other 4WDers driving the last 10 -kilometres to Hook Point. I guess busy beaches mean there are plenty of vehicles to help tow you out if you get bogged!
Camping on Fraser Island is amazing whether its amongst the tranquil rainforest, within the safety of dingo deterrent fences or along the beachfront… and you really can’t go wrong!
After finding a track over the dunes we weaved our way in and out of the many trails finally settling ourselves on top of a sandy mound where we were privy to beautiful views of the ocean on one side and pandanus palms on the other… and our beach camp was absolute bliss and the best ending to our experience in paradise.
When we booked, we didn’t really know where the good spots were, so we only booked a beach camp in Govi Zone for our last night. Knowing now just how beautiful the beach camping zones are, we will definitely be booking along the coastline next trip!
As custodians of this beautiful country our motto has always been ‘leave nothing behind but your tyre tracks and footprints’… and on these coastal sand dunes rubbish is the last feature you want see dotting our beautiful, natural vistas.
How much do you hate pulling into a great campsite and finding rubbish left there?
This blatant disregard shown by dirty campers is inexcusable, lazy and disrespectful to other campers and the environment, and it’s no wonder free camping sites are closing down all over Australia because of the mess left behind by inconsiderate campers.
If you’re travelling our beautiful country please be mindful of your footprint – and please clean up around your campsite. What you bring into your campsite, you need to take home with you! It isn’t fun having a big bag of smelly garbage in the back of your vehicle, but it is a necessary part of camping until you can find a bin to dispose of it properly.
Here on the island you also need to be mindful you are in dingo country and even though they have a long history of companionship and sharing food with humans, going back to Aboriginal times when they spent much of their time freely laying around camp sites, they are wild animals and unpredictable.
They know humans are an easy way to get food… but it is an offence to feed a dingo, and penalties apply. For this reason locking food and rubbish away so as not to attract these wild but beautiful dogs is paramount.
Seeing a pure dingo in an environment as near as possible to their natural state would be a memorable experience for many but for us, sightings were non existent with our nearest encounter – footprints circumnavigating our vehicle!
The following morning was the earliest we had risen for some time and we were just in time to peer out of the rooftop tent window to see the beautiful sunrise before packing up.
Other than a few early morning fishermen, we were alone soaking up this beautiful atmosphere, when, while sipping our cuppas in the sun’s warm rays we were treated to one last magical surprise.
Fraser Island really is a special place when it comes to wildlife and natural beauty… then add a magnificent pod of whales breaching in the distance to the list, and it doesn’t get much better than that. Well, maybe a dingo or two would have been exciting!
It is believed that whales breach to work out their position in relation to land, or allow them to communicate with other whales… but I think they knew we were watching so put on one last magnificent display of launching themselves out of the water then falling back with a gigantic splash just to bid us farewell!
Back at the barge we were surprised at how many vehicles had lined up to bid the island farewell… just in time to avoid the fresh hordes of travellers that would arrive with the school holidays.
Obviously, many had camped along Hook Point inland road where there are multiple campsites ideal for late arrivals or when waiting for the low tide.
Fraser Island is one of the most unique landscapes in the world and one of those magical places you will only find in Australia.
Called K’Gari, or paradise, for one very good reason, it is wild and rugged and will live long in my memory… and it’s a must-see experience not to be missed – just don’t expect to see dingos!
Manta Ray Fraser Island Barges – leaves from Inskip Point at Rainbow Beach to Hook Point at the south end of the island ($75 one-way or $120 return with a vehicle) or…
Kingfisher Bay Ferry – leaves River Heads to either Kingfisher Resort or Wangoolba Creek on the West side of the island ($105 one-way or $175 return with a vehicle/$50 as a foot passenger).
WHEN TO VISIT
Its a beautiful place to visit any time of year but tends to be busier in the summer months (November-June) when the weather is warmer.
Queensland Parks campgrounds -$6.55pppn
TAKE A TOUR
Stay tuned for our next blog when we wind down the windows and inhale the salty sea breeze as we cruise the majestic sweep of Cooloola Recreation Area’s Teewah Beach in the Great Sandy National Park to Noosa North Shore – the last stretch of our ‘Great Beach Highway’ journey!