Mar 2, 2022
FRASER ISLAND (or K’gari as traditional owners, the Butchulla people, call it) is as expansive as it is stunning. And since it’s the largest sand island on the planet, there’s plenty to explore. Off the coast of southern Queensland, in Australia, Fraser is home to ancient rainforests, crystal-clear creeks and the purest strain of dingoes, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.
While it’s easily accessible with many domestic flights into Hervey Bay, the closest mainland town to the island, it’s not easy to visit.
In fact, it can be as frustrating as hell. I know, I used to be a guide on Fraser Island. For every gasp of wonder, there’s an equally expressive series of expletives muttered. Golden sand, that’s built up the island over thousands of years, is beautiful. And it’s still beautiful even when you’re beachside, helping to dig out a stuck four-wheel drive as the sun’s sinking, the tide’s rising, and the sand is sullied by sweat and swear words.
Welcome to island life. You have to work for it on Fraser Island if you want to be your own guide. Let me tell you how, so you can get the best of what this stunning hidden gem has to offer.
THE T+L GUIDE TO FRASER ISLAND
WHERE TO STAY
The highly awarded eco-resort of Kingfisher Bay, nestled into the forest, facing west to the mainland, overlooks the calm waters of Hervey Bay and spectacular sunsets. The resort places a great emphasis on environmental awareness and offers native food – talk and taste – tours, ranger-guided activities (plus a junior rangers tour for the kids), and eco boat tours where you can spot turtles, dugongs, and dolphins.
Hosting a variety of rooms and villas, three restaurants, four bars, four pools and a day spa, and offering a variety of tours covering the island, it’s impossible to get bored here. During the day you can hop on Kingfisher Bay’s custom, air-conditioned, 4WD buses with a guide to show you the best Fraser Island sights.
Rooms from A$229 per night. Eco Marine tours, in the calm waters of the west coast, are A$149 per person. Whale watching tours are A$135 per person, with June to October the best season to spot often breaching, tail-slapping Humpback whales. 4WD Day tours of the island’s highlights are A$239 per person. All visitors to the resort over the age of 16 are required to be double vaccinated. kingfisherbay.com
If you’re after accommodations on the east side of the island, and closer to some of the natural attractions, then the Fraser Island Retreat in the seaside village of Happy Valley is your best bet. Their hillside timber cabins—simple, clean, and comfortable—have one- and two-bedroom options, and onsite you’ll find a shop, cafe/bar, and pool.
One-bedroom, open planned cabins from A$215 per night. fraserislandretreatqld.com.au
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Flights from the beach
While driving over bumpy sand tracks and racing the tide has its moments, the most fun way to see the island is from the air. Fraser is one of only two places in the world where sections of the beach are a legal runway (the other is in Scotland). You’ll see lakes, sand blows, rainforests, views across the island to the mainland, plus sharks, stingrays and whales in the sea, depending on the season.
Flights are A$100 for 15 minutes, A$150 for 30 minutes, and A$250 for 60 minutes, all on a per-person basis. Scenic flights over Fraser Island also depart from Hervey Bay. airfraserisland.com.au
Protected, and with no natural predators — or other types of dogs allowed — on the island, dingoes are abundant here. Generally, they’re not a threat, but avoid walking alone, especially on the beaches around dawn and dusk, when they’re bolder, and looking for food. Don’t walk with anything edible and don’t try to feed them. They’re cute but are still wild animals.
Most of the communities on the island are surrounded by dingo-proof fencing. For good reason.
With more than 100 lakes on Fraser Island, you’re spoilt for choice. Lake McKenzie has a pure white-sand beach, sparkling blue water and is relatively easy to access. So little wonder it’s one of the most visited. T+L Tip: Get here early and beat the crowds.
Eli Creek is fed by a natural spring, from rainwater that’s been filtered through the sand for decades. The creek is shallow enough to walk through, or float (just), and is great for kids.
Just to the north of Eli Creek is the wreck of the S.S. Maheno. In 1935, while the ship was being towed to Japan to be scrapped, the towline broke, and it was washed onto the island, never to move again. Despite being used as target practice during the World War II, much of the wreck remains visible.
Central Station, nestled in the heart of the rainforest, with a clear creek running through, was once ground zero for commercial logging operations on the island. The Satinay logs were highly prized for their quality and hardiness — they’re impermeable to saltwater — and were used as far afield as the London docks and the Suez Canal.
The creek is also a sacred place for the native Butchulla women, as this is where they traditionally came to give birth.
Swimming in the ocean is not a smart thing to do here, thanks to strong currents and rips. Plus, there are enough sharks in the surrounding ocean to cause a casting backlog if Steven Spielberg ever decides to do a Jaws remake.
If you want to explore the island by yourself, a four-wheel drive is a necessity. Driving on the beach should be done two hours on either side of low tide. If you’re outside of these times, you run a real danger of becoming bogged in soft sand. And as this former guide can tell you, the expletives resulting from this frustration will distract you from all the beauty Fraser Island has to offer.
Fraser Island 4WD Hire has five-seater Toyota Landcruisers from A$299 for one day and A$269 per day thereafter. fraserisland.com.au/4wd-hire