After our day trip on the Whitsunday islands, we thought we’d try our luck on World Heritage listed Fraser Island. We based ourselves in pretty Rainbow beach (a tiny seaside town).Above and below: view of the ocean from Carlos sandblow at Rainbow beach. Practically everyone we ran into along our east coast route told us not to miss the island. In fact the aboriginals call it K’Gari, which means paradise. The island was discovered by James Cook and it is the world’s largest sand island (measuring 120km by 15km) and the only place where rainforest grows on sand. It also has the distinction of having the purest strain of dingo in Australia. There are no paved roads on Fraser (think sand and tree roots) and you can only access it by 4X4 (either your own you can put on the barge from Rainbow beach or via organized tour).
We had been told the best way to experience Fraser was through a tour (preferably a camping tag-along one), especially for first-timers and inexperienced 4X4 drivers. The owner of the place we were staying at, Debbie, was this spastic-high-energy-a bit opinionated but still very nice lady, who was full of information and advice. So she helped us call a tour operator we had researched online and we talked to the owner, running through a detailed list of questions we had prepared. They had 2 spots left for the next day and so we told them we would call them back with a decision wanting to go through the answers together and with Debbie (as she had recommended a different tour operator but it was not a camping tour). By the time we called them back (may be 15 mins later) they had fully booked through their web site. We were a bit disappointed and frustrated but Debbie had it all figured out for us….we would do our own tour! The logistics for us seemed overwhelming: we did not have camping equipment, nor any ideas of the tide schedule (you have to know the tides as you are driving on the beach), no real experience driving a 4X4 on sand or really rough roads, no knowledge of the island, permits required, barge schedule etc etc. We basically had no idea what we were doing and it all was very last minute. But Debbie made some calls and got us hooked up with a 4X4 rental company (people she knew) who rented us a high-clearance Nissan Patrol that included a lot of the camping equipment we needed. She also gave us additional blankets as the nights were very cold as well as coolers and other picnic supplies. All we had to do was figure out the permits (which we eventually did online with her help), go grocery shopping and pick-up the vehicle the next day at 6:30am. Her friends would show us how to drive in the sand, and share the tide schedule and map of the island then. With everything set, we quickly grocery shopped, grabbed a quick dinner, and packed for our adventure ahead. The next morning we showed up at the 4X4 rental place where Dave, the owner, had the vehicle packed and warmed up and proceeded to go through a quick 4X4 “how-to” and do’s and don’ts. The demo even included a short drive on the local beach where Dave purposefully got the Nissan dug in and stuck, and then freed up again. He also gave us the tide schedule, warned us not to be on the beach 2 hours before and after high tide as well as a map of the island. Armed with lots of advice and little experience, we finally headed to catch the barge.
The barge nudged its nose on the shore and then lowered the ramp onto the sand. This was everyone’s cue to get onboard. 15 minutes later, same procedure when we reached the island where we were thankfully the last to get off, giving us the opportunity to follow the other vehicles who seemed to be headed in the general direction we thought we should be going.
As we started to drive on the iconic 75 Mile beach, we were greeted by some wild dingoes. While these guys looked friendly, we had read and been warned numerous times they could be unpredictable and had attacked people in the past for food (even killing a 10-year old kid in 2001). So Sylvie resisted the urge to try and pet them! Dingoes were introduced by Asian seamen 4500 to 5000 years ago as a food source for themselves. They are now one of Australia’s and Fraser island’s icons and protected in Queensland.
By then, the convoy group ahead of us had gone around some trees that blocked our path clear to the water’s edge. It looked too dicey for us by the time we had reached that point. The tide was moving in and we had been warned to not take the car on the beach at high tide so we turned back and found a very long and bumpy inland road.Above: it may not look like much on this picture but this inland road was pretty rough. Below: a good road on Fraser.We finally made it to Lake McKenzie a couple of hours later (it was very slow going -20 kms/h at most) , a beautiful lake with sapphire-blue waters perched high in the white sand dunes and fringed by eucalypt forest. We marveled at its crystal clear waters and James even took a dip. You would have thought we were on a beautiful beach, not a freshwater lake! After spending a few hours there (also waiting for low tide), we drove back to the beach and set-up our camp near the Maheno shipwreck, a passenger liner that met its end during a cyclone in 1935 while being towed to a Japanese scrapyard.Below: SS Maheno shipwreck Above: setting our camp on a sand dune. Below: sunset and dinner preparation.That night as we cooked our dinner we had several dingo visitors come into our camp…very very close. Guess they smelled the food…although they were not showing any signs of aggression, we were a bit startled they would come within a couple feet of us. So we shooed them away hoping they would not return while we were sleeping and become more aggressive.
The next day we were up early (again to sync our driving with the tides) and took the 75-mile beach “highway” north to Indian head and “champagne pools”.
Indian head is a rocky outcrop and the best vantage point on the island to see marine life. And it did pay off, we saw rays, turtles, a dolphin and humpback whales breaching in the distance. We also enjoyed the many resident birds.Above: view of 75 Mile beach from Indian head. Below: whale breaching in the distance. The champagne pools were our playground for the afternoon while we waited out high tide, and one of the best spots on the island for a safe swim. 75-mile beach, although beautiful, is deemed unsafe because of the high shark and sea snake population. So we didn’t chance it 🙂Above: Champagne pools when seas are calm. Below: the pools after a new wave came in. Our last day on the island was packed full. We started by taking a look at Eli Creek where fresh water pours out to sea from an inland spring and got side-tracked photographing birds. We were then on our way inland to Central Station, a former logging town, and walked through the rainforest where we spotted king ferns and then hiked to a nearby lake.Above: Eli creek. Below: Eli creek pouring out in the ocean. Above: Wanggoolba Creek, a freshwater stream which meanders through the sand. We took a break for lunch at Lake Birrabeen, another of Fraser’s beauty spots and finished the day by taking a short hike to Lake Wabby. Wabby is edged on three sides by eucalyp forest, while the fourth side is a massive sandblow which is encroaching on the lake at a rate of about 3m a year.Above: testing the cleaning abilities of silica sand on our knife – it works very well.Above and below: hanging out at Wabby lake and the encroaching sandblow.Below: giant millipedeIt was then time to head back on the beach and catch the last barge back to Rainbow beach. We were flying down the beach at 80kms/hour, resisting to stop too much when seeing dingoes. A storm was brewing in the distance and we were losing daylight fast when we spotted the barge already on its way back to the mainland. S…T! We had missed the last boat! But to our surprise, the barge started heading back to us, and sure enough, picked us up – they didn’t want to leave us stranded! Upon reaching the mainland, we stopped to get a few pictures of the nice sunset, and further down the road, for the first time since being in Australia, saw a couple brumbies (wild horses), much to Sylvie’s delight. It was a perfect way to end our 3-day island stay. We ended up loving the freedom of our self-tour and James loved the 4X4 challenge the sand and rough roads of Fraser threw at him.