A guide to Fraser Island

By Australian Geographic 10 June 2021
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The place to be.

YOU COULD BE forgiven for thinking there were two Fraser Islands. One is a spectacular World Heritage area, with pristine lakes, rare rainforests growing on sand, and exuberant wildlife, including whales, dugong, freshwater turtles, the country’s purest wild dingoes and half of Australia’s bird species. The other is a hoon’s paradise – a lawless area where you can fang along the beach in a four-wheel-drive while someone hangs on to a boogie board tied to the back, fish and drink to your heart’s content, drive up a creek to wash your car, then take a photo of yourself illegally feeding a dingo a sausage. 

Nowhere is this peculiar dichotomy more apparent than at Sandy Cape, Fraser’s remote northern tip. Only well-prepared 4WD-ers can reach this point. Beautiful curling waves lap the base of a towering white dune topped by a lone she-oak. The water is stunningly clear, with green turtles just metres from shore and dolphins shooting through the shallows. Stretching to the horizon is a line of breakers. Breaksea Spit, Fraser Island’s advancing underwater progression, continues for 35km from this point. The world’s largest sand island is actually moving 2cm north each year as sand is swept from the south and added to the north. On the sand, a red crab takes up a ninja stance – one out-thrust claw attacking, one defending – to protect its cape from large human intruders. But its defences are useless against the middle-aged men in four utes who come wheeling out of an illegal camp, music blaring and engines roaring as they tear up the sand with circle work. 

But these are not the only breed of Fraser Island fans here – people who have only ever known Fraser as a valued WHA are also visiting this morning. Four polite teenagers from Gatton, who had decided to come here for a peaceful Schoolies Week instead of the noise of the Gold Coast, were fishing quietly alongside each other. John Stewart, senior ranger with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) here, grew up in Brisbane and, as a teenager, used to come out with his family. “This is the place you came to yahoo and do whatever you wanted with no restrictions,” he says. But, like many, he has noticed changes in how people use the island since its WHA listing in 1992. “It’s a fun, safe and beautiful place and one of the jewels of the world. I think it’s a shame when people come up here for a piss-up and to do donuts on the beach – they miss out on 700,000 years of geological history.”

FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, the Butchulla people who lived here, of whom there were 2000–9000, called the 123km-long sand island K’gari. It means paradise. From the air, Fraser offers a picturesque view, textured with 1200km of white sandy tracks and dotted with emerald and sapphire lakes fringed by white sand. At its centre, the island rises slightly, reaching its highest point at 244m Mt Bowarrady. “Fraser Island lies at a 45-degree angle from the coast, which means it goes out to the north-east to the continental shelf, forming Hervey Bay,” says Wally Franklin, one of the heads of the Oceania Project, which has been studying whales in Hervey Bay since 1992. “It is the most prominent feature on the east coast of Australia, apart from the Great Barrier Reef.” Wally’s work has confirmed the importance of Hervey Bay to east coast humpback whales. It’s estimated about half of the population stops off here each year, on their way south from breeding grounds down to their Antarctic feeding areas. 

AT THE BEAUTIFUL SPOT where Eli Creek pours 4.2 million litres of crystal-clear water out to the ocean every hour, rock music blares from one of the many utes stationed there. A group has plonked their chairs in the creek, where they sink a few beers, while others kick a footy. And just 100m upstream, under the pedestrian walkway, two tiny swallow chicks tweet from a nest, and fish swim through the gin-clear creek. In some places, the difference between the ‘two Fraser Islands’ is scarcely more than 100m.

Come stay

Brilliant Travels offers tours to Fraser Island for a range of budgets and timeframes, from daytrips to longer trips that include accommodation at either the Kingfisher Bay Resort or Eurong Beach Resort. Camping is a popular way to enjoy the island, and ferry companies can issue permits for Fraser’s 45 camping areas. Fraser Island is a 4WD destination and can be reached by ferry or vehicle barge from River Heads, 20 minutes south of Hervey Bay, or Inskip Point, north of Noosa. Ferry times are subject to the prevailing conditions. You can also hire a 4WD at Kingfisher Bay Resort.

Visit Brilliant Travels for more.