With its stunning array of unique natural attractions Fraser Island is a must-see if you are taking a trip along Australia’s East Coast. It is the largest sand island in the world and has stunning lakes, rainforests and beaches. To go on the island you need a 4WD car as most of the driving takes place on sand. I did a three day, two night camping tour with Palace Adventures which was recommended by Greyhound Wicked when I booked my Hop-On Hop-Off bus pass. I was told of the island’s popularity and the usual need to book in advance so get in there quick if you plan to go! If I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a place at the last minute I certainly would have felt like I’d missed one of Queensland’s most spectacular highlights.
The tour package included two nights in the Palace hostel in Hervey Bay which is a departure point for the island. There isn’t much in Hervey Bay itself except the beach so don’t plan to stay too long. People usually use one night in the hostel the night before the tour and one night after, but due to my time limitations the best thing for me was to use both nights before as I had a night bus to Cairns to catch the day we got back.
The evening before the tour there is a briefing which is a great opportunity to meet the other people who will be going with you. On our tour there were about 27 people in four cars, three of which follow the tour leader’s. So the average backpacker with a driving license has the opportunity to drive on the island.
I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30am for the long exciting day ahead. We had to be downstairs for a 6am checkout, to store luggage in lockers and watch a safety video about driving and the island. We packed up the cars and set off to the boat.
We were welcomed onto the island by a howling Dingo, apparently a rare sight at this time of year as they usually head into the forest for breeding season. Our journey into the heart of the island then began on a sand road through the forest. It certainly was a unique adventure to be in a 4WD driving through forests and down long stretches of beach. The tour group spent a lot of time together being thrown around in the back of the car on the bumpy sand roads and getting stuck at some points, but this was all part of the fun!
Our first stop was the beautiful Lake Birrabeen with its white sand and crystal clear water. On the island the lakes are the places to swim as the surrounding ocean can be very rough and has a high risk of sharks and stingers. You couldn’t really ask for a more picturesque swimming spot. Our tour guide told us you could wash your hair with the sand, that it would make it really soft. We were doubtful but it actually worked! We had time to swim and relax on the sand, a nice change of pace after my previous couple of busy weeks.
We then drove to Lake Boomanjin which is the largest perched lake in the world at 200 hectares. A perched lake means it is isolated above groundwater by a layer of rock or organic material. This lake was a stark contrast to the first one we saw. Gone was the perfect sand and bright blue water and instead was a lake with a rainbow of colours, from yellow to red to purple. It was so unusual it didn’t seem real, it appeared almost otherworldly. “Underwater it’s like swimming in blood!” exclaimed a fellow traveller upon return to the shore. This is due to Tea Trees staining the water that runs down tiny creeks into the lake. It was windier and the water was a lot colder here. I only got far enough into the multi-coloured water to paddle and enjoy the view.
We ended the day by driving partway down the 75 Mile Beach to get to our camp which was right on the edge of the beach (this felt very LOST). We set up camp and by about 5pm it was already dark. This was when the magnificent stars came into view. We headed down to the beach to fully appreciate the night sky with its shooting stars, Milky Way and to watch the moonrise (for more detail on this check out my Australia: Top Ten Experiences post). It was then time to try the famous “Goon” (cheap wine in a box/bag), a backpacker staple in Australia. It actually wasn’t that bad!
With an early start at 7am after a bad night’s sleep in the tent Eli Creek was a welcome first stop for the day. A drive down the beach, it was the perfect place to have a morning swim to wake up and feel refreshed for the day ahead. The water is considered some of the purest in the world, filtered for over 100 years through the sand. There is a boardwalk leading up to a spot from which you can float down on the creek’s current, a very relaxing way to start the day. This was one of my favourite spots on the island as it was a completely new experience. With its enchanting feel I could see why Eli Creek has long been a place of importance for the island’s Aboriginal people. I floated down the creek many times that morning. It felt like paradise, the sun peeking through the trees above and the water as clear as can be.
We then continued down the beach to the Maheno Shipwreck, an iconic landmark of the island with an interesting and surprising history. The SS Maheno was originally launched as an ocean liner in 1905, mainly sailing between Australia and New Zealand. In 1915 it was used as a hospital ship in the First World War. In 1920 the ship returned to carrying civilians but in 1935 it was sold to Japanese ship wreckers. It was being towed to Japan when a cyclone caused it to come away from the towing ship. It drifted until it landed at Fraser Island. It was then used as bombing practice in the Second World War which has contributed to its deterioration. Much of the ship is still buried under the sand. It was a very unique sight to see!
We then headed to the Champagne Pools which are created by waves crashing over the volcanic rock formations from the ocean. This is a safe way to enjoy the sea water as the dangerous sharks, stingers and currents are left behind on the other side of the rock. The waves create a bubbling fizzy pool, nature’s own jacuzzi, hence the name “champagne”. The tour group had a swim amongst the fish and hung out in the pools. They were surrounded by beautiful scenery and the view from the top of the access steps was particularly amazing. So many shades of blue in the ocean!
Next up was Indian Head for its 360 degree views. It is the most easterly point on the island. It was supposedly named by Captain Cook when he passed in 1770 as he saw Aboriginal people there and considered them “Indians”. From this vantage point you can see the extensive sand dunes of the island, the dense forest behind and the long expanses of beach. It is a prime spot for catching a glimpse of stingrays, whales or sharks in the ocean. I saw a stingray!
We then headed back to camp in time to watch the sunset on the beach. We had dinner and watched the stars and moonrise again. Our tour guide, Tony, came and told us there were Dingoes coming up the beach so we made a move back to camp to have some drinks.
We woke at 7am, had breakfast, packed up camp and then headed on a long drive through the heart of the rainforest to see Lake McKenzie, the most famous and popular lake on the island. Here the sands are composed of pure, white silica and the water is so pure it is unsuitable for many species. As with all the other spots we visited on the island we got there before the crowds (credit to our tour guide), which meant we could properly enjoy the breathtaking views and the very beautiful blue water. We went for a swim in this paradise!
We then drove again through the forest to Kingfisher Bay, a resort from which we would be catching our boat back to Hervey Bay. We had our lunch there and explored the beach before getting on the boat, marking the end of an amazing tour! We got back to the mainland covered in sand and caught up in the amazing natural wonders we had seen. It was a truly freeing and authentic travel experience.
Thanks for reading. See you next time!