Fraser Island is one of those places that everyone will say you need to go. And after spending just one day on the island, I’m one of them too.
Together with the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Fraser Island was the other place I made a point of stopping on our short two-week jaunt to Australia.
Lots of visitors to the island seem to stay overnight, which I would’ve loved to do, but being short on time meant we ended up taking a day trip there instead. I’m yet to have the opportunity to do any long-term travelling, so often book guided tours as they’re a good way of seeing everything without fear of getting lost and wasting time. Wherever possible, I’ll always go with the smallest tour group I can afford, and after a lot of research, I ended up booking this one with Unique Fraser, a local company offering trips around the island in 4×4 land cruisers, as opposed to big buses crammed full of tourists.
We’d planned our visit as part of a road trip from Brisbane to Airlie Beach, and had arrived in Hervey Bay the night before. As well as being a gateway to Fraser Island, Hervey Bay is also a hub for whale watching during the months of July to November – but beyond that, there wasn’t a whole lot to do there, so I wouldn’t allocate too much time here if you’re on a schedule.
We were picked up outside Fraser Lodge, where we’d camped for the night, by our guide and driver for the day. His name was Fritz, a warm smiling man originally from Austria, who we quickly found out loved to laugh and joke. We got into his car and met Jonas in the front seat, a solo traveller from Germany who’d also signed up to the tour, and then drove a short distance to pick up the two other guests – a woman named Christine and her 8-year-old son, Harry, who lived right here in Hervey Bay. You know you’ve made a good decision choosing a tour company when even the locals book with them!
We made the short drive over to the ferry while introducing ourselves to each other in the car, and all crossed our fingers that the gloomy clouds in the distance would pass by the time we got to the other side.
I like to experience as much as I can when travelling, and read before our visit that you can actually rent a 4×4 to explore the island by yourself. But within 2 minutes of arriving on the island, I was SO glad we didn’t do that.
Fritz sped off the ferry like we were competing in a drag race, leaving a dust trail behind us and the other cars.
“It’s the best way to escape the corrugations in the sand”, he said as if to justify the speedy driving. We’d barely gotten past the ‘entrance’ sign to the island but it was already abundantly clear that Fritz knew this place like the back of his hand.
Google the words ‘Fraser Island’ and one of the first images you’ll see will be Lake McKenzie, which was our first stop of the day.
Thankfully, the clouds parted a little by the time we got there, and illuminated the sapphire water against the white sand. I have no idea what makes sand that soft or water that blue, but all I knew was I needed to take it all in.
After some early morning sunbathing on what is the nicest, most beach-like lake I’ve ever been to, we stopped for some light breakfast in the designated picnic area nearby. It’s not advised to eat outside of these gated areas, as the island is home to wild dingoes that are always on the hunt for scraps. There’s signs all around informing visitors about ‘dingo safety’ – primarily, Fritz tells us, you should stand up tall facing them, and always look them in the eyes.
As the world’s largest sand island, the ‘roads’ on Fraser Island are nothing more than sand paths that dip and rise at every turn, which Fritz navigates like a pro. Tall green trees tower over us on both sides, and Fritz, who’s been a tour guide since 2003, tells us all about them. He slows down the car to point out the interesting species of tree, fern and plant, and can tell the difference between a scribbly gum tree to a blue gum tree as if it was night and day.
We take a drive through Eurong next, one of the three villages on the island en route to our next stop. Only around 180 residents live on Fraser Island, but 1,400 people are actually here at any given time visiting.
75 Mile Beach
Much like the rest of Australia, Fraser Island is enormous. The island spans a massive 126km in length, and along one side of its coast is the famous 75 Mile Beach. There’s no prize for guessing where it got its name, but the sheer scale of the place is hard to grasp when you get here. To put it into perspective (if you also live in the UK), 75 miles is equivalent to the distance from London to Portsmouth. Imagine that, in nothing but beach.
Waves crashed dramatically on our right, with miles of beach as far as the eye can see – it’s such a huge stretch of sand that the highway code applies here, and has markings for planes to land.
Along the 75 Mile Beach, we stop to see another one of the main attractions on the island, a huge shipwreck washed ashore in 1935. It’s not the only ship that’s been claimed by Fraser Island, but it’s the most famous – efforts to refloat her have been unsuccessful, all the major parts have since been stripped and sold, and all that remains now is a severely rusted structure, slowly sinking into the sand.
Before our lunch break, we go for a dip on the island’s natural pools. Fritz and Christine joke about them being unremarkable, as they’re both ex-Sydneysiders who have seen much better natural pools elsewhere, and I’m somewhat inclined to agree with them – the scenery here is beautiful, but it’s not quite as impressive as the fairy pools at Noosa National Park or in Sydney.
The crowds are packed here though. It’s so busy it looked like people were sharing a hot tub in parts! I dipped my toes in a few puddles and soaked up the sun in between the clouds, before heading back to the car where we had lunch on the beach.
We go for a bit of exercise next and climb to the top of Indian Head, a rocky vantage point at the easterly end of the 75 Mile Beach. It’s a steep walk to the top, but leads to incredible views of the island from its rocky cliff.
The name of the site hints to the island’s violent past, as a number of aboriginal people were first seen assembled here, and then later, some were thrown over the edge by those looking to colonise the island. It’s a sad reminder of the human race, but also an important reminder that the places we visit carry significance beyond just views, however bloody they may be.
Last on our stop is the beautiful Eli Creek, which flows out from the island and trickles across the beach and into the ocean. Because the creek is mostly shaded by overgrown trees, the water maintains a cool 17C temperature all year round. There’s a walkway which leads you into the creek, where you can then walk back in the water. I dipped my toes in and was shocked to find how cold it felt, and so headed back via the platform from which we came!
Outside Eli Creek, busloads of gap year-aged travellers lay sunbathing, listening to music, and playing beach volleyball together. I have absolutely nothing against this, of course, but having long passed that stage of my life, I was extra glad to have chosen a small group tour with Unique Fraser instead. Our day felt like we were out with good friends, and it was amazing to see all the variety this sandy paradise has to offer.
Whatever style of trip you want to take, just make sure you add Fraser Island onto your east coast itinerary, even if it is just for one day.
Need to know
- One day tour costs $225 per adult, including hotel pickup and return
- Tours are limited to 6 people
- Light breakfast and lunch is included
- You can bring your car or rent one to take across to the island, but fees and licenses apply (it also needs to be a 4×4 to navigate the difficult terrain)