Fraser Island on Australia’s east coast is no ordinary paradise. Sure, it’s got white sand beaches and crystal blue waters but it’s called K’gari (pronounced “gurri”), or paradise, for more than your typical reasons.
I spent 4 days and 3 nights exploring the Great Sandy National Park, which is the world’s largest sand island. And no surprise, there is sand absolutely everywhere! The good thing is, the sand is almost 98% silica no it never gets hot, which in Aussie summer — or winter, in fact — is very handy. It’s never fun burning your feet running from your beach towel to the ocean.
Fraser Island marked the beginning of my month-long road trip discovering the Australian State of Queensland, where I’ve been living for the past 7 months since my Working Holiday began. I’ve been working hard to save for the road trip.
READ MORE: Moving to Australia from the UK
An Aboriginal paradise
Like Australia itself, Fraser Island is absolutely massive — the UNESCO World Heritage-listed island is the sixth largest island in Australia and the largest on the East coast, so it seemed fitting to begin my epic road trip there. It was originally home to the Butchulla tribe, but when European settlers came to its shores in the 1840s, numbers of the Aboriginal people began to dwindle. In 1904, the remaining people were relocated to missions on the mainland.
The island is named Fraser after a Scottish woman, Eliza Fraser, who was shipwrecked off its coast in 1836 and her story of survival. The Aboriginal people have always called it K’gari because of its Dreamtime creation story — it’s said K’gari was a spirit princess who helped create the island and loved it so much, she settled there for eternity. I don’t blame her. It’s so full of natural beauty and there’s over 500 archaeological sites to evoke overwhelming feelings of wonder and awe at every opportunity.
Note: Dreamtime is the term used to describe important spiritual beliefs and existence of the Aboriginal culture.
Day 1 — A beachfront campsite to ourselves
We got the morning ferry from Inskip Point at Rainbow Beach across to Hook Point on the southern tip of Fraser Island. It costs $65 one-way or $120 return with Manta Ray Barges. A short, 10 minute barge ride later and you are on 75 mile beach. There’s nothing but rolling sand dunes to your left and the inviting ocean to your right. Cool fact: the beach is actually a recognized highway and a runway for planes. Make sure to check the tide times before driving though!
Note: You can only drive on Fraser Island if you have a 4WD. So if you don’t have your own truck, you can hire one or jump on one of the many Fraser Island tours (see operators at bottom). You also need a 4WD permit to drive on Fraser Island, which can be booked online.
We had been driving up the beach for no more than 10 minutes when we received a pretty spectacular welcome to the island and the Fraser Coast from 3 majestic humpback whales.
Every winter on the East coast of Australia is whale migrating season, where at least 17,000 whales migrate from Antarctica to play and breed in the warmer waters. We had planned on doing a whale watching trip further down the coast in Hervey Bay on our way home, but we never anticipated being able to see so many whales from Fraser Island. These were the first few of at least 20 seen over the 4 days without even looking for them!
We drove about 40 minutes up the beach to the SS Maheno Shipwreck, where we made camp for the night at Maheno campground ($6.55pppn). At first it was unclear where the campsites began and ended, but only because there were no other campers around! We ended up having our pick of the sites and the entire campground to ourselves for the afternoon and night! It was absolute bliss and the best start to our experience of paradise on Fraser Island.
The first day was spent relaxing on the white-sand beach, and unwillingly making friends with the local dingoes that roam the island. After couple hours of reading, setting up camp, sunbathing, swimming in the ocean and watching the many humpback whales passing by, the night rolled in and the stars began to shine.
Coming from a large city on the South coast of England, I don’t often get to see the Milky Way. To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever seen it up until my time on Fraser Island! It seems crazy, but I never realized how beautiful the sky is at night. I’ve always loved stargazing, but standing in the middle of a secluded beach in the pitch black was an incredible first-time experience for me. I’ve never seen the night sky without any light pollution from nearby homes, buildings or street-lamps. I was honestly mesmerized. I saw more stars than ever before, shining brighter than ever before, and saw the Milky Way in all its glory.
My boyfriend, road trip buddy and super talented photographer, Rowan, was doing some astrophotography that night with the SS Maheno in the foreground and I asked for a photo with me in it. I wanted something to commemorate the experience I had and a photo that would depict how small and insignificant I felt looking up at the endless night sky. He did a pretty amazing job, don’t you think!?
Day 2 — Sand, sand and more sand
We got up for sunrise and wandered down the beach to watch the sun’s warm rays fill the wreck of the SS Maheno. Other than a few early morning fishermen, we were alone soaking up the atmosphere.
We were quickly learning that Fraser Island (and Australia in general, for that matter) was a pretty special place, especially when it comes to wildlife and natural beauty. Even at breakfast, the magical moments continued. As we were sat eating our omelettes and drinking green tea on the beach, we happened to look up at the ocean just as a humpback decided to breach. I have never seen a whale breach before, so I was very excited! It was the best possible start to the day.
The beauty of having a rooftop tent is that it’s a quick 10 minute pack down. We started up the beach, heading for our next campsite towards the northern end of the island. Along the way we saw even more whales playing in the waters.
As it came to 11am, we stopped off at Indian Head point to check out the lookout. We’d read that it was a good viewpoint to spot whales (not that we needed any help with that) and to take in the north-eastern side of the island. So, out we jumped and made our way up the short (it only takes about 10 minutes) trail to the edge of the cliff. This is when I realized I was really getting into the Aussie lifestyle when I chose to forgo shoes for the sandy bushwalk and almost stood on what looked like a black python, but carried on anyway! My Mum and Dad were not impressed with that story! #allaussieadventures
The views from the lookout were incredible. All I could see was sand and blue water for miles. We spotted whales, dolphins, flying fish and a shark in the water below, although my vantage point in the photo below probably wasn’t the smartest idea; it was pretty sketchy out there and very high! But hey, what can I say, I’m badass!
Another 30 minute 4×4 drive later and we were at our next campsite for the night: Waddy Point. At $6.55pppn it was another steal. Although it wasn’t beachfront this time, it took less than 5 minutes to walk down to the beach and massive sand dunes where we relaxed under the afternoon sun.
Day 3 — Deeper into K’Gari
We began feeling more comfortable living unplugged island life now. Our 4WD sand dune driving skills were improving and our tolerance for dingoes, spiders and mosquitoes even more so. The only thing we were still struggling with was learning not to drink all of our beers straight away!
We headed out and back down towards the southern end of the island, stopping off at the Champagne Pools along the way. These natural rock pools are the biggest I’ve ever seen; usually when I think of rock pools I think of little bathtub-sized pools of water that I used to splash around in as a kid. These ones are called Champagne Pools because of the white foam that bubbles on the surface with each crashing ocean wave. As with everything on Fraser Island, they’re a popular attraction so best to visit early morning or later in the day when day visitors are already back on the ferry crossing to mainland. We visited mid-morning though, and although there were a few different groups of people, they’re big enough not to feel too crowded.
Further down the highway (beach) we stopped off at another popular must-see: Eli Creek. The freshwater here is absolutely incredible — flowing over 80 million litres of water into the Pacific Ocean every day! That’s crazy amounts of H2O! It’s crystal clear and is a great place to cool off from the midday sun. If you’ve got one, take a tube or a floaty and let the creek take you to its down, or just jump in and swim/lazily bob along. The water is cold though, so be prepared. It’s definitely a refreshing way to start, break up, or end your day.
From there we headed inland again to Central Station Campground — another absolute bargain at $6.55pppn! Being further in the bush, you really get a feel for K’Gari and its native roots (pun intended). Although there are showers, it’s a small, basic campground and some of the ‘roads’ leading to it are tricky to manoeuvre.
From here you can explore nearby Lake Wabby, Lake Birrabeen, Lake Bommajin and the famous freshwater lake, Lake McKenzie. Unfortunately we only had time to visit Lake McKenzie so we set off early and got there just as the sun came up. It was perfect — we had the place to ourselves. It really is as incredible as it looks and the photos don’t even do it justice. The water, which is 100% rainwater because the lake is a ‘perched’ lake and located 100m above sea level, is so still and calming I could’ve sat there all day soaking up the pristine surroundings.
Back to reality
Our time on Fraser Island ended at Kingfisher Resort (unexpectedly due to poor planning on our part and missing the ferry – idiots!) where we grabbed a great lunch and beer and reflected on what was a perfect 4 days to start our Queensland roadtrip.
It’s called K’Gari, or paradise, for a good reason. Although it’s not what I or many people would think of when they think of paradise, it has all the makings of a place of outstanding natural beauty. We touched only a fraction of what there is to see on the island and those 4 days alone were more memorable and awe-inspiring than any other typical tropical paradise trip. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been and it’s definitely somewhere that should be on your list if you’re visiting Queensland.
- Take the barge from Inskip Point at Rainbow Beach to Hook Point at the south end of the island ($75 one-way or $120 return with a vehicle)
- Take the ferry from River Heads to either Kingfisher Resort or Wangoolba Creek on the West side of the island ($105 one-way or $175 return with a vehicle/$50 as a foot passenger)
TIP: If not returning via Inskip Point/Rainbow Beach you must book your return to the other side or you’ll get stuck like we did. The River Heads crossing only runs a few times a day, so be sure to plan in advance, especially in winter.
When to visit
Fraser Island is incredible any time of year but tends to be busier in the summer months (November-June) when the weather is warmer. Visiting during winter like we did means less crowds and cooler temperatures.
Where to stay
$ – Use Queensland Parks campgrounds for camping + RV sites for $6.55pppn (Our favourites were Maheno Campground and Central Station)
$$$ – Eurong Beach Resort, Kingfisher Bay Resort
If you don’t want to go it alone, there are plenty of tour operators to choose from. There are far too many tour to list here but some of the best are Drop Bear Adventures, Fraser Explorer Tours and Cool Dingo Tours.