As a UNESCO World Heritage Site sensational Fraser Island joins the ranks of the truly special, listed alongside other globally significant Australian treasures such as Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef. It is impossible to come here and not fall under its spell and the island instantly and easily beguiles all who land here with its sometimes indefinable but always powerful air of enchantment. Alongside its un-categorizable magic however is an impressive list of rather more obvious charms such as its spectacular giant sandblows, pristine and ancient rain forests, long long beaches of pure white silica sand which seem to stretch on forever, inland lakes of indescribable beauty and cliffs in shades of ocher, orange and red sands piled in layers over hundreds of thousands of years.
Part of the Great Sandy National Park which extends onto the Queensland mainland, Fraser Island is the largest sand island on the planet and the only living representation anywhere in the world of sand-dune rain forests growing above an altitude of 200 meters. Among its natural natives are some of the purest dingoes found anywhere in the country, a ‘flying’ possum known as a sugar glider and the elusive echidna –one of only two egg-laying mammal species in the world. Simultaneously its waters are alive with wildlife -turtles –both freshwater and ocean-living, dolphins, shy dugongs and majestic whales which can often be spotted from shore.
Fraser Island has no sealed roads, making any exploration here instantly adventurous while simultaneously offering escape, tranquility and true unspoiled wilderness in large helpings. Walking and hiking is understandably popular in this wonderland full of sensational sights and options include everything from short rain forest strolls on boardwalks to a guide-led tour which takes you off in search of bush tucker and plants used as medicines by the native Butchulla people for thousands of years. Otherwise options include floating down the pure crystal waters of inland creeks, gazing upon jaw-dropping beauty from a range of lookouts, visiting an atmospheric old wreck which rests on the beach or simply relaxing on powder-soft pure-white sands at the edge of a lake which sparkles with a range of aquamarine hues.
A Morning on Fraser Island
Almost everywhere you turn on Fraser Island offers something fascinating or magnificently beautiful and your morning will be filled with both. Your day begins with an easy and relaxing stroll to a lovely lookout which along the way will introduce you to the island and a little of its flora and fauna. After a coffee pause you can head out with a ranger to learn about the abundant natural bounty of the island’s land and water which sustained the indigenous Butchulla people before the arrival of Europeans to Australia.
Ranger-Guided or Self-Guided Great Sandy Straits Walk
From short, easy strolls to day-long hikes,Fraser Island is full of wonderful trails which allow instant immersion into the magic of this very special place. To start your morning off gently and to introduce yourself to some easily accessible Fraser Island delights head out from the Kingfisher Bay Resort on a Great Sandy Straits walk which takes about 30 minutes one way. Running parallel to the dazzling white-sand coast, this relaxing walk takes you through eucalyptus forest and terminates in the Northern Lookout -an exceptionally lovely reward for your exertions.
While many choose to guide themselves if you opt into a ranger-guided walk you will be able to spot all kinds of interesting details which you might otherwise miss such as the small holes made by bandicoot or the diggings of echidna. This spiny anteater latter, along with the platypus, is one of only two mammals on Earth which lays eggs. A highlight of the walk is one of the island’s scar trees, a relic from bygone days of the Butchulla people –Fraser Island’s ancient lineage traditional owners. In order to make crossings to the Australian mainland, these indigenous people would take the bark from trees to build canoes and the fascinating scars of such peelings can still be seen in various places on the island.
After just over a kilometer of walking and a short uphill ascent you will arrive at the Northern Lookout from where you will have sensational views of turquoise waters lapping at pure-white sands. This is a wonderful vantage point from which to watch a variety of sea-birds while the keen-eyed might also be rewarded with sightings of dugongs, stingrays and even passing humpback whales at certain times of the year.
Morning Coffee on Fraser Island
Visiting Fraser Island is all about soaking up its distinct other-worldliness and immersing yourself in its raw beauty and unspoiled natural charms. Destinations such as these don’t offer a diverse choice of cafes and restaurants but the island is not totally bereft of places to eat and drink either.
The best of these is the Kingfisher Bay Resort which has a choice of bars, restaurants and a cafe. As your Great Sandy Straits Walk both begins and ends here you are in exactly the right spotto enjoy a morning pause before continuing your Fraser Island adventures. Besides its range of coffees and cold drinks, the Coffee Rock Cafe which is located inside the resort’s Shopping Village also serves pastries if you need a little refueling before lunch. If you prefer an alfresco setting you can also head to the Maheno Bar which serves coffee too.
Butchulla Bush Tucker Experiences
Long centuries before Europeans ever discovered the shores of Australia the country was home to indigenous peoples who existed in an interwoven and intimate relationship with the land and sea, something which still continues today.
The traditional owners of Fraser Island are the Butchulla people who, together with the rest of the country’s Aboriginal inhabitants, represent the oldest continuously surviving culture anywhere on the planet. Known to have existed on the island and adjacent mainland areas for at least 5,000 years –a figure which some experts believe could actually be as much as 20,000 years –the Butchulla refer to Fraser Island as K’gari and they have many legends regarding the natural formations of their paradise island.
The Butchulla thrived on Fraser Island until the arrival of Europeans, thanks to an abundance of natural bounty growing and living on both the land and in the sea. Experiences which offer visitors an insight into this ancient way of life are possible on Fraser Island, one of which is a highly absorbing and immersive bush tucker tour. Such tours typically take you into the Fraser Island natural bush environment to discover indigenous plants which not only provided food for the Butchulla people but also served as medicines and material for constructing everything from cooking implements to shelters.
Such tours not only appeal to foodies or those with an interest in understanding how the Butchulla people sustained themselves for thousands of years but also to all those who want to wander amid the natural splendor of this magical island.
Lunch on Fraser Island
After a morning of climbing lookouts and hunting down wild food in the bush you will no doubt be ready to find a lunch spot and top up the energy levels.
If you opted to take a bush tucker tour the second part of this, following the walk, typically takes you into the kitchen to watch award-winning chefs creating dishes from the native produce, after which you get to sample all the results. A wonderful experience for foodies and keen cooks looking for clever Aussie-style tips, such demonstrations incorporate not only the flavors of the island but take you on a culinary journey across a variety of Australian regions. Your taste buds can tingle with the juices of berries, nuts and herbs native to Fraser Island or flavorsome exotic fruits sourced from the tropical north; you can sample desert-grown tomatoes, learn how to use lemon myrtle to enhance dishes and otherwise watch raw ingredients transformed into fantastic offerings with a little culinary magic. During the experience you can also try such Australian specialties as crocodile, emu and kangaroo.
If you would like something of a more conventional lunch the Kingfisher Bay Resort has a choice of venues. For a menu of sandwiches, salads and burgers check out the casually-vibed Sand Bar Bistro from whose pool-side decks you have glimpses of the beautiful coast through breaks in the lush surrounding greenery. Another option –also in the Kingfisher Bay Resort -which offers both indoor and outdoor relaxed lunch dining is the Maheno Restaurant. With a diverse menu offering everything from paninis to nasi goreng, your lunch views here are of the lovely main pool with its backdrop of native plants and trees.
An Afternoon on Fraser Island
A paved road-free paradise, Fraser Island is a walker’s dream and with a wealth of trails this sensational destination has enough to keep those exploring on foot happy for weeks without covering the same ground twice. However, it is also excitingly explorable by vehicle as long as you have the right transport.
Island Highlight Tours by Car or Coach
Signing up for a tour of this kind not only leaves the challenging driving conditions in the hands of the experts so you can just relax but also allows you to take in several of the island’s dazzling highlights in just one afternoon. These include giant-sized sand-blows, breathtakingly beautiful lakes, an old shipwreck and a historical logging site. Additionally, your highly knowledgeable tour guides can give you expert insight into the natural phenomena and cultural history you will be experiencing and, as a result, enhance your discovery hours considerably.
Lake McKenzie –Boorangoora
Widely considered by most to be Fraser Island’s brightest jewel, Lake McKenzie is a spectacularly beautiful sight. Ringed by pure white sand and filled with crystal clear waters in various shades of turquoise this magical place in the center of the island makes for photographs of the idyllic postcard kind no matter which angle you snap it from. The most iconic shots here also take in one of the lake-side trees which grow naturally into a heart shape.
Lake McKenzie however isn’t just simply visually stunning but also an example of a rare natural phenomenon known as a perched lake or dune lake. Lakes and streams are not typically features in places with sandy soils and dunes as any water present would normally soak into the highly porous ground. Here on Fraser Island, a combination of local weather and natural processes has deposited organic matter such as leaves, plants and tree bark into lower lying areas of dune which then over time form a crust together with the sand as they decompose. Rainwater then fills the depressions –whose depths are now impermeable -and so forms the lake. Fraser Island has 40 such lakes, a total which means this relatively small island is home to more than half of all perched lakes found anywhere in the world.
Both its beauty and setting make the lake understandably popular for swimming while those who prefer to stay on dry land can simply stroll the powder-soft silica sands which ring the lake and enjoy the views.
Central Station and Wanggoolba Creek
Just a few kilometers south of Lake McKenzie can be found the rain forest-surrounded Central Station. While most of Fraser Island’s attractions fall into the naturally magnificent category Central Station offers a glimpse into history as this was once the site of a logging station from 1920 until the end of the 1950s. At its height home to around 30 residences and even a school, today you can explore the displays here and learn something of the station’s story along with the flora and fauna of the area. The pines which surround the station are another leftover from the logging days while beyond this is rain forest. The exotic vegetation of this includes some almost unbelievably giant ferns of ancient lineage which are found nowhere else on Fraser Island.
One of the natural highlights of this area is the lovely Wanggoolba Creek on which Central Station sits, an area once used as a birthing place for the indigenous Butchulla people and from which all males were prohibited to enter. An easy-strolling boardwalk follows the crystal-clear Wanggoolba and takes you into the bush for a glimpse of those massive fern trees and other rain forest sights. If you keep your eyes peeled you might also spot fish, eels and turtles swimming in the creek.
Hammerstone Sandblow and Lake Wabby
From Central Station a drive east to the coast and along the sands of Seventy Five Mile Beach which looks out to the Pacific Ocean brings you to one of the island’s spectacular sandblows –the Hammerstone Sandblow. Stretching into the distance, this desert-like landscape is one of several such like on the island where windblown dunes advance inland, covering everything in their path. If you follow Hammerstone’s leading edge for about 20 minutes you arrive at the green-hued waters of Lake Wabby –the island’s deepest lake where turtles can often be seen –and where you will clearly see how the ever-moving sands are slowly engulfing the lake’s eastern edge.
A little further north along Seventy Five Mile Beach brings you to the lovely Eli Creek which flows out to the ocean across the coastal sands here. This fast flowing creek empties as much as a million liters of water into the Pacific Ocean every 15 minutes and is famous for waters so clear they are only visible when a leaf is seen floating on the surface. This is a popular spot for wading, swimming or floating on inner tubes or body boards along the shallow creek and through the surrounding trees to arrive at the beach. If you prefer to stay dry there is a lovely boardwalk which also follows the creek.
S.S. Maheno Shipwreck
Your next stop, still heading north up Seventy Five Mile Beach, is the wreck of the S.S. Maheno. This atmospheric rusting hulk which rests at an angle directly on the sands was once a New Zealand owned liner which plied the Tasman Sea route to Australia and back for 30 years from 1905, also briefly serving as a hospital ship for wounded troops during the World War I years. At the end of her life in 1935 she was sold as scrap and while being towed to Japan for her final journey she came adrift in a huge storm which consequently tossed her onto the sands of Fraser Island where she still lies to this day.
The last of the Fraser Island highlights which cluster around the middle of the island are the Pinnacles -another of this exceptional destination’s naturally occurring phenomena. Located around five kilometers north of the shipwreck can be found these sandstone cliffs which are said to incorporate more than 70 different yellow, orange and red-toned hues and serve as a visual time-line of the island’s geological history. Formed from varying layers of sand piled one on top of the other over preceding eons with the help of wind and rain, the Pinnacles owe their color to varying levels of iron present during the period when each section was formed. The Butchulla people give a different spin on the story of how the rocks came to be; to them the Pinnacles are the remains of the Rainbow Serpent which fell to Earth and shattered after a battle to protect his lover.
Other Fraser Island Highlights
While driving tours typically concentrate on the lakes, sandblows and other attractions clustered around the center of the island some will also incorporate those that sit at the northern end of the island.
These include the wonderful lookouts at Waddy Point and Middle Rocks where spectacular panoramas and bird’s eye views of marine life sometimes include the sight of migrating humpback whales that come close to shore. A little south of Waddy Point is the gorgeous natural swimming spot formed by a vast tide pool known as the Champagne Pools which are worth a view from the stairs leading down even if you don’t intend to take a dip in the saltwater which gets refreshed by the tides.
At the very northern point of the island can be found the conical Sandy Cape Lighthouse which dates from 1870 and is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner on Fraser Island
While choices of where to head for sundowners and dinner are not extensive on Fraser Island the choices you do have manage to tick a lot of boxes between them so you aren’t going to miss out. The Eurong Beach Resort on the island’s east side has choices for drinking and eating but the west coast-located Kingfisher Bay Resort is where to go to make the most of the sunsets.
The Kingfisher Bay Resort has a selection of spots to kick back and relax with a sundowner or two including the Seabelle Bar and the Maheno cocktail lounge but the pick of the bunch has to be the Sunset Bar. Aptly named, this venue puts you right on the beach at the end of the jetty, giving you a perfect front seat view of the sky turning bronze, tangerine and magenta as the sun dips into the waters of the strait.
Cocktails, beers, wines and spirits are all here and if you need a little something to keep you going until dinner order one of the exceptional cheese plates or prawn platters. Besides the special sunset displays you can often watch dingoes wandering up the beach in the dusk and if you are here in season it isn’t uncommon to see humpback whales cruising past.
While the Sunset Bar probably ranksas the Kingfisher Bay Resort’s top spot for sundowners the lovely Seabelle Restaurant surely gets the prize for the best dining. Only open for dinner, the award-winning Seabelle is the island’s most upscale option and serves well-crafted dishes which focus on local seafood, Australia-only meats and a host of indigenous flavors. Much of the inspiration for the menu choices are drawn from native Butchulla bush tucker traditions using berries, nuts, herbs and other Fraser Island plants to bring out surprising flavor combinations and overall offering a culinary experience that is authentically Australian.
Find a seat in the elegant interior or take a table on the terrace and decide which of the diverse a la carte menu choices you are going to treat yourself to. If narrowing it down seems too difficult go with the five-course degustation option and wine pairing to feast your way through such delights as a crocodile meat platter with lemon myrtle and served with a lime and pepper berry aioli and barramundi wrapped in paperbark and presented with a wild lime and munthari berry salsa.
If you want something a little less formal head to the Maheno Restaurant which offers a buffet-style dinner with a different food theme every night of the week. Although the vibe here is relaxed it is still a great place for a romantic meal, with atmospheric lighting after dark on the deck.
An Evening on Fraser Island
The whole beauty of Fraser Island and all of its magic is drawn from the fact that this is an unspoiled paradise island retreat, far from the hustle and bustle of modern life. You will not find a host of goings on or activities once the sun sets; for most the main night event here revolves around sitting with an after-dinner cocktail or chilled glass of wine and soaking up the peace, tranquility and nature.
However, for those who want to squeeze in one last helping of Fraser Island’s enchanting nature there is the possibility to join a ranger-guided night walk. Many of Fraser Island’s animal inhabitants only wake up after dark and your expert guide can take you to the places where you are most likely to be able to encounter wildlife. From giant mud crabs to dingoes and rare frogs to gliding possums, quite what you might see is purely down to chance but listening to the night sounds as you wander underneath the stars in this exceptionally special place is an enchanting adventure all of itself