I may have gone to Fraser Island to go whale-watching, but there’s so much more to this wonderful place that it’s truly an any-time-of-year destination.
Fraser is a sand island – the world’s largest – and there are no roads, only sandy tracks for which you need a 4WD. I was nervous about heading out without any experience, but was not keen on taking one of the regular Fraser Island Beauty Spots tours in a 4WD bus; for this outing photographer Tommy Campion and I wanted the freedom to stop and spend as much time in each place as we needed. The solution was to take one of Kingfisher Bay Resort‘s “personalised” tours, with a ranger to ride shotgun in a hired 4WD.
Our day followed pretty much the same route as the Beauty Spots bus, ensuring we didn’t miss anything. First stop, with ranger Gary in the passenger seat while I drove, was Lake McKenzie, one of more than 100 freshwater lakes on the island. The water here is pristine – not a word I use lightly – and the colour almost unbelievable. Sadly, the dull, drizzly weather is not giving us the optimum look at it but it’s stunning nevertheless. Lake McKenzie is a perched lake, sitting on top of compact sand and vegetable matter, and is about 100 metres (330 feet) above sea level, covering 150 hectares. One of the things that makes it so attractive is also the dazzling white sand, almost pure silica. While we’re there a carload of young European tourists arrives, and despite the cold, they leap into the water! Braver than me!
As we head from Lake McKenzie to our next stop, we come up behind someone who’s experiencing my worst fear on this day. A vehicle on the track ahead is stuck fast in the sand, its occupants clearly distressed. They have no tow rope (and neither do we, it’s a policy of the hire car company), and are wondering how they’ll get out. And as ….points out, their vehicle is all-wheel-drive, not four-wheel-drive, and not suited to these condition. It’s a trap for beginners (and tourists). We turn around, and on the track meet a convoy of fisherman who have the necessary gear to help – and soon the bogged vehicle is on its way again.
I hand the car keys to Gary, my confidence is temporarily shattered and I’m not keen on driving through the boggy spot! Before long we’re at our next stop, Central Station. Once the hub of the forestry industry when there was logging on Fraser Island, this is now one of the most beautiful spots on the island and we linger as long as we can, marvelling at the trees, the hundreds of stag horns and other ferns and the lush greenery. There are still a few former forestry buildings in a clearing, but nature is taking over. A boardwalk runs beside Wanggoolba Creek, where we spot eels gliding by.
Leaving reluctantly, we drive through forests of Satinay and Brush Box trees to one of the few settlements on the island, at Eurong. Here, we hit Seventy-Five Mile Beach and head north. Back in the driver’s seat again, I soon realised that while it is a long straight beach, care is still needed while driving – as well as a knowledge of the tide times – to ensure a safe excursion. After a stop at the wreck of the SS Maheno, we head further up the beach to The Pinnacles.
Even on such a grey day, the coloured sands of this amazing formation glow. Following the track into the bushes, we find the Red Canyon and warning signs; this is a known haunt of an aggressive dingo (Australia’s wild dog, the purest strain of which is found on Fraser Island). The coloured sands have been stained by the mineral hematite, which also acts like cement, allowing the sands to form as cliffs. This spectacular phenomenon can be found as several other places on the island too.
Heading back along the beach – always with an eye on the tide times – we stop at Eli Creek. I remember my daughters (then aged around six and seven) having wonderful fun floating down this swift moving body of freshwater on my last visit here – and there are plenty of visitors are doing that today too! It’s freezing, but they don’t seem to care. Others are content to wade; I stick to the bridge and walkways! It’s estimated that more than four million litres of water flows from the mouth of Eli Creek into the ocean every hour.
Our last stop of the day is at the Stonetool Sandblow. Sandblows are dunes which are carried across the island by the wind, engulfing vegetation in their paths; all hills on Fraser Island have been formed by sandblowing. These exposed expanses of sand are bare of vegetation, and move at a rate of about one or two metres a year. It’s extraordinary. Some of them are about 240 metres high, and the oldest is dated at 700,000 years old. The Stonetool Sandblow, which takes its name from the Aboriginal artefacts found in the area, rises about 125 metres from sea level and stretches more than 2km inland.
It’s a wonderful place to finish our tour, but we’ve covered only a fraction of the island in a day and I know there are many more places to explore. Above all, I’m told about Champagne Pools at the northern end of Seventy-Five Mile Beach. Now that alone sounds worth coming back for!
A Glass Half Full was a guest of Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island.