For a short, week-long trip I headed to Fraser Island (K’gari), the world’s largest sand island, located on the east coast of Queensland, Australia.
Through a little research and a lot of questioning of the relatives I’d be travelling with, I discovered there was a lot more to Fraser Island than just sand and ocean.
My excitement quickly grew as I learned about all the wildlife and sights I’d see.
On Fraser Island I wasn’t going to be staying in a hotel, hostel, or even a cabin.
Instead I would be camping on the beach, just metres away from the ocean.
I was looking forward to a trip that steered away from the typical hotels and man-made attractions of major cities.
For me Fraser Island was going to be a great opportunity to rough it in the Australian wildlife and visit places found no where else in the world.
I was particularly excited to swim in the numerous lakes and creeks including Lake Mckenzie, Eli Creek and Lake Wabby, and to climb to the top of Indian Head for some prime ocean wildlife spotting.
I knew this trip was going to be very different to anything I had experienced in previous travels.
I couldn’t wait to start, even if it did mean waking up at 2am.
Day 1: Going to Fraser Island
3am – Departure from Home
The first day started before the sun had even risen.
I slept through my 2am alarm and awoke at 2:30am with a lot more packing to finish in the 30 minutes before departure.
We had to leave early in order to time our arrival at Fraser Island during low tide, as it would become harder to drive on the beach the higher the water got.
Over the next few days I would learn that the tide often impacted our adventures around the island.
- Leave home earlier than necessary if you can. You definitely don’t want to get caught in traffic and end up racing against high tide.
- Pack everything you can the night before to avoid forgetting anything important when you’re tired and hurrying to leave in the morning.
- Make sure you have a tide chart, so you know when the tide will be high and when it will be low. You can access one from the Bureau of Meteorology website.
6am – Picking up Permits
When I woke up, we had travelled 3 hours to Rainbow Beach: a small beach town where the barge to Fraser Island was located.
The sun had now crawled up from behind the horizon and we were parked outside the National Park office.
The camping and vehicle permits had already been bought online from the Department of National Parks website, so I just had to pick them up from the office.
After picking up the permits, we stopped at the Rainbow Beach store/fuel station for a quick breakfast of sausage rolls and chocolate milk, and to purchase a barge ticket for the ridiculous price of $170.
We headed to Inskip Point to catch the barge, but before we could leave bitumen and enter sand, the tyres needed to be put down to about 20 psi.
An area of sand needed to be passed over to reach the barge.
It was notorious for catching out rookie and distracted drivers, bogging their cars before they had even reached the water, but fortunately, we got on board without too much hassle.
Getting onto the barge was a lot easier than getting to it, and we had the ute and trak-shak nestled snuggly between other 4WDs in seconds.
There was enough space between vehicles to open car doors, so I got out and stood at the side of the barge while it crossed a small part of the Coral Sea.
I realised just how ludicrous the price of the barge ticket was when after ten minutes I had to get back into the ute, because we’d almost reached Fraser Island.
$170 was very steep for such a short and seemingly easy trip that only required two staff members to run.
On a positive note, I found the staff to be very friendly and helpful. They had that true Australian attitude that made me think I’d known them for ever.
8:30am – Claiming a Campsite and Setting up
We drove off the barge and hit Fraser Island sand, charging forward down 75 Mile Beach sticking to the speed limit of 80km/h, which had been reduced from 100km/h after numerous fatal car accidents.
There were times when the speed limit dropped all the way down to 40, particularly in areas where there was a lot of foot traffic (settlements like Eurong and Happy Valley, and popular attractions like Eli Creek), but for the most part it was a smooth drive down the beach.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a more relaxing drive.
We found a clump of potential beach campsites just past the S.S. Maheno ship wreck.
We parked a little further down the beach, jumped out of the car and trekked behind the small dunes to see if there were any good camp sites.
After a bit of exploring, we found a campsite that suited our requirements.
When looking for a place to camp on Fraser Island’s beaches, I’d recommend finding an area with the following attributes:
- A nearby fresh water creek, so you can collect water for showering, cleaning and washing the salt water off.
- A good amount of sand dunes in front for protection from the wind, but not too much that you can’t see the ocean.
- Plenty of trees for shade.
11am – Private Beach and Freshwater Creek
I walked over the sand dunes in front of our camp, stepped out onto the beach and was truly taken aback by the lack of people.
In fact there was no one else except me.
It was utter bliss.
The only drawback was that the beaches were unpatrolled, which meant I needed to be more wary of sharks and other dangerous sea life, as well as random rips (strong currents that can take swimmers far out from the shore).
For this reason, I rarely ventured out into the deep water where I couldn’t stand.
There were a lot of jellyfish in the water during that first day on Fraser.
I managed to easily avoid them for the first hour, but eventually I got stung by one.
It itched more than it stung and didn’t really hurt, but it did leave a rash down the side of my body that lasted for the rest of the trip.
Fortunately there were no jellyfish after that first day and every swim was enjoyable.
The water was pretty rough at times, but I never felt scared.
After swimming in the ocean, I got into the freshwater creek at the campsite.
Fresh water always seems to be cold no matter how hot it is outside.
It was a great way to refresh and wash the salt off.
Getting into the spirit of holiday indulgence, I sat down in the small fresh water pond created by the partial dam and cracked open a beer.
- There are worse jellyfish than the ones I encountered during my visit. Bluebottle jellyfish (Portuguese man o’ war) are small, blue jellyfish that can cause a lot of pain when they sting. You don’t want to be in the water when there are a lot of these around. You’ll know when there are a lot by the amount of bluebottles washed up on the shore.
1pm – Cathedrals on Fraser
Although setting up the campsite took barely any time at all, there was one crucial element that couldn’t be completed.
My airbed still sat deflated towards the afternoon, because the electric air pump I had bought wasn’t working.
I was forced to take a short drive to a nearby camping ground called Cathedrals to see if they had an air pump.
Cathedrals was located about 200 metres inland.
It had some additional creature comforts like shower blocks and flushable toilets, but I was glad we were camping on the beach instead because I loved being so close to the ocean.
However, if you prefer showers and toilets to ocean views, you’d be better off camping at a place like Cathedrals.
The reception area had a convenience store, bar, and an undercover picnic area as well as tables with umbrellas outside.
At Cathedrals’ convenience store I found a foot air pump for $10.
This was a lot cheaper than I’d expected as the stores on Fraser Island are usually expensive.
After the very early morning and busy day unpacking and exploring the nearby surroundings, I went to bed early, excited for a full day of sightseeing to come.
Day 2: Fraser Island Attractions
I found it very difficult to sleep in, because the sun managed to turn the tent into an unbearable sauna before 8am.
I got out of the tent, while my girlfriend remained and attempted to fight for more sleep.
I had a quick swim in the ocean and fresh water creek to wake myself up.
When I returned to camp, she was awake and everyone was preparing to leave for our first attractions, the S.S. Maheno ship wreck and Eli Creek.
- If you’re camping during the summer, you should consider bringing a portable fan. I regretted not having one, especially during the hot mornings. Battery powered fans can be purchased at most camping stores.
9am – S.S. Maheno
The Maheeno ship wreck was close to our camp.
We had to leave early when the tide was low, in order to give us enough time at each attraction before the tide rose again.
The Maheno was used as a hospital ship during World War I and was beached on Fraser Island in 1935.
There was quite a lot of the ship’s skeleton left considering it had been condemned to the brutal winds and waves on Fraser for almost 80 years.
Being low tide, I was able to walk right up to the Maheno and touch its rusted surface, and even walk inside it.
The signs say to not walk on or inside the wreck, but there was no one enforcing this rule.
It was pretty incredible to get so close to such an old vessel that had once been used during a World War.
- You get a different view of the Maheno whether you go at low tide or high tide. At high tide its almost submerged and if you’re game enough you can swim inside it and watch the waves crashing through the holes. Low tide allows more leisurely viewing and is better for taking pictures. I’d say visit it twice if you can, to experience it at both tides.
- Tourist groups are often at the Maheno. If you prefer avoiding these crowds you should just park and wait until one bus is leaving. There’s usually a 5-10 minute gap between buses.
- There is a runway at the Maheno where sightseeing and passenger planes land. You should be mindful of planes landing and taking off if you’re driving or walking around this area.
10am – Eli Creek
After visiting the S.S. Maheno, we headed to Eli Creek to cool off.
It only took us another 10 minutes to reach the creek from the Maheno.
Eli Creek runs from about 400m inland out to the ocean.
It’s got a naturally strong flowing current that carries people all the way down to a wider part out on the beach.
There was a bit of a crowd at Eli Creek, but I still felt I had enough space to float and swim around in peace.
The water was really cold when I first got in, but after that initial shock it was so refreshing.
I laid on my back and let the water carry me along.
The entire experience was pure relaxation.
There was dense tree cover over most of the creek and I almost forgot that I was on a sand island until I got to the end and saw the ocean right in front of me.
We stayed at Eli Creek for over two hours, but I could’ve definitely stayed longer.
- Inflatable rafts and tyres are great to use at Eli Creek. If you have anything inflatable you can ride on, you should bring it to Eli Creek.
- Watch out for any logs sticking up in the water. I was floating backwards and hit my back on one.
- Keep an eye out for wildlife. I spotted an eel during my visit, but it was only visible for a few seconds before it disappeared again.
12:30pm – The Pinnacles
Over the years the sand there had formed into large cliff-looking structures, stained different colours by mixing with clay in the earth.
I’d never seen anything like it.
Unfortunately there was only a small space we were allowed to stand in and we couldn’t climb the Pinnacles because they were protected.
4pm – Beach Fishing
With the tide quickly rising, we had to call a quits on sightseeing for the day.
We headed back to camp and had some lunch before heading down to the beach front for some fishing.
Ocean fishing is a little different to boat or jetty fishing.
You need long fishing rods that allow you to cast further out into the ocean and an Alvey sidecast reel that doesn’t have any bearings or gears that might get jammed with sand or salt.
We already had some bait, but we quickly ran out.
We only caught a couple of fish that first day; all dart.
After filleting the dart, we kept their skeletons and guts in a plastic bag to later use to catch sand worms for bait.
Unfortunately, we made the mistake of hanging these from a tree and I later watched as a dingo took off down the beach with the plastic bag in its mouth.
This was my first real encounter with the dingoes on Fraser Island.
Before then I’d seen a lot of signs around the place saying, “Aggressive Dingoes frequent this area”.
These understandably put most people on guard and that’s exactly their purpose.
The dingoes aren’t really aggressive, in fact their more skittish, but no one can take them too lightly because that’s when attacks happen.
I learned if I ever came into contact with a dingo I should do the following:
- Maintain eye contact with the dingo.
- Stand up as tall as you can.
- If there is anything around that can be used as a weapon, pick it up and use it if the dingo gets too close.
- Calmly walk away.
- Call for help.
You should definitely not try to run away, because that will ignite the animal instinct in the dingo and it will chase you.
Attacks are very rare now, because of the mass culling of dingoes that occurred a few years ago.
I never felt scared by the dingoes, even after the close encounter that happened on the last day.
Dingoes were just one of the unique types of wildlife I saw on Fraser Island.
Day 3: Crossing the Bumpy Inland Trails to a Slice of Paradise
9am – A Visit to Eurong for Supplies
We cruised down 75 Mile Beach at low tide, passing all the wonderful sights I had seen the previous day until we reached the township of Eurong.
A short path took us off the beach and into an area of civilisation I never thought possible for a sand island.
Eurong was the main township of Fraser Island. It had numerous cabins, camping areas, a resort, and regular stores like a bakery and clothing shop.
We pulled in at a large convenience store complete with a fuel station and picked up a few supplies and fuel, which cost about 204 cents per litre.
10am – Lake McKenzie (Boorangoora)
The track inland to Lake McKenzie was only about 15km.
The drive from Eurong to Lake McKenzie took about 1 hour and the entire time I was bouncing around in the back seat hoping one unexpected bump wouldn’t slam my head into the ceiling.
We reached the car park at Lake McKenzie and I was ecstatic to get out of the vehicle.
The sand was soft and perfectly white.
The water was not only refreshing, it was the cleanest I had ever swum in.
When I got out, my skin felt softer and my hair, which had been knotty and tangled from the salt water and sand, felt shampooed and conditioned.
Lake McKenzie went from shallow to really deep fast.
There was a distinct line in the water caused by the sudden change of depth.
On one side I could see the bottom while on the other was only darkness.
It felt a little eerie when swimming out in the deep.
However, knowing that Lake McKenzie, along with all of the sand-based lakes, could only support about three species of fish helped ease my concerns about getting attacked.
After swimming, we had lunch in a fenced off picnic area that was designed to ensure dingoes didn’t have access to any food or people eating.
This had been implemented to stop the large amount of dingoes coming to Lake McKenzie and harassing the visitors.
It must have been working because I didn’t see any dingoes during my visit.
Just one lace monitor.
Fraser Island was originally inhabited by Indigenous Australians, so it was great to see there was information on Lake McKenzie’s Indigenous Australian culture.
- The main shore of Lake McKenzie was filled with visitors, but swimming further around the lake granted me access to some smaller and more private beaches. These were great for getting away from the crowds and exploring a little bit more of the lake’s shoreline.
- The inland trails are usually only one track that caters to vehicles going both directions. While driving along these trails, you will often encounter vehicles coming the opposite way. If this happens, pull over to the side if you have space. The other driver will most likely pull over if you don’t have any space.
2pm – Central Station
It was another bumpy ride from Lake McKenzie to Central Station, but it was fortunately a lot shorter.
Central Station was located deep in Fraser Island’s dense rainforest, serving as an information centre and picnic area.
There were also numerous bushwalking trails that started at Central Station and ended at different attractions like Lake McKenzie and Basin Lake.
Having already eaten lunch, I had no use for the picnic area, which was very spacious and well sheltered by enormous trees that seemed to stretch to unrealistic heights.
Like most places on Fraser Island, Central Station had preventative measures in place such as food boxes to stop dingoes from accessing food scraps.
I spent some time looking at the preserved artefacts at the information centre.
There wasn’t too much to see and the most interesting part was an old bulldozer.
I also read a lot of information about the origin of Fraser Island and its history.
There was quite a bit of text to get through, but I found it to be easily digestible.
We then decided to try one of the bushwalks.
Some of the trails were over 10kms long, which we certainly didn’t have the time or endurance for.
We chose the Wanggoolba Creek circuit, which was less than 1km.
The Wanggoolba Creek walk had plenty to see and do.
It also had the advantage of not taking longer than 30 minutes.
We strolled along a boardwalk that ran parallel to Wanggoolba Creek, which I could barely hear running.
It was a hot day and the creek’s clear water looked so tempting, but I wasn’t allowed to get in because of the protected King Ferns (Angiopteris evecta) around it.
This rare species of fern has the largest fern fronds in the world.
Unlike outside in the picnic area, the trees along Wanggoolba Creek were bent and twisted at unusual angles in an attempt to reach the limited light breaking through the canopy.
Many trees had eventually fallen over from trying to bend too much.
There were also a lot of vines hanging down over the boardwalk and I couldn’t help swinging on one while attempting to imitate Tarzan.
I’d recommend checking the vine’s strength before doing this, because some of them aren’t attached very well and you can come crashing down.
The Wanggoolba Creek walk occasionally threw some random sights our way like three totem poles that represented flora, fauna, and the island people’s commitment to protecting Fraser Island’s wildlife.
Or a tree with a human sized hole that allowed me to walk into it.
- Be mindful of the birds up in the trees if you’re picnicking at Central Station. A lot of the birds eat large seeds and are constantly dropping them down onto the ground. These seeds are large enough to cause quite a bump if they hit you. One fell only a few metres from my feet.
Day 4: Champagne Pools and Indian Head
That morning I was given an opportunity to drive.
I took us up the beach to Indian Head, the most eastern point of Fraser Island.
It was pretty much a straight shot to the Head, but to get to Champagne Pools I was going to have to cross over a treacherous inland track.
The track was very short, but well known for getting amateur drivers like myself bogged.
In the first ten minutes I learned a few basic rules to remember.
- When possible, drive as close to the water as you can without getting your vehicle wet. The sand is hardest closer to the water, making it easier to drive on.
- If there is an oncoming vehicle, indicate to show them which side you are going to drive past them on.
- Never get salt water on your vehicle. It will cause parts of your vehicle to rust.
9am – Champagne Pools
The car park for Champagne Pools was very small and we were lucky to get a spot.
I noticed a lot of people walking up the 4WD track from the beach because they’d had to park their cars on the shore.
The tide was pretty low when we arrived, so the pools weren’t completely full of water.
There was still enough space and depth to swim around and have a good time.
As the tide started to rise, I got the full effect of the Champagne Pools.
The waves started crashing over the rocks, making the water bubble around me.
There was also a fair few species of marine life swimming around in the water with us that made me wish I had brought my snorkelling gear.
Once I got tired of the water, I explored the surrounding rock formations and got some great views of Indian Head, where we would be heading next.
11:30am – Indian Head
Indian Head had some great fishing and swimming areas, but its main attraction was the headland that towered above the beach.
We trekked up to the top of the headland where grass gave way to rocks that stretched out across the ocean.
It was very windy at the top, so I had to get down low to feel comfortable at the edge.
Staring down the sheer drop into the ocean below made me feel very insignificant.
There was barely any cloud cover so the water was perfectly clear.
Way down below I could see sea turtles, manta rays and one very large fish that I still think was a shark.
- There are two paths you can take to reach the top of Indian Head. They are on different sides of the headland. The path on the side of 75 Mile Beach is slightly shorter, but is a lot steeper and will require you to walk along more rocks and slippery dirt. It’s important to remember there are two paths, because sometimes one is closed for revegetation.
- You are better off visiting Indian Head on a clear day, so you can enjoy the views of the ocean and island. You’ll also have a better chance of spotting ocean wildlife when there are no clouds.
Day 5: Fishing for Fraser Island Food
11am – Happy Valley
On day 5, we drove to a nearby township called Happy Valley.
Happy Valley, like Eurong, was located just off 75 Mile Beach, accessible via a short sand track.
The township was a little smaller than Eurong, with accommodation in the form of houses and cabins on one side and dense forest on the other.
In the centre was a large rustic building that functioned as the Happy Valley information centre, fuel station, convenience store, and restaurant.
The convenience store was reasonably well stocked, but once again everything was overpriced.
After visiting three different convenience stores on Fraser Island, I had learned there was no way to predict which one would be the cheapest.
Happy Valley for instance sold ice blocks for less than Eurong, but sold general groceries like bread and milk for more.
- Townships like Happy Valley and Eurong are perfect places for finding out important information about Fraser Island. You’ll be able to buy maps and learn how difficult or easy certain inland trails are to drive on, and access the times when the tide will be low and high.
12:30pm – Eugarie Hunting on 75 Mile Beach
We had plans to fish later that day, but first we needed to find some bait.
We drove back towards our campsite from Happy Valley, scouring the beach for eugaries, small saltwater clams.
The eugaries would leave bumps in the sand when they rose up to the vibrations of vehicles driving over them.
I found these bumps insanely difficult to spot from a moving vehicle, but fortunately our driver could see them easily.
He would pull over and we’d all jump out and run to the sand nearest to the ocean, searching for the tiny lumps.
Whenever I’d spot a lump, I’d dig a little into the sand to uncover the eugarie.
All the eugaries were tossed into a bucket half-filled with saltwater.
We amassed about 45 eugaries to use as bait.
- When walking on the beach or scouring it for eugaries, make sure you keep one eye on the passing 4WDs. The beach has no footpaths or zebra crossings, so awareness of vehicles is far more crucial to avoid any accidents.
- When parking on the beach, remember to always park your vehicle facing inland or out to the ocean. Parking this way will make it easier for oncoming vehicles to see you and will also alert them that your vehicle is parked and not just temporarily stopped or driving slowly.
3pm – Fishing for our Dinner
We all marched out with fishing rods in hand, knowing we needed to catch our dinner and if we failed we would have nothing to eat except for the steaks, sausages, and casserole.
Despite the rain, I had a fantastic time reeling in fish after fish.
I caught ten and kept about six, which included five dart and one tailor.
With all our fish, we had plenty to eat for the next three nights if we wanted to.
Day 6: Beach Paradise at Lake Wabby
10am – Lake Wabby
Day 6 was a very hot day, so naturally we headed to one of Fraser Island’s many lakes: Lake Wabby.
This lake didn’t require driving inland.
There was an inland path we could’ve taken, but instead we chose to avoid another bumpy ride and park the car at the entrance on 75 Mile Beach.
Parking on the beach required us to take a 30 minute walk inland through the bush.
Most of the trail was shaded by trees, which was fortunate because the sun was scorching the earth.
There were a lot of unique Australian flora and fauna to see including a tree commonly referred to as a scribbly gum, which is an Australian Eucalyptus tree with marks that looks like people have been drawing on it.
Towards the end of the walk, the path forked into two different directions.
One continued through the bush while the other broke out onto the nearby Hammerstone Sandblow, which was basically a small desert.
We picked the former purely because the Sandblow provided no protection from the sun.
Lake Wabby had the same amber colour as Lake McKenzie.
It was quite large and had sand dunes on one side (our side) and forest on the other side.
As we walked along the water’s edge to find a shaded spot to set up, I noticed cat fish swimming in the water less than 3 metres away from me.
The sand dunes gave Lake Wabby a unique attraction that none of the other lakes on Fraser Island possess.
The rest of my time at Lake Wabby was spent lazing about in the water to escape the heat.
- Bring a body board or something else you can ride down the sand dunes with. Make sure the body board has a hard plastic bottom for better sliding.
- If you don’t want to endure the long walk to Lake Wabby, you can drive inland and park your vehicle at the Lake Wabby Lookout. Lake Wabby is only about 500 metres from the lookout, but the walk is all uphill on the way back.
- Bring an umbrella if you have someone willing to carry it. There aren’t many shaded areas and these are usually occupied on busy days.
Day 7: Relaxing at Lake Birrabeen
11am – Lake Birrabeen
One final day on Fraser Island and one final lake on my itinerary.
Lake Birrabeen was a late inclusion because it’s very similar to Lake McKenzie, so I wasn’t planning on visiting both.
But on our last day at Fraser Island we took on the inland trails once more to see Lake Birrabeen.
Lake Birrabeen’s water was perfectly clear and the brightest blue colour I had ever seen.
The sand was white like Lake McKenzie’s, but there was more of it to relax and play on.
The water was less crowded than Lake McKenzie and once again I found myself not wanting to leave.
The only unfortunate part of Lake Birrabeen was the lack of shade available close to the water.
Bring plenty of shade with you; you’re going to need it.
Fraser Island Tips
- The Changing Tide – From the beginning of my visit to Fraser Island to the end, I was constantly having to time my exploration around the island to suit the tides. It was too dangerous to drive during high tide, so we were forced to do all sightseeing during low tide. As most attractions weren’t worth seeing at night, this only gave about 6 hours for travel.
- Annoying Wildlife – Dingoes can pose a serious threat to humans, but more often they’re trying to get at their food. I was constantly having to dingo-proof our campsite by strapping lids down on boxes and strapping the boxes to heavier objects, so the dingoes wouldn’t drag them away. They still managed to cause havoc by destroying a tissue box, the latch on the cooler, and spilling most of the cooking oil. Visitors should also be aware of the extra large flies that are called March Flies. These flies can leave a painful bite if given the chance, but are quite slow and easy to swat. Don’t think you can escape the wildlife by getting in the water. The jellyfish and sea lice are the most common causes of grievance in the ocean and can leave you with horrible stings and bad rashes.
- Supplies – If you misjudge the amount of food and other supplies you will need, expect to pay a hefty price for more. I only had to buy more supplies a couple of times during the trip, which I was thankful for after seeing the prices. I did a lot of travelling around Fraser in a personal vehicle, so I had to pay the ridiculous price for fuel. It would be worth bringing over cans full of spare fuel if you can fit them.
- Getting Around – Unlike visiting a city or town, when I was on Fraser Island I was very dependant on a vehicle to get around. This really limited what I could see and where I could go during the day. You also won’t have a chance driving on the sand unless you’re driving a 4WD.
Fraser Island has got to be one of Australia’s most underrated attractions, often overlooked by visitors more focused on the major cities and beaches.
During my seven days on the tropical island, I found a place that epitomises Australia’s raw and wild side, as well as its incredible natural beauty.
Fraser Island had too many unique places to visit and I never felt that anywhere, even the most popular attractions, was too busy.
Fraser Island also had the little things that make travelling memorable, like waking up every day to the sound of the ocean, and a beach that was practically all mine.
Fraser Island is a place I’ll remember for taking me away from traditional travelling comforts and landing me in an island paradise with limitless possibilities.