The day has finally come for us to share with you the photos from our camping trip to the incredibly special, wet, wild and wonderful Fraser Island! Yes, in my opinion, Fraser Island is Australia’s most unique and special island, and that’s saying a lot, since Australia itself is one heck of a unique and special island, surrounded by many others. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting—and if you like the look of the photos below—I suggest you add Fraser Island to your bucket list, pronto. Fraser Island will always have a special place in my heart. I have been to Fraser Island about 12 times, having had the privilege of visiting this amazing place as part of my former job working for a study abroad organisation. We used to take our student groups on day trips to this remarkable island as part of their orientation to Australia. Those were some lucky students, and every time I swam in the Evian-like waters of Lake McKenzie, even on the trips where I was sick, or we had torrential downpours, I knew I was one damn lucky student adviser. Having shared stories with Jeff over the years of exciting dingo sightings, erratic weather and king tides, crazy bus incidents, unusual sea life washed up on the beach, and the never-changing beauty of Lake McKenzie, I was extremely excited that he would finally get to see it himself, along with my sister and our dear friend, Matt. This very unique World Heritage island is the largest sand island in the world, and the only place in the world where you can find rainforest growing straight out of sand above 200 metres. It’s also where we happened to see one of the most spectacular sunsets we’ve ever seen.
There are only a few very short stretches of paved road on Fraser Island, branching a few hundred metres around the main barge transfer point and the one hotel on the island. The rest of your driving terrain, like the rest of the surface of the island, is just sand. Beautiful, soft, white and pale peach sand-dune blowy sand. The inland tracks, sticky and flat when they are wet, morph, rumple and bulge into fluffy tire traps when they are dry. The tricky and ever-changing driving conditions on the island make it strictly 4WD territory. Seventy-Five Mile Beach, pictured here, is an actual highway (with road rules and a speed limit!) running up the coast of the island. Parts of it even function as an airstrip, and it is not uncommon to see small airplanes taking off and landing on the beach. There is definitely something crazy and fun about driving along a beautiful beach like this.
Did I mention that Fraser Island is literally one huge pile of sand? Whether the random tour guide—who claimed the sand could cover the entire Sahara desert if spread out—is correct or not, it’s still one heck of a lot of sand. In fact, it used to be called The Great Sandy Island, continuing the tradition of extremely creative Australian names such as Western Australia, South Australia, and the Snowy Mountains. Other than the sand and the rainforest, Fraser Island is famous for its incredible perched lakes, which are like permanent rainwater puddles trapped on the tops of the dunes. A few places on the island allow you to see out over the giant sand blows to the ocean beyond.
In the interior of the island, the view is quite different through the towering rainforest!
I may have accompanied my student groups on huge, Star Wars sandcrawler-style buses with a tour guide for our day trips, but truly the best way to see the island is by hiring your own 4WD vehicle and setting off with a small group for at least three days. This is the way I first saw the island back in 2001 when I was a student, and I have wanted to do it the same way again ever since that trip. The island is quite sizeable, and travel over the sandy tracks can be very slow. You could easily spend a relaxing week on the island and not run out of things to see. Here we are with our hired 4WD, feeling a bit goofy. We thought our Steve Irwin look went well with the old-school style 4WD, don’t you?
But our first stop would require an outfit change!
The first lake we visited was Lake Birrabeen, which is very similar to the more famous Lake McKenzie. These freshwater perched lakes are unlike any other lake you’re likely to have seen. The water is as clear as water running from your tap, and tastes no different. The lakes have a impermeable layer of old matted vegetation lying deep below the sand, which prevents the water from seeping into the dune. The result is a pure, clear rainwater puddle, and swimming in it feels much cleaner and more refreshing than being in a swimming pool!
The sandy shore drops off steeply into the lake, creating three bands of colour along the edge.
We were concerned about rain on our visit, as the forecast wasn’t exactly for clear skies the whole time. On our drive into Hervey Bay, the jumping off point for Fraser Island, we encountered a tremendous thunderstorm. The rain must certainly have qualified as flash-flood intensity, and we watched the giant red and black splotch on the weather radar as it passed right over Fraser Island and on to the coast where we were driving, slowing our vehicle to a near crawl. Though we weren’t too excited at the prospect of camping in that type of weather, the timing ended up being perfect. When we got to the island the next day, we realised that the deluge had left us not with water-logged roads, but with sandy tracks pounded flat. We didn’t get bogged once!
Though I’d been to Fraser Island many times, the student-group tours that I’d been a part of always followed the same itinerary and visited only one lake. So I was quite eager to get my first glimpse of Lake Wabby, a lake stained by tea trees and slowly being swallowed up by its giant dune neighbour.
These weren’t aerial shots; this spectacular overlook is the start of one of two paths that you can use to get down to the lake.
I was somewhat surprised to see that there is life in Lake Wabby!
Kate even found a two-meter croc lurking in the waters!
We spent some time driving through the island’s interior, where you can find ancient rainforest growing straight out of sand. It is quite the sight!
Fraser Island is also famous for its enormous Satinay trees, like this one pictured below. They can live for well over 1,000 years! Sadly the island was once logged heavily, but now it is a fully protected area.
Of course, visiting beautiful Lake McKenzie was a must. We arrived here shortly before sunset to find a deserted lake, which is a fairly rare sight especially in summer. Your best bet is to visit early in the morning or late in the evening for a crowd-free swim.
We returned again another morning, and were the first ones there! Ahhh… these photos make me want to go for a splash right now!
I gotta say, in the past, I haven’t been a huge fan of swimming in lakes. I think I had a bad introduction to the nature of lakes as a child. I remember attending some other child’s birthday party, the activities for which centered mostly around swimming and playing in a dark, sludgy lake. The water was not deep, but it was black and viscous, like some kind of metallic-looking ooze used for special effect in a sci-fi film. I practised treading water almost continuously, my legs getting tangled in slippery reeds, as I tried to avoid setting down my bare feet on the slimy, spongy layer that coated the bottom of the lake. Ugh. That’s enough of that thought! After that first lake-swimming experience, I stereotyped all lakes to be of the slimy, icky nature… until I met Fraser Island!
Like we did on our visit to Queensland with my parents, we had another go at a drip castle. You can polish your jewellery with this sand!
We had some fun with this waterproof deck of cards. Thanks, Mom! :)
Ahhh… I think swimming in Lake McKenzie wins the prize for the most relaxing and refreshing swim, ever. Every time I would visit with my students, as we left the lake, I would always make a little silent wish that I would get to visit again, tossing an imaginary coin into this natural Trevi Fountain.
From another point on the island, we were treated to views of another giant sandblow. The rain came in again, but it didn’t stop us from taking some close-ups of the flora and fauna.
I don’t know the name of the creature that does this, but I think they should be called Graffiti Worms.
Every night, we took the opportunity to camp somewhere along 75-Mile Beach. One of the perks of camping along an East-facing beach is the view you get to enjoy in the morning!
This is the famous Maheno shipwreck, which has slowly been disintegrating since it beached there in 1935.
One of the most common places to camp on Fraser Island is right along the beach, behind the first set of dunes. We found a spot one evening and decided we’d make a timelapse video of us setting up our campsite:
The only thing to do was to jump for joy!
Or to do cartwheels…
If you catch a night without clouds or rain, the remote location of Fraser Island means that the skies are quite the sight.
This brings us to the end of the Martin Family visits to Australia—we hope you’ve enjoyed the glimpse into our last-Christmas holiday! We’re continuing to get caught up on our travel photos, and the next travel post we’ll be featuring is from a trip that surprised, amazed and inspired us, and filled our stomachs much too full with sushi and sake. You can guess where we went! Stay tuned, and let us know what you think of the Fraser Island photos below in the comments!