Fraser Island is a heritage-listed island located along the south eastern coast of Queensland, Australia approximately 250 kilometres north of Brisbane. In the 2016 census, Fraser Island had a population of 182 people.
In 1972 UNESCO adopted the World Heritage Convention to protect special places for all humanity. Fraser Island was World Heritage listed by UNESCO in 1992 in recognition of its natural values. The official citation pays tribute to the island’s “exceptional natural beauty” and refers to “over 250km of sandy beaches with long, uninterrupted sweeps of ocean beach, with more than 40km of strikingly coloured sand cliffs, as well as spectacular dune blowouts and ocean surf beaches; tall rainforests growing on low nutrient sands; perched dune lakes including both clear “white water” lakes and dark “black water” lakes; banksia woodlands, heath, patterned swampy fens and sheltered mangrove areas in a spectacular “mosaic landscape.”
Fraser Island stretches over 123 kilometres in length and 22 kilometres at its widest point. With an area of 184 000 hectares it is the largest sand island in the world.
Fraser Island has been on our list of places that we should visit, but truly we never really thought we’d get there. With limited access, a visit is difficult and quite expensive. Glenda had always dreamt of flying over the island and Walter had visions of driving up the long beach, but that was as far as we’d thought. That was until the final day of August 2020 when our dream was realised. And it was so much bigger, better and more moving than we’d ever imagined.
We had to be at the Air Fraser base at Hervey Bay Airport in time for a 7am flight. Not surprisingly, we woke up early – too much excitement – so had plenty of time to grab a coffee from the bakery near our accommodation (it opened at 6am) and on the way to the plane we stopped off at a pie shop for a pie and muffin. The rest of our day’s food and drink was loaded into our accompanying soft side cold bag.
The airport was less than a 10-minute drive from our accommodation, so we were there in no time. As we were the only people on the flight, we were on board early and enjoying the flight across the passage from the mainland to the sand island. With the tide being high, we weren’t able to see the sandy shelves the area is known for but could make out Woody island in the distance. We looked out for whales but didn’t manage to spot any of those.
It was amazing to get a view of the island from the air and seeing the well known Lake Mackenzie and Waddy Lake added perspective.
The landing on the beach was a highlight. Having landed on all forms of runways -bitumen, sand and grass – and on water, a beach landing was a new experience. Not something many people get to do as there is only one other place in the world where a commercial operator is able to land on the beach and that’s somewhere in Scotland. Landing just minutes before high tide meant there wasn’t a lot of sand available, but Raife, our pilot had no trouble getting us down safely and taxiing to meet our next mode of transport.
Heaving and bouncing
Before long we were in our hired 4wd equipped with a suggested itinerary and a well-used map ready to explore the island. Getting off the beach proved our first challenge as there was a lot of loose sand to get through, but very soon Walter had mastered the vehicle and we were on our way. Having had to nurse our little awd up some rough roads during this trip, it took a mind shift to keep the accelerator down and momentum up. And the clearance was fortunately not a problem given the crazy bumpy, loose sandy surface of the road to Lake Mackenzie, our first stop.
The azure waters and white sand of the lake was more than sufficient reward for a hectic drive. We also had the added bonus of seeing the lake with no one else there. This is apparently unheard of but given we could get there early before the barge from the mainland arrived and unfortunately also due to low numbers because of Covid, we certainly benefited. It’s difficult to explain the level of ecstasy and the extreme privilege we felt as we walked along the long white stretch of beach and gazed at the clear water.
Lake Mackenzie is fairly unique as it is a perched lake. This means that it sits above the water table and is filled only by rainwater. Seepage is prevented by the decaying plant material on the floor of the body of water.
Heading back to the beach
Looping around after the lake, we visited Central Station. This was once the site where the native Butchulla women came to give birth, with the entry of men not allowed. It became the heart of Fraser Island’s forestry industry when tree felling was permitted. From 1920 to 1950s, there was a logging village here with about 30 homes and a school for the loggers’ children. Central Station has an open rainforest around it, playing home to a variety of mature pine trees like Bunya Pines and Kauri Pines, along with Flooded Gums and Satinays.
We took a walk along the crystal clear water of Wanggoolba Creek which flows through the rainforest. This creek is home to a wide range of species of eels, turtles, and fishes. If you look at the photos, the water is so clear, it’s almost impossible to see.
Driving the beach highway
By the time we’d finished navigating the rather bumpy road back to Eurong where we’d started our journey, the tide had gone out a little. This gave us a lot more width of sand for making our way up the beach on the eastern side of the island. We passed people camping alongside the “road” and lots of groups fishing (although likely more beer was consumed than fish).
The coloured sands of the Pinnacles – created by the level of iron – was a pretty side although the rock formations are more impressive when the sun catches them at sunrise. The Maheno shipwreck was pretty impressive. This structure, probably one of the most photographed things on the island, was originally built to carry passengers between Auckland and Sydney. It ran aground in July 1935 after being removed out of service – it was being towed to Japan for its parts and the towline broke under cyclonic conditions.
We made it back to Eurong just in time to get a coffee before the local bakery closed. This gave us an extra boost, so after driving back up the beach to the spot we would meet our aircraft for the return trip, we took a nice long stroll along the seashore.
Return to reality
Exhilarated and exhausted, we flew back to Hervey Bay. We landed briefly on the other side of the island to drop someone off before making our way over the sandy passage. With the tide much lower, we could make out a lot more of the sand. Walter had a new appreciation for the care with which they’d navigated the area when he and his crew were sailing our yacht down to Sydney from the Whitsundays many years ago.
One of the most memorable and moving days of our lives – we are truly blessed!!