When you’re traveling the Queensland coast of Australia, Fraser Island is on the “must do” list. Tours launch from Rainbow Beach and Hervey Bay, and the island can be done in one, two, or three days. If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle you can ferry across and camp on your own, but it’s very expensive for the tickets and permits required (it’s also expensive for organized tours, as the same fees apply…basically it’s just really expensive no matter what).
In an effort to save money, I went with the one day tour and felt like that was enough. When you travel, you can almost always spend more time in a place than you have, but I felt like I had seen the highlights in the time I had. Also, some of the overnight tours have too much of a party feel (definitely not my scene) or include a lot of “hanging out time” at the various attractions (and I don’t need to pay to hang out).
If you’re researching trips for yourself, it’s important to note that some tours allow you to drive a 4×4 vehicle yourself, rather than ride in a bus. Driving was not worth the extra money to me, but if it’s something you want to experience, make sure you find a trip that operates on that model.
After the requisite round of pickups the morning of the tour, we headed to the ferry. The ferry is small (it only fits a few vehicle) and crosses the distance to the island in about 20 minutes. During the ride, we were able to get off the bus and onto a viewing deck, where we were promptly greeted by a pod of dolphins just off the side of the ferry.
Once we landed on the island, we drove straight off onto the beach. We would have continued heading right up the coast, but the tide hadn’t gone down far enough and to avoid submerged logs/floating away we headed up the “high tide track” that took us through the bush until we got to a wider section of the beach.
Driving on the sand was pretty cool. There was a lot of wave action going on out the right side of the bus and occasional streams to splash through. After a quick stop at the hotel cafe for morning tea, we headed further along the island until we got to Lake McKenzie.
Fraser Island is home to over half of the world’s perched lakes, including Lake McKenzie. Perched lakes are formed when sticks, leaves, and other organic matter blow into a sand crater, creating a “seal” on the bottom. The depression then fills with rain water, creating a lake.
The water in Lake McKenzie is acidic, which means that no funky stuff can grow (and very few plants or animals can survive in it), so the water is crystal clear. It appears as a turquoise color near the beach and transitions to dark blue as the bottom drops out to a depth of 16 ft. The sand around the lake is pure white silica, creating a beautiful contrast with the water. Fun fact: the sand is a great exfoliator, leaving your skin silky, and the water makes your hair super soft.
After spending a half hour or so taking in Lake McKenzie, we hopped back in the bus and headed to the Pile Valley rainforest. The area was previously used by the timber industry to harvest satinay trees, which were used to build docks, piers, and other water-based structures (since they are resistant to rot and marine critters who like to chew on other types of wood). We walked along a short nature trail boardwalk to take in the sights, including a stream with water so clear you almost couldn’t tell it was there.
Pile Valley is home to Australia’s most venomous funnel-web spider (although we didn’t see any…they come out at night). The spiders live in the ground or in little rock crevices and create a funnel-shaped web over the entrance. We did see lots of those.
After lunch, it was back to the beach driving. As we headed north, we made a quick stop for anyone who wanted to take an airplane ride over the island. The planes take off and land right on the beach with runways designated by a few signs that basically say “stay out the airplanes’ way.” You’re up for about 20 minutes, long enough to see the lakes and forest from the sky, as well as possibly spot a whale or other marine animals off the shore. Of course this is not a cheap add-on, so I passed, but those who went said it was pretty cool.
We met up with our fliers a little further up at a runway near the Maheno shipwreck, beached in 1935. The Maheno had been sold to Japan for scrap metal and they took her rudder off to sell it in Australia before towing the rest of the ship back to Japan. Unfortunately for them, a storm swept in, separated the Maheno from the ship doing the towing, and, without a rudder, there was no way to steer her away from the beach. Now she’s a rusted mess but makes for good photos.
Other island highlights included Eli Creek, a super clear “lazy river” you can float down through a short distance of forest and out onto the beach, and the Pinnacles (some colored sand formations that weren’t really that impressive). There’s quite a bit of variety on the island and it is definitely worth seeing. Even though it’s winter right now, the weather was beautiful, although I didn’t find it quite warm enough to get in the water at either Lake McKenzie or Eli Creek. Many others had no problem jumping in though…
Fraser Island is home to the purest bloodline of dingos in Australia (since they have not had the opportunity to interbreed with any domestic or feral dogs, like mainland dingo populations sometimes do). Unfortunately, we did not see any.