Fraser is the world’s largest sand island, and one of Australia’s premier adventure destinations. Accommodation on the island is very limited (and quite expensive), and roads are almost nonexistent. So the most typical way to visit is on a self-driving 4WD camping trip, be it as part of a guided group (in which case you are clustered with other travelers), or on your own. If you’ve read this blog, you’ll know which option we chose.
Flying in from our beloved base in Sydney a day in advance, we had some time to explore the coastal town of Hervey Bay. We borrowed bikes from our hostel and rode east on the esplanade, settling in a nice stretch of beach. It was warm and perfectly sunny, and we enjoyed it as much as possible, refusing to believe the horrendous weather forecast for the following two days. In the evening, we had to attend orientation at the rental car office. This is mandatory for all Fraser Island operators, and covers a wide range of advice from what to do if your car get stuck in the sand to how to behave if you encounter dingoes. We were renting a small 4×4 from Aussie Trax, one of the handful of similar companies in Harvey Bay – not better or worse, just the only one that had availability by the time we looked into it. Our Suzuki Jimny seemed manageable and came equipped with everything we would need for our two days on Fraser: camping tent, roll mats, sleeping bags, gas cooker, utensils, shovel, etc. Aussie Trax also took care of the barge tickets to get in and out of the island, which also tend to get booked in advanced. To finalize logistics, we rode back to the esplanade and bought a bunch of groceries. And we had a cool encounter with a massive cast of crabs at sunset!
The next morning, we woke up super early and took a taxi to the car rental location to finally pick up our 4WD. We were excited to get going, and didn’t let the gloomy skies bring us down. We made it to the ferry terminal in Riverheads in less than 30 min, and across to Fraser’s Wanggoolba Creek in another 30 min. Elena bravely volunteered to drive first, and she took us masterfully through the wild sand roads in the center of the island. The one advantage of rainy days on Fraser is that the sand gets compacted and makes the driving much easier… though it doesn’t prevent you from getting stuck, as we would soon learn. Our first stop was Lake MacKenzie, a crystal blue water lagoon surrounded by soft white sand, crazy beautiful even in a dark day. Too bad it was too cold for a swim.
We drove east across the island and ran into our first traffic jam. A family had gotten stuck and made the mistake of trying to get out by accelerating, sinking even deeper in the sand. Since none of us could pass them in the narrow road, we all got out and started helping as best as we could: clearing sand around the tires, putting wood down to get traction, pushing… but they had gotten themselves too deep. Eventually a car arrived that had actual recovery tracks and got the stuck family out. As absurd as it sounds, this is part of the fun in Fraser Island 😉 We eventually made it to Eurong, and started driving on the Seventy-Five Mile Beach. This drive was really enjoyable, with our 4WD smoothly rolling on the solid shore, and jumping over small rivers here and there. We briefly stopped for a beach picnic, until it started drizzling, and then again at Eli Creek. On hot days, this is a mandatory break spot, where you can walk up the creek and float downstream in freshwater. Soon after, we arrived at to one of the highlights of the island: the Maheno shipwreck.
In 1935, the Maheno was a retired passenger steamer being towed for scrap, when it was lost in a storm. It was stranded in Fraser Island, never to be recovered. At low tide, it makes for an eerie sight, all colossal and rusty, laying on the golden sand. We walked around a bit before driving on to The Pinnacles, a group of bizarre colored sand cliffs a bit further north. Here, we decided to leave the better known trails and go inland, trying to find a sandblow that was marked in the map provided by Aussie Trax. Not only did we not find the dune (apparently they move quite a bit every year due to the winds), we got stuck on the most off-the-beaten path part of the island. Reacting quickly, we stopped accelerating, got out of the jeep, and cleaned the sand around all the tires. Then Elena slowly drove out while I pushed with all my power. Test passed!
Exhausted from an intense day, we decided to set our tent in one of the beach camping areas around Wyuna. We cooked and devoured some delicious gnocchi, and curled up in our sleeping bags right as the rain and wind picked up. In the morning, we woke up wet and cold. We were certainly under-prepared for this weather in what was supposed to be the beautiful Australian summer, and the crappy rental gear didn’t help. While eating breakfast and warming up in the car, we evaluated our options. It was still raining strongly, but it looked a bit brighter to the north. Plus, based on the tides, we had to get going soon if we wanted to cross Indian Heads. We decided to leave our tent there and drive north on the beach. By the time we made it to Indian Heads, we had escaped the storm, and we were able to enjoy the fun drive on the boggy sands, the views of the Seventy-Five Mile Beach from the elevated viewpoint, and inexplicable red water splashes in the Champagne Pools.
But the best part of the trip was yet to come. As we drove back south, we noticed a big dune appearing and disappearing to our right. We pulled over and walked for a few minutes, and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a deserted wonderland: a massive blow of thin sand, with yellow, white and grey tones extended in every direction. The dark clouds in the sky and the wind that blew some grains of sand, making the dune feel in motion, made the sight even more dramatic. We ran up and down, jumped and rolled, giggling like kids, not believing or luck to have discovered this hidden gem.
Back in the car, we traced our steps back to the camp site and found our tent still standing. We dismantled it quickly, much easier now that the storm had passed. We refueled in Happy Valley, and thought we could visit one last spot before heading to the barge: Lake Wabby. We pulled over at the sign and started walking on the marked sand trail. We thought the lake and its famous sandblow were going to be right by the beach, and only had about 45 min max until we had to be back in the car driving towards the harbor. When we came across a group of backpackers and they told us that it was almost one hour walk each way, we felt so disappointed… but we weren’t ready to give up. Instead, we decided to run barefoot! We made it to the lake in 20 min, took some pictures of the dune (which is slowly but surely eating the lake), and made it back to our car right on time. I thought my heart was going to pop out of my chest, and my legs would be sore for a few days, but it was worth it.
We drove like maniacs across the island to Kingfisher Bay, the Jimny bumping up and down violently but making surprisingly little progress. In general, we found the map provided by the car company insufficient and outdated, and wished we had printed some maps from the park website, and had gotten a better understanding of the distances. In any case, we made it to our barge and back to the mainland. It had been quite a weekend; the bad weather didn’t allow us to enjoy some of the most typical Fraser Island experiences, but we found plenty of adventures on our own.