A sand castle in the sea: Fraser Island

Over the last 20 years, I’ve tried to make it to Fraser Island five times. I would’ve made it the first time, if I’d known then what I know now.

I would have abandoned the 1968 Land Rover and its busted gear box and hopped on the next plane and landed on Fraser’s Seventy-Five Mile Beach, the island’s runway and highway.

Okay, a tour bus would have been more budget-friendly, but the point remains, I would have dropped everything and gone.

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The inland lakes on Fraser Island are perfectly calm pools to paddle in

The Butchulla people call Fraser K'gari, or paradise, and it is. It’s a magic trick: the world’s biggest sand castle in the ocean built by a freak of tidal flows and sea level changes, with forests that grow out of nothing but sand all because a microscopic fungus helps the trees convert nutrients.

Fraser Island has an area of 184,000 hectares, making it the largest sand island in the world. Located off Queensland’s eastern coast just over an hour north of Bundaberg, the World Heritage island is home to half of the world’s perched lakes.

These lakes are brimming with water so clear they look fake and pop that against the whitest sand in the world on Lake McKenzie and you’re left in fantasy land.

It all feels like an alternative universe. You whizz along Seventy-Five Mile beach with speed signs standing right next to fishing folk hauling out giants, while sea eagles swirl around children watching for whales.

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Travel along the sandy highway of Seventy-Five Mile beach - it's a great scenic drive!

Halfway along the beach, the S.S. Maheno shipwreck rears up out of the sea mist. She’s an old passenger ship that spent time as a hospital vessel moored off Gallipoli, but now she’s so perfect in her deterioration she’s more like a discarded Hollywood prop.

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The S.S. Maheno shipwreck is an iconic sight on Fraser Island, sitting picturesquely on the shore

Further up the beach is Eli Creek. People come to Fraser Island year after year, just to spend their days pottering on its banks. They wander up the boardwalk, pop in their inflatable and float down. The crystal clear water meanders over a sandy bottom while ferny banks nod in the breeze. It’s too perfect to be real.

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Aside from Lake McKenzie or the Champagne Pools, swimmers can also cool off at Eli Creek

Getting there and around
The whole island operates on tide time. Where and when your barge arrives will be determined by the tide. Even when the planes land is in the lap of the tides. Tides dictate when you move around, because high tide leaves you high and dry in the soft sand and highways become sandpits.

The inland roads can be just as tough with sand so soft and white it could nearly pass for snow and getting bogged is par for the course. The 1968 Land Rover would’ve been woefully under-equipped if we had made it all those years ago. We didn’t even have the basics – a recovery kit and trax – to get us out of trouble.

The ‘boggings’ we saw were jolly occasions; everyone stopped to help and chat. It’s an opportunity to find out where the fish are running. Even the tour buses (that look like characters out of a Pixar movie with huge headlights and giant wheels) stop to tow.

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Enjoy the island from a different perspective: take in magnificent views from above

Don’t worry if this sounds intimidating and you’re stuck between a tour bus or going it alone. There are also the tag-along tours where a cluster of four wheel drives follow the leader.

Either way, you’ll want to bring all your own supplies, because most of the shops are pretty basic and pricey. My favourite, Happy Valley, lived up to its name, because I was very happy to find good coffee there.

Accommodation
The options range from pitching a tent at the back of the beach through to the four star Kingfisher Bay Resort, with holiday homes and other resorts in between.

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Kingfisher Bay Resort lets guests experience the untamed wilderness and natural charm of the island

We met a family that travels to Fraser every year and they camp for the holiday and spend the last day leaping between the day spa and pool at Kingfisher Bay Resort. An excellent plan, because the magic of Fraser changes the way you see the world and it can take a little while to reset for reality.

Have you been to Fraser? What’s your favourite memory?

Photography: Darren Jew / Tourism and Events Queensland; Jewelszee Photograhy / Tourism and Events Queensland; Kingfisher Bay Resort.

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