The biggest sand island in the world…
Location: Hervey Bay, Queensland
Weather: Summer perfection, the suns out, there’s no clouds about and the temp is around 34ºc
“You’ve got too much luggage to take in the R44 heli” our pilot told us as Bre, the Beyond TV crew and I arrived at the Hervey Bay airport. Yep that’d be about right – we’re hauling around 200kgs of kit between us so M.I. Helicopters would have to take the larger Bell Ranger across to Fraser Island instead.
It’s a quick trip across the channel but throughout the flight looming large in the distance is Fraser Island stretching from horizon to horizon. 124kms long with around 40 freshwater lakes contained within its body it is the largest sand island in the world. There’s dense vegetation over the vast majority of it, rainforest in some sections and all along the eastern seaboard one of the largest beaches I’ve ever been on…sand as far as the eye can see!
We touch down on the helipad of Kingfisher Bay resort and meet the welcoming committee of Abbie from Aussie Trax and Damian from Fraser Coast Tourism who’ll be our guides over the next day. They arrive armed with two 4x4’s – the only way of getting about on the island as there’s no real roads, only sand tracks.
I have to say that this is massively exciting for me – after spending all of last year driving around Africa in a Land Rover battling the mud and sand roads there, the idea of taking on another 4WD challenge is just what I needed. But before we jump in the cars we cruise into the luxurious eco-surroundings of the Kingfisher Bay resort to a quick pit stop and drink, there’s nothing worse than getting caught out whilst on the road!
We depart and as soon as we’re out of the resort’s confines the road just disappears…well I say road I should have said slat-covered-track…the deep sand starts here so we engage 4WD and follow the deeply rutted tracks into the depths of the island.
These are actually the main roads here; the island is a national park and also listed as a World Heritage site which helps to maintain its beauty and unique features and attractions. The main road across the centre of the island has fairly large numbers of vehicles passing along it, mainly 4×4 rental cars with drivers experiencing sand driving for the first time.
It’s important to note to those visitors experiencing 4WD’ing for the first time should undertake the relevant training required before taking one of these cars out on Fraser Island’s sand roads.
Inevitably this does throw up a few issues within the first few kms of driving on the sand…stranded vehicles! It actually makes for quite a fun start to the journey as we have to leave the air-con comfort of Damian’s Pajero and head out to the front of the convoy that is stranded behind the unlucky bogged vehicle. This is where the fun really starts with the usual routine for extracting it from the sand – let some pressure out of the tyres, clear the four patched of sand from in front of them, back up a bit and…..HIT IT!!
Once we’ve coached the driver with some very basic skills they’re off blasting their way across the bumpy, sandy roads and it’s not long before the entire convoy is moving again – it’s amazing what a little bit of education will do.
The islands got some incredible rainforest and its amazing how it survives as sand isn’t the greatest retainer of water, but somehow it holds enough to maintain the life of a whole multitude of trees, bushes, plants and animals. A couple of hours later we’ve smashed and bashed our way across the centre of the island, rescued a few more tourists and slowly counted down the kilometre signs to Lake McKenzie – our stopping off point for a bite of lunch.
There are over forty freshwater lakes on Fraser and the one that everybody knows and wants to visit is Lake McKenzie. As I walk down the path that leads to its shores I can see why; the purest turquoise water surrounded by the whitest sand reminds me instantly of Whitehaven Beach back in the Whitsundays.
I take off down the beach like a madman, I love the water and this is heaven – not since I’d completed my dive qualification in Lake Malawi last year had I seen such perfect water. There’s a fair few other people here too, the backpacker community appear to have got here before us so there’s games of Frisbee, football and sunbaking going on all around.
Having a day to explore Fraser Island doesn’t leave anytime for exploring so we’re straight back in the vehicles and off again hitting the sand road due east all of the way to the coast…the massively long coast which stretches for nearly 120kms form north to south.
We drop onto the solid sand of the beach and join the highway; at least that’s what it felt like as there are so many 4x4’s doing exactly the same thing. Tyre tracks are everywhere and the rules of the highway really do apply here with speed limits and road signs very much the norm – this is the only way to head north from here.
Travelling on the hard sand, dodging the waves and avoiding the rocks requires lots of concentration and constant micro-adjustments to the steering wheel, so the sight of a huge wreck in the distance is a welcome relief from the road. The S.S. Maheno was originally built in 1905 in Scotland as a luxury passenger ship for trans-Tasman crossings. During the First World War the ship served as a hospital ship in the English Channel, before returning to a luxury liner. In 1935, the ship was declared outdated and on June 25, 1935 the ship was being towed from Melbourne when it was caught in a strong cyclone. A few days later, on July 9, 1935 she drifted ashore and was beached on Fraser Island. During the Second World War the Maheno served as target bombing practice for the RAAF. The ship has since become severely rusted, with almost three and a half storeys buried under the sand.
The sun is getting lower in the sky and time, as ever, is pushing on – there’s one more location to visit before heading to our camp for the night and that’s Indian Head at the very northern tip of this section of beach. We climb the rocky headland and get a superb view down the length of the beach as it disappears off in the distance. In the foreground there was a little more to focus on…just below where we stood the outline of tiger sharks were obvious patrolling the fish-filled waters for their next meal. I can now see why swimming isn’t recommended around the coast of Fraser island!
In the failing light we return south along the beach and stop briefly for a quick lesson in sand-worm hunting – an essential skill if you consider yourself a local fisherman around these parts. Talk about a knack to it – something neither Bre or I clearly possess as we struggle to catch anything…at least our lives don’t depend on it anyway!
It’s a pretty quick drive back to the dip in the dunes we’d passed earlier marking the entrance up the beach to our resting point for the night, Cathedral Beach. Its a peaceful, remote location which Shane runs and has all of the facilities to make this a great self-catering location for those with their own 4×4. Having camped on top of my Land Rover every day last year it was wicked to be doing the same again tonight – although the luxuriously fitted safari-style tents here offer much more comfort than my canvas house did.
There’s a meal fit for a king waiting but the welcome sight of the shower block comes first adding to the feel-good factor of the day especially after we’ve inhaled enough dust and sand to fill a small bucket. Shane runs the Fraser Island Company and has a few different options for people looking to spend a few days exploring this amazing environment here at Fraser, the camp we’re staying in tonight is setup for all manner of adventurous types who come to the island for their holidays. From the simplistic campsites to the type of tents we’re staying in through to the luxury chalets.
Staying out in the bush is a great way to immerse yourself in your surroundings; there’s huge toads hopping about, the sound of the night is all around and a dingo evens walks right past us as were bedding down for the night. Superb.
The feeling of sunshine warming the outer wall of the tent signals sunrise and the end of my sleep unfortunately – I was really enjoying that, but there’s work to do recording a script for Tourism Queensland and I can’t think of a better place to do it than on the beach.
Work done, breakfast consumed and before we know it our time on Fraser island is almost up – we’re leaving on a tiny little plane from Scenic Flights who operate from the main beach and make our way down to the waters edge where Dale is waiting by his machine. He’s great fun and once we’re on board throws the plane about so we can see the sharks in the water below, the huge sand dunes in the distance and eventually the runway out on front of us only 30 minutes later as we come into land at Hervey Bay airport back on the mainland.
Fraser Island has so much to it and deserves a couple of weeks to explore it properly in a vehicle, the fishing is supposed to be incredible and some of the wild bush camps in the middle of nowhere must be brilliant.
When I finally get my Land Rover over from the UK and have some time off I’ll be making the drive up here again to play in the sand and float in Lake McKenzie until my fingers are wrinkled…
End of day location: Hervey Bay
Distance travelled: 120kms by road on sand, and 25kms by air[flickrset id="72157622842806267" thumbnail="square"]