How to learn to 4WD on Fraser Island
If the only off-roading you’ve ever done is mounting the curb in a carpark, it’s time for you to dip your tyre-toes on the world’s largest sand island. Here’s how to learn to 4WD on Fraser Island and see what all the four-wheel fuss is about.
This off-road sand pit isn’t reserved for people who can already talk the torque. You can easily cross the 40km separating Hervey Bay and Fraser Island, and learn the four-wheel drive basics once you get there with Australian Offroad Academy.
If you’ve only ever driven rubber on the road, it’s time to try sand. Put on your L-plates, with this guide to how-to four-wheel drive Fraser Island.
Why tackle the sandy tracks of Fraser Island?
Few islands off Australia can lay claim to being as off-road ready as Fraser Island. In fact, unless you’ve got a 4WD (whether your own or a hire vehicle), you can’t even get island side to discover this World Heritage-listed wonder. That is, unless you opt for one of these ways to see Fraser Island in a day.
Don’t just take our word for the quality of the off-roading over here – car companies like Isuzu even shoot their television commercials on Fraser Island because the four-wheel driving is that good.
More than just a place to kick up sand, Fraser Island is seriously scenic. On the inland tracks, you can expect towering pine forests, enormous eucalypt forests and lush rainforests thriving in a salty, sandy environment – unlike anywhere else in the world.
Throw in freshwater lakes that are perched upon thousands of years of leaf litter, desert areas made of wind-rippled sand and tidal creeks (perfect for an inflatable doughnut or swan) and you can start to see why UNESCO rated Fraser Island as one of the top 19 sites in Australia. That is, a place of outstanding universal value alongside the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Lord Howe Island and the Blue Mountains to name a few.
If it’s your first time in the driver’s seat on Fraser Island’s bumpy tracks, it pays to have a good tutor.
Learn the basics with Australian Offroad Academy
If you don’t know when you’re in diff-lock or diff-NOT, you’re about to learn a lot of new words along with safe offroading practices with Australian Offroad Academy.
Hervey Bay-based Australian Offroad Academy runs courses island-side for beginners who’ve never really driven with four points of contact. You can book a tour a few ways – drive your own car, hire one, or the team will teach you in one of their vehicles.
You’ll start with theory before practice, in a custom-built course at the back of the Kingfisher Bay Resort, which will take you back to your manual driving lessons with a new appreciation of gear ratios.
The course is more 4WD cross-fit than Nurburgring, and you’ll be tested on a bump track, descent hill and rescue before you’re allowed to graduate and go into the off-road wild.
The rescue lessons are particularly important, as any driver considering Fraser Island (regardless of experience) should not only carry recovery equipment, but know how to use it.
Whether you’re a first-timer or off-road veteran, the theory for 4WDing always applies to Fraser Island (or any sand driving for that matter). Brush up on these tips for a good chance of graduating with top marks. For more information about sand driving, indicate and pull over here.
Before hitting the sand, get low (air pressure)
If you’ve always left the tyre pressure to the mechanic during your regular service, you’re about to get acquainted with pressure gauges.
Before you hit the sand, you’ll need to drop your tyre pressure, so your tyres have more surface area to grip on Fraser Island’s slippery sand.
You’ll know your PSI is in the right territory when the car feels sluggish – ideal for bouncing around Fraser Island’s 35km/hour inland tracks.
Tip: Your tyres likely have a number written on them, which will indicate their pressure. Australian Offroad Academy will also assist dropping your tyres to where they need to be.
Know the tides
On Fraser Island, both the roads and the tides require a map. Tide charts can be picked up in print from Kingfisher Bay Resort or downloaded before you cross island side where there’s limited phone reception to let Siri play navigator.
Since salt water and cars go together like toothpaste and orange juice, you’ll want to make sure your headland crossings have all been done well before high tide.
If you’re travelling with Australian Offroad Academy, they’ll take care of your itinerary for you, so the only high and low that you’ll need to worry about is associated with your gearbox moving between high and low range.
Tip: If you’ve decided to hire a car for your learn-to-drive experience, be aware that hire cars aren’t allowed to drive on the beach two hours either side of high tide (and could void your insurance).
Practice safe driving and road etiquette
Fraser’s sandy tracks accommodate two-way traffic… but only just.
If you meet another car on the track, avoid a Mexican stand-off by retreating to a designated passing bay. Try to avoid mounting the landscape, as erosion of this World Heritage-listed area is a National Parks no-no.
When in doubt of the other car’s intentions, use your indicator to show your movements and if all else fails, wind down the window and have a chat about who has right of way.
Tip: Should you need to share the road with a bus, remember, like the rules on the road, they have right of way and you’ll need to let them pass first.
Keep an eye on your odometer
When it comes to inland tracks, slow and steady makes it to Lake McKenzie in one piece.
If your 4WD on Fraser Island’s inland is too slow going for you, go coastal and put pedal to sand on 75 Mile Beach, a gazetted highway whose speed limit of 80 kilometres will truly put the wind in your hair.
Keep your wits about you though – not only do you need to be aware of cars, but aircraft. 75 Mile Beach also doubles as tarmac for Air Fraser Scenic Flight.
Tip: Mother Nature is the Department of Main Roads around here, and she doesn’t issue amber lights or send stop/go signs for the road obstructions she sends every 12.5 hours.
What to see
Once you’ve earned your 4WD stripes from Australian Offroad Academy, start planning your trip to take in the picture-perfect Lake McKenzie and Aboriginal heart of the island, Central Station.
If you truly want to tick off the sights, we’d recommend at least 48 hours on this island paradise, especially if you want to escape the crowd and drive north of Indian Head.
But of course, your graduation certificate acts like keys to the island now and Fraser’s 122km is yours for the sand driving.