Around Australia: Fraser Island


The ferry to Fraser Island leaves from River Heads at the mouth of the Mary River.

We had wanted to visit the island but the sandy roads require 4WD with high clearance and deflated tyres. This meant we would have had to hire one but we also fancied a break from driving. I booked a day tour: there are several, but we chose one with a maximum of 16 people in a converted vehicle which can cope with the terrain. We were picked up from our motel and were soon on the way, spotting a brief glimpse of a humpback whale in the bay. The ferry crossing is 50-55 minutes and then you have arrived on the largest sand island in the world. It has had several names. The first was K’gari, the nearest translation is ‘paradise’. This was given by the indigenous Butchulla people. Captain Cook named it “Great Sandy Peninsula’, not realising it was an island. This was later discovered by Matthew Flinders to be the case. Fraser Island became the name after a shipwreck left behind the wife of Captain Fraser who remained with the Butchulla people for a year before being rescued. Unfortunately her account of her time with them was dramatised, not accurate and may have contributed to their forced removal from the island later on.

We were driven on a sandy track across the centre of the island. It reminded me of being driven across similar terrain in the back of a Landrover with the nurses, on our way to a clinic in northern Kwazulu in South Africa on my medical student elective. Sandtool Sandblow was our first stop at the overlook.

We were then driven part of the way up 75 mile beach which runs along the east coast, spotting our first dingo. Those on the island are pure bred as dogs and cats are not allowed. We also passed what is called ‘coffee rock’ because of the colour but is actually remnants of the nutrient layer in the sand which allows trees to grow. On the beach, this exposed layer suggests that the island once extended further east.

The beach is a highway with speed limit signs and the need to avoid aeroplanes landing. There are two police officers on the island and they will test for alcohol and drugs should the need arise.

We stopped briefly at Eli Creek: a freshwater stream that runs into the ocean.

Further on there were a couple of worm collectors on the sand. The worms are collected and sold at profit to bait shops for fishermen. A good income can be had and licences to dig worms are hard to come by. One only comes available if someone who has one, dies.

A little further on is the Maheno shipwreck which is gradually sinking into the sand. The ship was built in Scotland, used as a hospital ship during the First World War. Afterwards she returned to commercial service and at the end was sold to shipbreakers in Japan but was separated from the towing ship in a cyclone and had to be abandoned.

Before we turned round to head south we stopped at The Pinnacles, coloured sand cliffs sacred to Butchulla women.

Our lunch stop was a the Happy Valley Hotel before heading back up with beach with several humpback whales in the distance. We left the beach at Eurong before stopping at Central Station where logging was transported by railway until the advent of lorries. The community has now disappeared and logging stopped in 1991. Instead there is a rainforest walk. King Ferns grow in the freshwater but we were told that the ones in Daintree National Park are larger. The last stop was Lake Mckenzie, a rainfall lake at the top of the dunes. It was too cold for me to swim in but a few brave souls did.

There are places to stay for longer in the resort. Alternatively you can, even if you have no qualifications, stay at the manned lighthouse in the north of the island. It is a weather station so readings must be made and sent off twice a day and you need to take all you need for 30 days as there are no supplies. You can earn $30 per day if that appeals. All too soon it was time for us to leave and the sun was setting as we sailed back to Hervey Bay.

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