A family guide to Fraser Island

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Fraser Island is a special place with so much to see with a huge diversity of sights on the island. It is on the backpacker’s tour of the country but do not let that put you off. There is a variety of accommodation on the island and as such there is a variety of activities. Read on for a family guide to Fraser Island. It is not all 4WD’s and camping.

Getting there.

Seventy-Five Mile Beach forms a highway that runs up the surf side of the island. Fraser Island is strictly four-wheel driving territory and the beach doubles as a landing strip for planes making joy flights.

You can get to the island by car ferry from Harvey Bay or Rainbow Beach.  There are daily tours running from Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Do not do these. You need at least a full day once you are on the island to see just a taste of what is to offer.

the car ferry across to the island – it takes about ten minutes once you are on the ferry

The facts you need to know

The island can only be explored on the eastern coast. The east coast provides a highway up and down the island on the beach. The tide must be low to allow travellers to pass. At the southern tip of the island – the location of one car ferry stop you will need low tide to get around the point. The west coast does not have many tracks to get around. As such, I would recommend staying on the east coast to allow access to the beach and therefore most of the sights. If you are looking for five-star comfort and no chance of getting dirty, this is possibly not the right holiday for you.

4WD only

4WD is the only method of transport and it is true 4WD experience. The roads change regularly – a part of being the largest sand island in the world is you have sand roads. They do now get graded but this is regular but not weekly in places. Expect to be getting in and out of your vehicle often. The vehicle will get sand throughout. If you are driving yourself you need to be able to reverse in 4WD and you need to be able to change tyres and dig yourself out if you happen to get bogged.

Walkways and tracks

There are paths and tracks at all points to walk around so you will be able to experience nature without having to fight the nature down. There are toilets located at the few shops and highlights. There is even coffee in places. I will point out it is basic so don’t expect hand towels in the toilets. Most of the toilets are pits so can get smelly.

West coast v’s east coast

Staying on the west coast takes an hour to get in and out every day. It is 18 km across in size and that takes an hour. You also want to try to do most of driving in daylight to help see anything on the road that could be problematic. Buses have right of way and most roads don’t have passing area, you will need to reverse until there is a patch where you can pass. Daylight is most appreciated in these situations.

Tour group drivers need to stop every two hours for a ½ hour break. That adds some time to your trip if you are driving one hour across the island every morning.

Watch out, fisherman about

Fraser Island is a fishing hotspot. Expect not only loads of people walking around in fishing gear. How a loud shirt with a fish on it helps you to ‘fish’ better I have no idea. There are men’s groups, boy’s trips and father and son bonding tribes everywhere. Most of these will camp as they are super keen beans.

Having said that there are large groups set up all along the east coast of large family groups that like tent cities. They place a flag at the front of their camping spot so the later arrivals can find their city when they arrive. Campers along the east coast are susceptible to dingoes and I am not sure that night time toilet stop would be pleasant running into a dingo.

All about dingos

Dingos are common on Fraser Island and you will likely see your adults along the beach front learning to hunt. You need to keep fish and bait in buckets with a lid. Campsites need to lock up any food during the day. The dingos are smart and will watch a fisherman’s bucket – when he goes to throw a line out, they will run off with the catch If there is opportunity.

Dingos are wild animals and should not be approached. Do not touch a dingo pup, if they return to the den with human scent they will be killed. Throw sand in their face to make them go away. It sounds mean but prevent s them being killed.

Some interesting Fraser facts

  • It is the only place in the world that rainforest can be found growing on sand at elevations over 200m.
  • The highest sand dunes on the island are 240m.
  • There are 40 lakes on the island.
  • Some of the lakes the water is so pure (form being filtered by sand) that they do not have any marine life because there is no food.
  • Campers will fill up their water bottles at the lakes and creeks on the island.
  • The complex dune systems are still evolving and the many lakes vary greatly in diversity, age and vegetation. The colours of the lakes changes from blue, to green to even red.

Shipwreck capital

The Maheno was built in Scotland, she was one of the first turbine-driven steamers. The 5000-ton ship had a passenger capacity of 420. Passengers in the first class enjoyed what could be considered as luxurious amenities then, such as smoking room, dining room, and music room that featured a grand piano. She regularly voyaged in the Tasman Sea to collect and transport passengers between Sydney and Auckland. 

 

When World War I broke, SS Maheno was called in to service and was converted into a hospital ship. The ship carried the sick, dying, wounded soldiers and casualties of war. I read that she was fitted with eight wards and two operating theatres, and had a medical team consisting of five doctors and 61 orderlies from the Army Medical Corps, a matron, thirteen nursing sisters, and chaplains. That seems an awful lot of medical staff.

In 1935, she was sold to Japan for scrap metal and with the rudder removed for towing to Japan, disaster struck and she hit the shore on Fraser Island.

The island claimed over twenty ships between 1856 and 1935. There are maps to show the location of all the wrecks but many have been salvaged and moved. Wrecks are not safe so when looking keep the kids close and safe. Pieces of metal can just fall off.

The highlight list:

  • Lake Wabby
  • Central Station
  • Lake McKenzie
  • Pile Valley
  • Eli Creek
  • The Pinnacles
  • Champagne pools
  • Lake Jennings
  • Maheno Shipwreck
  • Lake Birrabeen
  • Red Canyon
  • Lake Boomanjin

Accommodation choices.

Kingfisher Bay Resort

Kingfisher is an eco-resort and a 4-star hotel. The resort stands by this philosophy: “Ecologically sustainable tourism that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.” The resort was opened in 1992 and set benchmarks in eco-tourism which have copied in ventures throughout the world. Any resort attempting to create an eco-resort would be well-served spending time here and understanding the finer workings of the resort.

The resort’s facilities include a games room, tennis courts, swimming pools, restaurants and eateries with kid-friendly menus. In addition, they offer many activities for kids of all ages. The resort has expert resort ranges that can take you on a bushwalk, out in a 4WD coach tour or sailing to see whales in the right season. The waters off the beach are super calm so canoeing is very popular. 

The resort runs a Junior Eco Ranger Program with so many activities it is amazing. My kids did a night tour which spotted wild life and toasted marshmallows by a fire. They had a lot of fun., Oddly it started at 6 and finished just before 8 but dinner was not included. Never mind, they loved it anyway, just be ready to feed early.

Eurong Beach Resort

Eurong is the budget friendly accommodation. I would argue that this is the ideal place to stay. Sure, the accommodation is basic but there are showers, pillows and wine. There is a lovely pool at the front of the resort. Both resorts are owned by the same company and just sold when we were there. It will be interesting to see if they make changes.

I would have to say the biggest plus at staying at Eurong is the bakery – great coffee and awesome baked delights. This is rural QLD so it’s simple in what’s to offer on the menu, but don’t let that give a false representation of the taste not being there. The chicken pie was fabulous. There is a second pool at the Beach Bar with theme and dress up nights for some fun.

Air Fraser island are found on the beach at Eurong. They will take you up for a bird’s eye view of the island. There are 40 dune lakes on the island and some difficult to access so the only way you will see them from the air. The water is so clear you can see sharks, whales and rays from the plane. The planes take off and land on the beach – slightly hard to get used to as a driver when a plane comes over your head and lands in front of you! You will need low tides to take off and land.

Fraser Island Retreat

Fraser Island Retreat is based at Happy Valley. They have great burgers at the little shop here. The accommodation is cabin style and once again basic. You are a little further up the island than Eurong but you are still located on the east side making it easy to access sites and places of interest. The cabins are for small groups – 4 being the largest cabin. It’s a pretty location but doesn’t have the added facilities like BB@ area and tennis court like Eurong Resort. There is a pool and a camp kitchen with a BBQ. From what I have been told you wouldn’t swim in the surf off the beach – too many sharks. Happy Valley is close to the Champagne pools and Indian Head which do provide great swimming holes.

Holiday houses and apartments

There are many houses for rent on the island and many provide excellent facilities for families. We opted for a resort just to avoid all the groceries and getting them to and from the island. For longer stays or staying with another family I would consider a house.

Fraser Island Tours.

Not many tour groups will take kids under 5. The 4WD’s are limited in seat space and car-seats don’t necessarily fit.

The big 4WD buses speed all over the island and are a speedy way to see the sights. Having said that is speedy what you are after? I think you are better off using a smaller tour group and allowing some flexibility to your tour. Stay longer in one place and less in others. We used Sunrover Tours. They collected us in Noosa and dropped us back to Brisbane. I chose them because they could provide a service for a small group.

There was 7 of us travelling together and I wanted us to be able to travel together. They knew we were travelling together but had us staying in separate accommodation. If you look at their website they have a list of accommodation types and it in no way explains you are separated by a large hill and a dingo fence. How then do you share a meal together? Fortunately for us they sorted out the error and we ended up staying in the same wing nearby to each other.

They run tours that range from camping through to dropping and collecting from Kingfisher every day. They are a small company and I think frantic – the service could be better when booking and asking questions. Never mind all that – the experience was great. They moved things around to suit my little one. They run tours to Moreton and other places so I am sure they just get in a groove and forget that whilst they have done things 100 times, we have not.

All in all, the scenery and diversity of scenery at Fraser is so awe-inspiring these nuisances will soon be forgotten. Would I recommend them? Yes, but be aware they are not trying to be 5-star luxury picnic service with everything catered for and done for you. There isn’t really a service available on the island that does.

TIP

Be careful to choose a company that is not backpacker focused. You do not want to be sharing a car with hungover backpackers.

NOTE

Small things like you are collecting a group travelling together from one location. Wouldn’t it be a great service to collect them form a convenient location (ie. Like the car hire drop off)

King Fisher resort claim to have rangers that can show you around on the 4WD cruise bus but as soon as you add children under 8 the dates are blacked out. It’s a shame as it’s not like smaller children cannot enjoy what’s on offer. Apart from the 4WD what’s the big deal. I brought my car-seat – why can’t other people? The too hard basket is not a good enough reason for me. I understand younger than two – but even then, if parents are bringing a hiking backpack – what’s the harm?

In summary

Do it – do it with kids, teenagers, your lover, your mother. Try to spend 3 days there. This allows you just enough time to see the key things. I personally want to go back and sign up on a photography tour. I want to be at lake McKenzie for sunset. That blue and the sky! I would also like to capture the shipwreck at sunrise and with a drone. Eli Creek is a highlight. Spend more time here and less time somewhere else. Nature holidays and 4WD holidays may not be your thing – but trust me, the scenery is so drop dead fabulous any comforts lost are soon forgotten.

My Notes

We stayed at Kingfisher and it was fabulous. I couldn’t fault it. There are several pools and several bars to visit. The dining experiences are great – in fact the meal on our first note was wonderful. The rooms comfortable – in fact, just two rooms with the door opening the middle. (not so sure about the approach of the staff telling me to leave a bag next to door as once it is shut you can’t open without a key? Knowing my luck that would happen at 1.00am and the kids would need to get in!)

I do think in fact you would be better off with this tour staying at Eurong in more basic accommodation and then getting left at Kingfisher after exploring. There is a 45-minute ferry to Harvey Bay from here and you could collect a car from here and drive back.

I am not sure hiking here would be for me. Most of the hikes involve overnight sleeping, which in turn means hiking with a pack on your back. No thanks Harvey – I am into beds and showers in the evening. It is food for thought should I get more comfortable with the idea of carrying my bed around for hours or find a Sherpa service at Fraser Island.

Notes for my next visit

The tempting thing for me would be the diversity in environments within very little space. Not tempting enough yet but worth a thought for keen walkers Sunrover run a 5-day hike. This company offers both a glamping hike (inclusive of sherpa service) and a luxury hike! Click here for more details. Unfortunately, at time of writing this they were updating their website – maybe my temptation is resolved! Fingers crossed.

For photography buffs, the locals tipped this guy – Brian Morris. Click here for details. Mary Rayner was the suggestion made by the resort. Click here for details.

When people say it is a special place – believe them. The glory of the place is that there are no high-rises or over-development. Take it for what it is and get there before the development arrives. Trust me – it’s beautiful.

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