I pulled out my best statistic to convince Jared we needed to go to Fraser Island:
“It’s the largest sand island in the world.”
We were both silent as we considered the implications of my not-so-compelling argument.
Sand, by itself, is not that great. It gets in your sandwiches and your underwear, plus if the sun beats down it becomes too hot to walk on. There had to be a better reason to visit Fraser Island.
“It’s one of those places you shouldn’t miss,” I tried. “We already have a 4 wheel drive and that’s all you need.”
Jared’s hesitation came from the fact that Fraser Island’s driving tracks are—surprise—made of sand. Neither of us wanted to tow the camper trailer across the island, and that left us with no tent. We decided to condense our visit down to a day trip from Hervey Bay.
PSA: I would recommend staying on Fraser for at least 2 nights, but if that’s not an option then a day trip is possible.
Getting to Fraser Island
Because we had our own 4WD, there were only two things we needed to arrange in advance: a ferry ticket and a vehicle access permit.
Fraser Island Ferry
Fraser Island Barges runs the ferry service from River Heads (20 min from Hervey Bay) and there are six return journeys each day. Three run to/from Kingfisher Bay, and three run to/from Wanggoolba Creek. The earliest available crossing was to Kingfisher Bay at 6:45am, so that’s what we booked. The ferry takes 45 minutes.
Tickets can be purchased over the phone or in person at River Heads. We drove down the afternoon before and found that the ferry terminal office had already closed; luckily you could still buy tickets from the Kingfisher Bay Resort office just up the road. You can also buy tickets on the day of departure but if it’s booked out, bad luck.
Cost: $199 return (peak season price)
Vehicle access permit
Fraser Island is a national park and you need permission before driving or camping on it. A vehicle access permit can be purchased online or over the phone from Queensland National Parks. We bought ours the night before and showed our email confirmation at the ferry terminal office in the morning to receive a sticker for the windscreen. They give you a blank sticker to fill in and whack onto the windscreen.
Cost: $48.25 for permit (valid for 1 month)
On the morning of departure we arrived at 6:30am, joined the ferry lineup, and were directed to drive backwards (!) down a ramp onto the boat.
Exploring Fraser Island
There are a few things to consider before embarking on a self-drive tour of Fraser Island, especially if you’re not familiar with sand driving.
Before you even think about hitting the sand tracks, you need to lower the air pressure in your tires. This distributes the weight of the car over a greater surface area and makes you less likely to get bogged. We also carried a set of sand recovery tracks, but incredibly, did not have to use them.
There is space to pull aside within the Kingfisher Bay Resort (which does have a small section of paved road) where you can do this. Normally our Nissan Patrol’s tires sit at around 40 psi, and Jared lowered them to 20 psi.
Meanwhile, I sat in the car and doused myself in bug spray because those sand flies are gnarly.
CHECK THE TIDE TIMES. I cannot say this enough.
The east of Fraser Island is known as 75 mile beach or the Great Sandy Highway. It’s the most fun to drive on, but should not be attempted two hours either side of high tide. If you time it wrong and think you can beat nature, you’ll become one of those tourists whose car gets swept into the ocean.
For us, high tide fell rather inconveniently at 11:30am, which meant we couldn’t safely get to the beach until about 1:30pm. It didn’t leave much time for exploring the east side but that’s life.
Stop #1: Lake Mackenzie
Fraser Island has the second-highest concentration of lakes in Australia (#1 is Tassie), and Lake Mackenzie is the one you’ll see popping up on Instagram. It gets busy, so the earlier the better.
“I remember going to Lake Mackenzie 10 years ago and it was rainy,” I said, dismissive. “It wasn’t that great.”
When we pulled up we were astounded by how stunning it was: a clear, irresistible blue lapping onto white sandy shores.
“Not that great, huh?”
We swam in the freshwater for nearly an hour and it remains one of the highlights of Fraser for me.
Stop #2: Central Station
Back when there was logging on Fraser Island, Central Station was the industry hub. Now it’s an information center with a picnic area and scenic boardwalk.
Stop #3: Lake Wabby
We took a shortcut and only walked to the Lake Wabby lookout. You can go an extra kilometer across the dunes to the lake itself, but under no circumstances should you run down the dune into the lake because that’s how people break their necks.
Wabby’s attraction is its unusual green color, and at 11.4 meters deep it’s also the deepest lake on the island. Get there while you can, because in another 100 years the sand dunes are expected to engulf it completely.
Stop #4: Great Sandy Highway
This is where things got speedy. We couldn’t get all the way up to the Champagne Pools or Indian Heads (see: 75 miles of sandy highway), but aimed to reach the Maheno shipwreck. In 1935 a cyclone swept the former trans-Tasman ocean liner to the Fraser shores, where it has been quietly rusting away ever since.
On the way back down we stopped at Eli Creek and it was positively packed. The freshwater creek flows into the ocean at speed that is perfect for floating on a BYO raft, and everyone there got the memo. If we’d had more time, I would have walked up the boardwalk and floated down myself.
Although the speed limit on the ‘highway’ is mostly 80km per hour, you should always drive to the conditions; we went between 40-60kph and allowed 2 hours to get back across the island to catch the 5pm ferry. It was plenty of time, but anything can happen on those inland sand tracks, where the speed limit is 30kph.
When we arrived at Kingfisher Bay just after four, we realized we hadn’t eaten lunch and scarfed down sandwiches over the hood of the car. As we were brushing the crumbs away, two Swedish girls approached us and asked if we wanted to see a snake they had found. I did; it was sufficiently snakey and I hightailed it back to the car.
It was a long day of bumpy driving, but we didn’t get bogged and the car made it back in one piece. At the end of the day, the trip was a screaming success.
Things to keep in mind
- Don’t forget to pump your tires back up.
- Allow more time than you think you need to get places; one-lane tracks mean that oncoming traffic may double your travel time.
- Be dingo safe! We didn’t see any dingoes, but they’re out there.
- The bumpy tracks will wreak havoc on the contents of your car, so be aware of what you’re transporting—it was the death of our secondhand fridge.
- People with boobs, I’d suggest a sports bra.
- Please treat the land with respect and try to minimize human impact where you can.
- You can also get to Fraser by ferry from Inskip Point at Rainbow Beach, 1.5 hours south of Hervey Bay. It is considered to be an easier access point because you arrive at the bottom of 75 mile beach.
Fill in what I missed! Do you have any Fraser Island tips?