Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, is one of the must-see
things on any east coast Australia trip.
It was originally named K’Gari island by its traditional Aboriginal owners
and more recently, the island, like Uluru, it has recently been handed back
to the traditional owners (albeit with much less fanfare).
The word K’Gari roughly translates to paradise which is a pretty good
description of this awe-inspiring place.
Fraser Island is world-heritage listed and stretches over 123 km in length
and 22 km at its widest part.
It was formed over hundreds of thousands of years as sand was deposited
over what was once a low, hilly terrain created by volcanic activity. This
terrain can be seen today in the rocky outcrops of Indian Head, Middle
Rocks and Waddy Point on the eastern side of the Island.
However, there are no sealed roads on the island.
So what do those of us looking to experience all the island has to offer
without sitting on a tour bus do?
We go 4 wheel driving!
Luckily for you there 2 options choose from for this kind of adventure.
Grab your friends and hire a 4 wheel drive (4WD) car
Book yourself onto a 4WD Tag-Along-Tour
Now unless you feel pretty confident about the whole driving on sand thing
then I would recommend jumping onto a tag-along-tour.
These work by having 4x 4WD cars. Your “tour guide” drives the first car
and then you (as long as you are over 21 and have a valid driver’s license)
get to drive one of the other 3 cars.
Each car has 8 people so you get to swap around the drivers and DJ (it is
strictly BYO tunes).
So now you have your 4WD car and you’re on the ferry over to the island
what do you see first?
Well, because it’s an island what you can see and get to is affected by the
tides. Don’t worry though, dodging the waves while driving along the
eastern beach just adds to the adventure.
Here are the not-to-miss spots on the Island
One of over 100 freshwater lakes that can be found on the Island, Lake
McKenzie is considered one of the most breathtakingly beautiful areas of
For me just getting to the lake was as much an adventure as the lake
itself. Driving along one of the inland tracks, it at times was steep and
often bumpy but so much fun to drive!
The lake itself is a perched lake meaning that it is entirely formed of
rainfall and has no rivers flowing into or out of it. The lake sits upon a
layer of humus-impregnated sand or “coffee rock” formed from the
accumulating organic matter and sand which have cemented together over the
years and created a mostly waterproof seal.
Lake Mckenzie is 1.2Km long and 930m wide and its sand is composed of pure,
white silica. This gives it the dazzling white paradise look and the soft,
smooth touch that has your hands and feet instinctively playing with it.
Due to its pure rainwater make-up, the water is that idyllic crystal clear
blue colour that you see in the movies. It also means that there is pretty
much no marine life to worry about when you go for a dip – plus its warm.
While food is not permitted at the lakeside there is a picnic area by the
car park and toilet block area should you wish to make use of it.
To its traditional Aboriginal owners, the Butchulla people it was known as
They believe that Fraser Island was created when the goddess K’gari was
transformed into the land and that Lake Mckenzie was one of her eyes.
For the Butchulla people, Lake Mckenzie was known as a female area of the
This was an area reserved for females only where they could be safe,
undertake female duties such as giving birth and were considered sacred.
Any males found in these areas would have been subject to severe
Eli Creek is the largest creek on the eastern side of Fraser Island.
It pours up to 4 million litres of clear, fresh water into the ocean every
As the water is filtered through the sand over 100+ years the water in the
creek is drinkable! Having filled up my water bottle here I can definitely
recommend trying it. As water goes it is pretty good – and I drink a lot of
Fun Fact: As the water in Eli Creek is so pure, if you only drank this
water for 3 months you would die as it lacks some of the vital nutrients
found in the normal water that you would drink.
Take the boardwalk inland along the side of the creek before descending the
steps into the creek itself. Then lie back and float along the creek back
to the beach. Or even better bring along your inflatable rings for a true
lazy river experience.
I even saw one guy bring a can of beer along for the ride too!
To the Butchulla people, Eli Creek was another of the women’s areas. Due to
its water source, it was a significant place for women to go the following
birth. They would dip the babies into the water akin to a baptism.
The Champagne Pools
Probably the most popular swimming spot on the whole island, the Champagne
pools are the only seawater swimming spot on Fraser Island.
So named because of the effervescent quality of the pools that are created
as the waves from the ocean spill over the volcanic rocks into them, the
Champagne pools are the best rock pool formations that I have ever seen.
I mean for one you can actually go for a swim in them, not just a paddle –
immediately putting all those UK beach rock pool adventures to shame.
The Champagne pools were traditionally a male-only area for the Butchulla
people. Used for socialising and as well as fishing for the marine life
that would become trapped in the pool upon the changing tides.
Indian Heads is one of the rocky outcrops that Fraser Island has built up
It is the most easterly point on the Island and gives stunning views in
both directions along the coast.
Indian Head was named by Captain Cook as he passed it on 19th May 1770 for
the aboriginal people he saw congregated there (the word Indian was
commonly used to refer to native people of a land at that time).
The headland was originally formed by volcanic activity 50-80 million years
Tip: While you can get away with wearing flip-flops (or thongs if you must
insist) or bare feet for most of the island I recommend wearing something a
little more sturdy for the short climb to the top of Indian Head as some of
the rocks that you need to traverse are quite smooth and slippery (with the
sand) even when dry).
Named Tuckee by the Butchulla people there is much conflict between some of
the aboriginal people and the Australian government about this particular
For many aboriginals, this place is a burial ground and so considered
sacred. There are many that would, therefore, like to see this area closed to
tourists or at the very least signage to inform visitors of the terrors of
On Christmas Eve 1851 Commandant Walker, his officers and 24 of his
infamous Native Police, supported by some local mounted squatters and
sailors sworn in as special constables, set out to arrest some Aborigines
for which there were warrants.
They spent 8 days on Fraser Island carrying out what they described as
examinations of Aborigines.
Subsequent reports indicate that this was a pretence for a series of
massacres which occurred between Christmas Eve and January 3rd.
One such incident over this period describes how a group of mainly women,
children and a few elderly men were marched up to the top of Indian Head
before being shot and/or pushed off into the rocks below.
The men of the island watched helplessly from the nearby Champagne Pools
where they had been gathered.
Just one of many massacres of the Aborigines across Australia.
The SS Maheno is the most famous of Fraser Islands shipwrecks and sits 70%
covered by sand on the eastern beach between Eli creek and Indian Head.
The ship was built in 1905 in Scotland and was one of the first
She originally sailed a route between Sydney and Auckland carrying up to
240 passengers before being commissioned as a hospital ship in Europe
In 1935 the SS Mareno was sold to Japan for scrap. The rudders were removed
and the ship was towed to Japan.
However, when they reached the waters of Queensland they were hit by a
cyclone and the tow chain snapped.
The SS Maheno was left to drift helplessly away and eventually ran aground
on Fraser Island.
After several attempts to refloat the ship failed, the Japanese were forced
to pay a charge to abandon the wreckage on Fraser Island.
Ironically the scrap metal from the ship would most likely have been used
to make bombs that would have been used against Australia in WW2.
Now 70% underneath the sand, it is expected that the ship will disappear
from view in the next decade.
Park up on the beach, grab your towel and swimmers and take the short trek
(approximately 40 min) up and over the sand dunes to Lake Wabby.
Persevere it will be worth it!
Like Lake McKenzie, Lake Wabby is also one of the 40 perched lakes on
Fraser Island. It is also the deepest at 11.4m.
The lake is both a window lake and a barrage lake.
Window lakes are formed by a natural depression or valley in the sand
exposing the water table.
Whereas, Barrage lakes are formed as the wind carries sand across the
island forming a bank. This then dams an already existing creek or stream
forming what is known in Australia as a billabong.
Don’t be surprised if you feel something brush past you while taking a dip
in the cool, green waters of the lake. Unlike Lake McKenzie, Lake Wabby
supports some marine life including, rainbow fish, catfish and the rare
Don’t worry though there aren’t any crocs!
Due to the shifting sands, it is expected that in another 100 years this
lake will be gone so make sure to take it in in all its wonder.
Be warned though, while it may seem like an awesome idea to run down the
sand into the lake, it is not advised. There have been some serious
incidents including one person breaking their neck.
Even in the group, I was exploring Fraser Island with there was one guy who
twisted his ankle and had to rely on the help of the rest of us to get him
back to the cars.
Lake Wabby was traditionally a men’s only area for the Butchulla people and
the same severe punishments would befall women that entered this area as
did men that entered the women’s only areas.
The Pinnacles are a coloured sand cliffs just off the Eastern beach front.
They have formed over hundreds of thousands of years when minerals have
leached through the sands and been exposed on high sand dunes. There are up
to 72 different colours mostly shades of reds and yellows.
The Pinnacles was also a sacred women’s place.
It is believed that the Rainbow Serpent is responsible for creating the
The story tells of Wuru who was promised to an older man Winyer but fell in
love with Wiberigan (the rainbow).
The older man threatened revenge after witnessing Wuru visiting Wiberigan
on a daily basis.
One day, seeing her alone he chased and threw his boomerang at her. Calling
for Wiberigan’s help he stood in front of her and the boomerang shattered
the rainbow which spilled colour into the sand cliffs of the area.
Wuru escaped unharmed leading to the women of the Butchulla people
believing that the coloured sands gave them luck that day.
Other points of interest
During your Fraser Island adventure, you may be lucky enough to spot a
Dingo or 2!
The dingoes of Fraser Island are reputedly some of the last remaining
purebred dingoes in Australia and are a protected species as such. This
includes the restriction of bringing domestic dogs to the island.
During WW2 Fraser Island became a secret training ground for special
commando troops. It was chosen by the Australian government because its
terrain lent itself to both jungle and amphibious training. Both of which
would be needed in WW2.
Z unit was formed in 1942. It was a special unit known only to the Prime
Minister and High Command.
A total of 909 men camped at North White Cliffs on the the western side of
the island. Here they underwent training for what would turn out to be some
of the most successful raids of the war.
There are many other lakes and areas to explore if you have the time that
are less well-known and so often quieter and more peaceful. You can find
out more here.
Until Next Time