With hardly any roads and an awful lot of wildlife, Fraser Island off Queensland, Australia, is not for timid townies. If you love nature, take a 4x4 tour and go camping – or take the luxury option
On Fraser Island, common roadkill includes jellyfish. The largest sand island in the world, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, it is almost entirely road-free. The only way to get around the island is in a 4x4 vehicle. Fraser is simple and simply stunning.
It’s also pretty isolated, but easy enough to get to. You can take a guided tour from Brisbane, with a group like Cool Dingo (www.cooldingotour.com) supplying the vehicles, drivers and boundless enthusiasm over 1 to 3 days. Or you can rent a 4x4 yourself: Fraser Magic 4WD Hire will get you to and from your plane and load you up in a fully stocked and permitted jeep. Or even bring your own four wheel drive: sort out your permits (details below) and see the island at your own speed. Either way, though, you need to know the rules.
Be careful driving on the beach. Obey speed limits. No night driving. Don’t feed the animals, they’re not pets. If you are unfortunate enough to get bitten or injured, you can settle in for a painful wait for the air ambulance to airlift you off the island. But realistically, what are the odds? This place gets more than 100,000 visitors a year. Surely it must be pretty safe. Right?
According to our driver, who I have nicknamed “Dr Doom” in my head, the answer is no. He is a veritable font of information on the wide variety of entertainingly aggressive specimens just waiting to make our acquaintance. There are wild dingoes, sharks, the usual plethora of deadly snakes, and the obligatory spiders. He even manages to make the mildly venomous but very big and fast Huntsman spider sound scary.
This is not a good thing, as a wildlife encounter happens on arrival when we find a Huntsman has taken up residence on our tent. A flash of eight long hairy legs is not what you want to see when you unzip for the evening. I am not overjoyed. Huntsmen are known for being territorial. Unless you are Chuck Norris, skilled in the martial arts, the only options you have if a Huntsman decides that su casa es mi case is to a) emigrate or b) announce that you, for one, would like to welcome your new arachnid overlords.
Despite this, it is a nice campsite – one of eight on Fraser Island owned and maintained by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, all with evocative names such as Jabiru Swamp, Central Station, Lake McKenzie and Valley of the Giants. A permit is essential if you want to camp here, but the fees are very reasonable: just $5 (Australian) per person or $20 for a family. Fenced off from wildlife so children can play safely, this one has huge outdoor kitchens and spotless bathrooms emphasising eco-friendly practices. I can see why our arachnid friend likes it.
But it’s not just spiders we have to worry about. The dingoes, while a source of immense pride (because they are the purest dingo stock, due to the isolation of the island), are not cute pets. However, Fraser makes up for the many forms of wildlife-related death it can wish on you by being stunningly pretty. There are forest trails containing prehistoric palms, strategically placed shipwrecks you can walk around (the Australian airforce used it for bombing practice, so it really is a wreck) and a sweep of golden sand that is aptly named Seventy Five Mile Beach.
These places are frequented by friendly families, rambunctious backpackers and romantic couples holding hands on beach walks. You can’t really pigeonhole a Fraser lover. The only requirement is that you love the outdoors – though eco-friendly places such as Kingfisher Bay Resort bring all the comforts of home to your holiday… and then some. There, the accommodation ranges from tree-top villas to beach houses, all set among mirror lakes and water holes. Even the cheapest rooms come with stunning views of the rainforest and the fluffiest of fluffy towels.
“It’s heaven,” confides one guest. “Just heaven.” Unfortunately, I am not staying there – just having a poolside snack at the Sand Bar onsite. (Delicious, by the way.) After all, I have a tent with a spider to sleep in, once I have seen the sights…
And what sights they are. Early morning is the best time to see the island’s most famous feature, Lake Mackenzie – a huge freshwater lake, ringed by white silica sand where the water fades from aqua blue to black in the blink of an eye. There is the green water of Lake Yabby, infused with tea-tree oils from the surrounding trees, or the shallow sweep of Eli Creek where you can wander along gently flowing fresh water that has just re-emerged after 60 or so years of being filtered through the sands of the island.
There are so many beautiful spots to swim – none of them warm, mind. Queensland is having an uncharacteristic cold spell and the waters are near-frigid by Australian standards. Fraser Island is normally balmy, with average temperatures of 22C (71.6F) in winter and 29C (82.4F) in summer. At 7am on a September morning, it is pushing only 15C. The water temperature is low, too, and a lack of sunlight means my shorts are never going to dry if I get them wet.
Does this stop me? Does it hell. I’m on Fraser – and if I can’t get eaten by dingoes, I can at least get wet. Eli Creek, they reassure me, is only knee-deep. Knee-deep on a giraffe, that is. A tall giraffe, on steroids and wearing platform shoes.
But as everyone knows, once you’ve gone that far, you might as well just take a deep breath and go the rest of the way. So, steeling myself in case something takes a nibble, I do. I get bitten by nothing – and even the Huntsman has abandoned the tent when we get back. We have survived.
Fraser Island campsites Book at www.epa.qld.gov.au/parks_and_forests/great_walks/ fraser_island/camping_and_facilities
Directions and permits www.epa.qld.gov.au/parks_and_forests/great_walks/fraser_island/getting_there/
Official Queensland and Fraser Island tourism site Excellent site with loads of helpful suggestions, information and stunning pictures that will make you book right now http://www.queenslandholidays.com.au/destinations/fraser-coast/fraser-coast_home.cfm
Fraser Magic 4WD Hire Friendly and hugely passionate about what they do, staff at this family-run business take all the hassle out of being adventurous www.fraser4wdhire.com.au/