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A guide to visiting Fraser Island

A guide to visiting Fraser Island: The world’s largest sand island

Fraser Island was never on my travel radar until quite recently.

Once I moved back to Australia from the US, I became more interested in travelling within my home country. A few photos of Fraser Island popped up in my Instagram feed, and I noticed some bloggers mention it as a tourist destination. I was curious, as I’d barely heard anything about this place before now.

When I began making plans for our east coast road trip, Fraser Island seemed like a perfect addition. Some of our American friends would be coming along for their first ever trip down under, so I wanted to show them a true Aussie experience. With an abundance of beaches, bushland, and wildlife, Fraser fit the bill.

I’m glad I made that decision, as Fraser ended up being one of my favourite parts of the entire trip. Everywhere on the island, we were surrounded on all sides by nature. We went through rainforest, drove over bumpy sand dunes, and saw wild dingoes, lizards, and crabs.

Fraser is not the dreamy tropical island paradise that you might think of when someone mentions the islands off Queensland’s coast. No, this place was more of an adventure through the very heart of Australian nature. I’ve never had an experience quite like it.

If you’re interested in seeing this incredible Australian destination for yourself, here’s my guide to visiting Fraser Island!

Dingo, Fraser Island

About Fraser Island:

As mentioned in the title of this post, Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. You might think that it would just be a big sand dune sticking out of the ocean, but Fraser actually has thick forest growing on it, too. There are also small areas of rock, mostly on the northern tip of the island.

Fraser has a permanent population of just 194 people (as of 2011). There aren’t any proper roads on the island, only narrow sand tracks that zigzag through the middle, and a long beach that acts as a highway stretching along the east coast. I really enjoyed cruising along the beach in our four-wheel drives and watching the waves crash onto the shore beside us!

Fraser Island is also one of the rare few places in Australia that it’s possible to see wild dingoes. We saw three during our time on the island – two at Kingfisher Bay and one as we were driving along the east coast. Dingoes are fun to spot, but they have been known to be aggressive, so there are fenced off areas and warning signs scattered about. Best not to get too close if you do see one.

Kingfisher Bay, Fraser Island

How long to spend on Fraser Island:

Fraser Island is rather large at about 120 km (75 mi) long and 24 km (15 mi) wide.

It is possible to do Fraser Island in just one day. There are day tours (like this 4WD tour from Hervey Bay), however, I honestly believe that Fraser Island deserves more time to appreciate it properly.

We decided to stay on the island for 2 nights and do 1 full day of exploring. If I were to do it again, I would stay at least 3 nights and stop at various locations around the island, either via camping or at other accommodations. It takes quite a while to drive around the island and there is loads to see.

There are multi-day tours to choose from if you don’t want to travel the island independently, you can do a 2 day Fraser Island tour from Hervey Bay or hop on a 3-Day Fraser Island Tagalong Tour.

Kingfisher Bay, Fraser Island

How to get to Fraser Island:

We drove up the coast from Brisbane (about 4-5 hours drive) then caught the Kingfisher Bay Ferry, which departs from River Heads.

There are no airports on Fraser Island. The closest airport is Hervey Bay (HVB), which has domestic flights from Sydney with Virgin Australia, or from Brisbane with Qantas. Once you arrive in Hervey Bay, you can drive south to River Heads for the ferry.

The ferry takes 40 minutes to cross over to Kingfisher Bay. The cost is $60 return, which was paid for through our Kingfisher Bay Resort accommodation booking. Bookings for this ferry are recommended as space on board is limited.

We took this ferry as walk-on passengers. There is parking at the Kingfisher Bay ferry office, which is 5 minutes drive from the ferry terminal. We parked our rental vehicles there (there is secure parking for a fee or there is free parking on the street) then hopped on the shuttle bus which takes everyone from the office to the terminal.

This ferry is actually a barge, so if you are taking your own vehicle across to Fraser Island (more on that in a sec), you can drive it straight on. Vehicle prices are between $175 – $270 including the driver, plus $5 per extra passenger.

The Manta Ray Barge is the only other ferry to Fraser Island. It departs from Rainbow Beach, which is located just off the southern tip of the island.

Kingfisher Bay Resort, Fraser Island

Where to stay on Fraser Island:

We rented a vacation home through Kingfisher Bay Resort. The buildings were enveloped in the trees and spaced out so that it felt like we were secluded in the wilderness. I absolutely loved it there.

There are a handful of bars and restaurants at Kingfisher Bay. Sunset Bar was a popular hangout for our group, and I had a great meal at The Sand Bar where I ordered the cauliflower parmigiana. There is also a small grocery store at Kingfisher Bay, though it’s fairly basic. We ended up buying our groceries in Hervey Bay before boarding the ferry over.

There are a handful of other accommodations that you can book on Fraser Island, though keep in mind all of the others will require a 4WD vehicle to access. If you’re planning on camping, there are plenty of campsites scattered about the island. We saw a bunch of them as we were driving along the sand highway on the east coast. Here’s some info about camping on Fraser Island.

4WD Fraser Island

Driving around Fraser Island:

A four-wheel drive vehicle (4WD) is the only way to get around the sand roads on Fraser Island. If you have one already – great! You can book a ferry transfer for your vehicle and get a vehicle access permit, then you’re free to drive around the island.

If you don’t have a 4WD, then you can rent one, as we did. I did extensive research on which option would be the cheapest for us, and Aussie Trax at Kingfisher Bay came out on top. Saying this, it was still far from cheap at $350 per vehicle per day, plus insurance and permits for driving on the island.

I was not entirely happy with the Aussie Trax service. They told us to arrive at their office in the morning for a 30-minute safety briefing, but there was no one there so I had to make a phone call and wait 15 minutes for someone to show up. Then the briefing took 75 minutes (not 30), and the whole thing was basically them treating us like naughty children who were going to intentionally damage their cars.

The cars were also old and rusted, and one of them broke down half an hour into our drive. We had to wait another 30 minutes for them to bring us a replacement vehicle so that we could continue our exploration of the island.

If you can get a 4WD vehicle cheaper from elsewhere take it on the ferry yourself, it would probably be a better/cheaper option that going with Aussie Trax, though if you end up breaking down or getting into trouble while you’re driving on the island, it will be much more difficult to get help.

Driving on Fraser Island

Fraser Island driving tips:

Driving on the sand roads on Fraser Island is loads of fun, but it can be dangerous. The short version of our safety briefing was this:

  • Get a detailed map with all the roads and distances marked on it. The Fraser Island 4WD rental places will give you one, or you could use something like this map by the national parks service.
  • Follow the same road rules that you normally would on Aussie roads.
  • Speed limits are 80 km/hr on the beach and 35 km/hr on the inland tracks.
  • If you’re driving on the inland sand tracks and come across another car, the person going downhill usually has right of way.
  • The beach highway is only accessible at low tide. Avoid driving within 2 hours either side of high tide.
  • Don’t drive at night.
  • Don’t drive in salt water. It ruins the cars.
  • Here’s some further reading about driving on Fraser Island.
Soldier Crabs, Kingfisher Bay, Fraser Island

Things to do on Fraser Island:

Kingfisher Bay

I loved Kingfisher Bay! It was so photogenic. We took our drone out for some fun, and managed to get some amazing shots of the bay one evening.

There’s a bar right on the jetty, which is a great spot to watch the sunset. This is one of the rare few places on the east coast of Australia that you can actually see the sun set over the water.

The beach was also a beautiful spot to walk along. There were thousands of little Soldier Crabs – we saw them moving about in big groups (known as an ‘army’ of Soldier Crabs) at low tide. It was a fascinating phenomenon to watch.

Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island

Lake Mckenzie

This freshwater lake has sand so soft and white that you’ll hardly believe it’s real! My friends and I relaxed here for at least 1.5 hours, but we could have spent a whole day floating in the pleasantly warm water if we had more time.

To get there, you’ll have to drive through the sand roads in the middle of the island. Make sure you have a good map to follow.

Maheno Shipwreck, Fraser Island

Maheno Shipwreck

Exploring this wreck was one of the highlights from our day of exploration. The boat was beached in a storm in 1935. It’s been a tourist attraction on the island ever since.

Nowadays you can freely walk in and around the wreck at your leisure. The wreck is located on the beach highway and is visible from a distance – you can’t miss it.

Eli Creek, Fraser Island

Eli Creek

I couldn’t find much info on Eli Creek before our trip, all I knew was that it was a great place to float down a river.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to spend here, but Eli Creek was a truly awesome spot. If you bring along your own floaty, there’s a boardwalk that will take you a few hundred metres upstream, then you hop into the river and slowly float back down. Repeat the process until you’re sufficiently relaxed.

Other spots to stop:

  • Champagne Pools
  • The Pinnacles
  • Lake Wabby

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