When I last visited Australia in 2013, I had booked a return flight to save myself a bit of money. The planned trip was going to be nearly 2 months, and the longest I would’ve been away from home, so I was happy with that amount of available travel time. When it came down to it, my East Coast trip was cut short, as I got to Noosa, and realised everything past it (Fraser Island, Whitsundays, Great Barrier Reef) would take time that I simply didn’t have. The friends I’d made along the way continued without me, their photos filling me with regret.
This time around, I made sure Fraser Island was included on the East Coast itinerary Ally and I had planned, and I’m so glad to say I’ve now ticked it off my bucket list.
For this trip, Ally and I booked a 4×4 tag along tour with Pippies Beachhouse Backpackers. Their tours take 24 people, split over 4 cars, with one guide who drives in the lead. In order to drive on the island, you have to be over 21 and have a valid licence from your home country, but would have to sit through an information video and complete insurance paperwork for the company first.
Our tour package included 3 days/2 nights camping on Fraser Island, with accommodation at Pippies Beachhouse in Rainbow Beach on either side. Although all meals would be provided, the tour company recommended buying some snacks, and as much booze as you could carry. Once on Fraser, there would be only one small shop, with prices double that of mainland shops.
As we arrived, we quickly learned that half of the guests staying at the hostel had just come back from their own Fraser trip, and were doing a great job at psyching us up for the next few days on the island.
Alarms were set for 6am, for our morning safety briefing, before we set off in the 4×4 convoy. We were in car 1 (out of 4), with the tour guide, Nate. He was a typical Aussie bloke, with pet snakes and homegrown beer, but really friendly, funny and easy to get along with. We set off around 7:30am, taking main roads until we reached the beach, where we awaited pickup from the ‘Manta Ray’ Ferry. It was about a 30-minute ferry across to the island, dropping us off at the beach.
We had arrived at K’gari (Fraser Island), the largest sand island in the world.
After driving about an hour up the beach, we set our Land Cruisers to 4×4 mode and turned into the rainforest. The track was winding and bumpy, a true test for even the most experienced of drivers. We drove over an electrified grid and noticed the surrounding electric fences too. Nate explained these were in place to keep Dingos (wild dogs) out and surrounded the entire camp area.
When we arrived at the camp, everything was already set up, which was a nice surprise. In the centre was a large communal gazebo, with benches, a BBQ, and a kitchen area. Nate backed up the trailer and unloaded the food and booze Eskys for easy access.
Across from the communal area, were about 20 two-man tents, set up on tarp flooring, with an extra tarp canopy to keep the area as dry as possible. We were told to pair up and share tents, which was easy for Ally and I, but you could see the horrified look on solo and group travellers faces, as the frantically gazed around in an attempt to pick the most normal looking stranger, that they would be sharing a bed with for the next two nights.
We were advised not to keep any food in our tents, as there were lots of rats, snakes and goannas on the island, that wouldn’t hesitate to steal your lunch. In the middle of the night, when it’s pitch black, you don’t want that sort of surprise waiting for you in your sleeping bag.
The campsite also had hot water showers, toilets and charge ports. Although we’re technically camping on the island, it’s almost ‘glamping’.
Our first stop was Lake Mackenzie. We parked up our cars and walked down the sandy path to the lake. The sand was bright white, reflecting the scorching sun. If you didn’t have sunglasses on, it would’ve been blinding. The temperature was tipping 30 Celsius in the shade and was UV factor 11 in direct sunlight. I felt like my thongs (flip-flops) were probably melting in this heat, but there was no way I was going to risk burning my soles on the sand.
Lake McKenzie is unique for two reasons. First, the sand is silica, a super fine dust that is really good for exfoliating your skin, washing your hair, and even brushing your teeth with. Second, Lake Mackenzie is one of 40 perched lakes on Fraser Island, meaning it’s above sea level and made up entirely of rainwater. The water was perfect, and because it was fresh, you could keep your eyes open underwater. The water is so fresh, almost no fish are able to live in it.
In the evening of our first day on Fraser Island, we walked an hour through the sand dunes with body boards to go sandboarding. I hadn’t heard of this before but could guess from the name what it would involve. We spent a while finding the steepest dune and settled on one about 50ft high, with a decline of about 45°.
It was so much fun, and a really good workout running back up the slope afterwards. Some people slide down on their bellies, others on their backs and some of us even surfed down. It was probably one of my favourite activities on K’gari, and I’m so glad the weather held out for the first day.
The Super Blue Blood Moon:
After dinner at the campsite, the drinking games began and continued until the lights were shut off at 10pm. With no ambient light, our options were to head down to the beach (at your own risk with Dingo’s on land and Sharks in the water) or back to the tents to sleep.
A small group of us went down to the beach, remembering the Super Blue Blood Moon. Although it was cloudy, we were able to see the moon change colour, before heading back to the tents.
Unfortunately, we woke up on the second day to a huge storm, torrential rain and high tides. Everything took twice as long to get to, so we had half the time at each place.
Indian head is a lookout point on the island with amazing views along the coast. I wish we could say we had the best view ever, but the truth is we could barely see anything because the weather was so bad. The rain was ridiculously heavy and you could barely open your eyes, let alone see more than 10ft in front of you. We all rushed back and got in the car completely soaked.
The rain was still torrential, but we soldiered on to the Champagne Pools. These giant rock pools are usually full of clear water, and when waves hit the surrounding rock it causes bubbles to form a fine foam on the surface… hence the name, Champagne Pools.
We visited mid-storm, so the water wasn’t very clear and the waves were quite large. Only about half our group ventured out into the pools, while the rest watched from the shelter of a nearby alcove. We had to walk over some pretty sharp rocks to get to where the water was deepest, only then did we realise the waves had been bringing jellyfish into the rock pool! Without any idea if they were deadly or not, everyone ran for shore and back to the cars. Luckily no one got stung!
We’re coming to the end of our second day on the island, and it’s still raining, but our spirits weren’t dampened as we drove down the coast to Eli Creek. The idea behind this visit is that you walk along a boardwalk running parallel to the creek, and then jump in the water and let the current take you back down to the start, where the creek flows into the sea. Essentially, it’s a fresh-water lazy river.
Usually, we’d be floating down in rubber rings, but our visit was spur of the moment, and we’d left the rings back at camp. Instead, we walked the whole way down the creek, which took twice as long, as we kept stopping to climb trees and jump in from them. The water was ice cold but completely clear, fresh and drinkable, with some small fish swimming about. The rain didn’t have a negative effect on this activity, but we would’ve had a greater appreciation for the ice cold water on a hot sunny day.
On our way back to the campsite, we finally saw the SS Maheno shipwreck, the massive ocean liner was washed ashore in 1935 following a cyclone. It’s pretty rusty now, and the island patrol will fine you if you’re caught touching or walking on it. At the time of our visit, the tide was still pretty high and would lap up against the boat. When the water receded, you could see all the algae barnacles attached to the side, giving it the appearance of Captain Davy Jones ship, The Flying Dutchman.
For our final day on the island, it was another 5am start as we made our way to Lake Wabby. Unlike the other lakes we had visited so far, this required a 40-minute walk through the forest and over large sand dunes to get there.
Lake Wabby an unusual window lake, which has formed where the ground level is lower than the water table. One side of the lake is surrounded by forest, the other, the slope of a sand dune. Around the edge of the lake is only 0.5 metres deep, but as you swim further out, it completely drops off to a depth of around 12m, making it the deepest lake on the island.
We went for a dip, and when we were standing still enough, little fish would come and nibble the dead skin off our feet. You pay quite a lot to do that in a spa, so to get it free in their natural habitat was a pretty cool experience.
The rain had held off for most of the day, but within seconds a storm rolled in and it was a cold, wet, 40-minute walk back to the car. We attempted to dry off as much as possible in the back of the Landcruiser and began the long drive back down the coast to the ferry.
Unfortunately, it was time to return back to Rainbow Beach after Lake Wabby. The 3-day trip was such an amazing adventure. Even with the diabolical weather, we still had the best time and made heaps of great memories. I can’t wait to go again!