I am finishing my Noosa trip with a couple of day trips, the first of which was to the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, a couple of hours’ drive north of the Sunshine Coast.
According to Brock, our guide from Discovery Group, the island’s European name has nothing to do with attempts to flatter the incumbent prime minister when the campaign to cease sand mining and forestry in order to conserve the island’s considerable heritage values began in the 1970s.
Instead it derives from the tale of Eliza Fraser, a sea captain’s wife who was shipwrecked on the Great Barrier Reef early in the nineteenth century and who came ashore and was aided (or enslaved – it depends which account you read) by local aborigines and went on to return to civilisation and make a living from telling her story.
Australian author Patrick White told a version of her story in his novel ‘A Fringe of Leaves’, and it was filmed in pulp fiction style in 1976 by Tim Burstall in a movie starring Susannah York.
It is good to see that the indigenous name given to the island, K’gari, is also being widely used and promoted on signage and by our tour operators.
It is quite a long drive from Noosa up to Rainbow Beach to catch a ferry across from Inskip Point to the southern most point of Fraser Island. The ride is in specially customised people movers or troop carriers, with cabins mounted on ex-military Hino 4WD truck chassis. While they may be a bit noisy, they really show their value once on the island. We arrived at high tide, so had to take a rough path through the dunes rather than travel along the beach for the first half hour or so.
Once back on the beach, the ride was still pretty bumpy so a stop for morning tea by a fresh water stream complete with lilies in bloom was a welcome break.
Further up the beach we passed the resort of Eurong, where we headed inland towards Lake Mackenzie. One of the significant values of Fraser is its ‘perched lakes’, including Mackenzie, in which decomposed vegetation forms a waterproof seal in the sand, trapping fresh water in very large lakes. Mackenzie is almost a kilometer long and several hundred meters at its widest point.
A number of tour operators run day tours to the island, as well as thousands of independent campers and those staying at several resorts. Everyone wants to visit Lake Mackenzie for a swim. The tour companies do try to stagger their visits so they are not all here together, but inevitably, the isolation of this hard-to-reach spot is just an illusion.
The crowds did start to thin out during our visit, which was timed slightly later than the other tour groups.
The place was not so overrun that we didn’t see some wildlife – a decent sized goanna pottered around the picnic area at Lake Mackenzie. Other wildlife, particularly the dingoes, are carefully kept at bay, with safety advisories and strict prohibitions across the island on carrying and storage of food of any kind. This followed the death of a boy some years ago, in 2001, the result of a dingo attack.
After lunch we headed around the lake to a former logging camp known as Central Station – apparently there was a railway track that started here, used to transport logs down to the coast for shipping. Now it’s a pleasant rainforest picnic area with some tall kauri and satinay trees.
A shaded walking track runs alongside a sandy creek bed. Our guide left us to walk along it for about 2km and picked us up at the other end.
From here we headed back to Eurong and down the beach to get the ferry back to the mainland. The tide was well out by this point, making for a much smoother ride.
Along the way we saw a dingo, curious about the passing vehicles and no doubt hoping for a feed.
Seventy Five Mile Beach is a gazetted highway under Queensland law, and the rules are enforced – we did see police patrols checking speed and licence details of drivers several times during the day.
Once back at Rainbow Beach, the tires were inflated to highway pressure and we settled in for the hour and a quarter drive back to the Discovery Group’s base at Habitat Noosa on Lake Cooltharaba, itself about a 20 minute drive in their courtesy bus from Noosaville.
It was a long day with a lot of driving, and a fair bit of bouncing around. But for anyone without the time or the four wheel drive vehicle and camping gear needed for a visit to Fraser Island, it is a good way to see its highlights, if not to experience them in much depth.