Fraser Island should be an interesting place. It’s both a UNESCO World Heritage site and listed as one of the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, so it must be good. What’s the big deal?
First, Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island, that is, an island consisting primarily of sand. I didn’t know that would be a big deal, but whatever. On top of that, it is the only place on earth where a rainforest grows in sand. OK, that’s different. You might think that a sand island implies some degree of impermanence, right? Wrong. It is estimated that the sand on Fraser Island has been accumulating for 750,000 years while humans have been inhabiting the island for perhaps 5,000 years. So sure, not Mesopotamia-old, but not exactly new, either. And finally, it’s a great place to see dingoes, a native breed of dog, in their natural habitat.
A lot of people see Fraser Island on day trips from nearby Hervey Bay (where we had a spectacular lunch en route to the island at a restaurant called Coast if you’re ever in the area), but given the gift of time we opted for four nights at Kingfisher Bay Resort, one of only a couple tourist accommodations on the island. Freed from the need to see things via a packaged tour, we rented a heavy-duty four-wheel-drive pickup truck to spend one day sightseeing.
You definitely need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get about. The inland roads are nothing but sand paths, not unlike driving in four or more inches of fresh snow on narrow, one-lane, two-rut roads. Of course, you’re driving through rainforests which you normally don’t see in snow. If I had it to do over again we’d have dedicated one day to driving into some of the island’s hiking trails, but because the rental vehicles are so expensive we just took one for a single day. Mostly, then, we just drove through the interior rather than getting out for multi-hour hikes.
Then there’s the experience of driving on the beach. Inland driving is difficult and really slow; typically you’re going no more than 10 or at most 15 miles per hour. Until you reach the beach partway up the island’s east coast, when all of a sudden you’re on what is for all practical purposes a highway. No lanes marked, or anything, but hard-packed sand and off you go. Ultimately there wasn’t that much to see on the beach but the whole experience of driving on the beach was fun. Once; you don’t have to do it twice in any one life, but once was an experience.
One unusual aspect of driving on Fraser Island’s beach: it is also where planes take off and land. And you seriously have to watch for planes: highway rules state that vehicles must give way to aircraft if they are oncoming. Not that I’d be the one to argue with a plane if I saw one coming in at me, but they are explicit when you rent the car: you’re required to give way. The other unusual thing about the beach highway is that it is impassable at or near high tide, when the only sand available is soft and deep. So, again, when you rent the car they show you tidal times and make you sign a statement that you can’t be on the beach two hours before or after high tide. For us, that meant we could only do the beach part of our excursion before 11:20 AM.
Which worked out just fine, as there was stuff to see inland to, particularly Lake McKenzie. Lake McKenzie is one of the primary tourist draws on Fraser Island, and after we got there we understood why. It’s a freshwater lake whose water is so pure it is unsuitable for most species. With the white sand bottom it is the only freshwater lake we’ve ever seen that has the same phenomenal blue you see in places like the Caribbean. Not long after we arrived the weather turned cloudy so our pictures don’t show the same brilliance we experienced when we first got there, but trust me, it seemed like the smallest, most beautiful sea you’ve ever swam in.
So really, that was it: beach driving, four-wheeling on the inland sand roads, Lake McKenzie. Oh yeah, and dingoes. Dingoes are a wild breed of dogs, considered by many a cultural icon of Australia, and Fraser Island dingoes are among the continent’s last purebreds. In fact, other dogs are banned from the island to preclude cross-breeding. There are estimated to be about 200 of them on the island and they are definitely wild dogs; foolish tourists have gotten seriously injured trying to treat them like ordinary dogs. We saw two of them in our time on the island – there is something special about watching wild dogs – and we treated them with the respect and deference they deserve.
Given that most of what you go to Fraser Island for is seen outside the resort and that renting a car runs to over $250 a day, four days on the island was a bit much, particularly when your restaurant choice consists of the overpriced one at the hotel. I took the downtime as a chance to work through the l-o-n-g final volume of the three-volume Winston Churchill biography I’ve been reading, while Mark spent hours and hours doing travel planning. Unlike past years when we rarely made hotel reservations more than a week or two in advance, we’re planning out most of our summer in Europe well in advance so that this time we can get the hotels we want instead of just what’s left over. We didn’t need four nights on Fraser Island but we still put them to good use.