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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Guide to Fraser Island Australia

Alisha McDarris

No post about the East Coast of Australia would be complete without a guide to Fraser Island. Sure, it doesn’t get the publicity that the Whitsunday Islands receive or the renown of Sydney or Brisbane, it's amazing, none the less. Any traveler winding their way up the east coast has probably been handed a guide or photos of the world’s largest sand island just off the coast of Hervey Bay, but is likely to overlook it for more glamorous locales. Which is too bad because Fraser Island is a fantastic destination. It’s got surfing beaches, it’s got calm wading beaches, it’s got white sand, it’s got dunes, it’s got crystal clear lakes, it’s got dingoes. It’s a beautiful place. Unfortunately, it also costs a fortune to get there. Fortunately, there are ways to see Fraser Island on a budget!

Above: The sand dunes on Waddy Point on the top of the island offer sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

The view from the top of Indian Heads is a spectacular one. Often you can even see sharks swimming in the waters below!

Your options are as follows: Book a bus tour, book a 4WD tagalong tour, plan to walk and camp, hook up with a local who has a 4WD and is willing to show you the island, or volunteer.

We did the latter. We were set up to do a HelpX with a guy in Hervey Bay, the gateway to Fraser Island for a week or two. Our host mentioned in his profile that he drives or boats to the Island occasionally with his helpers for weekend camping trips and the like. We were intrigued. However, we got more than we bargained for when we showed up and found out that during our scheduled stay he had volunteered to help with trail maintenance on the island for a weekend. We were invited to come along and so ended up maintaining walking trails on Fraser Island for three days. We got to see things tourists never see and help FIDO (Fraser Island Defenders Organization) with their mission to keep Fraser beautiful and accessible.

Trail maintenance on Fraser Island is hard work, but it's worth it.

Josh clearing trails of brush on Fraser Island.

We chopped down trees, we cleared walking tracks, we pulled weeds and trimmed bushes. We took swim breaks and laughed around the dinner table with the group of volunteers. We walked through rainforests and climbed fig trees and laid on the beach. It was exhausting but unbelievably unique. But it was after that that the real fun started. Our host had paid $200 to get his 4WD across on the ferry (only 4WD can operate on the island’s sandy, single lane tracks), and wanted to make the most of it. So he took Josh and I and two of the other volunteers for a three day tour of the island and we camped and swam and star gazed and enjoyed! And being a former guide on the island, he knew much about the island, including all the best spots, many of the names of the local flora and fauna, and where to go to escape from the tourists on bus tours. We had a marvelous time.

This is obviously your best option for truly experiencing the island and it’s really not that difficult to do. There are a fair number of people on HelpX, GumTree, even Couchsurfing who have cars or boats and are willing to take you to the island simply for a little help with the cost of food or fuel. And these nice folks are only an e-mail away!

Only 4WD vehicles are permitted on the island since there are no sealed roads outside the Kingfisher Resort area.

The next best option is to get yourself on the ferry and get ready to hike and camp. It’s $50 to walk onto the ferry and $200 for those taking a vehicle, so if you know someone who is going over, say someone you found on Gumtree who was willing to give you a lift, you could possibly pay less than $50. Once you’re there, it’s a 14 kilometer walk to Lake Mackenzie, one of the most popular and lovely attractions on the island, and you can camp nearby for only $6 per night. Just bring a tent, a stove and food and you’re set! From the lake there are plenty of day hikes that will take you farther afield and you can leave you stuff at the campsite in convenient lock boxes (just bring your own lock). You won’t be able to see as much, but it’ll still be an unbeatable experience!

Dingoes roam the beaches in the evening and morning on Fraser Island. It's not hard to spot them, but absolutely do not feed them.

Sunsets are spectacular on Fraser Island. 

The Champagne Pools were absolutely our favorite place on the island. You can swim in clear ocean water alongside fish and relax as waves break over the rocks filling the calm pools.

If you’re not as concerned about saving money and would prefer to have all the details worked out for you, there are numerous tours to choose from. Most day tours will be on a bus and start at $170 per person. Fraser Explorer Tours is one of the cheaper options, but several hostels in Hervey Bay offer their own tours or discounts on local tours, so check into that when you book your hostel. If you’d like a broader taste of Fraser, overnight trips are closer to $360, accommodation included, with Fraser Explorer or Cool Dingo.

 For the more adventurous (with deeper pockets), tag-along tours are available where instead of a bus smaller groups tag-along with a guide in the company's 4WD vehicles. These are more of a party tour for those with visions of sunbathing and cold beer dancing in their heads. They’ll run you closer to $270 for two days or $350 for three depending on the company you choose to roll with, Fraser Dingo 4WD being one of the cheapest. Of course, you can also rent your own for about $430, which might be worth it if you're traveling with a group of people and can split costs. Just don't forget to factor in the cost of fuel!

Lake Mackenzie is one of the most popular destinations on the island. White sand and blue water make it a major attraction for tour groups.

Your final option is to volunteer with an organization like FIDO. In fact, you'll probably see more of the island and learn more about it than exploring any other way. Especially since John Sinclair, one of the founders of FIDO, literally wrote the book on Fraser Island. Seriously. He wrote a book.
The group will help you get to the island, provide accommodation and even food (for a small daily fee), and even show you around the island in exchange for work. Of course, since they are a volunteer organization it's not a bad idea to offer a bit of cash to help cover expenses. So get out there and enjoy! And if you happen to be in town in the winter, keep an eye out for migrating humpback whales in the bay!

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. [Portfolio]


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