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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fraser Island - Make like Han Solo and Adventure

February 10-11, 2017

With summer upon us here in Australia, I thought it was timely for me to dust off the travelogues from the past year and get back to blogging at the perfect time for some of you planning your summer holidays.

First up, Fraser Island.  Please read this post in detail as the #1 advice I can give on Fraser Island is know what you are signing up for and you will have a much nicer time.  Learn from my mistakes.

IMPORTANT NOTE - if you are not a fan of heat and sand and bugs and very bumpy road conditions, you need not read further.  If you are looking for a relaxing vacation, look up “Hamilton Island” or “Byron Bay.”  At Fraser Island, even the “lux” version is a little like Indiana Jones.

Now that we’ve established you need some sense of adventure to survive, you have a couple options.  In general, I’d say you need minimum 3 days/2 nights and max 4 days/3 nights unless you are with a large group and not looking to sightsee the whole time.  If you only have 1 day, I wouldn’t bother because you will feel rushed the whole time.  You could do a single night on the island but for reasons below I would avoid. As I see it, you are looking at 2-4 night adventure with a couple of options based on how much you want to “dial up” the adventure.  

“I’m on holidays and don’t want much adventure”

Stay at Kingfisher resort and do guided day tours. Recommended for families, couples who want some privacy and first timers who like to relax/have everything taken care of.

Pros - Relax in a real bed, use a flush toilet, eat food prepared for you and drink to your heart’s content both at the resort and on the day tour.  No worries about getting lost or what happens when you get stuck up to your axles in sand, because you have a guide to deal with it.  You are also likely to see almost all the main attractions and you can drink if it suits you.

Cons - The interesting stuff is on the opposite side of the island from Kingfisher (not walkable - minimum 20/30 min drive one way) and since you need to return to the resort each night you are doing a lot of unnecessary back and forth and you are at the beck and call of the tour so if you want to stay longer somewhere “too bad.”  I also feel like there are plenty of places to "do a tour."  Go to Fraser Island because you want a little adventure (see Hamilton Island).

“I’m on holidays but I want a little adventure”

For this you have two options:

A) Stay at Kingfisher but rent your own four wheel drive vehicle
Recommended for those who have driven in sand before and those that like luxury and flexibility. 

Pros - All the pros of Kingfisher + flexibility of touring the island on your own time and staying longer where you like.

Cons - All the cons of Kingfisher + if it’s your first time to Fraser or four-wheel driving in soft sand, you do have a pretty high chance of getting lost or getting stuck in sand and you have to deal with it (read below for my experience).  Depends how you handle very frustrating situations.

B) Overnight camping tour
Recommended for solo travellers, anyone looking to meet people and first time campers/visitors to Fraser.  

Pros - Camp close to the places of interest (no back and forth to Kingfisher) and have camp more or less set up for you (someone providing and pitching the tent, etc).  You get taken to the coolest points of interest, you can try out driving on sand (which IS fun) or ride shotgun and drink if you prefer.  All while making new friends and not worrying about getting lost or stuck because your guide does this every weekend.

Cons - You are at the beck and call of the tour and could be stuck the whole time with an awful group (can’t avoid them).  Also even though it’s a guided tour, it’s still pretty non-lux camping.  Be ready for beach campsites without showers and flush toilets and depending on the time of year there are a lot of bugs.

“F-ck it. Adventure here I come!”

Make like “Han Solo,” rent a four wheel vehicle, camp and tour the island on your own.  
Recommended for anyone who likes flexibility, privacy and adventure.  Probably best if you've "done" Fraser or done four-wheel driving before.

Pros - Flexibility of touring the island on your own time, staying in whatever campsite you want* (some require advance booking) and staying longer where you like.  Highly efficient to see all the sites in a shorter amount of time.  Don’t have to deal with anyone outside of your own group.  

Cons - Requires the most pre-planning as you need to rent a truck on the mainland, take the car ferry, stock food and water for yourself, bring/set up your own campsite, etc.  Fairly unlikely to meet anyone as people tend to stick to their groups although we made some.  You also need a designated driver for obvious reasons.  Also you are likely to get stuck or lost if it’s your first time and need to sort yourself (see my story below) and as mentioned above beach campsites are pretty wild. 

Lastly… time of year.  December through January are easily the high season with most students on holidays and adults off for Christmas, Boxing Day, NY, etc.  I actually recommend going when I did in mid-February.  The craze of summer tourists has passed and the weather is still warm enough for swimming but not too hot.  You can’t swim in the ocean because of sharks and tides so better to go when it’s a little cooler anyway.

Hopefully the above gives you most everything you need to know when choosing your Fraser Island adventure (or another vacation).  If you still think you want to venture to Fraser here is my first-hand account with some tips on getting there, what to bring and more.  

I did it “Han Solo.”


We flew out on a Friday morning from Sydney to Hervey Bay arriving at 11:05am.  It was
10 minutes to Fraser Magic office to pick up the car (don’t forget to drop a Google Maps pin - we almost forgot how to get back to their offices!)


You’ll need to rent a four wheel drive vehicle; we chose Fraser Magic.  If you are a young, blonde American female like myself, you probably won’t earn a lot of credibility from the rental guy.  He didn’t take us seriously at all. He took us through all this information about what to do and not to do and you felt awkward asking questions.  Since you may end up feeling this way here are the four things to remember when it comes to driving.  In general though (as you'll see throughout this post, DON'T rent from Fraser Magic).

  1. Pedal to the Metal - You think you want to be timid because you might crash.  Highly unlikely.  To get through sand, you need far more gas than you do on concrete so put the pedal to the metal.  Honestly, like 25-30 km.  You can drive on the beach in high range and get up to 80 km just make sure to shift back to low range before going inland (and before returning the vehicle).
  2. Steer Less - Yes, that sounds crazy, but because the tires of so many trucks create deep grooves in the sand, if you keep a light hand on the steering wheel the car will find its own way.  It’s when you try to tell it where to go that you’ll get stuck and are more likely to crash.
  3. Get in Gear - We were told to stick to 3rd gear when driving in sand and 4th gear (“drive”) on the wet sand along the ocean.  Not true.  Definitely stick to 1st or 2nd gear on the inner roads.  Just remember to return the car in "drive" as they require or you’ll get fined.
  4. Towing - They tell you that if you get towed by anyone else on the island besides the "official" tow company you aren’t covered by insurance.  This is true.  And if you feel like sleeping in the car after getting stuck and wasting your holiday waiting for the ONE tow truck on the island to get to you...go for it.  I’m sorry but there are plenty of Aussies on the island who have been driving the island for years.  Up to you to “take the risk” if you get stuck.  We got towed "unofficially" and it was so worth it.


You can rent gear a part of the vehicle rental - two sleeping bags and a tent.  It also came with a gas stove top, plates, cutlery, cooking oil, dishwashing soap, two rolls of TP, salt and pepper and matches/lighter so you don't need to buy those things (although if you go with a different outfit than Fraser Magic obviously call and check what's included).  

I recommend you bring:
  • A few sets of singlets, shorts, swimmers - it’s VERY casual 
  • Shower towel (couple days and you are feeling gross) + beach towel
  • Thongs
  • Trainers (there are some cool hikes - I cut up my foot in thongs)
  • Warm outfit for nighttime, just in case
  • Hat with a wide brim
  • Portable speaker - if you’ve got a small one it’s nice for lying on the beach.  Even better if it’s water resistant for floating down Eli Creek
  • AUX cable - depending on the rental you can listen to music and you do a lot of driving so it's well worth it.  Again portable speaker solves this problem too.
  • External charger - nowhere to charge at night so if you need to top-up bring it with you
  • Hand sanitiser - lots of peeing behind trees on this trip...
  • Bug spray - and lots of it!
  • Mini first aid - lots of camping admin - always good to have some bandaids on hand!
  • Sunscreen 
  • Eye drops for contacts - it gets dusty out there!
  • Face wash - again not a lot of showering so makes you feel clean
  • Shampoo and conditioner - for when you stay somewhere with a shower
You will also want lilos or floaties for the river float but you can buy those on the island from the General Store near Kingfisher Lodge for $10 each (not in the actual lodge itself) so don't bother bringing.


It is VERY expensive to buy food and drink on the island so bring as much as possible with you.  Better to be naked or stinky than hungry I always say so food over clothes!  Here’s my shopping list for 1 girl + 1 guy.
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 bag of apples
  • 1 bag of rolls
  • 1 pack of sliced tasty cheese (two packets inside)
  • 2 bags of salad lettuce
  • Pack of turkey meat
  • Pack of chicken slices
  • Mayo
  • 1 onion
  • 2 peppers - pick based on your heat tolerance 
  • Greek yogurt
  • Plums
  • Honey 
  • 24 pack of Pure Blonde (read “beer”)
  • 2 bottles of red wine
  • 2 bags of ice (we bought one later)
With two nights, two days, we made:
  • Brekkie - yogurt with fruit and honey - when you’ve been camping there is nothing like fresh fruit to start your day off nicely
  • Lunch - turkey/chicken/salami sandwiches
  • Dinner - hamburgers

There’s a Woolies near Fraser Magic. Just give yourself a full hour to buy food and alcohol if you already know what you want; you don't want to miss the ferry because there isn't another one.  You really just need to buy ice on the island.


Car ferry tickets are part of the vehicle rental as well. It’s a 15 minute drive to Rivers Head Barge to board the car ferry to Fraser.  You’ll want to go to ferry office and make sure to get your return ticket and then make sure you get the return half of the ticket back from the guy on the barge.


And now to my story...

Day One

Long story short, within 20 minutes of being on the island, we got hopelessly stuck, up to our front and back axles in soft sand, trying to cross the island to the west coast (where everything is).  After 2-3 hours of trying to shovel our way out, it was getting dark and another car came by.  I left my travel buddy at our car and jumped in with this French couple to head to the beach to call for help (no cell signal on the inner areas of the island).  

After almost an hour of driving we reached the beach, where I called Fraser Magic for help.  I was basically laughed at, told to shovel (I explained we were past that) and then told to spend the night in the car as the tow couldn’t come until morning.  Keep in mind, I’m an hour DRIVING from my car and partner, the couple who’d given me a ride sure as hell weren’t going to drive me back, and if you’ve heard ANYTHING about Fraser Island it’s riddled with dingoes happy to reenact a scene from The Ghost and the Darkness.

Lucky for me, Tony, the Tour Guide, happened to drive by in his yute, headed back to his campers.  He literally saved me from sleeping alone with the dingoes and took me back to find my travel partner and car.  Towed us out and invited us back to his camp of 35 eighteen-year-old backpackers who were VERY drunk by the time we arrived.  

It was also my travel partner’s birthday and he’s never been camping.  I got paid out hard by the campers:  "He has never been camping and you brought him here? Threw em into the deep end didn't ya!"

After dancing to “Big Booty Bitches,” pitching our tent, downing some well-earned beers and catching an incredible sunset, we passed out.

Day Two

You can’t go onto the beach until 10am because the sand is too soft for your tires and you’ll get stuck (again) so we hiked up to Lake Wobby.  It’s quite uphill and a bit rocky so make sure to wear thongs at minimum (sand is VERY hot) and bring a lot of water.

The lake was such a nice retreat after sleeping in the dried sweat of 3 hours shovelling.  REMINDER:  YOU CANNOT SWIM IN THE OCEAN HERE and the beach camps don't have showers.  So be ready to dirty and smelly or find nice lakes and rivers for a swim. 

Interesting facts about Lake Wobby:
  1. Due to the massive sandhill above it that is slowly drifting with the wind, the lake will be gone in 20 years.  
  2. It’s at the base of a HUGE hill and I’m glad I came with Tour Guide Tony because he told us, while tempting, not to run down the hill, or you will die because it’s too steep to stop and your legs will go out from under you.  
  3. There are little fish that nibble your feet!
As soon as 10am rolled around, we jumped back in the yute, eager to see all the main attractions since we’d lost the entire day prior.  

Top things we’d been told to see in 3ish days (in no particular order):
  • Eli Creek 
  • Indian Heads
  • Champagne Pools
  • Lake McKenzie 
  • Walk from White Lake to Dundubara
  • Drive up to Lake Allom to see the turtles
We stopped at Happy Valley for ice (cheapest place on the island) and purchased a simple First Aid kit because you do get a bit cut up and then decided to head straight from Lake Wobby all the way up to Champagne Pools at the top of the island.  It’s about 30 mins from Eli Creek to Indian Head (Eli Creek is more or less the “centre” sitting in the middle of the island).

On the way to Champagne Pools, we stopped to walk to the top of Indian Head which takes about 30 mins.  Very beautiful views and worth the easy walk up.  We didn’t stay long because we felt pressure to see everything in one day so we headed straight back to the car.

Another 15 minutes and we were at the Champagne Pools.  Just wow.  They were amazing.  You can “do them” in 45 minutes but I’d recommend spending a couple of hours if you have the time or even spending the whole day there.

You’ll definitely need an underwater/waterproof camera or Go Pro and water shoes for absolute comfort.  The setup is a bunch of rocks that have created natural pools of water leading up to the beach.  They are called the “champagne” pools because waves come in and crash on the rocks that surround the pools causing a flurry of bubbly water reminiscent of bathing in champagne.  Yes, you kinda of feel like a baller… minus the water hitting you in the face if you aren’t paying attention.  You can swim here because the rocks keep out the scary crocs and sharks and killer riptides Fraser Island is known for.

I was bummed to leave as soon as we did, but we were keen to see as much as possible, so we jumped back in the yute and spent 20-30 minutes driving back to Eli Creek.  I was starting to get the hang of this whole driving thing and was enjoying 80 km down the beach.

Another amazing place to spend the afternoon.  I wasn’t quite sure what it was about (we had done ZERO research before coming on this trip clearly) so I’ll enlighten you ahead of time.  Eli Creek is a perfect example of the perks of not driving yourself and going with a tour.  It’s a place to meet other people and have a bit of a beach party (err creek party).  

Best thing to do is park the car on the beach, walk up the boardwalk ramp all the way to the “top” of the creek and float on your lilo down (don’t forget to bring beers).  The creek bottom is very soft so you don’t need shoes. We spent as long as humanly possible here before jumping back in the car  to drive to Central Station.  We wanted to arrive before dark (seeing as how we’ve had great luck on this trip so far).

To get to Central, we drove down to Eurong and then headed inland, trying to spend as little time on the inland track as possible.  Sure enough our piece-of-shit car overheated and we had to pull over and wait an hour for it to cool down.  Pretty embarrassing as multiple cars pulled over asking if we were okay.  NEVER book with Fraser Magic.

Finally “limped” into Central station.  If you are coming from Eurong, it’s the campground BEFORE actual Central Station (look for the sign).  Unlike the beach camps which are “come as you are,” Central is a main camping hub with bins for rubbish, showers and toilets.  

We ended up making friends with Joe and Alissa, two of the people who’d stopped on the track enquiring if we were okay.  We invited them over for some wine while we waited for our hamburgers to brown.  Let me know tell you - a shower + hot food + quiet bed was VERY well received.  There are a lot more flies inland though.  Make sure to keep your tent door zipped at all times!

Day Three

Woke up, packed up and headed to Lake McKenzie, which we’d heard you can’t miss!  Have to admit at this point, we were terrified of driving so we debated all morning about going because it’s is ALL inland roads to get there.  After a lot of up-n-down driving we arrived and boy, it was worth it.

You’ve never seen a lake so crystal clear.  Literally you can dive under and open your eyes.  It’s so clear because it isn’t a lake created by a natural spring, it’s 100% made from raindrops.  I think that’s so fucking cool.

Because it’s such an amazing lake, you can't eat or drink there in an effort to keep pollutants away, but you should bring your floaties, goggles and underwater camera with you (as if your floatie isn't dirty...).  Also don’t forget your thongs as, again, VERY hot sand.  You can easily spend the whole day here; I wish we’d brought a portable speaker.  

We eventually left with plenty of time to get to the car ferry, since we’d had such bad luck and had a plane to catch.  We caught the barge from Wanggoolba at 3pm.  There is NOTHING to do at this ferry stop (it's not the Kingfisher one) so if you are hungry, thirsty or prone to boredom, bring something to do/eat.

Barge arrived and carried us off the island without a hitch and we made it back to Sydney alive.

In summary

Overall, legend of a trip.  Shockingly, I would love to go back but only because I know what I know now.  I’ve never written a blog post (other then my Burning Man packing post) that is more helpful for those thinking going.  I hope the “bumps” in the road I faced and my learnings will help make your Fraser Island experience more enjoyable.

Next time I go (yes, I swear there will be a next time), I’d probably go with a group of friends (ideally ones that know how to drive in the sand) and camp as a group and spend a long weekend there.  For those that aren’t Australian, I do think it’s a really authentic taste of what Queensland and island life in Australia is like.  I DO highly recommend that you go.  Good luck!

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