Fraser Island, just off the coast of southern Queensland, is the largest sand island in the world, covering 1,840 km². When I say sand island, I mean that it is entirely made of sand. To me, this conjured up images of a barren desert of sand dunes surrounded by sea. But in reality it is covered with incredible rainforest, fresh water lakes and creeks and wildlife. It has a permanent population of around 200, the majority of which live in the township of Eurong.
With the exception of a few hundred metres of bitumen at Eurong and a couple of the small resorts, there are no roads on Fraser. Travel is entirely by beach and sand tracks, suitable only for high clearance four wheel drives.
We caught the ferry across to the southern end of the island from Inskip point, which is $120 return for a 4WD. You can also get the ferry from Hervey Bay but it costs $175 to $199 depending on season. You also need to get a vehicle permit from Queensland National Parks . The road at Inskip ends at a car park and you have to drive out onto the beach to get onto the ferry.
Everyone you speak to about driving on Fraser Island says, “Have you driven on sand before? No? Oh…. Well… make sure to let your tires down and you should be ok…. Be careful.” We stopped in the car park at Inskip and let them down to 18 PSI on the front and 22 on the back (normally 45 and 65 respectively). Bruce has an air compressor installed in the engine bay, so pumping the tyres back up once we’re done would be no problem.
All set, we drove out on to the very soft, well churned sand of the beach entrance. Bruce started to sort of bunny hop up and down, lurching forwards over the sand. Wub.. wub.. wub went the struggling engine. Then I remembered it was still in two wheel drive! A quick gear change later and we were suddenly riding a good foot taller and progressing easily.
The ferry crossing was straightforward and took about 10 minutes. We chatted to the skipper who told us that the first 12 Ks or so of sand were really soft and boggy today but after that should be fine. The tide was almost at its peak though, which meant we had to hurry up the beach.
Once we landed we had to drive about 30 kilometres on the soft sandy beach, and then about the same again on inland tracks to central station in the heart of the island. My only sand driving experience prior to this was when a friend and I thought it would be a good idea to take his Ford Fiesta onto a large bay in Wales and promptly got it stuck…
Driving along Frazer Island’s 75 mile beach in the middle of the day, with the tide half way in was hard work. Apart from a few 40 zones, the speed limit along the beach is 80 km/h. When driving on a beach it is usually easiest to drive down near the water (not in it though!!) as this is where the sand is firmest. However, when you are new to sand driving and a small amount of pee is escaping in terror, the tendency is to keep as far away from the water as possible.
Bruce’s skinny tires worked well to keep traction, but once we were in the ruts of another vehicle, it was hard to climb out. Whenever we hit a track that crossed ours, the vehicle would suddenly lurch in their direction. The Troopy is quite a top heavy vehicle and tends to roll over quite easily compared to other 4x4s, so this got me a little stressed. Once we turned inland the track became a little firmer and the drive became rather fun. The abundant rainforest is simply stunning.
The climate at Central Station was cool and humid. The sounds of wildlife surrounded us. Overnight there was a very sudden and powerful downpour which caused the awning to form lakes. Luckily it stood up to the extra weight with no damage. After some breakfast we set off along a walking trail which runs the length of the island. Pictured above is a beautiful Rainbow Bee-Eater we spotted on the way. After a few hours of plodding along in the head and endless bush we came to the stunning Lake Birrabeen. Like the more famous Lake McKenzie it has incredible crystal blue, fresh water. The sand here is mostly pure silica meaning it is dazzlingly white. When we arrived, there was nobody else in sight and we had not bumped into anyone at all on the walk either. So we decided this was a perfect time for a skinny dip!
To head north we took the inland track via Lake McKenzie and Lake Wabby. There were some rough bits that made me question my non-existent skills and indeed whether this was something you should be doing, with a vehicle containing all of your worldly possessions. We reached the beach less than an hour before sunset and two and a half hours before high tide. Now, bear in mind that the general advice is not to drive on the beach two hours either side of high tide. We had already booked a campsite called Dundubara, approximately 40kms up the beach. Since the sand was all churned up from the day’s traffic we averaged less than 40kms per hour.
After about 4 clicks we reached Poyungan Rocks, where there’s a small inland bypass. While looking at what seemed like an uncomfortably steep climb up over the slippery rock and sand dunes, a tow truck arrived, going the other way, carrying some very disheartened looking passengers and their dead Nissan Patrol. At this point we were becoming rather nervous indeed. Based on the fact that we could either wait here for the tide to come in and wash us away or attempt the steep climb, we decided to give it a go.
Soon larger waves were starting to lap over the tracks in front of us. We reached the Yidney Rocks outcrop and discovered there was no room left to pass between them and the tide. After driving back a little way (and freaking out a little bit while trying to do a three point turn in water logged sand) we found the inland bypass. This took us through the Happy Valley resort. It looked lovely! A bar, swimming pool, nice cabins.
But we had it in our heads that we needed to reach the campsite we had already booked and paid for. Sighing, we got back to beach and trudged on. A couple of highly modified utes came flying passed us, giving the impression that this was easy. And to them it probably was! But to us and our inexperience, this was becoming terrifying. As we reached Eli Creek, the sun was setting and the light fading quickly. There was still about 15kms to go to our campsite.
Eli Creek is the deepest water crossing on the beach. As we arrived on the small strip of sand still left at the top of the beach, we found an Isusu ute completely bogged in the middle of it. The driver jumped out and started flapping like he was trying to paddle the water away from his car. We had no experience of doing recoveries and stupidly didn’t even have our gear ready. Luckily someone else was already there with their snatch strap helping. We did a speedy ‘nope circle’ and turned back the other way (singing “Brave brave Sir Robbin! He bravely ran away! He bravely turned his tale and fled…”).
Fortunately there is a campsite in the sand dunes a couple of kilometres before Eli Creek, so we parked up there instead. The sunset was beautiful, the moon was full in a clear sky. As we sat calming our nerves with large glasses of Cointreau, two dingoes passed us on their way down the beach. In hindsight we should have done this as soon as we knew we were out of our depth (thankfully not literally).
The annoying thing about camping in Queensland national parks is that you have to book them by phone or online. Of course, one thing you don’t tend to find out in a national park is phone signal. The fact that we had already booked camping in another spot made us take risks we simply shouldn’t have. Thankfully we came to our senses though and were able to carry on the next day.
The following day we made it to the very north of 75 Mile Beach. On the way we stopped at Eli Creek to paddle along its crystal clear water. We also checked out the wreck of the SS Maheno a little further on. The ship has been there since it was wrecked in 1935 and has become something of an icon.
Then we climbed a rocky outcrop called Indian Heads where we watched the migrating pods of humpback whales. Next we went to swim in the wonderful Champagne Pools. Large rockpools where the waves crash over you creating a sort of natural, fizzing spa. Heaven!
After camping the night at our original destination, Dundubara, we went for a walk through Wungul Sandblow. A sandblow is a sort of inland sand dune area. The wind blows sand from the beach and it catches there forming huge dunes, not unlike a desert. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
After all of this, we finally drove back down the beach to the ferry feeling like accomplished sand drivers! On the way we spotted a beautiful dingo trotting along the beach. That really topped the trip off!
We made the ferry back over and once back on solid road, breathed a sigh of relief while we set about using Bruce’s built in air compressor to pump the tyres back up. Thinking back, we didn’t get bogged once! Fraser was an experience like no other and I would highly recommend it. The sights, the wildlife and the adventure are some of the best Australia has to offer. If you don’t have experience driving on sand, don’t let it put you off. Just take it slow and don’t drive on the beach when the tide is approaching!