THE TIDE was perfect for our run north to Sandy Cape, with the ocean still stripping water off the sand as we hit the beach at the Cathedral Beach Resort and turned north. The drive along the sand was easy, with the wide strip of hard-packed beach allowing us to cruise effortlessly.
It was a far cry from a couple of nights previously when we had been forced close to the sand hills, the high-tide waves washing up over the low sandbar to leave a 20-metre-wide corridor of dry sand for our travels.
We then got to the Eli Creek crossing where the Narva lights threw a long, wide beam across a vast expanse of water. I knew the crossing from past experiences, but that didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking as I pointed the Ford Ranger into the lake and ploughed my way across; the rest of the convoy following.
With more good luck than good fortune we missed all the deep holes and steep drop-offs that are often a part of the creek bank here, and we all came out on the northern side of the flood and continued our hurried run north.
Our trip to the Great Sandy NP of south-east Queensland had started a few days previously when we had found our way from Cooroy along back and dirt roads to Harry’s Hut, where we threw down the swags for the night.
The next morning we went for a short, enjoyable paddle on the Noosa River, before we saddled up and headed north through the park, winding our way to the coast at the Freshwater campsite and then, with tyre pressures lowered, running north along the golden sands to Double Island Point.
A high tide and some landslips at the start of the Coloured Sands section of the beach had us backtracking (discretion being the better part of valour) to find our way to the small hamlet of Rainbow Beach, where we grabbed a meal at the pub and threw down our swags in the local camping ground.
The following morning we queued at Inskip Point for the short ferry ride across to Fraser Island. It mightn’t have been the school holidays, or even a weekend, but there was still a long line of hopeful travellers waiting to descend on Fraser; such is the popularity of the place.
4x4 explore: Isuzu I-Venture club on Fraser Island
After an uneventful 35km slog to Eurong, where you can get basic supplies and fuel, we turned inland here and wound our way through a rich variety of forests and across lumpy sandy tracks to Central Station, once the main settlement on the island when the place was more a timber yard than a tourist destination.
Aboriginal people lived on Fraser for many generations before logging started, with archaeological evidence showing at least 5000 years of use and habitation. Europeans first arrived when Cook sailed up the coast during his discovery of Australia, and while he named a few headlands he didn’t set foot on the island. Matthew Flinders landed on the island in 1802, and reports of good pastoral land and forests in the 1840s brought the first permanent European settlers.
Logging started on Fraser Island in the 1860s, and in 1920 a large forestry camp was established at Central Station to harvest hoop pine, gigantic satinay trees and a whole lot of lesser species for use in Australia and around the world.
The first area of national park was established on the island in 1971, and in 1976 sand mining was stopped. Logging passed into history in 1991 and by 1998 most of the island was protected within the Great Sandy NP. Today at Central Station there is a good display of the island’s history and its importance to the local Butchulla people, who call the humongous sand mass, K’gari.
There are some pleasant walks starting at Central Station, including an easy one on a boardwalk along the edge of Wanggoolba Creek, which passes through a tranquil rainforest gully. Longer walks will take you to Pile Valley, where the giant satinays still stand, or Basin Lake and magical Lake McKenzie.
There is a camping area not far from Central Station, but we wound our way south through more verdant forest and around Lake Jennings, Lake Birrabeen and Lake Benaroon to a campsite at Lake Boomanjin.
These lakes are just some of the 40 natural water sources that make Fraser so unique. Amazingly they sit in the heart of a sand island (the biggest in the world, we’re told) and Lake Boomanjin is the biggest of all, covering 200ha. Stained by tannin-flowing streams, Boomanjin, like its other sister lakes, is low in nutrients and supports few aquatic plants or animals.
The campground here is encircled by a wire fence designed to keep foraging dingoes away from careless campers who may leave food. We had no such incidents; although, the following morning we had fresh dog tracks along the road near the camp where a wandering dog had passed by.
We spent the day exploring and enjoying the lakes in the central part of the island, including Lake McKenzie, which is without a doubt the most popular lake on the island – once you’ve been there you will understand why. Even though more than 100 people were there when we arrived, it was still an enjoyable spot to relax for an hour or two.
Feeling adventurous we headed to the west coast where we found our way onto the beach just north of Urang Creek, and we pushed north a short distance before the soft, boggy sand and the high tide caught us out.
Hurriedly, with roaring engines and sand spewing from spinning tyres, we clawed our way out and got back onto safer terrain and headed east for the more gentle beaches of the east coast. With darkness descending we hit the sand near Happy Valley, before we arrived at the aforementioned crossing of Eli Creek and stopped that evening at Cathedral Beach.
We were up early the next morning to watch the sun throw its golden rays onto the old wreck of the Maheno. A well-known landmark on Fraser, the Maheno was blown ashore in 1935 and there it has stayed ever since.
From the Maheno we drove north, passing Indian Head and Waddy Point and dropping onto the shore again near the village of Orchid Beach. From here it is still another 50km or so to Sandy Cape, with the notorious trap of the Ngkala Rocks in between. We wanted to be close to low tide to get around this obstacle, not only for the run north but also for the return trip later in the day.
We easily slipped around the rocks on the way north and stopped at Sandy Cape to enjoy the view of the coast and its tangled web of sandy channels running clear blue water, isolated drying sandbars and the whipped-up water offshore where the Break Sea Spit plays turmoil to the currents, winds and waves.
Less than 10km west is Sandy Cape Lighthouse, where vehicle access farther west (or south) ends. From the carpark we walked up the steep sand dune to the lighthouse, which is looked after by a rotating group of caretakers, each of whom spend four to six weeks in this small patch of nirvana. We yarned to the couple while taking in the expansive view from this lofty perch, but the tide was calling so we retraced our steps back along the east coast of the island.
We were just in time, too, as water was starting to edge towards the rocks as we slipped past Ngkala and continued south, stopping for the evening at Waddy Point. This is one of the most popular campsites, and you can choose to be down along the edge of the beach or among the trees a little farther back from the shore.
Our time on Fraser was fast coming to an end, so for the last night we headed to Kingfisher Bay Resort on the west coast. I had spent a bit of time here years ago, but the resort is much better these days with many more activities for the entire family to enjoy (or for those who want to add a bit of pampering and a fair bit of luxury to their Fraser Island escape).
Go on a journey with 4x4 Adventure Series
Ann Bauer, the chief ranger at Kingfisher, took us around the delightful native garden that surrounds much of the resort, while giving us the rundown on the experiences the resort offers: more than 20 ranger-led walks, bird-watching excursions, bush-tucker tastings, canoe trips, 4WD tours and lots more. We settled for some cold beers, a great feed and a few wines.
The next day we caught the ferry which runs from the resort to the mainland at River Heads, near Harvey Bay. As we drew away from the island I vowed it wouldn’t be another 20 years before I came back to this magical area of the Great Sandy.
Eli Creek Crossing
THE crossing of Eli Creek on the east coast of Fraser Island can be a real trap. Sometime after us a couple of backpackers in an old Nissan Pathfinder ploughed into the water and, sadly, didn’t drive out the other side.
The next day with the tide out we found them with their bonnet up and all the doors open, trying to dry out the Pathy. It was looking pretty sad, with no sparks to kick over the engine and, while they had rescued all their wet gear and clothing, the young couple were sitting forlornly on the boardwalk, their trip around Australia looking to be a fading dream.
Two other vehicles came to grief at the creek crossing by taking the wrong line and not paying enough attention to tyre pressures and momentum. Both were quickly recovered by the throng of people and vehicles that can normally be found at this spot during the day; one of the acclaimed highlights of Fraser Island.
• Camping and vehicle access permits are required for Fraser Island and Cooloola.
• The ferry to and from Fraser Island can get busy, so it’s best to book.
• Be aware of the tides and know how to drive on sand. Carry recovery gear including a set of MaxTrax, and know how to use them.
• For info on the Great Sandy NP including Cooloola and Fraser Island go to: www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks
• For info on the resorts and campgrounds, see:
Cathedrals on Fraser
Eurong Beach Resort