Rolling dunes constantly being reshaped; soaring rainforest and sparkling lakes; beaches patrolled by wild dingoes; and waters full of whales and dolphins. These are just some of the wonders of Fraser Island (also known as K’gari).
Just off the coast near Hervey Bay, this natural World Heritage Site is one of the best places to visit in Queensland. As the largest sand island in the world, it’s no surprise there are so many things to do on Fraser Island.
Queensland has a lot of islands. Fraser Island is the biggest, but its importance is about much more than just its size. It also has some incredible ecological features – some the most impressive in the world.
The rainforest found in parts of the island’s inland is the highest in the world that grows on sand. Half of the world’s perched freshwater dune lakes occur on Fraser Island. And it has more than 40 kilometres of coloured sand cliffs, where red and oranges swirl together in weather-worn shapes.
Visiting Fraser Island is a chance to see some of these natural treasures, and many people will plan their Fraser Island itinerary around seeing the most important sights. But there are other ways to approach a visit here.
With luxury resorts, more than a dozen camping grounds, and options in between, it’s also common for people to base themselves here for a week or more to relax on the beach, do some fishing, and explore some of the lesser-visited Fraser Island attractions.
It’s a special place, full of beauty and significance, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a relaxing holiday destination – especially for people who enjoy feeling like they’re a bit more disconnected from the world over here.
Is Fraser Island worth visiting?
It is certainly worth visiting Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world and one of Australia’s World Heritage Sites. The diverse ecosystems here from the beach to the rainforest offer a multitude of things to see and do – plus it’s a beautiful place just to relax for a few days.
How long do you need on Fraser Island?
Although it is possible to do a day trip to Fraser Island, I would only suggest doing that if you’re really short of time. I think the minimum amount of time you need on Fraser Island is two full days, which will give you a chance to explore some of the main attractions. If you’re able to spend even more time, you’ll be able to relax a bit and enjoy some of the various landscapes without rushing.
Why is Fraser Island called K’gari?
You may see Fraser Island also referred to as K’gari, and it’s important to understand why. K’gari is what the island was called by the Butchulla people, who have lived here for thousands of years. European settlers named it Fraser Island in 1842 after James Fraser, who was shipwrecked nearby.
In 2021, the World Heritage Site that covers the area was officially renamed to ‘Fraser Island (K’gari)’, acknowledging both names. In 2022, the Queensland Government began a consultation process about officially reverting to the original name of K’gari.
In this article, I am mainly using the name Fraser Island to avoid confusion because that’s still what the destination is officially called and what many people know it as. However, I hope to be able to update the story with the name K’gari as it becomes more commonly used.
Visiting Fraser Island (K’gari) takes a bit of planning. If you want to take your own vehicle, it has to be a good 4WD and you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right supplies. If you don’t have a vehicle, you’ll need to arrange some accommodation and transfers in advance.
If you want to take a vehicle onto Fraser Island, you’ll need a 4WD with a high clearance and low-range capacity. That’s because the inland roads are just sandy tracks and can often have quite large ruts. Even the beach will have some sections that a normal car can’t handle.
Taking a 2WD car is really not an option, so don’t even think about trying it. Even AWD SUVs are not advisable (especially if you’re going inland at all) and it’s likely you’ll run into trouble.
If you’re worried about 4WD driving, there are options other than driving yourself. You can take this one-day tour from Hervey Bay, or you can spend longer with this two-day tour from Hervey Bay, or you can stay at the Kingfisher Bay Resort and take tours from there.
In this article, I’m not going to go into all the details of how to plan for a visit. Instead, I want to focus on the top things to do on Fraser Island, to give you an idea of how you might spend your time here.
There can often be quite a distance between some of these top sights and it takes a long time to drive across the inland of the island in any direction. So it is very useful to have a bit of a plan in mind before you arrive.
And, with such a delightful range of activities – from the water to the land, from the beach to the rainforest, and beyond – you’ll need to make some decisions about what to focus on.
To help with your planning, these are my top tips for what to do on Fraser Island.
75 Mile Beach
In some ways, 75 Mile Beach is the backbone of Fraser Island. This long stretch of sand along the eastern coast of Fraser Island acts a bit like a highway because you can drive along it quite fast (80 km/h) so it’s the quickest way to get from one end to the other.
It’s also the case that some of the most interesting sights on Fraser Island are along the coast, so it’s an easy way to get between these highlights. From south to north, these are some of the spots worth stopping at.
Flowing down from the inland slopes, Eli Creek is the largest freshwater creek on the eastern side of the island. The water comes out so clear, it almost sparkles. And it comes out fast enough that you can float down Eli Creek on an inflatable toy – which is what lots of people do!
There’s a 200-metre-long elevated boardwalk surrounded by ferns that will take you along a bit of the creek, ending with some steps where you can go down into the water. It’s normally shallow enough to then walk back through the water.
It’s impossible to miss the hulking rusting wreck of the SS Maheno, a huge ocean liner that washed up on the beach in 1935 and hasn’t moved since.
The ship had actually just finished its operational life and was being towed up the coast to Japan when a cyclone hit and broke the towline. The line couldn’t be reattached and so the ship drifted to the island and couldn’t be refloated.
The SS Maheno was once 120 metres long, but only about 80 metres of that remains here as the wreck. Still, it’s an enormous site that dominates this part of the beach. You’re not allowed in the wreck but it makes for some great photos!
The mainland section of the Great Sandy National Park is better known for its coloured cliffs, particularly along Rainbow Beach. But Fraser Island also has some, and one of the best examples is at the Pinnacles.
With the cliffs exposed, you can see a spectrum of red, oranges, and yellows, twirling as layers at different points, creating beautiful patterns amongst the geological formations. The weather has worn away much of the cliff face at the Pinnacles, so what is left are stunning undulating shapes with dozens of small peaks.
Further up the beach is another great example of coloured sand but, as the name suggests, the tones at Red Canyon appear to be much more red.
The colours in the sand were created by iron-rich minerals that stained the grains over thousands of years. As the wind and the rain eroded away the exterior of the cliffs and made it hard for vegetation to grow, the colours were exposed and the spectacular shapes were formed.
These rock pools were hollowed from masses of volcanic rock and get their name because of the way the waves break at mid-tide and create a bubbly spa bath within them. As long as it’s safe, you can jump in the Champagne Pools for a swim.
The pools are near Indian Head and there’s a 350-metre boardwalk you can walk along to get some great views of the coast – and potentially even see some passing whales during the migration seasons.
Heading inland, the sand will follow you – not in the form of a beach, but as the soft grainy roads that you’ll rumble over in a 4WD vehicle. Unless you’re walking, this is the only way to reach the beautiful lakes and rainforests in the centre of the island.
One of the most popular things to do on Fraser Island is a visit to Lake McKenzie, the most spectacular of the island’s lakes. It is a ‘perched lake’, which means it only collects rainwater and no groundwater comes up from underneath.
That’s just one of the reasons it looks so clear and clean, though. It’s also because the sand is pure white silica and acts like a filter, meaning not much can grow in the water.
You can go swimming in Lake McKenzie and the water is very refreshing in the summer months. It also makes for stunning photos, particularly in the morning when the light is a bit softer.
Another one of the island’s lakes worth noting is Lake Wabby, which looks very different to Lake McKenzie because it is full of life and is stained from the tannins of the trees. It was once a coastal creek that was blocked as a dune overtook it.
One of the reasons I want to mention Lake Wabby is because it has a few ways to experience it. There’s a lookout way above it that can be reached by road and offers a beautiful view out to the ocean; there’s a 4.1-kilometre (one way) walk from the beach across the Hammerstone Sandblow to the lake; and, of course, you can go swimming in it when you arrive!
There are dozens of lakes across the inland of Fraser Island and many of the sandy roads will go past them, giving you opportunities to stop for the views or a swim. There are a few other particular ones that I want to mention.
There’s Boomanjin Lake, which is the world’s largest perched lake and is quite easy to reach towards the south of the island. Just to the north, connected by road or walking track, are Lake Benaroon and Lake Birrabeen.
Within easy reach of the eastern beach, Lake Garawongera is a large and shallow lake that’s popular for swimming in the warmer months. Harder to reach are the Boomerang Lakes, which are the world’s highest perched dune lakes.
One of the significant elements of Fraser Island’s inland is the rainforest, which is the tallest in the world growing on sand. It’s a really important ecological feature, where the trees form a symbiotic relationship with fungus underground to be able to survive in these conditions.
A great spot to see some of the rainforest is around Central Station, an old forestry camp that’s about halfway between the accommodation at Kingfisher Bay and Eurong (although there are also camping grounds here).
The best rainforest walk here is to Pile Valley, where you’ll go past enormous trees and under lush green ferns. There are other walking options here, including a short trail to Wanggoolba Creek, or a longer trail to Basin Lake.
Valley of the Giants
Although it’s further away, it’s definitely worth going to the Valley of the Giants. It’s here that you’ll find some of the largest rainforest trees on Fraser Island, huge satinays that soar as high as 45 metres.
It’s not just that this is some of the best rainforest, another nice thing is that it’s likely to be rather quiet and you’ll feel like you have it all to yourself, finding some tranquility amongst the 1000-year-old trees that are defying nature by just existing!
There’s a 12.4-kilometre hiking trail that will take you amongst the massive tallowwood and satinay trees to get up close to the rainforest.
Whether it’s along the coast or into the forest, there are some fantastic walks on Fraser Island, including some that will take you into some parts of this World Heritage Site that can’t be accessed any other way.
I’ve mentioned a few already, but here are some of the other best Fraser Island walks.
K’gari (Fraser Island) Great Walk
The ultimate way to explore by foot is the K’gari (Fraser Island) Great Walk, a 90-kilometre trail that goes past many of the main Fraser Island attractions that you would visit by car or on a bus tour (including Lake McKenzie, Lake Wabby, and the Valley of the Giants).
The Great Walk takes most people about six days, if they do the whole route, with camping grounds along the way where you can spend the night. It is possible just to do stretches of it, though.
If you want to walk the whole trail, it starts on the eastern beach at Dilli Village and finishes further north on the beach near Happy Valley. The local tour companies can arrange transfer for both ends.
For people staying at the Kingfisher Bay Resort (or those who want to head over that way), an excellent hike is a circuit to Lake McKenzie, which takes you through a range of landscapes and ecosystems, and includes a stretch along the quiet western coast.
The loop is 23.2 kilometres long and I would suggest giving yourself a fair amount of the day to do it, especially if you want to spend some time relaxing and eating a packed lunch at the lake.
A lesser-trod walk that is actually quite spectacular is the trail from the beach up onto the Wun’gul Sandblow near Red Canyon. Standing on the sand, you’ll be able to see how the encroaching dune makes it hard for vegetation to grow here… although, look closely, and there’s still lots of life.
The return walk is 5.5 kilometres. If you’re looking for a much bigger expedition, you can continue from the sandblow through rainforest and eucalypt forest to Lake Bowarrady, for a round trip of 22.4 kilometres.
A slightly shorter walk (which I think is also easier to reach) is the Kirrar Sandblow, which will give you some similar landscapes and another chance to see this kind of unique ecosystem. The start of the walk is a little bit south of Eli Creek.
I’m not sure why it surprised me, but one of the things that really struck me as I was exploring Fraser Island was how many animals I was seeing. Perhaps it’s because there’s always so much emphasis on the landscapes, you forget that there are hundreds of species that make this their home.
You won’t need to make much effort to see lots of animals during your visit to Fraser Island, but here are a few particular experiences to consider.
Seeing Fraser Island’s dingoes is certainly an experience, but not one you can organise. Still, it’s pretty uncommon that you don’t see at least one dingo if you’re here for a couple of days. (I had one come right up to our car and just hang peacefully just beside my window.)
It’s estimated there are about 25 – 30 packs of dingoes on Fraser Island and each pack has between 3 – 12 animals. They are apex predators, eating mammals like bandicoots and swamp wallabies, as well as reptiles, fish, and plants. If you see one, you may notice they’re quite thin, but that’s because they walk up to 40 kilometres a day, not because they’re underfed.
It’s important to remember that dingoes are wild animals and, although they’ve become comfortable with humans, you should always treat them with caution. Don’t feed them or antagonise them (it’s actually illegal). If they’re near you, stand up tall and look them in the eye to assert your dominance.
For birdwatchers, Fraser Island offers so many opportunities, with more than 250 species of birds found here. That includes migratory shorebirds from as far away as Japan, Alaska, and Siberia.
Some of the most common birds on the island are pelicans, pied oyster catchers, azure kingfishers, sea eagles, and brahminy kites (in fact, there’s a kite near the ferry stop at Kingfisher Bay that is quite famous for showing people who’s boss!).
There are also some rare and endangered birds on the island that can be hard to spot but give avid birdwatchers a bit of a challenge! There’s the ground parrot, which has made a more sustainable habitat here than other parts of the country, as well as species like the chestnut teal, great crested grebe, and red goshawk.
Hervey Bay is one of the best spots in Australia to see whales because it’s where the whales like to stop with their calves during the migration back down to Antarctica. And, guess what, Fraser Island shares those same waters with Hervey Bay!
It’s why whale watching cruises are one of the best things to do on Fraser Island during the migration season between June and November (for the first half of the season, they tend to be heading north to give birth, while the second half is when they are spending time here with their calves).
If you want to organise a trip out on a boat from Fraser Island itself, I would recommend this whale watching cruise from Kingfisher Bay Resort. If it’s easier to do the trip from Hervey Bay, there’s this 4-hour whale watching cruise. And if you would like to combine some whale watching with a visit to some remote parts of Fraser Island, there’s this cruise from Hervey Bay.
The waters around Fraser Island are home to more than just whales. There are also dugongs and turtles and, when I head out one day on a Sea Explorer trip, we see several pods of dolphins diving in and out of the water around us for about half an hour.
The waters on the western side of K’gari are a myriad of ecosystems, with sea grass, sandbanks, corals, and small islands. If you have your own boat you can explore and visit somewhere like the Maldives-esque Pelican Bank by yourself.
If not, the Sea Explorer tour is a great way to see it all. Led by a marine ecologist, you’ll learn so much about the sea life here, as well as stop at a couple of islands and go looking for birds, dolphins, and much more.
Personally, I consider the driving you need to do on Fraser Island as just a stress that you need to cope with to get to the cool locations. But I know that some people love the idea of taking their 4WD along these rough, rugged, and rutted sandy tracks.
So, if you’re keen on a bit of adventure and fancy trying your driving skills on some of the best cross-country skills in this part of the country, then there are four specific scenic drives I would recommend, that also take you to some great sightseeing spots.
The Central Lakes scenic drive is 27.2 kilometres long, starting from Central Station. It first heads north along one of the inland roads, through tall forest and open banksia woodland, before reaching Lake McKenzie, where you can stop for a swim.
The trail then heads up to the Lake Wabby lookout for a spectacular view over the sandblow, and then down to the eastern beach. From here, you can extend the drive to see some of the sights down here, if you like.
From Central Station, the Southern Lakes scenic drive heads south and winds its way through the centre of the island. You’ll drive past scribbly gums and banksia on your way to several lakes, including Lake Birrabeen and Lake Boomanjin.
The trail is 27.6 kilometres long and ends at the southern end of the eastern beach at Dilli Village. To avoid retracing your route, you could drive north and do the Central Lakes scenic drive to get back to where you started.
Compared to the first two routes I’ve mentioned, the Lake Garawongera scenic drive (19 kilometres) is much harder and recommended only for experienced four-wheel drivers.
This rough and remote drive starts at the eastern beach and then heads uphill through tall closed forest to Lake Garawongera, which has reeds around its edge and is slightly stained from the tannin of the trees. The route then comes back to the beach along a different track.
Another route that is only for experienced drivers is the Northern Forests scenic drive, which is also the longest and, at 42.4 kilometres, will take about half a day to do (with breaks).
The drive branches off the northern part of the Lake Garawongera scenic drive near the beach and then heads towards the west coast before eventually swinging back to the eastern beach and finishing at the Pinnacles.
Along the way, you’ll drive through huge brush box and kauri trees on the way Boomerang Lakes and Lake Allom, as well as to an epic view at Knifeblade Sandblow.