Where is it?
Just off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is an island commonly called “Fraser Island” but today is also known by its aboriginal name K’gari, (pronounced “gurri”) which means “paradise”. That seems to me, to be a great description of this island! As a result of its “exceptional natural beauty,” the island has been World Heritage listed since 1992. It is over 123km in length and 22km at its widest point. That makes it the largest sand island in the world and there’s plenty of room for visitors! The largest sand dune is 244 metres high, but most are between 100 and 200 metres above sea level. It is believed the sand goes down as far as 100 metres below sea level in some places.
The Formation of the Island
The island seems to have been constructed over thousands of years by the action of winds, waves and ocean currents that have deposited the silica from the rivers in the continental land mass that flow eastward into the ocean. The sand seems to have been captured originally by some rocky outcrops on the ocean floor from past volcanos. Over the years the rise and fall of the ocean, corresponding with the heating and cooling of the atmosphere, have spread the sand until it’s reached today’s size.
The Moving Sands
The sand in many parts of the island is moving. So the dunes march across the island often burying forests and plants that stand in their way. The amount of movement of the dunes is influenced by wind strength, the amount of rain and the
types and number of plants growing in the path of the dunes. But just like death and taxes they inch forward each year. The oldest dunes of Fraser Island have been exposed to many seasons of weathering. Over time almost all of the nutrients and mineral compounds have been leached out, leaving bright white sand.
Trapped in depressions in the sand dunes, vegetation from past plant growth, forms a waterproof layer on the bottom of the lowest points of the dunes. Over time these depressions filled with water and today we find some forty perched dune lakes (half the number of such lakes in the world), including Lake McKenzie, which is a photographer’s delight. Lake McKenzie is filled with sand filtered, clear, cool water and is a great place to swim on a hot day. The deepest lake at 11.4m deep, is a small lake called Lake Wabby just north of the Eurong settlement and a few kilometres inland from the eastern beach.
Eli Creek is the largest creek on the eastern side of the island with a flow of 80 million litres of water a day. It must be crossed to travel north on the beach to the ship wreck. It is well worth a stop at the picnic area and the temptation on a hot day is to walk up the creek in cool, fresh water up to waist deep. As is reaches the beach, it spreads widely and where the vehicles cross can be just 10 or 20cm deep. On the western side of the island, Bogimbah Creek, around 8km north of the Kingfisher Bay resort, is the largest creek on the island with a flow of approximately 166 million litres of water a day.
But Fraser island also has significant areas of coloured sands that contrast with the white beach, blue sky and sparkling ocean to bring colour to the island.
Ship Wrecks There are some twenty-three shipwrecks recorded in Fraser Island waters between 1856 and 1935, when the S.S. Maheno beached near The Pinnacles. Now the Maheno has become a must see tourist attraction on the ocean beach. She was built in 1905, and sailed a regular route on the Tasman Sea between Sydney and Auckland until she became a hospital ship in Europe during World War One and had a role in evacuating injured soldiers from the Galipoli campaign for three months in 1915.
In 1935, she was sold for scrap. The steering gear of the ship was removed and as she was being towed to Japan, a cyclonic storm snapped the tow chain and the Maheno drifted helplessly onto Fraser Island’s ocean beach. All attempts to refloat her failed, so what remains of the once 50,000 ton steel hull remains on the beach.
In the centre of the island where there is little wind and an ample supply of fresh water, the plant life has formed magnificent rainforest. These are hundreds of years old and home to numerous ferns and palms including piccabeen palms. Because of the competition for sunlight in these forests, the satinay and brush box trees are particularly tall with few branches except at the very top.
This forms a dense canopy (about 50m up) which shades the lower levels and prevents the dense undergrowth that is seen in other areas. Occasionally hoop pines and kauri pines will penetrate this canopy. Massive birds’ nest ferns, elkhorns and, occasionally, native orchids cling to the lower area of the trees and can be found in their spectacular glory at central station. There is also a creek that runs through the central station area and the water is so clear it’s hard to tell whether there is water flowing there or not.
Now there are very few sealed roads on the island but plenty of spectacular sand tracks. The main highway is the beach which is fully accessible only at low tide. Speed limits apply on the beaches (the only place you are likely to get above 60Km/Hr) and radar is used to enforce the speed limits too.
You can access the ferries to Fraser Island from Rainbow Beach – 70km east of Gympie or from River Heads near Maryborough. Tourist busses will also take you to Kingfisher Bay or Eurong. So when you go there (not if!!), you will need to beg, borrow or steal a four wheel drive vehicle or take some of the many tours offered from the resorts at Kingfisher Bay or Eurong. Do allow for the fact that travelling on these sand tracks can be slow, very bumpy and require frequent stops and reversing points to allow other vehicles to pass – especially in busy seasons. Extreme caution is required when driving on the beaches and tracks since lives have been lost and its a long way from the nearest hospital. You should also never feed any dingos there, despite the fact they just look like nice dogs. It removes their reluctance to make contact with humans and they become dangerous after a while.
So should you visit this wonderful place? Yes! Make plans today to get there and have some fun fishing, camping or simply gazing at the spectacular scenery in every direction. Then email your pictures to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add the best ones here…