Blue skies, sandy white beaches, ancient rainforests and moonlit nights listening to the haunting howl of dingoes – we are camping on Fraser Island, a world heritage site and the world’s largest sand island. Aborigines call it K’gari meaning Paradise.
Wanggoolba Creek Ferry Landing
We arrive on the late ferry so our first camp is at Central Station, the closest camp to the ferry landing. The sandy track takes us through the great diversity of plant life that is unique to Fraser Island. We drive through eucalyptus and scribbly gums forest, with red gums, smooth-barked apple and lemon-scented native flowers. The landscape morphs into lush green rainforest of towering palm trees, kauri pines, fern trees and rare ferns. Our vehicle is dwarfed by mythical giant trees that flourish in the only place on earth where rainforest grows in sand.
Nestled in the rainforest, wooden stairs lead to our tent on a raised platform, surrounded by centuries-old forest and fallen logs covered in green moss. The birdlife, such as kookaburras and cockatoos is abundant. A few mosquitos buzz around, so don’t forget the insect repellent!
The fenced campground has toilet and shower facilities. There is also a separate area with tables and gas barbeques for day use. A great base if you want to explore the inland lakes or rainforest walking tracks.
Some of Fraser Island’s great walks start from here, the boardwalk beside the crystal clear Wanggoolba creek is the start of the 11 km walk to Lake McKenzie.
Lake McKenzie is the most popular of the 40 lakes on the island. It looks exactly like it does in the travel brochures. The sandy beach is silky soft and the ice blue water shimmers in the shallows and turns azure blue in the deeper part. It is invigorating and refreshing and once in, it’s hard to tear ourselves out! It gets very busy here during the middle of the day, but a quiet spot can always be found. The lesser known Lake Birrabeen is also pretty and visitors will more than likely have it all to themselves as no tour buses visit here.
Our next camp is Wongai on the east side of the island near Eurong. Known as 75-mile beach, an expanse of pure white sand that stretches the entire length of the east side. This is the ‘highway’ as Fraser has no sealed roads.
Wongai camp is a basic bush camp with no amenities, typical of most camps on the east side. We pitch our tent on the sand dunes that overlook the ocean. What a view! To top this off we see our first dingo while setting up camp. Most visitors to Fraser hope to see at least one dingo during their stay. We go to sleep listening to the crashing waves and the sneaky pitter patter of paws that check out our camp…
We wake to a sunrise that illuminates the beach with an orange glow and a pack of dingoes with five pups frolic and play on the water’s edge. Wongai is definitely our favourite campsite while camping on Fraser Island!
The pups have not long left their den. They appear to be in the hands of an older brother. He is very gentle and the pups walk all over him. The pups spend the majority of their time with him. Their mum and dad appear on the sand dunes every now and again to check on them. When the pups see them they get so excited and rush over, they lick each other and howl. We watch in amazement at the greetings.
Dingoes, like wolves, are very social. They have a tawny coat with white feet (pure-breed dingoes have white feet and a tiny white tip on their tail). Their intense dark eyes show intelligence and cunning. Fraser Island dingoes are the purest strain of dingo in Australia. Their conservation is significant to the Island’s ecosystem.
We travel further up the east coast to Eli Camp near Eli Creek. Once our tent is set up we have a refreshing swim in the turquoise freshwater creek. Surrounded by overhanging paperbark eucalyptus and ferns the picturesque spring fed creek is the largest freshwater creek on the island. When the tour buses arrive here it gets very crowded. Our camp is close so we go for an early morning swim without the crowds.
White bellied sea eagles, pied oyster catchers, crested terns, sandpipers and pelicans are but a few of the birds on the beach. We notice hundreds of mutton birds washed up on the beach. Every year they migrate from Siberia to rookeries as far as Tasmania. Some years they fly into severe storms and fall into the ocean from sheer exhaustion. It is sad to see but nothing can be done for them. It makes us think about the gruelling and harsh journey these little birds make every year. They have incredible endurance and spirit.
Further up from Eli Creek, the Maheno wreck rests in the shallow waters. Once used as a hospital ship by New Zealand to transport wounded troops from Gallipoli during World War 1, it was washed ashore during a cyclone in 1935. Magnificent in its day, it is now a rusty and disintegrating skeleton.
We pass Dingoes searching and scavenging on the shoreline. Fraser Island is known for its great fishing and some hang around popular fishing spots in the hope of getting fish from the fishermen.
Not far from Maheno wreck are The Pinnacles. Significant to the local Aboriginals, the coloured sands have formed over 1000s of years from minerals leached through the sand. To fully appreciate the rainbow of colours it is best to visit here during the soft morning or afternoon light.
The Champagne Pools
Further up is another natural wonder. The Champagne Pools is one our favourite places on the island. A scenic boardwalk leads down to the bubbly pools. Depending on the tide, the waves crash or cascade over volcanic rocks creating a sparkling effect into shallow sandy pools. Rips, undertows, stingers and sharks make it the only safe place to swim in the ocean on Fraser Island. The boardwalk above the pools loops around the rocks and there are great views of the Indian Headland. We stop again at Champagne Pools for sunrise the next morning. The sun reflects in the pools below and a pod of Humpback whales swim past in the distance. It’s serene and we have this enchanting site all to ourselves.
We do some remote camping and out next camp is Marloo, about a 10 minutes’ drive north from Waddy Point. We also want to be close to Champagne Pools for sunrise.
It’s really windy here so we set our tent up behind the sand dunes for protection. The zipper on one of our tent screens has broken and it’s not until later as we try and sleep that the buzzing of mosquitos becomes unbearable. There’s no breeze behind the sand dunes, the stillness is stifling, made worse by the fact that we have the sheet over our heads to stop the mozzies from biting. Mozzie coils and insect spray doesn’t help.
In desperation, we drag the mattress down to the beach edge. The wind keeps the mosquitos away and we have a beautiful cool sleep under the stars. We wake in the morning and there are dingo footprints all around our mattress. Unbeknown to us they’ve come and checked us out through the night…
We drive the inland sandy track through the Northern Scenic Drive past pink bloodwood, banksia flowering with yellow spikey flowers, scribbly and blue gum trees to our last camp on the more remote west coast of the island at Woralie creek.
No one else is here and it feels like a deserted island. We pitch out tent right on the beach. The blue ocean glistens, the powdery white sand is scattered with seashells and the sunsets are romantic. There are no amenities, but the creek is fresh water and sparkly clean for swimming.
The only company we have is a dingo. We see many dingo footprints in the sand and hear them howling in the bush at night but only once comes close to our camp. While camping on Fraser Island we are lucky that not only do we see the dingoes, but we also witness them socialising and interacting with each other. Fraser Island wouldn’t have the same attraction and charm without them. We hope many other people get to see this vanishing icon in the future.
Fraser Island is one of our favourite places in Australia. The sandy beaches, tropical rainforests, translucent lakes, wild dingoes, epic sunrises and sunsets – this Island of contrasts is one of the world’s natural wonders.
Dingoes have a social hierarchy system and as with all wild animals, they have their own individual personalities and some are more cunning, dominant, mischievous and playful than others. They have to feed themselves on an island where food is scarce, protect their pups and survive in a place overtaken by humans. People can avoid negative encounters if they act appropriately. We are in their territory and doing so should be at our own risk.
When Fraser Island was listed as world heritage in 1992, the state government realised the money making potential and took control. They implemented practices to control the dingoes so they wouldn’t be an inconvenience or nuisance to the growing number of visitors. Before this, the dingoes were living a happy and harmonious life on the island interacting with visitors and locals.
Management practices in the past and present include culling, hazing, ear tagging of puppies, shock collars, non-lethal poisoned baits, electrified grates and fences.
Demonised by the media and mismanaged by authorities the dingo population on Fraser Island is dwindling.
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