How much of the island can you see, in a bog-stock Isuzu? Plenty, actually…
If beach driving is the bread, then Lake McKenzie is the butter of your typical Fraser Island experience. And for good reason: The place is fantastic. It’s a kind of freshwater spring, surrounded by the salted ocean. Nature’s pure silica makes an incredible filter, and along with being fresh the water in Lake McKenzie is also incredibly pure.
So pack the swimmers, and also bring a towel and a good paperback (if you’ve got the time.) There are few better places to while away time, but think about getting here early for a good spot… it does get busy.
This was a bit of a random one for us. After Lake McKenzie, we were killing time (so to speak) before we made the run across to the eastern side of the island. “What about this place, McKenzie’s Jetty?” I asked Scotty. “Sure, why not?”
And, like that, we were on our way. And I’m so glad we went. It’s an impressive structure – still standing proud despite the many years of tides, salt and wind. It’s where the felled timber used to make its way across to the mainland, via train tracks. Nowadays, it’s just a great spot to take photos and think about the kind of hard work that would have gone into felling, milling, moving and sinking all of those logs that still stand today.
There’s much more to Fraser Island that just that big, wide and white stretch of sand that disappears into the distance. Connecting all of Fraser’s locations is a maze of internal tracks which traipse and traverse all manner of places.
Navigating this rabbit’s warren definitely needs resources. Take paper maps; or fire up the navigator, you’re definitely going to need it. We used the Hema Explorer app on our smartphones, and found it great. Just remember to pack a charging cable – especially if you’re also taking pics and videos with your phone.
The best thing about these inside tracks is not knowing what you’re travelling through. Have a good scour of the map, and you’ll see there are plenty of interesting POIs and locations to check out on Fraser. And beyond that, you’ll be surprised by the constantly changing landscape of Fraser Island: Swampy mangroves, thick wet sclerophyll scrub, rainforest and tall timber. It’s all here. Some of the timber is gigantic too; no wonder the forestry was such a big industry on the island.
Use those inland tracks to get a much deeper experience of Fraser Island than just 90-mile beach. The western side of Fraser, whilst being a bit trickier to navigate, holds plenty of great spots for the 4WDer. Rather than one big, wide beach with a few tidal bottlenecks, the western side is a series of coves and bays connected by those inland tracks.
There are some great camping spots like Bowraddy and Awinya, as well as stacks of beautiful little creeks and hideaways beyond a map’s detail. My advice is to book in for a day or two, and just go exploring. If you’re a bit stuck with high tide on the eastern side, don’t fret – there’s plenty to see and do over on the west.
The eastern side
Fraser Island is all about relaxation. You need a 4WD, but the 4WDing is not difficult. And when you’re cruising along, enjoying the simple pleasure of driving down such a beautiful stretch of beach, things don’t get much better.
There’s a few hidden killers on Fraser, however. The tide runs in and out a very long way in some spots – which means you’re smart to time your runs in accordance with low tide. And even then, the natural flow of tidal ocean and creek water will leave washaways and whoop-de-doos behind… some of which are hard to spot until you’re right on top of them. Resist the temptation to gather stacks of speed, and always keep your eyes peeled. And of course, some sand is really very soft.
From Eurong, it’s not a long drive up to Eli Creek and the Maheno – two of Fraser’s most popular spots. And once again, good reason. The Maheno isn’t as spectacularly huge as it once was, with ferrous oxide doing slow but steady work on this 122-metre, 5,000-tonne steel ocean liner since 1935.
Eli Creek is the major freshwater crossing heading up the eastern beach. As much as it can be troublesome, attempting it at a low time removes almost all of the challenge or risk. You’ve probably got a couple of hours each side of low tide as a window of opportunity for an easy crossing – but it all depends on the conditions at the time. Walk the crossing if you’re not sure, or simply wait it out. Anything to reduce the amount of salt your 4WD ingests is a good idea, anyway.
The further north you travel on Fraser, the more and more the crowds thin out. The main reason is because there’s a few challenging spots to navigate after Eli Creek. One of them is Indian Head, and the other is Ngkala Rocks Bypass Track. Both are sandy climbs that will quickly catch out those who haven’t aired down enough.
The best thing about this (no doubt) is the thinning crowd. Soon enough the backpackers and tourist buses disappear. Then you’ll only spot occasional other 4WDs. Sometimes they’re travelling as well, but most of the time they’re set up – sitting back, having a fish, or just taking it all in. And why wouldn’t you? The northern reaches of Fraser are absolutely stunning and very quiet, and well worth getting up to.
How challenging is Fraser, I hear you ask. Parts of Fraser Island can be a challenge, but the island on the whole is not ‘tough’. We did everything in a bog-stock Isuzu D-Max and MU-X; the bellies got a scratch of sand every now and then, but otherwise it was great. To be honest, it’s only as hard as you make it. Air down a good amount, drive to the conditions, and keep your head screwed on. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t!
In my opinion, the only essentials you need are:
- Tyre gauge
- Tyre deflator
- Air compressor
- Long-handled shovel
This is, of course, in addition to the recovery kit and rated recovery points you should always have handy in your 4WD. And extra gear on top of this can definitely be handy.
We travelled with the Isuzu I-Venture Club, a manufacturer-based training and tour group open to Isuzu owners. For more information, check out: iventureclub.com.au
Got some mould growing in the swag? Accommodation is available at Kingfisher Bay and Eurong Beach Resort. Prices are reasonable, the beds are comfy, and there isn’t a tent peg in sight:
Get your rig across to Fraser by barge. They run regularly, but some need to be booked in advance. They also depart and land at a handful of different spots – so pick one that suits your trip: fraserislandferry.com.au or mantarayfraserislandbarge.com.au