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Fraser Island | © Danielleb41/Pixabay
Fraser Island | © Danielleb41/Pixabay
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Fraser Island: Australia's UNESCO World Heritage Paradise

Picture of Tom Smith
Updated: 15 February 2018
Home to ancient towering rainforests, glistening freshwater lakes and a rich diversity of wildlife, Fraser Island is unlike anywhere else on earth. The untamed sandbar is 120km long and 24km wide, making it the largest sand island in the world — but its charm extends well beyond its sheer size.

Fraser Island is located 250km north of the Queensland capital Brisbane on Australia’s east coast, just off Hervey Bay at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. At 1840 square kilometres, Fraser Island isn’t only the largest sand island in the world — it’s also Australia’s sixth largest, and the biggest on the east coast. Its size means Fraser Island is home to an extraordinary amount of biodiversity, from the array of rainforests, swamps, lakes, dunes and beaches to the pure strain of dingos and the dozens of other native species crawling all over the place. Indeed, these “outstanding natural universal values” secured a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing in 1992.

Dingo on Fraser Island | © Newretreads/Wikimedia Commons
Dingo on Fraser Island | © Newretreads/Wikimedia Commons

History

According to evidence from hundreds of archaeological sites, Fraser Island has been inhabited by the Indigenous Butchulla people for 5000 years — and they call it N’Gari, which translates as “paradise”. British Captain James Cook sailed past the island in 1770 on his groundbreaking voyage before explorer Matthew Flinders landed on the Island in 1802. It was originally called Great Sandy Island before being renamed after shipwreck survivor Eliza Fraser. The island has historically been used as an interment camp and exploited by logging and sand mining but fortunately now the primary industry is eco-tourism, which attracts as many as half a million visitors a year.

SS Maheno shipwreck on Fraser Island | © Matt McLeod/Pixabay
SS Maheno shipwreck on Fraser Island | © Matt McLeod/Pixabay

Lakes

Fraser Island is home to more than half of the world’s perched lakes — lakes formed by rainwater sitting in a depression between sand dunes. The island features more than 100 freshwater lakes — the most famous being Lake McKenzie, where snow white sand surrounds an azure rainwater pool, and Lake Wabby, an emerald-coloured swimming spot perched on the edge of the Hammerstone Sand Blow. Eli Creek and Champagne Pools are other great places for a dip.

Forests

Fraser Island is also the only place on earth where rainforest grows in sand 200 metres above sea level, covered with a thick layer of tropical rainforest made up of towering pine trees, ancient ferns, fragrant eucalypt forests and heathland sprinkled with flowers. Thanks to deep roots in this millennia-old sandbar, Fraser Island is home to a mind-boggling diversity of flora, boasting almost 900 species of plant. There are miles of walking track as well as unsealed 4WD routes that help visitors see the best of this otherworldly landscape.

Central Station on Fraser Island | © Emily Cox/Wikimedia Commons
Central Station on Fraser Island | © Emily Cox/Wikimedia Commons

Beaches

As you’d expect from the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island has more than 250km of clear sandy beaches plus 40km of colourful sand cliffs. Tackle the soft sand on a guided tour or behind the wheel of your own 4WD, heading to prime fishing spots like 75 Mile Beach on the eastern side of the island, as well as the iconic shipwreck of the SS Maheno, an old naval vessel that ran aground in 1935. Don’t be tempted to go for a dip at the beach, though — sharks and treacherous conditions make ocean swimming too risky.

75 Mile Beach on Fraser Island | © Stuart Edwards/Wikimedia Commons
75 Mile Beach on Fraser Island | © Stuart Edwards/Wikimedia Commons

Wildlife

One of the most distinctive features of Fraser Island is its pure strain of dingo — sandy in colour, with a population of about 200 roaming all over the place. Swamp wallabies, bandicoots, rare species of frog found around lakes and the adorably cute sugar glider floating between the lofty treetops are other native species to keep an eye out for. Oh, and then there’s the animal that’s the biggest of them all. Each winter, humpback whales migrate north from icy Antarctic waters to warmer climes in Queensland to raise their calves in Hervey Bay, which is sheltered by Fraser Island — and the enormous sandbar is the perfect place to catch a glimpse.

Humpback whales on the Fraser Coast | © Richard Fisher/Flickr
Humpback whales on the Fraser Coast | © Richard Fisher/Flickr