Exploring Fraser Island (Rainbow Beach and Hervey Bay)
Fraser Island, also known as Kgari to the locals (not to be mixed up with Fraser, Fraser etc), is the worlds largest sand island. If you want to experience sand in every nook and cranny, have near-death experiences with planes landing within 20 metres of you, and be afraid to go out alone lest you are mauled to death by dingoes, then Fraser Island is the place to go! It is the best place on the East Coast to visit, and although all the above are true, it is one of the most beautiful places to see in Australia. Located 250 km north of Brisbane, and a World Heritage listed site, it’s the only place in the world where rain forest grows on sand. 120km long and 24 km wide, it's home to a variety of perched lakes, 120km of beach (that's 75 miles if you’re still ruled by the queen, or worse, American), and over 40km of coloured sand dunes. The entire island is located in the Great Sandy National Park, and it is unique in the world for its variety of freshwater lakes- From the crystal clear Lake Mackenzie to the dark depths of Lake Allom. Entirely composed of sand, there are no roads on Fraser Island, just a beach highway, meaning you need a 4 wheel drive to get around. As there is no permanent human population, it's also the last place in Australia where wild dingoes roam free- undomesticated and untouched by human interaction.
Table of Contents:
Best Time to Visit Fraser Island
Best Time to Visit Fraser Island
Fraser Island is amazing to visit year round, with a generally mild climate. Temperatures are rarely above 30 degrees, or below 5 degrees, due to the moderating influence of the ocean. Average winter temperatures are around 18 degrees, while average summer temperatures are around 26 degrees. However, like a lot of Queensland, there is a storm season from January to April, with occasional cyclones- with the recent Cyclone Debbie causing disruption to ferry services to and from the island. Rainfall is highest during cyclone season, and relatively rare during the rest of the year. If you’re planning on visiting Fraser Island its recommended to take at least 2 days, preferably 3, as it is a huge island, and there is a 50km speed limit on the beach highway.
How to get to Fraser island and where to stay
Getting to Fraser Island requires grabbing the ferry from Hervey Bay or Inskip Point, at Rainbow Beach. If you are thinking of driving your own 4x4 to Fraser, you can stay overnight at either of those places or even in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. If you don't have a 4x4, tours depart daily from Rainbow Beach, Hervey Bay, Noosa, and the Sunshine Coast, and weekly from Brisbane. Getting to any of the aforementioned places is easy- all are serviced by both Premier Motor Service and Greyhound Buses, or you can take the turn off from the Bruce Highway. There is, however, no rail access, and the largest nearest airport is Brisbane so plan accordingly- If your landing in Brisbane you'll probably need at least 4 days to see Fraser, one day to get to Rainbow Beach, and 3 days 2 nights on the island itself. On Fraser itself, most people camp, as permits are relatively cheap at $6.55 per person per night. However you can also stay at Kingfisher or Eurong Resort, two incredible overnight stays, that come at a price.
Things to do on Fraser Island
Exploring Fraser Island is incredibly rewarding, with everything from clear blue freshwater lakes to rough rain forest driving trails, to imposing cliff heads, to hidden rivers. By far the most famous location on Fraser Island, is the freshwater lake, Lake Mackenzie. Lake Mackenzie is an almost 1km by 1km perched lake, about 6km from Kingfisher Resort. The sands around the lake are composed of pure what silica and the water is pure freshwater, with no rivers running to or from it. The water itself is clear along the shoreline- you can see the exact lines where the colour changes from clear, to azur, to dark blue. A less well-known water hole with similar attributes is Lake Birrabeen- similarly clear, similarly beautiful, but the majority of tour operators choose Lake Mackenzie, so Birrabeen is relatively tranquil in comparison.
Fraser's lakes aren’t just clear though- Lake Boomanjin and Lake Allom are two tea coloured lakes- due to tannins from nearby swamps tinting the water red- and also making the lakes excellent for your skin (and hangover). Lake Wabby is the final ‘must see’ lake on Fraser Island. The deepest lake on the island, Lake Wabby is a 2km walk from the parking on 75 Mile Beach, and the walk alone is worth doing. The lake also has the most marine life of all on Fraser so you can relax by the water with fish nibbling on your toes.
But Fraser island isn’t just about lakes. The drive up the 75-mile beach highway is amazing, where all you can see is the beach ahead of you, crystal clear water on one side, and the rain forest on the other. One of the leading creeks you’ll have to cross on your journey is Eli Creek, a slow-moving freshwater creek, where people generally stop, bring their water bottles, and fill them up before floating back towards to ocean. Backpacker tours usually bring blow up rubber rings too. A little further north of Eli Creek is the Coloured Sands (The Pinnacles), a collection of dunes that comprise of over 70 different colours, sculpted by the wind and weather on Fraser. Following 75-mile beach further, you’ll also come across the Maheno shipwreck- a 120 metre old Ocean Liner who ran aground here in 1935. The hulk of the Maheno is slowly corroding away, and you are not allowed to climb on or in the wreck (It was used as target practice by Aussie commandos training during world war 2).
Finally, as you head towards the top of the 75-mile beach, you’ll come across a huge rocky headland- Indian Head. There is a short 10-minute hike to get to the top of the headland, and the views from here are superb, with a high chance of spotting whales, dolphins, and sharks from the viewpoint. It is also the site of one of Fraser Islands most tragic incidents- in 1851 there was reportedly a round-up of native aboriginals here, where they were forced off the cliff face onto the rocks below. A short drive up the beach past Indian Head will bring you to the tip of Fraser Island, and one of the ultimate places to relax. The Champagne Pools are here, a collection of rock pools which get their name from the way the waves break over them- the run down of the water through the rocks makes it bubble like champagne. The champagne pools are also full of fish- who'll happily nibble away at your dead skin!
Finally, you’ll notice driving along 75 Mile Beach that it's not just a highway for 4x4s- it's also a landing strip for Fraser Island Scenic Flights. They’re well worth doing if you have a chance, and certain group tours sometimes get amazing deals on them... If your good (Winkwink Dingos/Frasers on Rainbow).
Self-driving Fraser Island
If you’re planning on driving to Fraser, a 4x4 is obligatory- no exceptions. You can get the ferry to Fraser in two places- At Inskip Point, Rainbow Beach, or at River Heads, just South of Hervey Bay, and the ferries cost between $120 and $175 for your 4wd and passengers. Before you go to Fraser you’ll need to purchase a camping pass ($6.15 per night per person), for however many days you plan to stay, pay the vehicle access fees ($51), and book the ferry in advance. You’ll have to bring plenty of refillable water cans, and a spare jerry can for fuel is strongly advised. Make sure to get training on how to drive on sand, and bring some spare pieces of wood in case you get stuck. Also, a tow rope is advised in case of an emergency. If you're in a rental 4x4 from any of the main cities, they often ban you from going to Fraser due to the risks of damage involved. However, there are specific companies in Rainbow Beach, Hervey Bay and Noosa that rent 4x4s specifically for Fraser Island (Such as Rainbow Beach Adventure Centre, contact us for exclusive rates). Finally, make sure to stock up on plenty of food and bring your camping gear- food and beer prices are expensive on Fraser Island, and fuel is not always available- and have a plan of where you’re going, as the tides can leave certain areas inaccessible.
Tagalong Tours Verses Bus Tours to Fraser Island
For those not willing to risk a $2000 bond and drive themselves along Fraser, there are two other alternatives- Bus tours, where you go to Fraser as part of a group of 15-25 people on-board a 4wd tour bus, or a 4x4 tag-along tour. In general, the 4x4 bus tours are good quality, and you stay in hostel/hotel accommodation on Fraser Island, accompanied by a guide all the time. You stop for an hour or so at each attraction to relax and enjoy it, and its a completely relaxed 2-3 days. Each tour aims to bring you to Lake Mackenzie, although the one and two-day tours simply don’t have enough time to see the entire island, and often only get as far as Eli Creek. Everything is included, so all your meals, park fees, etc.. but it's not BYOB as the hostel/hotels have a bar onsite. These tours cater for both backpacker groups, and for family-focused groups, and depart from Rainbow Beach, Noosa, Hervey Bay, and there’s even one from Brisbane!
Tagalong Tours, on the other hand, are the most popular way for backpackers to see Fraser. They are fun, fast, and full of adventure, as you are essentially a self-drive convoy of 4x4s, where you follow the 4x4 of your guide. With these, you get to experience driving on sand and dirt roads yourself (Provided you are over 21 and have a full drivers licence), you tend to camp in permanent tents on the island, and they are all-inclusive in terms of food, fuel, and fees. Tagalong tours are my personal favourite, even if you don’t drive, as you make your own playlist, get to know the 5-6 other young adults in your 4x4, and you live it up at night. By staying in a campsite its BYOB, and you are free to go to the beach at night to get away from the light and see the stars- which are amazing on Fraser, second only to the stars in the outback. Before departing on any tagalong tour you are required to do a safety briefing the night or morning before departure, where your guides will go through the dangers of Fraser Island, and the do’s and don’ts of driving on sand. Each tour aims to visit Lake Mackenzie, and a variety of other sites, although the 1-night tours usually don’t have enough time to visit the Champagne pools and Indian Head. The most popular 4x4 tours leave from Rainbow Beach, but there are also options from Noosa and Hervey Bay.
Rainbow Beach Fraser Island Tours
Rainbow Beach is a town whose economy is based on Fraser Island. Its name comes from the multicoloured sand dunes that surround the town, and for a quiet coastal town, there’s a surprising amount of things to do. The town contains three hostels, although two are joined together: Pippies, Dingos and Frasers on Rainbow. Each hostel operates their own Fraser Island tour, and the Dingos/Frasers on Rainbow hostels contains a bar and a pool. In terms of tours, they’re all very similar- 4x4 camping tours, that leave daily for three days and two nights, and they are all amazing. The only differences are the accommodation you stay in beforehand (Dingos has a bar, Frasers on Rainbow is newly renovated and really nice, Pippies is nice and chilled) and that Dingos/Frasers on Rainbow stays in an aboriginal campsite, where they sometimes get a native storytelling experience. Both tours do get rambunctious at the campsites- so wrap it up and be wary of sand getting everywhere if you’re considering ‘burying the snake’ on the beach. The other Fraser Island tours that depart from Rainbow Beach are bus tours: Discovery Fraser Island, who are a high quality, mix of family and young people overnight trip; Cool Dingos, who do a 2 day 1 night trip that drops you off in Hervey Bay after, and Fraser Explorer, a family-friendly tour, that has both 1 day and overnight Fraser Island tours.
Apart from visiting Fraser Island, Rainbow Beach is also famous for the Carlo Sandblow, a 15-acre sandblow that's amazing for watching the sunset, views of the hinterlands, and sandboarding. Hostels in Rainbow Beach provide the sandboards free of charge, and its just a 20-minute walk from the centre of Rainbow. Skydives over Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island are also popular, and often are the cheapest beach landing in Australia. Surfing and 4 wheel driving to Double Island Point is another great activity and gives you a chance to surf Australia’s longest wave- the perfect wave for beginners learning to surf. Finally, Rainbow Beach is growing in popularity for experienced scuba divers, as the dive site at Wolf Rock is among the only places in the world where Grey Nurse sharks are found year-round, and you can also spot manta rays, leopard sharks, and humpback whales in different seasons. Finally, if you have your own 4x4, you can drive along the beach down to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, on the Great Sandy Beach, an incredibly scenic route that’s good preparation for Fraser Island!
Skydive Rainbow Beach: From $244 for 14,000 feet (Plus $35 levy)
Wolf Rock Dive: $195/$255 with equipment hire
Surf Australia’s longest wave: $65
For more details, check out our guide to Fraser Island from Rainbow Beach
Noosa fraser island tours
Noosa is a town that deserves its own post (think Byron Bay without the Hippies), but for those who want to go to Fraser Island, it's a good place to depart. There are two main tagalong tours that leave from here for Fraser Island, Nomads Fraser Island, who share a hostel of the same name, and Dropbear Adventures.
Nomads Fraser offers 2-3 day tours, with the 3 days tour going daily, and give your accommodation in Noosa at a discount rate if you stay with them before or after. They also are the only tagalong tour that offers tipi and dorm accommodation- so you stay at one of the resorts, instead of a campsite. This means its not BYOB, but Nomads guests do get a good discount at the bar! They also get a free drink for giving nomads a 5-star review when they arrive back in Noosa, so be aware when you ’re checking out ratings on Tripadvisor. As you stay in permanent tipis and dorms, it's definitely a more flashpacker tour than others and has a lot more creature comforts. Drop bear, on the other hand, are a family-owned company based in Noosa, that also offer 2 and 3-day tours. They camp, are completely environmentally friendly, and their guides are super knowledgeable about Fraser Island- they are top rated for a reason. However, they are slightly more expensive than other operators.
Bus tours departing Noosa include Discovery Fraser Island, Fraser Adventure Tours, and Sunset Safaris. In general, Discovery Fraser caters for the younger crowd, and offer the best value here, although Fraser explorer is also very good. Fraser Adventure Tours don’t go to Lake Mackenzie on one of their tours, which can be an issue. Sunset Safari’s, however, is a solid group tour with a good reputation- who offer 2 and 3-day tours.
Within Noosa, itself is Noosa National Park, which is a great way to pass a few hours- its an amazing coastal walk, which offers a high chance of spotting koalas. Other free things in Noosa is surfing- Nomads Noosa offer free surfboards to people, and you can also book surf lessons. You also have the option of visiting the Australian Everglades, a still twisting mix of lakes and rivers, that contain over 40% of the bird species in Australia. Canoe Trips can be done with Discovery and Kanu Kapers, and if you’ve the time its worth a visit. Like Rainbow Beach, skydives are also an option here.
Sunset Safari’s: From $419
Discovery Everglades: From $79-$135
Kanu Kapers Everglades: From $99
Skydive Noosa: from $224 (Plus $35 Levy)
For more details, check out our guide to Fraser Island from Noosa.
Hervey Bay Tours To Fraser Island
Hervey Bay is known as the main departure point for Fraser Island, however its further away from Fraser than Rainbow Beach. None the less, Hervey Bay is a good resting point. It’s a decent sized town, with a variety of accommodation to stay in. Top hostels include Woolshed Hervey Bay, Flashpackers Hervey Bay, and Palace Hotel Hervey Bay. Out of these three, Woolshed Hervey Bay is the best value- with free wifi all around the hostel, free bike hire, and free pick up and drop off for the Greyhound Bus, you can’t really go wrong.
Getting to Fraser Island from Hervey Bay is easy- there are two tagalong tours that depart from here, Fraser Dingo (not to be confused with Dingos in Rainbow Beach), and Palace Fraser Island tours. These tours are two extremes when it comes to price- Fraser Dingo is the cheapest possible way to visit Fraser Island overnight, but it lacks a little bit in quality compared to the tours from Noosa and Rainbow Beach, and you have to pay additional food levys. Palace Fraser Island, on the other hand, is similar quality to the Rainbow Beach and Noosa tours, but much more expensive, and the insurance levy is also more expensive. Both tagalong tours offer two day and three-day trips to Fraser and will pick you up from your accommodation.
However, if you want to do a bus tour, Hervey Bay is a great place to start. Cool Dingos has its base here so you can do both 2 day and 3 day return options, and if you’re short on time, they will have you back in Hervey Bay in time to catch your overnight Premier or Greyhound Bus up the coast. Cool Dingos offer resort dorm accommodation in Eurong and depart daily. We also have a unique deal with them- book a Fraser Island trip with Cool Dingos and a Whitsundays boat and get over $150 off. Not bad hey.
Other things to do in Hervey Bay include whale watching, from March to October, as the humpback whales annual breeding grounds are beside Fraser Island, and you can also fly from Hervey Bay to Fraser Island, do sightseeing cruises in the bay, or take scenic walks along the promenade.
Fraser Dingo: $325 2 days, $435 3 days. Additional Fees include food, luggage storage and sleeping bag hire (around $50 total).
Cool Dingos: $375 2 days, $490 3 days, $555 4 days.
Whale Watching Cruise: $90
Flight to Fraser: From $100
The entire region around Fraser Island is applicable for regional work, and there’s plenty of work that can be found around here. Just two hours north in Bundaberg, you can find farmwork from a variety of working hostels such as Shoestrings Backpackers Hostel, Dingo Blue Backpackers, and Federal Backpackers (Although Bundaberg in general has a very bad reputation for farmwork: see here, and here, and here, so be on your toes about where you work).
Bundaberg is good for sugar cane harvesting, tomatoes, potato picking, and macadamia nuts, and work can be found year round. Farms to avoid though, are Tony Grimas Sweet Potato Farm (Known for underpaying people and harassing workers), Sams Cherry Tomatoes (Piece rate agreement means you earn less than half minimum wage).
Childers, the train stop for Hervey Bay, is popular for mango picking in February, and vegetable picking in November and December, while Mundubbera and Gayndah are both good for citrus and grapes in March to June. Mangos are also good for picking in January. Good working hostels in Childers are Farmgate Backpackers and Childers Eco-lodge.
Finally, the Sunshine Coast, around Noosa is great for strawberry picking, with a variety of working hostels and farms around here. Places to avoid are definitely Suncoast Backpackers (Check out my stay there) , but Mooloolaba Backpackers and Cotton Tree are both great hostels. Strawberry season in April to September, and there is also a crab factory, blueberries and pineapples for other second year visa work. Blueberries are in season October to December.
For a guide on how not to do your farmwork, you can read my story here.
Book your Fraser Island trip in advance- if its a few days before there is a chance every tagalong tour will be booked out.
Certain hostels with a bar will buy your alcohol for you- at extremely discounted prices, so there’s no need to get it in advance. However, be sure to buy enough, its expensive on Fraser Island
Noosa and Hervey Bay are further away from Fraser, so you have less time on Fraser Island than tours that depart from Rainbow Beach.
Sunsets at Coola Sandblow go well with a bottle/bag of wine.
Bags of goon also make decent pillows on Fraser Island when camping
If you can, bring your own sleeping bag- but hostels do rent them for $10.
Don’t be shark bait- the waters around Fraser are full of them, and although sharks are friends, they sometimes see us as food.
Don’t pet the dingo
Driving around Fraser- download a damn good playlist
Did we miss anything? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Looking for other exploring guides around Australia?