Footprints on Fraser

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May 8th 2017
Published: May 10th 2017
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K'gari signK'gari signK'gari sign

Photo credit: Jess Lodge, ABC News


I’m really lucky to have visited Fraser several times before but this trip with The Discovery Group was by far the best! It showed me the importance of educating tourists, while they enjoy the scenery and natural sights, and how vital that is to the sustainable future of tourism on the island.

Six months ago, the idea of travelling in a bus with a group of 22 other people with a guide, would have sent shivers down my spine. Although I am 49 and well-travelled (and an ex tour guide) I didn’t feel I was the type to enjoy this kind of ‘escorted tour’. Surely these trips are for tourists who don’t have their own Prado or for backpackers, happy to squeeze into a confined environment and stare out of a window, not seeing much.

If I could eat my own words (and thoughts), I would have enjoyed an 'all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of incorrect preconception' on my return. What I experienced, apart from a couple of hiccups, which were all part of the overall tour encounter, was a tour jam packed with activities, information, challenges, bonding and fun, but had an overall objective of education. Whether it was the first or the 1001st trip (our guide has been doing this for 7 years!) I don't think anyone left that island without learning something they didn’t know before and very possibly have a new respect for the island, it’s creation, heritage and sensitivity.

If you haven’t heard of World Heritage Listed Fraser Island, then get your head out of the sand! Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world covering 1,840 km2. It’s located off the south east coast of Queensland and is famous for having the purest strain of Dingo in Australia. Add that to unique flora and fauna, majestic tall rainforests, freshwater lakes with crystal clear waters and sacred silent creeks and you’ve got one of the most special places in the world.

Fraser Island National Park has just been renamed K’gari, which was the original indigenous name for the island. The local Butchella people have fought hard to have their heritage acknowledged and as Ayres Rock became Uluru, K’gari (pronounced Gurry) will over time, be the recognised name for the island.


Our tour started with an early
Dolphins at Tin Can BayDolphins at Tin Can BayDolphins at Tin Can Bay

Photo credit Icejack80: Trip Advisor
pickup at 5.30am from TAFE, Mooloolaba and then we headed north up the highway to Tin Can Bay to feed the humpbacked dolphins. Each day at 8am, several of these dolphins come into the shallows at the Barnacles café to be hand fed by willing tourists. The community of dolphins started here in the 1950’s when an injured dolphin came in for help and was fed and cared for by the locals until it made a full recovery. Since then more dolphins have joined the family and several have had babies so there is now a healthy community living in the bay. We had the opportunity to wade into the water with the volunteers and give one of the dolphins a fish. Then it was back on ‘Gladiator’ our unique Discovery ‘Warrior’ 4WD bus to Inskip and over on the barge to the white sands of K’gari.

As we drove up 75 mile beach, our guides told us about the important history of the island, the impact the western settlers had when they realised the value of the wood in the trees and the minerals in the sand and how mining and logging impacted the indigenous people back in
Serenity of Eli CreekSerenity of Eli CreekSerenity of Eli Creek

Photo Credit MedTramal, Trip Advisor
the 1800 and 1900’s.

Our first stop was at the Rangers HQ at Eurong, where Jenna Tappley the community education officer gave us a presentation on Fraser. This gave us a great overview of the island and the challenges that the 30 rangers (only 15-20 on the island at any one time) have in managing it. Rangers are responsible for many things including changing toilet rolls, maintaining vehicles, removal of non-native plants and weeds and managing the dingo population. This includes dingo tracking, dingo cams (recording litters of pups) and assisting when dingoes are hurt, such as getting fishing line caught in their mouths or paws. It was great being able to see footage from the cameras.

After a quick lunch at the park in Eurong, we were back on 75 mile beach heading north to Eli Creek. Eli Creek is a freshwater creek, which flows out to sea. It is lined by a boardwalk enabling you to walk inland and then step down into the creek and float amongst the trees back down back to the beach. Eli was where Butchella people came to christen their babies and is a really beautiful place. We were lucky there weren’t many other visitors at Eli, so we I was able to float down Eli three times, taking in the serenity of the area and enjoying this special place with some other fantastic people, before another tour bus turned up. Our group took turns throwing a boomerang and I was delighted when I threw it, it came back towards me. I think I had a good teacher!

Next stop was the Maheno, a huge shipwreck, used as a hospital ship in WW1. It was beached in 1935 when while it was being towed to Japan, there was a cyclone and the tow line snapped. Although extremely rusty and very disintegrated, it tells a wonderful story and has become a great icon of Fraser Island. Some of the ships furnishings, as I found out later, are now displayed at Happy Valley where we stayed, along with information about the ship, drawings and a scale model. Just north of the Maheno is The Pinnacles, beautiful coloured sand formations created over thousands of years when iron-rich minerals stained the sand a complex array of tones and hues including yellow, brown and red. The Pinnacles were where the Butchella women used to gather here to sort out problems and issues and support each other and men were not allowed.

As we were admiring the different coloured sands, the heavens opened, so after our very long day adventuring, we headed to the Fraser Island Retreat at Happy Valley to check in. The cabins were great, and mine had an en-suite, large fridge, tea and coffee making facilities, ceiling fan, screened windows and individual cupboards with an internal power point and lockable door. Great for storing valuables and charging phones. I played cards with my roomies and then we ran through the rain to dinner in the restaurant with the rest of the group. Generous pub meals filled our tummies and after we played hilarious game of Cards against Humanities which was a great way to break any ice that was still between any group members! At 9pm we headed to bed exhausted and happy.

Day 2. After a continental buffet we boarded Gladiator again and headed to Central Station. We headed south along 75 mile beach to Eurong, but just before we turned off the beach, I spotted a dingo and we slowed down and took some photos from the safety of the bus. We then drove inland into the centre of the island where we would spend most of our day. Central Station, the old logging headquarters on the island, is now an information centre where photos and signage are displayed on several of the remaining buildings. We learnt about the huge trees which were logged in the area and were shown some unique ferns and bush tucker.

We made our way down to the start of the walk along Wanggoolba Creek, a sacred birthing place for the Butchella people. We walked quietly taking in the beauty and serenity of the place and noticed the silent crystal-clear water in the creek, that ran over sand. Surrounded by tropical rainforest, we walked along the path and saw the King Fern, unique to the island, different fungi, huge trees and natural debris, probably leftover from Cyclone Debbie. As we climbed up and out of the rainforest, our surroundings changed into a forest called Pile Valley with huge satinay trees. At the end of this 2.4km walk (around 50 minutes) we met Gladiator with a welcoming warm cuppa and a biscuit.

Next stop was the highly-anticipated Lake McKenzie. It is vital to the ph level of this perched lake that no one swims in it with sun cream, insect repellent or other creams or perfumes and you definitely can’t pee in it. Doing any of these could kill off the fish and frogs there which are unique species who have adapted to the acidic ph level. We changed into our togs in the toilets at the car park and then made our way down the path to the lake. Again, like Eli, there was hardly anyone around our group had much of the beach to ourselves, using the people free backdrop to take some great photos.

The water was gorgeous, cold, fresh, clear and polished all the jewellery we were wearing. We all came out of the water refreshed and sparkling! We had lunch in the fenced picnic area, a feast of wraps and fillings that we made ourselves. A few of us went back to the lake where we took more photos, swam and walked along the shore. On our way, back along the path to the car park, a young dingo with a tracker collar was wandering around near the fenced picnic area, searching for food. It is vital that we don’t feed these animals and stay a reasonable distance away. Although he appeared not bothered by our presence, one of the tour bus guides did eventually throw a stick at him to shoo him away, which is just as much for the safety of the dingoes than the tourists. Sadly, if a dingo bites a human, the human will probably live to tell the tale, but the dingo will be culled. Hardly fair when we are the ones in their space, sectioning off areas for us to eat our lunch and then trying to get close enough to capture them on film. It gave me a new respect for these beautiful animals.

The Butchella people called Lake McKenzie, Boorangoora, and it was the place where Butchella people went to make decisions. The wise ones would meet here to listen for messages on the breezes sent from the spirits. Unfortunately, whilst on the beach I suddenly delivered a windy message in front of my friends, so I then made the decision to head back to the bus. I strongly believe Lake McKenzie has a positive impact on everyone who visits and as long as we follow the rules and respect the unique ecosystem, it will remain a natural wonder for future generations.

As we waved goodbye to Lake McKenzie and our dingo encounter, we headed to Lake Birabeen, another perched lake which was a sacred place for the Butchella people. This is where they laid their dead to rest, either under the trees that surround the shores, or by floating them on rafts out into the lake. It was here ewe realised we'd been honoured to visit the birth place, christening place and resting place of many indigenous people who have lived on this land thousands of years before the western settlers took over the island.

Our second nights’ accommodation was at The Beach House Hostel which is an original beach shack offering comfy accommodation, ocean views, a huge kitchen and a games room. We were in 8 person dorms which had one queen bed and three bunk beds. There was a shower, toilet and basin at the back. The beds were comfortable and linen was provided. That night we had a fantastic BBQ cooked by our tour guide and we chilled in the games and dining room, playing cards, conversing on social media and reading books about Fraser’s history.

DAY 3. As we headed south, back to the barge, we stopped to collect rubbish off the beach. We passed many members of a 4X4 club who volunteer each year to do a beach clean-up for a weekend. Apparently, there are a few 4WD clubs who do this, meaning Fraser gets a good clean up several times a year which helps the rangers and other volunteering groups keep the island as free of washed up rubbish as possible. It certainly made me think about joining a group to do this. We collected 3 bags of rubbish to take back to the mainland.

We had lunch at Rainbow Beach after visiting Carlo Sandblow, a huge dune up on the hill above the town, with spectacular views to Fraser Island, Double Island Point and Tin Can Bay, where this three-day journey started. It was a fitting end to the trip and as we drove south along the beach past the Coloured Sands and Double Island Point before heading down the beach to Noosa Northshore and catching the barge over to Tewantin and Noosa where our Discovery transfer bus took us back to our drop off point
Carlo sand blowCarlo sand blowCarlo sand blow

Photo credit: Usozzie, Trip Advisor
at Mountain Creek.

The three day two night trip was something very special. Jacob our Tour Guide with The Discovery Group looked after us extremely well. He was incredibly knowledgeable, approachable, funny and really caring. He was also inspirational and really made this trip a problem free trip for our group. I was aware he had a few hiccups along the way, but he dealt with them professionally and discreetly, with the aim of not disrupting the group or the itinerary. As I mentioned at the start, an escorted tour was not something I wanted to do. Jacob and The Discovery Group have certainly changed my mind on this but any future escorted adventure tours will now be rated against this one, which I think will be hard to top!

Definitely a 10/10. Click on the link to see their tours.


During our trip, questions were raised about the sustainable future of the island and the challenges of educating tourists on the precious eco systems, flora and fauna on the island. Ironically the island promotes itself to tourists as a destination to see dingoes, however when humans then want to interact, they can cause problems, with few being bitten or attacked and that causes culling of this threatened and precious species. I must admit when I visited Fraser in Sept 2016, I was very disappointed not to see a dingo, so I totally understand that it is one of the reasons you go there.

A solution might be to have an area on the island as a Dingo Sanctuary, where tourists can see dingoes up close and learn about them.

An entrance fee would have to be charged (or included in a tour price) and instead of culling dingoes, they can go here to be cared for. It might manage a breeding program and could inform visitors to the island about the benefits of tracking and tagging the dingoes as were lucky to have seen Ranger Jemma's presentation and learn why they track the dingoes. We then connected that to the dingo we saw at Lake McKenzie and thought perhaps that was the dingo whose tracking habits and data we saw in the presentation. For others they might just see a dingo with a tracking collar on and think it's cruel, or it's tame and approach it. It is a dilemma as having an enclosure is not the most natural way for dingoes to live, but by building a sanctuary, you not only have a tourist attraction, but a vehicle to educate and raise awareness and reduce attacks and culling on the island before it's too late and we lose the dingoes all together.


Having worked in various aspects and areas of travel, I still learned a lot from this tour. Not only did I learn so much more about the island, it's geography, geology, history of the Butchella people, about the flora, fauna and dingoes, I also learnt that I knew very little about this island and had only really seen it from a 'tourists' perspective prior to now. I gained confidence in tour guiding, learnt how to manage people, I made an effort to talk to everyone on the trip and leaned new things about some of the younger travellers. Most importantly, I took away a new perspective on how to protect and manage the island with increased tourism and the issues that encounters. K'gari/Fraser Island, has to make some real investments into policies and procedures, technology and tourism management in order to protect the island for future generations.

Lots of people make the mistake that sustainable tourism is just about the place being environmentally friendly, but it also being sustainable economically as well as socially sustainable. There are economic challenges in managing the island, making sure enough money is coming back to the island for it to function properly and without always having to fight fires, literally and figuratively. It is also about maintaining sustainable communities connected to the island, whether that be indigenous people, communities of volunteers, the workers on the island including Rangers and tourism professionals. There are a lot of stakeholders connected to the island and all of these have a view on how the island should be managed and have specific areas they are passionate about. What I have learnt, is that there are a lot of very passionate people who work hard to showcase K'gari in it's true beauty and as travel professionals, we need to respect the island and all it's protectors.


K'gari/Fraser Island is accessible via barge from Inskip point just north of Rainbow Beach or by passenger ferry from Hervey Bay or barge from River Heads, which both go to Kingfisher Bay resort. Being an island made of sand, the only way to get around

Barge from Inskip PointBarge from Inskip PointBarge from Inskip Point

Photo credit: Frank Letho, www,
Fraser Island is by using a 4WD, so unless you have your own, you will need to either

Book a 1 or 2 day tour from Noosa to get there (Discovery Group, Adventure Tours, Drop Bear)
Hire a 4WDin Rainbow and join a tag along tour with a 4WD lead vehicle. (Fraser Dingo Hire, Fraser4wdhire, Rainbow4x4hire)
Book a day tour from your accommodation ie Kingfisher Bay Resort, Eurong Beach resort, Fraser Island retreat.

If you have your own vehicle, you must purchase a months or year Vehicle Access Permit to drive on Fraser.

Barge prices from Inskipstart at $75 one way and $120 return including passengers.
Passenger ferryis $60 return for adults and 430 for kids.
• The Barge from River Heads is $175/$200 return for off peak/peak season and $5 for additional passengers.

The cost of the barge/ferry is included in the overall tour price when going with a reputable tour company such as The Discovery Group.


As well as staying safe in the sun by slip, slop and slapping, you need to keep hydrated wear a hat, and ,ake sure you
Dingo SignDingo SignDingo Sign

Photo credit: Angela Hemming
have any medications and a first aid kit with you at all times. You’ll need your own refillable water bottle or purchase bottled water at the resort shops.)

In addition, you need to be aware of the Dingo Safety when visiting Fraser. Dingoes are all around the island and if you are lucky enough to see one, you need to be aware of the safety advice, not only to protect you, but to protect the dingoes too. You don’t want be responsible for culling a dingo because you didn’t follow the rules on the island. Fines are a hefty and can be up to $3000.


TOP TIP - Pack Light! With a max baggage allowance of 5kg on a 2 day tour, you only need to pack comfortable clothes, togs, swimming towel, basic toiletries, walking shoes and thongs, plus a warm top for the evening and/or rain. Take some natural insect repellent. Don’t pack your straighteners, not only are these an unnecessary item to bring on the tour (are we really looking at your hair?) but there’s no mains power on the island, much of the accommodation runs off generators. Your beautifying requirements are
The Discovery Group logoThe Discovery Group logoThe Discovery Group logo

Photo credit: The Discovery Group
not as big as their need to power and operate their resort.


Two Day Tours offered by The Discovery Group start at $345pp in a quad share and Twin share is $425. Trips depart Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday

The price includes

Overnight Accommodation in Happy Valley
Meals including 2 morning tea's, 2 lunches, 1 dinner at the Satinay restaurant
Visit Tin Can Bay for optional Dolphin Feeding (local cash payment of $5)
Visit Eli Creek
Visit Maheno shipwreck
See the Coloured Sands and the Pinnacles
Guided Rainforest walk from Central Station to Pile Valley
Swim in Lake McKenzie

Plus All transport from pick up to drop off in a 4WD Warrior with Individual air-conditioning vents, seat-belts, digital PA, child seats available.

NB. Our tour was a bespoke 3 day/2 night tour for our tourism group and the itinerary was designed to suit our budget.

For details on tours to Fraser Island please contact The Discovery Group on 07 5449 0393 or visit

Additional photos below
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Map of K'gari (Fraser Island)Map of K'gari (Fraser Island)
Map of K'gari (Fraser Island)

Photo credit: Craig Molyneux, Behance
Fraser Island RetreatFraser Island Retreat
Fraser Island Retreat

Photo credit:Sheila P, Trip Advisor

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