Corazon Miller is a NZ Herald reporter

Queensland: Built upon a foundation of drifting sand

Corazon Miller visits Fraser Island, a World Heritage Site that's been crowned the world's largest sand island.
Fraser Island Looking toward Indian Head from Champagne Rock.
Fraser Island Looking toward Indian Head from Champagne Rock.

Stretched out across more than 120km off Queensland's eastern coast is the world's largest sand island.

But despite its sandy foundations, Fraser Island is anything but barren.

It is home to more than 100 freshwater lakes, ancient forests, wetlands, thousands of birds, mammals, reptiles and edible flora.

My first glimpse of this land the Aboriginal people call K'Gari -- paradise -- was of its silhouette far out in the distance.

This dark shadow against the skyline gave little away of its inner beauty -- but as I soon found out on my two-day visit, the island was true to its name.

Its beauty has many facets, from idyllic white beaches within sheltered bays, the wild seas lashing the coast along the 120km beach, to the tall rainforests reaching 200m into the sky.

These scenic sights have made Fraser Bay a popular destination for tourists (350,000 a year), and numbers will increase as the first set of cruise ships to the island begin to arrive.

Fortunately, I missed this mad tourist rush and managed to get my first tour of the island on the Tasman Venture catamaran, with a small number of other tourists.

The journey over the Great Sandy Strait set the day off to a bit of a rough start, with a strong wind making for some turbulent waters across the channel.

But once we made it through there was plenty of time to sit back, relax and enjoy the views of white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters.

We stopped at various points, to kayak along one of the many creeks, to go snorkelling at sea, or to take time out on a stretch of white sand.

This tour is known for sightings of Australian wildlife, turtles, dolphins, a roving dingo or, in whale season, a pod of the frolicking sea mammals.

I was fresh out of luck and had to make do with a glimpse of the odd bird and a small flying fish here and there.

Despite missing out on a lot of the wildlife, I was given a little bit of a history lesson from one of the tour guides on the origins of the island's European name.

Rainforest walk.
Rainforest walk.

The island was named after a Scottish woman, Eliza Fraser, who survived a shipwreck on its shores and subsequently told wild tales of being mistreated at the hands of the native Butchulla people.

Today the credibility of her tale has been drawn into question and moves are being made to give the island back its original Aboriginal appellation K'Gari -- a name that seems more fitting to the wild beauty of this unique World Heritage Site.

To get a real taste of the island's natural wilderness beyond the tour operators on the mainland, a number of resorts have established themselves on Fraser with the mission of offering visitors an easily accessible "eco-tourist" experience.

One of the main resorts on the island, Kingfisher Bay has, in the past two decades perfected its range of offerings. It has a weekly guide offering guests a range of activities from a quiet walk in the wilderness, a chance to try some of the island's natural food with one of the resort's head chefs, to a thrilling ride in a small plane taking off and landing along 75-mile beach.

Kingfisher Bay.
Kingfisher Bay.

One option to see as much of the island as you can within a few hours is the 4WD adventure on a bus with giant large wheels designed to cope with the rough terrain of the island's inner roads.

The trip proved a bit of rollercoaster ride over and around the sandy humps and bumps and along the 120km beach's natural highway.

The journey offered the chance to enjoy many of the island's beauty spots, with a walk through the rainforest, a swim in the clear blue waters of Lake McKenzie, multi-coloured cliff-faces, creeks and even a piece of New Zealand history -- the Maheno shipwreck, which was blown ashore during a cyclone in 1935.

Maheno shipwreck.
Maheno shipwreck.

Back on the resort, I finished up the day as every island holiday should end, with a nice cocktail in hand, sitting on the jetty bar, watching the sun set over the horizon.

Fast facts

• Fraser Island is known as K'Gari (Paradise) to the Aboriginal people.

• It was created over hundreds of thousands of years from sand drifting off the east coast of the mainland.

• Fraser Island is the only place in the world where the rainforest grows on sand.

• Named after Scottish woman Eliza Fraser.

• Became a World Heritage Site in 1992.

• A 4WD is necessary to drive on the island.

• Permits needed for vehicles and camping -- these must be bought before arrival.

- Spy.co.nz

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 02 Oct 2016 04:51:33 Processing Time: 1785ms