Australia: It's called paradise

By Jim Morton

Natural wonders abound on and around Fraser Island, writes Jim Morton.
Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island. Photo / Tourism & Events Queensland
Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island. Photo / Tourism & Events Queensland

Imagine an inland lake where the crystal-clear freshwater is as pure as the rain from the sky. Then imagine each grain of clean, white sand at your feet gleams in the sunlight as if it's been buffed and glossed.

Look out from this vast oasis and you can see miles of uninhabited rainforest and bushland - an island adventureland.

Sounds almost too good to be true?

It does but it isn't. It's not even on the other side of the planet.

Lake McKenzie is the "jewel in the crown" on Queensland's Fraser Island - the largest sand island in the world.

More than 1200m long and almost a kilometre wide, McKenzie is one of 40 perched lakes on Fraser and among the biggest in the world.

What makes such lakes so clean and vivid in colour is that the water doesn't come from streams or flows to the ocean but is from rainwater.

The sand is also pure silica, so fine that it's ideal for skin exfoliation.

Set in the middle of the island, the lake is rightly viewed as the jewel of Fraser but, surprisingly, still remains a hidden gem in terms of Australian tourist destinations.

Better known for its native dingo population and a 120km beach highway, where 4WD enthusiasts drive to within metres of the Pacific Ocean, Fraser's real appeal lies in its natural wonders.

And they're all, amazingly, growing out of the compacted sand and vegetation.

Lake McKenzie sits on top of the list, however it's a deep and diverse one, and one that depends on your taste.

Coloured sand cliffs overlooking the beach at The Pinnacles, a natural waterslide to the ocean at Eli Creek, numerous sandblows, crystal-clear creeks at the bottom of skyscraping rainforests that reach 200m high - there are plenty of ways to be awestruck.

It's no wonder the traditional residents of Fraser - the Butchulla People - called it K'gari (pronounced Gurri), which means "paradise".

Aboriginal dreamtime tales speak of a young female spirit named K'gari, who created the island paradise then lay down to sleep and never got up . . . further beautifying the sand, the lakes and the forests.

The modern history of the island also adds to Fraser's photo opportunities.

Near The Pinnacles, the SS Maheno - a World War I hospital ship that was shipwrecked by a cyclone and abandoned in 1935, then used for target practice in World War II - is slowly rusting up on the eastern beach breaks.

The red metal of the Maheno's skeleton, contrasting with the colours of the ocean and sky makes it as photographic as Lake McKenzie, especially at sunrise.

A World Heritage listed site since 1991, Fraser Island usually has more visitors than permanent residents.

Tourists and holidaymakers arrive via ferries and find that the island's all-sand roads provide entertainment of their own as 4WDs come to grips with some "roller coaster" tracks.

Driving across or through Fraser it's amazing to see how the land transforms from beach scrubland to sub-tropical rainforest in the blink of an eye.

One moment you're leaving the coastline and seemingly the next you're in the thick of towering, age-old trees that once fuelled a thriving timber industry and produced logs for the London Docks and Suez Canal.

Not to be forgotten, the calm bay west of Fraser Island is a perfect playground for some of the biggest creatures in the world, and hosts a thriving whale-watching industry.

At the end of their annual migration from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef, humpback whales give birth and mate in the warmer northern waters.

From August to October, before heading back south, they stop off in Hervey Bay for a long rest and some fun.

New mothers, usually accompanied by a male escort, will teach their calves how to breach. Some like to show them off to adoring spectators on cruise boats.

They're not shy.

Even half a day on the bay provides a mighty tail-slapping show as the whale-watch operators collaborate via radio to ensure they find exuberant pods splashing it up.

More of the humpbacks, which can weigh up to 48 tonnes, are entering Hervey Bay each year, with almost 8000 estimated to have stopped off this year.

The whales, and Fraser Island's heritage listing, have transformed the once-sleepy fishing villages around Hervey Bay, three-and-a-half hours north of Brisbane by car.

While the Sunshine State is renowned for the Reef and Whitsundays, as well as the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, the Fraser Coast more than deserves to be placed among Queensland's stellar destinations.

Qantas flies daily from Auckland to Hervey Bay, via Brisbane, with return Economy Class flights starting from $760.

Fraser Island is a 30-minute ferry ride from Hervey Bay. Visit queensland.com for more information.

- Spy.co.nz

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