The Australian island formerly known as Fraser is a highlight of any Queensland trip. Now officially donning the traditional name K’gari, make the most of its ridiculous beauty, writes Ivy Carruth
Peter’s been living on K’gari for 28 years, since long before the moniker was returned to its traditional name; that only happened in June this year. In case you’re wondering, and even if you’re not, it’s pronounced “gar-ee” – the “k” is silent. The Butchulla people called it “paradise”, which is exactly what K’gari translates to. On the island formerly known as Fraser, where Peter has spent half his life, lives the world’s purest strain of dingoes, staghorn ferns the size of a garage and some of the most intriguing wilderness in Australia. It also happens to be the largest sand island in the world, with 122km of shifting dunes and rainforest that kisses the coast.
The stories this man has. We’re on a coach travelling the roads (a term I use loosely as these “roads” are pig paths in the sand) to get to the island’s beauty spots. We’ll spend the day together, about 30 of us, and Pete has the job of not only driving us but entertaining us too. The bus has flat-ish tyres, the island version of driving on snow, I suppose, and he manoeuvres it like a Jamaican bobsledder, deftly and without effort.
He tells us about Prince Harry (and Meghan) visiting in 2018. It was someone’s job to smooth out all of the tracks, to make them soft as butter for the Spare’s tour. “Apparently, even nature isn’t allowed to shake up the Crown Jewels,” he quips. And the day goes like that. I’ve never had a better tour guide.
We visit trees that would rival a storybook giant’s height; lucky were they to escape the logging saws that tore through the lush rainforest area of Wanggoolba Creek. All that nonsense stopped in 1992 when Unesco listed the island as a World Heritage Site, and now it’s as though it may never have happened. Nature is a resilient beast.
Further along, approaching Lake McKenzie, Peter tells us the sand here is so exquisitely white and fine that it’ll squeak beneath your feet; it can be used to polish our jewellery… or exfoliate our skin; also, “It’s bright; wear your sunnies.” We take a path towards the forest and, in about five minutes, are treated to the clearest, most ridiculously blue body of water you can dream of. It’s as though AI has been at work here helping the Pantone people develop their Colour of the Year. McKenzie is a perched lake which means it sits above the water table. Filled with fresh rain, it’s so unsullied and pure that it isn’t able to support plant or animal life. We have an hour to enjoy it and soon find it’s surprisingly chilly. (Or refreshing, depending on your tolerance for brrrrr.)
The coastal drive, though. On 75 Mile Beach, we glide alongside the foam of breaking surf. Long lines with reels the size of hubcaps are attached to utes, and it’s clear that this is serious fisherperson business. The ribbed skeleton of a shipwreck frames the horizon and in the sea beyond, but not that far beyond, a constant stream of humpbacks blow and breach and flap their tails. Per Peter (I checked, and it’s true), the peduncle muscle, where the Y of a whale’s tail fluke meets the body, is the strongest in the animal kingdom. How strong? Roughly double the thrust of an F-15 fighter jet. Take that, Ferrari.
But what had me euphoric, practically catching flies in my wide-open mouth, was the emergence of a scrawny, orange-furred canine – my first dingo. Right there on the beach. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say this was the highlight of many highlights of this first visit to K’gari. He (?) was wary of us, a scavenger looking for anything edible we may have dropped from our morning tea… muffins, meat pies. It was just so incredibly iconic to see this animal just… there. I asked Peter if they were all tagged. “Yep,” he nodded. “The ones in the collars are the ones we’ve got to keep an eye on.” Another query from me: “Do they receive any vet care?” This time Peter looks at me somewhat askance. He may have raised his eyebrow. “No. No, not at all.” While others may have hustled quickly back on the bus, I’d have stayed there for hours, and I did stay there until you-know-who ushered me back on the coach.
Returning back to the Kingfisher Resort, where we’d departed from and where most of us were staying, Peter tells us about the time the bus got stuck for hours on end. “It was too dry,” he says. (Apparently, a bit of rain is good for traction.) “It was Christmas, wouldn’t you know it?” Here, he pauses for effect. “There was, and I am not making this up… there was a man on the bus, on Christmas, and we’re stranded, and do you know what this man’s name was?” Yeah, the man’s name was Jesus.
When it’s time for me to leave paradise, I meander to the ferry along the serpentine path that edges me along green eucalypts. A fat lace monitor is making the most of the sun; I don’t bother him, and he doesn’t bother me. I board, grab a window seat and take this visit’s last look at the beaches, hoping for one last dingo sighting.
For more things to see and do in Queensland, visit queensland.com/au/en/home