Fraser Island (also now known as K’gari, which means “paradise”), a four-hour drive north of Brisbane, is as unique as it is beautiful. The world’s largest sand island and World Heritage-listed site is draped in hectares of lush green vegetation, dotted with impossibly clear freshwater lakes, is home to dingoes and dugongs and surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

On a 45-minute walk to Lake Wabby, for example, you will stand on the expanse of white sand on 75 Mile Beach, walk through coastal scrub, and get immersed in thick, tropical rainforest; 10 minutes later, you’ll be atop barren sand dunes, before you finish at a beautiful lake full of mangrove jack fish and green turtles.

“Fraser is one of those places that defies belief in a number of ways,” says Robbie Cornelius, director of DR Tourism in Hervey Bay. “First is the fact that there is rainforest that grows on sand. Then there are the animal species that you find in specific locations on the island and you have no grasp about how they got there in the first instance.”

There are a number of ways to explore Fraser. They range from a day-trip or organised two-night stay to a self-drive package (including accommodation); or take your own 4WD and explore the island’s 1,840 square kilometres at your own pace.

Peter Meyer, a photographer and guide with Kingfisher Bay Resort, offers informative 4WD bus tours. He loves the diversity the island has to offer. “You can stand in one spot and see an ancient forest, an ancient sand dune and the Pacific Ocean with the whales jumping out of it,” he says.

Whether you experience the thrill of 4WD yourself or with a tour, you will take the bumpy sand tracks past towering trees and over freshwater creeks. You’ll take in the island’s natural landmarks, including 75 Mile Beach, The Pinnacles – layers of coloured sand made into a stunning layer cake by iron-rich minerals – and the wreck of the Maheno, a rusted hulk that is one of Fraser’s most photogenic spots. Take a swim at Eli Creek or a dip in lake McKenzie, where white silica sand filters the pure rainwater, keeping it crystal clear.

Unique Fraser Tours offers one and two-day 4WD drive tours that go to Indian Head and the Champagne Pools. Local Aborigines used the pools, formed from volcanic rock, as a fish trap, according to managing director Troy Jacob.

The Island’s western section is one of its most remote and untouched parts. DR Tourism’s Cornelius says it’s worth the trip – by 4WD or boat – as you can often be the only person there.

“I spend a fair bit of my personal time at Wathumba Creek, a very large freshwater waterway that leads into the ocean,” he says. “The beaches on the west rival the white sand on [the Whitsundays] Whitehaven Beach and, coupled with the fact there’s often no-one around, it is pretty incredible.” Tasman Venture offers Remote Fraser Island day tours to the west.

To drive Fraser Island on your own takes a bit more planning. The major hire companies won’t allow their vehicles on the Island, so try local outfits such as Fraser Island 4×4 Hire, which can help with advice on driving on sand and suggested routes.

Campers can choose from myriad beautiful beachside spots or more developed National Parks camping grounds like Waddy Point and lake McKenzie. You’ll need a camping permit.

Nights are special on Fraser Island, too, with ranger-guided walks that spotlight sugar gliders, frogs and other hard-to spot nocturnal creatures. The lack or any city lights means the stargazing here is among the best in the country.

Fraser Island is an unspoilt wilderness, with big-ticket wildlife such as dingoes and whales, but also small surprises. “My favourite bird on the Island is the red-capped plover,” says Peter Meyer. “They are about 10 centimetres high and make nests up in the sand dunes. The mother is able to change the patterns on the egg according to where she lays them, so they can’t be seen.”

There are a few accommodation options to choose from, including Kingfisher Bay resort, Eliza Fraser Lodge or Fraser Island Retreat, perfect if you like your creature comforts. Ann Bauer, Kingfisher Bay’s senior ranger, says an ideal sojourn on the island is three to five days, allowing time to take part in activities. At Kingfisher, these might include a canoe paddle down Dundonga Creek to spot turtles and stingrays, or a Bush Tucker Talk and Taste experience that gives an insight into the Island’s Indigenous food.

From sampling the ancient to watching its constantly changing landscapes, Fraser Island is an unmissable experience.

Pillars of sand

Two other islands, North Stradbroke and Moreton, make up South East Queensland’s triumvirate of big sand islands. Here’s what to expect from both…

North Stradbroke Island

Known locally as “Straddie”, this is the world’s second-largest sand island behind Fraser. North Stradbroke boasts rocky outcrops, lookouts and swamps, and is home to a host of resident wildlife including echidnas, marine turtles and bandicoots. This is another great spot for 4WD-ing but you’ll need a permit and a fair bit of sand driving experience, although there are sealed roads, too. There is a variety of accommodation in the townships, from the manta Lodge & Scuba Centre to beach houses.

Moreton Island

Moreton is just over an hour from Brisbane by ferry. The majority of its 19,000 hectares is national park, so it remains an area of undisturbed natural beauty. Moreton is part of Quandamooka, both the region and indigenous people of Moreton Bay and its islands, and is known as Moorgumpin – place of sand hills. Most activities here are nature-based, from snorkeling the Tangalooma wrecks to night kayaking. Visitors can camp or stay at the Tangalooma Island Resort, which plays host to a pod of wild dolphins that come each evening at sunset to be fed.

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