I have visited quite a few islands during my travels recently. There’s Phillip Island down in Victoria south of Melbourne, Rottnest Island in Western Australia outside of Perth, Magnetic Island in Queensland from Townsville, the Whitsunday Islands surrounding Airlie Beach… Each island has been amazing with its unique flair.
There are remarkably over 8,200 Australian islands within its borders, so it might be pretty difficult to visit all of them. However, like those I listed above, there are certain islands that are very special in some way. And yes, I am thinking of one in particular, the island that I looked forward to seeing the most: Fraser Island.
Fraser Island is the second largest island in Australia, and it is known as the “Great Sandy Island” as it is entirely made up of sand, and is the world’s largest sand island. Now, as a backpacker in Australia, Fraser Island is known as the “let’s drive 4WD on the beach adventure island”. Which is true, there are no sealed roads on the island so you have to have a 4WD vehicle or you won’t make it off the ferry. But I wanted to know more. I wanted to see what else this beautiful island could offer.
So I set off on a 3-day and 2-night camping adventure with Dropbear Adventures. And to my surprise, I learned that there is so much more encompassing this island that makes it one of the most special places I have visited yet.
3 Day/2 Night Fraser Island Camping Safari
Dropbear Adventures picks up from Noosa and Rainbow Beach. Those coming from Noosa will meet at 6:45AM to watch a 30-minute safety video from the Queensland government. This video explains 4WD laws, safety regulations, and general knowledge around Fraser Island.
Once the video is over, everyone in Noosa will split into one of four 4WD vehicles, with our tour guide, Dave, driving the lead car, and those legally able and wanting to drive in the other three following cars. Don’t want to drive, don’t have a license, or not 21 or older? No problem. Being a passenger in the 4WD is just as fun!
Those coming from Rainbow Beach need to meet at Dingo’s Backpacker Resort at 9:00 AM to watch the same video. The Noosa gang will arrive in Rainbow Beach to pick them up between 9:45 AM and 10:00 AM.
Once everyone is checked in, there is a short 30-minute drive from Rainbow Beach to the ferry. The ferry takes about 15 minutes, and then… drumroll please… we finally arrived on Fraser Island!
Right away, we were introduced to the thrill of driving a car on the beach, as the ferry literally drops you off on the beach in some pretty deep sand.
We then set off on our (about an hour-long) journey to camp. Dropbear Adventures has their own “base camp” right off the beach where we eat, sleep, and hang out during the morning and evening. We slept in 3-person tents (but only 2 people per tent) and were given sheets, sleeping bags, and pillows. Worried about sleeping in a tent? Rest assured (literally), the sleeping mats in the tents are actually very comfortable, and you will be falling asleep to the sweet sound of the ocean. It’s all part of the experience!
Camp also had a non-flushing toilet and two outdoor showers with hot water.
Now, on to the good stuff!
When we arrived at camp around 12:30PM, lunch was waiting for us. We were given wraps with traditional fillings.
We also met Josh and Gemma, who actually live on Fraser Island and maintain the camp, as well as cook our delicious meals.
As we were eating, Dave gave us a proper welcome to the island, explained all camp rules, and told us what we would be seeing that day. And right away we gathered what we needed and set off on our way for Day 1’s adventures.
Our first destination was Lake Garawongera. But in order to get there meant an awesome drive along the beach and inland.
What I quickly came to find was that normally, when you are driving to some attraction, you just want to get there and see it. On Fraser Island, however, the drive is equally as exciting! I loved being in the car, driving along the beautiful beaches, watching the waves crash as we sped by. Occasionally we would get to go through some treacherous parts along the way, driving through the water or leaning sideways to bypass a rocky area. It was awesome!
Driving inland means deeper sand tracks and being surrounded by the green forest. Everywhere you look on this island, you’re going to see something beautiful.
We then arrived at Lake Garawongera, a beautiful freshwater lake with pure enough water that you can drink it. Actually, we learned that all of the fresh water on the island is drinkable.
Dave gathered us around to tell us about the lake and the tea tree. Dave explained that the sand in Lake Garawongera (as well as Lake McKenzie) is very high in silicone, so it is a natural exfoliate for your skin, hair, teeth, and even your jewelry. Give yourself a good scrub all over with this fine sand combined with the pure water of the lake, and your skin and hair will be soft as a baby’s bottom.
Dave also explained the significance of the tea trees that surround all of the fresh bodies of water on the island. These trees were extremely important to the Butchulla people, who were the Aboriginal group that first inhabited the island they call, “K’gari”. But for our use today, Dave told us that we could crush a few of the leaves together, extract their natural oils to be used as a “conditioner” for our hair. So essentially, we were told to exfoliate our skin and hair with the sand in the lake, and use tea tree leaf oils to condition our hair.
Naturally, this treatment became my shower of the trip. I brought shampoo and conditioner, but as a test, I didn’t use it once to see how my skin and hair would be by the end of day 3. I’ll get to the results later.
Dave told us that the time we had at the lake was ours; we could stay as long as we wanted. And, given our new knowledge of the lake, we jumped in for a swim! Well, I say that loosely. The water was incredibly cold since it is winter now, but that didn’t stop us. Besides, if Dave saw you cowering from the cold and being a wimp about getting all the way in, he showed no mercy and would make sure you got your hair wet!
We took our time exfoliating and swimming around in the beautiful lake. And Dave, as we learned right away, was full of fun games to play and explained the first of many. I’m not sure what the game was called, but it was a lot of fun, and everyone joined in for a good laugh.
We stayed at Lake Garawongera for a little over an hour, which was when most people were ready to warm back up from our cold swim. We jumped back into the cars and made our way into “town”, where we could visit a market for snacks and drinks and use flush-able toilets.
We drove back to camp as the sun was setting, which made for a beautiful drive along the beach. I just couldn’t control my fascination with the island, how it was virtually untouched, and we could just explore along the beach anywhere we wanted to go.
Back at camp, dinner was underway, and we were given time for tea and coffee and a stroll to the beach to watch the sunset and hang out. One of the best things about Dropbear’s camp was the chilled atmosphere. If you want some tea or coffee and to sit at the table and relax, go for it. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and want to pour yourself a glass of wine or pop open a beer, go for it. The night is yours, and you are free to do what you like (as long as you respect the camp of course).
Dinner was an amazing traditional Aussie BBQ, with steak (cooked to your preference), sausage, potatoes, greens, and bread.
As we were finishing up dinner, Dave showed off his talented Didgeridoo skills and taught us how to play. The Didgeridoo is a traditional instrument of the Aboriginal men, and you could certainly tell that Dave treated the instrument with the utmost respect and felt honoured to be able to play it. The Didgeridoo also became our alarm in the morning, which was a very peaceful way to wake up.
The rest of the evening was ours to hang out, talk, drink, play games, practice the Didgeridoo, and sleep.
Dave woke us up by playing a relaxing melody on the Didgeridoo at 6:00AM. I had no trouble popping right out of the tent, because Dave had told us the night before that since we were on the eastern side of the island, the sun was going to rise on our side. So the first thing I did was make my way down to the beach to check out the beautiful sunrise. What a perfect way to wake up, sleeping right next to the beach and watching the sunrise over the ocean.
We had an hour from our wake-up call to enjoy the sunrise, eat breakfast, and get ourselves ready for the day. We had quite the itinerary planned for Day 2!
For brekky, we enjoyed eggy toast, leftover steak from dinner, bacon, and cereal.
By 7:00AM we were packed and ready to begin the day. We set off for the beach from our campsite, and to our surprise, we were welcomed on to the beach from two airplanes that were landing right in front of us – on the beach!
Dave stopped us and told us to all get out of the cars as the planes landed and made their way over to us for a visit. We hadn’t even made it 3 minutes from camp before we were in the midst of our first adventure of the day!
Air Fraser Island is the only air charter company that uses the 75 Mile Beach of Fraser Island as their airstrip for scenic flights. And we were lucky enough to have them drop by for a visit!
I was just in awe of the fact that I witnessed an airplane land on the beach right in front of me, and now they were offering to take us for a scenic flight? What an amazing surprise opportunity!
Air Fraser Island offered us a special rate of AUD$60 per seat if we could get at least 7 people to want to go on a 15-minute scenic flight. The flight would go over the ocean to try to spot some migrating humpback whales, and also fly us over the island to see some of the beautiful lakes of Fraser from above.
We had a little over 20 people on our tour, and almost everyone went! I couldn’t miss my chance to see the island from the sky. And how often can you take off and land on a beach runway?
The flight was amazing! The view of the ocean, coast, 75 Mile Beach, the lakes… everything! It was incredible and I am very happy that I did it. It’s not every day that a plane lands in your backyard – only on Fraser Island!
Once the hype of the surprise scenic flight had subsided, we set off on our real itinerary for the day! This began with a 1.5 – 2-hour drive along the 75 Mile Beach towards Indian Head and the Champagne Pools.
Along the way, Dave would occasionally spot whales jumping in the ocean and we would pull over to watch them. We were told that the best place to see them was Indian Head, so we couldn’t wait to get there and look for them. As far as I could tell, they were everywhere!
Around 10AM we arrived at the Champagne Pools, which were two natural “pools” of crystal clear water nestled right next to the ocean. Dave gave us an hour here, where we could swim in the pools, climb on the surrounding rocks, lay out in the sun, or (of course), play a fun game with Dave.
A little way down the beach from the Champagne Pools was Indian Head, which is essentially a large cliff that juts out into the ocean. This is why we were told we could see whales from the top of Indian Head very easily because it allows us to see the deeper water from a higher point.
As soon as we arrived, Dave told us that Indian Head is very important to the Butchulla people and that we must treat it with respect. He said there would be “danger” signs along the cliff edge indicating where we can’t walk past, and he said he took them very seriously, not only for our safety but as a sign of respect for the Butchulla people and what took place at Indian Head. Dave explained that there was a story to be told, but that he was going to save it for when we were back at camp this evening. All he told us before we walked up there was that on this site, over 250 Butchulla women and children were murdered.
That was all he needed to say to convince me to respect this land.
Dave taught us a short acknowledgment we could make to pay our respect to the traditional owners of the land. We did this before entering Indian Head, and a few other locations around the island.
Walking up the short hike to Indian Head, I was amazed by the view I could see from Fraser Island’s most easterly point. The 75 Mile Beach was highlighted on both sides, and looking beyond the cliffs of the tip of Indian Head, we could spot countless whales popping their heads up in the distance. In the shallower water up closer to the cliffs edge, I even spotted a few sea turtles swimming about.
I could have sat up there all day, just admiring the surroundings. I also found myself incredibly curious about the story that Dave would tell us that evening about what happened there. It made me very happy to be travelling with a tour company that cared so much for the Butchulla people and their land, and that I would get to learn more about their culture throughout the three days.
After about an hour, we made our way back down the 75 Mile Beach to where we would have lunch at around 12:30PM. We had another traditional camp lunch of make-your-own wraps.
Our next stop was the famous Maheno Shipwreck. Everyone has seen photos of this amazing ship that got stuck in the sand along the 75 Mile Beach. But finally, we got to learn the story of how it got there.
Dave told us the mystery of how the ship arrived on Fraser Island. The Maheno was once a cruise ship between New Zealand and Australia, a war hospital ship during the first world war, and an outdated and unwanted ship in its later years. A Japanese man purchased the Maheno, stripped it of all parts, and planned to tow the ship back to Japan. Now he claims that they hit a cyclone, and the ship became loose from its tow ship and simply washed up onto the shore. But with no evidence of a cyclone at that time… did that really happen? As such, the mystery remains, and so does the Maheno, stuck on the beach.
Our final stop of Day 2 was Eli Creek, aka Fraser Island’s lazy river. This clear, freshwater creek runs at the perfect speed for a gentle cruise downstream. But Dave (of course) had another game to play. This game was called “Crocodile”, and the group was split into crocodiles and gazelles. The object of the game for the gazelles is to make it all the way to the end of Eli Creek. The object of the game for the crocodiles is to take down as many gazelles as you can, by any means necessary.
I love all of Dave’s games because the water is cold, but it gets you in and having fun! I was a gazelle and was taken down by (more than one) crazy crocodile. But after that, I just wanted to float in the creek and let the natural current take me to the end.
We chilled out on the beach next to Eli Creek for the rest of the afternoon. Dave used two of the cars to hold up a “net” separating two sides of beach volleyball. Some of us went down the creek multiple times. Others just wanted to lay in the sun and talk.
After a while, Dave showed off his girly side and offered to braid our hair. As it turns out, he was really good at it! Funny as it was to see macho Dave braiding the girls’ hair, we discovered that he learned how to do it from tying knots in his previous job: being a crocodile “relocator”. He didn’t seem so girly after that! Also Dave… you have had the coolest jobs ever.
As the sun started to set, our day was not over. We headed back to camp to get ready for dinner. Along the way, we were surprised again by seeing a dingo strolling along the beach next to where we were driving! Dingoes are wild dogs native to Australia but are commonly found wandering about Fraser Island. It’s always lucky to get to see one!
Back at camp, we were starving from the day’s adventures and couldn’t wait for dinner, which was chicken and vegetable stir fry with rice.
What we most anticipated, however, was Dave’s story.
Dave gathered us at the tables and sat down for a very long, thorough, and impactful story of the island’s history. This story was well over an hour long, but everyone was engaged and captivated through its entirety.
Now, I don’t want to spoil this story for those that may be traveling with Dropbear in the future, so I will save it for your tour guide. All I will say today is that there is so much more to this island, K’gari, that meets the eye. It’s easy to just want to go there to drive a 4WD on the beach and party with other backpackers at your campsite. But to actually have the privilege of learning about the Aboriginal spirit of K’gari and how she took her island form as Fraser Island, which is why it is known to the indigenous people as K’gari. To understand the Butchulla people and their culture is an honour. To hear of what happened when the white man came to the island is horrific. To be told the “story” of how the island was given the name “Fraser Island” actually, makes me very upset and angry.
Throughout my experience with Dropbear Adventures, I became more and more relieved that I was traveling with them instead of a different tour company on Fraser Island. Even just the little things, like teaching us bits and pieces of Aboriginal culture along our drive. Or wearing shirts that say “K’gari” instead of Fraser Island out of respect for the traditional owners of the land. And especially telling us that story that Dave told us during that night.
I could have left this island knowing nothing about the Butchulla people. Or I could have gone with Dropbear Adventures and been enlightened and educated about this region and the oldest surviving culture of the entire world.
Dropbear Adventures cares so much about the Butchulla people that they are even hosting a petition to change the name of the island from Fraser Island to K’gari. What better tour company could you go with than one that takes so much pride in this island? I was beyond impressed with their determination to this amazing cause.
Day 2 was an incredible day and night, and I couldn’t wait to see what more was to come on Day 3.
Dave let us sleep in until 6:30AM on Day 3, waking us up again with the peaceful sounds of the Didgeridoo.
We had breakfast, cleaned up camp, packed our belongings, and made our way to Lake McKenzie.
Lake McKenzie is arguably the most well-known attraction of K’gari (from now on I will use the traditional name). With its white sand beach and crystal clear blue water, this lake has probably one of the most picturesque landscapes I have ever seen. For us, we saved the best for last.
We drove for about 1.5 hours to get to Lake McKenzie and arrived around 8:30AM. We had about 3 hours to relax, swim, play games, and chill at the lake, which was both plenty of time and not enough time! I could have stayed there all day if it were up to me.
It was exactly how I hoped it would be. You know when you arrive somewhere, and it doesn’t look as good as it does in the photos? Well, that is most certainly not the case for Lake McKenzie. It was even more beautiful than I imagined.
The water was very, very cold, but by this point, I had perfected the “just run and jump in” method quite well. The sand here was also very high in silicone, so just like we did in Lake Garawongera, we exfoliated our skin and washed our hair.
As I said before, I decided not to use actual soap on my hair and just use the sand and freshwater throughout the 3 days to see how it would be. And I must admit, that sand did wonders to my hair! It actually felt clean and touch-ably soft by the end of the third day. I wish I could just use the sand forever and throw my shampoo out the window!
I spent some time swimming around and, of course, getting my cliché, Instagram-able photos.
After a while, Dave announced that another one of his many talents was doing the famous life at the end of the Dirty Dancing movie, and he asked if anyone wanted to have a go. Of course, I raised my hand! I am no dancer, but I wasn’t about to miss that opportunity!
It took a couple of tries, but how amazing is this photo?? Shout out to Dave for not dropping me.
After three hours of fun in the sun at Lake McKenzie, we headed into town for lunch and our final destination of the trip: the rainforest and Wanggoolba Creek.
Around 1:00PM, Dave showed us around Wanggoolba Creek, which is sacred land to Aboriginal women. This creek flows through the rainforest of K’gari, which is actually the only rainforest in the world that grows on sand. He taught us about how the Butchulla women would come here to give birth (and finally have the right to do so again today), as well as about several of the native trees and plants.
All too soon, our time on K’gari was coming to an end. We made our way to the Dropbear Adventures Beach House Hostel for some ice pops and to say our final goodbyes to the team.
We arrived back at Rainbow Beach around 4:30PM and those returning back to Noosa arrived around 6:30-7PM.
I want to personally thank Dave and the Dropbear Adventures team for an incredible experience on K’gari. I mean this sincerely when I say I couldn’t imagine a better tour than what you have in place. It is a very special adventure that made a huge impact on me and that I will always remember.
If you would like to book your 3 Day / 2 Night Camping Adventure on K’gari (Fraser Island) and see for yourself why I love this island the most, see the link below and book your tour today!
Want to see K’gari but don’t have 3 days? See the link below for Dropbear Adventure’s 2 Day / 1 Night tour: