16 Jul Fraser Island With Kids – Our Two-Day Adventure On The Great Sandy Island
When traveling up the Australian East Coast with children, you will not get around the many islands close to the coast. There are so many of them, it’s just overwhelming for a foreigner. You can choose whichever suits you most, be it luxury on Heron Island or a snorkeling and diving paradise like Lady Elliot.
Coming to Australia’s East Coast for the first time, there is one island you simply do not want to miss out on: The “Great Sandy Island” – the largest sand island in the world. World heritage listed Fraser Island with kids is going to be a trip you won’t forget!
We waited to get there. We did. After a looot of rainy days, the lady at our campground finally showed her thumbs up that the following days would be great to explore the island. Since, who wants to miss the unique pristine waters of Lake Mackenzie due to bad weather conditions and swirled up sand? Things like that happen a lot when you travel Australia in fall – check out our post on managing travel expectations if you want to know more.
As soon as you decide to go to Fraser Island with your kids, you will be spoilt for choice. Mainly three companies offer guided tours. No matter what company you choose, it is all going to be about the same price for a day-tour (AUD 200 per adult and AUD 140 for kids aged 4-14). Also they all come to pick you up at your location, offer lunch as well as tea and start from Hervey Bay and/or Rainbow Beach early in the morning.
Guided Tour: Which Company Should I Choose?
The first company I want to tell you about is called Tasman Venture, offering tours they call “Fraser Remote”. They operate only from Hervey Bay. Other than the two bus companies, family run Tasman Venture takes you to Fraser Island by a twelve meter catamaran. They drop you off right on the untouched west coast beach with their amphibious boat. That’s where none of the other tours go to, simply because there are no streets to get there. You will climb up sanddunes, collect coffee rocks, walk through and swim in crystal clear creeks, go kayaking, snorkeling and tube riding.
This remote tour was by far the best and unforgettable for us. Even though we didn’t get to go snorkeling because of bad views due to twirled up waters after the rain. Thinking about it, our day with this operator was one of the best tours of the whole trip along the Australian East Coast. Highly recommended!
It combines just the right amount of nature experience with sports and some adrenaline too. I’m sure the whale experience they offer is one of a kind, too. But we were there off season, so I cannot say much about that. Getting to the island by boat takes you about one hour, and it’s a pretty comfy way to travel. Our guide was not only really nice and funny but also very knowledgeable.
Fraser Explorer vs. Fraser Experience
But yes, true, if you travel to Fraser Island with kids for the first time, you do not want to miss the well-known touristic must-sees.
The best-known operator definitely is Fraser Explorer. They offer big 4WD busses for maybe 40 – 50 people, whereas Fraser Experience has smaller busses for about 20 people, but is less comfortable. The price already includes the barge to the island. Altogether, getting to Fraser Island by bus from Hervey Bay takes about 45 minutes (excluding waiting times), depending on where you get on.
The day-tours they offer are pretty much identical and include all of the “must-sees” (except for the Indian Head Champagne Pools, which are too far north and only bookable on a two-day-tour): 75 Mile Beach, Eli Creek, the MS Maheno shipwreck, the Pinnacles, Central Station, a bushwalk and, of course, Lake Mackenzie.
Fraser Explorer will not carry children below the age of 4. Children between four and seven years of age require a booster seat. Not sure how strict they are about this, since Fraser Experience (the ones we chose) claim to have the same policy on their website, but took our three-year-old without even questioning. Also Fraser Experience are the only ones who don’t have requirements concerning children from ages four to seven. Don’t know if that’s all good, but it worked out for us.
We finally chose a combined two – day tour with Tasman Venture and Fraser Experience for our Fraser Island with kids tour. We went with Experience since we preferred smaller groups of people and wanted to escape the feeling of mass tourism. The bus tours altogether are tightly organised and follow a strict schedule in order to be able to show you all the sights the island has to offer.
Looking back, I would not decide for this company again. Although there was nothing to really complain about, these were the downsides:
The bus was really worn down and far away from being comfortable. We sat on the back seats (because we were the last ones to get on the bus) and got bucketed about a lot. And it does get really, really bumpy!
Actually, I don’t mean bumpy, I mean we almost flew across the bus several times. It was so bad that Florian and Julian got motion sickness. Fortunately, they were able to trade seats with fellow travelers in the front, so they could sit next to the driver. But it wasn’t only us in the back seats, everybody else had to hold on to something, too. I was laughing a lot in the beginning because it was very funny – but since the way from the barge to the beach took us an hour at least, it quickly got very quiet on the bus.
Nevertheless, Tessa was able to sleep through almost all of the way.
Organisation of Timetable
We had very little time at most of the sights, but then spent two hrs at Central Station, which is nothing more than an old logging station in the rainforest. Plenty of time to read the information boards about dingoes and then re-read them again. Moreover, we waited for at least 15 minutes at the ferry landing station at the end of the day.
Then again, for Eli Creek we had only 30 minutes. Including morning tea, visiting the bathroom (> 500 m away) and bathing in the creek. And unbelievable 5 minutes for the MS Maheno. Room for improvement here.
He was friendly and knowledgeable, yes. But as entertaining as a tax declaration. Not able to create this laid-back atmosphere somewhere in between of funny and informational that can make friends-for-a-day out of strangers. A thing like that in my opinion can definitely be a game-changer.
To be honest, I do not know what Fraser Explorer tours are like, but I spoke to other travelers and they reported it was an entertaining tour.
Want to Skip The Guided Tour and Go On That 4WD Adventure?
If you are not a really confident and experienced 4WDriver, think twice before going to Fraser Island with kids on your own. Renting the right car is not a problem, but together with the cost for ferry and driving permission, they’re not at all cheaper than the organised tours.
Driving down 75 Mile Beach on your own truly must be an amazing thing, and I admit I was a little jealous watching the 4WDs race through the sand. But getting there and getting back can be a long, dreadful drive. There are some places where, if you get the timing wrong, high-tide will not even let to go back. On our tour we saw two jeeps stuck in the sand – it didn’t look like a lot of fun to me! A lot of time wasted waiting. And getting you out of there will be horribly expensive!
Anyways, considering the limited time you will have with the natural wonders of this island if you take the guided tour: I am convinced a self-drive across the east coast of Fraser Island will be an experience of a lifetime! Just be careful and take your time. I would love to try it one day!
It’s possible to take your ‘video drone‘ with you to shoot some beautiful pictures from up above. Be aware that Fraser Island is an official flight zone for aircrafts. Please do your own research and ask your tourguide whether it’s okay to take off from your spot.
No matter if you choose a guided tour or go on your own, these are the places you should not miss on your trip to Fraser Island with kids:
75 Mile Beach
It’s a blast! Of course even more so if you go on your own 4 WD, but also on the bus it’s a great experience! The beach actually is an official Australian highway with a speed limit of 80 km/h. Enjoy stunning views across this wide-open beach. Only sand and the ocean in shimmering lights as far as you can see. Watch other cars go by, see the waterdrops from the tires spray up in the air. Not to mention the planes that start and land here for scenic flights.
You might even spot a dingo relaxing on the beach – we did! Definitely the greatest highway I have ever been on. No picture can describe the magnificence and superiority of this beach, it just opens up your heart! No matter how uncomfortable the bus seats might be.
As I said, only 30 minutes time here to take our morning tea and walk around a little. No time to explore anywhere beyond the toilets. However, since the stroll to the bathrooms (which were pretty much ok) with two small kids does take some time, we tried to absorb the surrounding beauty while on our way. A boardwalk takes you along this largest creek of Fraser Island. The fast-flowing waters take out some 80 million liters of cool freshwater to the sea – a day! So if you happen to be able to spend some more time here, take body boards for the kids and yourselves and float down with the stream.
Note: on the west coast of the island, you can visit Wathumba Creek with its small freshwater swimming hole right on the beach. It’s just as stunning as Eli Creek but a lot more natural and away from the crowds. Perfect for the Fraser island with kids adventure!
Maheno Shipwreck and The Pinnacles
Only about a five-minute drive away, the MS Maheno wreck and the colored sands called the Pinnacles are icons of the island. So of course they have to be on our itinerary when visiting Fraser Island.
Maheno was a New Zealand ocean liner crossing between Australia and New Zealand in the early 20th century. Also used during World War I as a hospital ship, it was bound for Japan to a shipbreaker’s yard in 1935. On its way a cyclone hit the ship and it stranded on the beach of Fraser Island. Ever since, sand and saltwater have done their work and the shipwreck is destined to be eaten up by nature. Nice true tale here!
It’s a good location to take pictures, thanks to the rusty colors that shimmer in the sun. Also, the sheer size of the ship and the “damage” nature has done so far really impressed the kids. The look in their eyes when I told them that one day the wreck would be completely gone was priceless!
The colored sands are – well, colored sands. Not very spectacular when you see them in reality, and definitely not the biggest ones I have seen. Butchulla women, the native Aboriginal tribe on Fraser Island, consider the place a sacred ground though. This is the “tale of the creation of the Pinnacles“:
“There was a young woman called Wuru, who was promised to be married to an older man named Winyer. However she has fallen in love with Wiberigan, the Rainbow serpent. One day Winyer followed the two and saw them at the beach. In his jealous rage Winyer threw his boomerang at Wuru, but Wiberigan protected her and was struck himself. The Rainbow serpent shattered into thousand pieces, which fell on the earth colouring the cliffs. Wuru escaped unharmed. Ever since the Pinnacles colourful sands are known to be a place of good luck for the Butchulla women.” by wanderluststorytellers.com
Kayaking Fraser Island
This tour of the almost untouched West Coast was my favorite experience on Fraser Island with kids. Get on your kayak – Tasman Venture offers single person kayaks as well as double and family ones. Our guide told us all there is to know about the flora and fauna around Awinya Creek. Repellents are provided, because mosquitos are all over the place.
Apart from that, this tour somewhat seems like stepping into another world. You slowly glide through the shallow cool water as it searches its way through mangrove trees and swamps. Sunlight breaks through the treetops. You know that not so many people have been here before and for whatever reason only dare to whisper. Tree branches are hanging close above the water’s edge, every once in a while forcing you to duck your head. Some mangroves are alive, some are dead. It’s quiet, the atmosphere is kind of spooky, but in a good way. I feel like I’m in an ancient era and wouldn’t be surprised if a dinosaur popped up. Can you be sure there are no crocodiles around?
The main reason many people come to Fraser Island is to see Lake Mackenzie. It’s the best-known of the 40 perched lakes of Fraser Island. They are unique because their water supply solely comes from up above. Rainwater. The lake is crystal clear, amazingly clean and of truly stunning colors. Right at the shore the water seems transparent, only to transform into turquoise and finally into a deep royal blue. Surrounded by finest white, always cool and comfy pure silica sand and rainforest, it’s a picture perfect location. And reality does live up to the pictures here. Only thing is that the lake is a lot smaller than I thought it would be.
The silica sand squeezes below my feet as I walk into the water and go for a short swim while the kids start building sandcastles and run in and out of the water. Below my feet must be the coffee rocks, these rock-like formations of indurated impermeable sands that build the grounds of the lake.
Central Station and Wangoolba Creek
Central Station was the center of Fraser’s Forestry Operations from the 1920s to the late 50s, when the beautiful jungle trees were being cut down. Thanks to the not so advanced industry those days there is still a lot of this unique rainforest left today. The only rainforest worldwide growing on sand!
These days Central Station and Wangoolba Creek are used for bushwalks and education about dingoes as well as the rainforest itself. Take the 1 km bushwalk along the creek. I was overwhelmed with the crystal clear, completely transparent water. If it weren’t for its own reflection, small water cringles or a leaf floating down the creek, I would not have been able to actually see the water! At first glance I had the feeling that this creek is really dirty with mud swimming on the surface. But what I actually did see was the sand on the ground! Hard to explain, I guess you have to see it to believe it.
The kids entertained themselves with the dingo safety information boards and took a glimpse into the old buildings.
Adrenaline Rush On Fraser Island With Kids
Last but not least, to round up our remote Fraser Island experience and since we were not able to go snorkeling that day, all of us went for the tube riding. It was a lot of fun for the whole family, and we could all sit on the tube together. Short though, maybe about five to ten minutes, but more than enough for our little girl. She suddenly started sobbing, then crying that she wanted to go home. Luckily this happened towards the end of the ride, Tessa was fine as soon as we got off.
Both kids enjoyed the numerous short rides on the amphibious boat which the crew used to get us from the catamaran to the beach and back. Wind and saltwater in your hair, that’s just perfect, right?
Which islands of Australia’s East Coast have you already visited or want to go to? If you have been to Fraser Island, how did you like it and would you do it again? Did you maybe even go on that 4W selfdrive adventure? Tell us down below!