Fraser Island is known for a handful of iconic attractions, but away from the spotlight are some equally amazing scenic highlights.
1. The northern forests
It’s undeniable that Fraser Island’s major headliners – see Lake McKenzie, Lake Boomanjin and various spots off the eastern beach – are warranted in their popularity, but if you headed to Fraser Island in search of seclusion and some robust four-wheel driving opportunities, you won’t find it around those crowd-pullers.
However, as soon as you peel off the island’s main routes and into its northern forests, the tracks become bumpier, the crowds disperse and the adventure really begins. Almost immediately after exiting the eastern beach at Poyungan Valley, the canopy closes in and the going becomes far slower (thanks to impressively deep ruts and soft sand in some sections) than on the wide and well-travelled tracks through the centre of Fraser.
A welcome change for those in search of a fuller off-road experience, the trip through to Lake Garawongera and beyond hints at Fraser’s essence as a wild and spectacular place – and is also proof that the island’s scenic beauty extends beyond its usual highlight reel.
2. Lake Garawongera
There’s such an abundance of pristine lakes on Fraser Island to encounter that, logically, some aren’t as well-known as others. Luckily for those who want to get away from the crowds, there’s Lake Garawongera, a scenic delight that’s hard enough to reach to discourage fair-weather fans and time-poor visitors.
Reeds and melaleucas line the rounded edge of Garawongera, staining its waters the colour of tea that darkens from red to black as the lake deepens. Accessible from the aforementioned track beginning at Poyungan Valley (or more easily from Happy Valley), the drive to the lake cuts through some of the island’s deepest rainforest and along some of its most rugged tracks. Once there, visitors will find fewer competitors for a slice of paradise in and around the lake than at Lake McKenzie, Lake Boomanjin or Lake Birrabeen, which for a relaxing swim or a spot of lunch, can make all the difference.
3. Wanggoolba Creek
Eli Creek gets all the plaudits when it comes to Fraser Island watercourses, but in reality Wanggoolba Creek is more pristine and picturesque. Lined with ferns that hearken back to the age of the dinosaurs (both literally and figuratively), the creek’s water is so clear that it’s impossible to see when sunlight isn’t bouncing off its glassy surface, allowing you to see straight to its rippled sandy base.
Granted, swimming is not allowed in Wanggoolba, however such is its beauty that this rule not only feels justified but calculated; respecting it heightens the reverence that visitors have for this special place, so in making a trip to Wanggoolba all the more meaningful.
The creek can be accessed from Central Station, which was once the base for the island’s logging operations, and at one point had such a population that a school was built for the loggers’ children. Today there’s a picnic area, plenty of information boards on the development and natural properties of the island, as well as a boardwalk that runs parallel to the creek - allowing you to soak in its ethereal atmosphere as you stroll beside it.
4. Fraser Island’s Great Walk
On Fraser Island, there are places you can reach in a tour bus, there are places you can reach in your own 4WD, and there are places you can only reach on foot. On the Fraser Island Great Walk, visitors can experience all of the above on an ambulatory immersion into the world’s largest sand island.
Traversing almost the entirety of Fraser Island, this 90km-long walk can take anywhere from five to eight days, depending on your pace. Walking not only results in more time to absorb the island’s diverse range of environs, but it also puts you in the path of some attractions that vehicles can’t reach. After cutting through the swamp and wallum heath of the island’s south and then beyond the southern and central lakes, a trip across Badjala Sandblow is a unique experience, as is the sight of overgrown logging camps near Bogimbah Creek after leaving the Valley of the Giants.
5. The Valley of the Giants
Deep in the vegetated heart of Fraser Island is an almost-mythical rainforest with an equally imposing name: The Valley of the Giants. A place where the canopy seems to swallow the sun and the undergrowth runs rampant across the forest floor, it’s unsurprising to discover that Fraser Island’s oldest and tallest timbers reside here.
The most impressive examples are the giant satinay trees - which are endemic to Fraser Island and the Cooloola Coast – that reach with 1200-year-old limbs over 40 metres skyward. Driving through a tight and sometimes-overhanging track, and with ancient rainforest crowding around you from every side, a journey around the loop track through the valley is a special experience.