Cooloola & Fraser Island National Park (in 14 Days)
We had been waiting out the Easter school holidays and Public Holiday weekends on the Sunshine Coast/Hinterland not wanting to head towards Fraser Island while it was too busy and trying to get a campsite that we wanted would have been difficult.
After spending a few days in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast it was now time to start heading north. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip with the rough plan being to drive north on the beach to Freshwater for two nights, then onto Inskip Point for two nights before making the crossing to Fraser Island for 8 days. There will be lots of sand driving on this trip and in the back of my mind was the day we managed to overheat the engine in deep sand in South Australia (for that story take a look HERE). So this was to be the first real sand driving we had undertaken towing the trailer since that incident and while we have towed the trailer through lots of sand over the last 18 months there were quite a few nerves before heading onto the beach.
I have split this Blog into a day by day account and then at the end a list of Practical Information that you should be aware of. It’s hard to find all the answers in one place so thought I would give a summary at the end on the things we found out through the visit. There is also a video below of some of the driving highlights…
Day 1 – Noosa to Freshwater
We had checked the tide timetable and knew low tide was at 10:35 so we planned to be on the beach for then which would give us plenty of time before the next high tide. We packed up and headed for a coffee at Tewantin Marina while we waited for low tide. Then onto the Noosa North Shore Car Ferry which was a $14 to get across with the trailer (a car is $7). Travelling through Noosa North Shore was nice and it looked like a good spot for a few days to explore or stay on caravan park next to the beach. However we headed onwards to the third beach cutting, the first only allows a right turn south and the second we presume must not exist anymore or if it does we could not see it. We aired down all 6 tyres to 20 PSI after taking a look at the beach (I would normally go straight to 16 PSI for beach driving in the Land Rover D3 however with all the weight and a firm beach this was not necessary). Getting on was a little soft but not too bad and then it was onto nice hard beach where the speed limit is 80 for most of the run. We drove at around 50km/h which was good for us to soak in the view on the way north. We stopped at Red Canyon for a walk through to stretch the legs before arriving at Freshwater Campsite. There is 15km of beach camping available at Teewah beach however it was pretty windy there and so we opted for Freshwater around 500m behind the dunes. The run up to Freshwater from the Ferry is just over 46KM which in moving time was 1hr 17mins at a very easy pace.
Freshwater Campsite is quite large but must be booked online with parks and wildlife before your visit. We were impressed by the facilities as normally our luxury item in the National Parks is a long drop toilet. Here there is a toilet block with flush toilets and gas powered hot showers ($2 for about 5 mins and you must have a $2 coin or it’s a cold shower). There is also a Telstra phone box! It’s a bit strange seeing the orange glow from the top of the telephone box in the middle of the bush. There is no mobile reception on Telstra, only SOS calls although towards the beach you may get 1 bar.
Day 2 – A day in Freshwater
We stayed for 2 nights at Freshwater and after exploring the beach the day before we decided to walk inland to Poona lake which was a 15.5km round trip. We took the path to Freshwater lake and then started on the Freshwater Circuit before peeling off on the track to Poona Lake. We saw a Python curled up on the trail, one of the biggest we have seen outside the zoo! Lake Poona was lovely so we stopped for a snack and a sit on the beach with a few other people around coming in from the picnic area on the inland Freshwater 4×4 track. On the return leg we carried on the Freshwater circuit thinking we would see Freshwater Lake on our return but the circuit does not go there and leads back to the campsite.
Day 3 – Freshwater to Inskip Point
We packed up at a leisurely pace as we were waiting to be 2 hours before low tide before heading off. A nice drive up the beach to Double Island Point where we parked up and took the walking track up to the lighthouse, certainly worth the hike up for some magnificent views back down the beach. You can’t drive around Double Island Point so we took the Leisha track which was pretty reasonable with soft sand at the entry and exit. Crossing over to the northern side of Double Island Point is so different with the cliffs and narrower sections of beach as you drive north. We can see why you would not want to be around here at high tide as there would be no escape. We had 2 options today either to take the inland track from Freshwater or the beach track and after speaking to the Ranger we took the beach. The inland track is pretty rough and you don’t get to see a lot but the beach side is well worth the trip. We had heard Mudlo Rocks at Rainbow beach were the ones to watch for however at low tide these were no issue for us however conditions change on a daily basis so it’s well worth seeking local advice. Rainbow Beach is a nice spot and especially as we were there at a quiet time, lots of cafes and a few shops to look around. We aired up the tyres and headed down to Inskip Point deciding to camp at M.V. Beagle grabbing a beachside camping spot. There are lots of options for camping along Inskip Point with some being harder to get into than others.
Day 4 – Rainbow Beach
We spent two nights at Inskip Point so we could have an explore around Rainbow Beach. We had a nice walk on the beach and had a good explore as well as catching up on our blogging. The sunsets were just beautiful here and we had an amazing pitch right on the beach.
Day 5 – Inskip Point to Dilli Village (Fraser Island)
We headed back into Rainbow Beach for morning coffee. This worked well as we didn’t want to cross over to Fraser Island until 2 hours before low tide as we wanted to do the full beach run around Hook Point rather than the Inland Track. We headed out towards the Barge and aired down the Tyres to 20 PSI before heading onto the beach. We can see why a few people get stuck just getting on and off the barge from the beach as it’s pretty churned up on the sand and if the tyre pressures are not lowered especially when towing then you are likely to get stuck. The barge trip was pretty easy and only about 10 mins before reaching Fraser. We drove straight out onto the beach and headed north to Dilli Village to setup Camp. We chose Dilli as it’s in the South and gave us a chance to explore this area before heading north. There was only us and the odd other person camping at Dilli which was great. Dilli Campsite is owned by the University and the facilities are very good with hot showers and powered sites.
Day 6 – Ungowa, Central Station & Eurong
We headed inland from Dilli Village across to Ungowa on the west coast. Ungowa had a basic campsite and had much more vegetation next to the ocean. There is an old ruined jetty and boat slipway there. Not a lot else however and we were glad we had not picked Ungowa as one of our campsites which was one of the only ones available during the Easter holidays. We then headed inland to Central Station which was an old logging village set in the rainforest. It’s a good place to have a look around and soak in the history. There are plenty of walks leading from Central Station and we decided to do the Pile Valley Circuit (4.6km circuit) which is well worth the walk along the crystal clear Wanggoolba creek to the rainforest giants. There are lots of mozzies around in most places on Fraser so well worth ensuring you have some repellent on. We then drove out to Eurong which is a lovely drive through different trees which are named along the route before popping out into the Eurong Resort. The tracks today were sandy but firm, lots of root step ups but nothing too challenging apart from a water crossing to Ungowa which Sarah walked first but proved to be easy enough. The Eurong Resort looks a bit tired although it is odd to see a Resort on the beach and the only way in is by 4×4 or plane. We had a coffee in the café which was ok and then headed back south along the beach to Dilli Village.
Day 7 – Southern Lakes & Central Lakes Scenic Drive
Today we headed inland from Dilli village to Lake Boomanjin which is the largest perched lake in the world. There is a tent based fenced camping area here along with a toilet block including showers (although showers were not in operation due to water issues). This lake is part of the great walk that runs from Dilli Village to Happy Valley (90km long). This is one of my favourite lakes on the island which shines a beautiful colour stained by the vegetation. We planned to come back to walk all the way around on a different day.
We then continued north to Lake Benaroon and Lake Birrabeen where we walked down to the beach to experience another beautiful lake which is a lot quieter than Lake McKenzie.
In fact we didn’t really see anybody for the first couple of days until we reached Lake McKenzie which is of course one of the stops on the tourist tick list.
Onwards to Lake McKenzie where we had lunch in the fenced picnic area (you can’t take food down to the beach with the Dingo risk). After lunch we headed down to the lake and Sarah went for a swim (in her wetsuit) while the foreign tourists were in their bikinis. It was a windy and cool day, but on a hot sunny day would be lovely down there.
We then headed past Lake Wabby Lookout turn off. We didn’t have time to go here this day as wanted to make sure we made the tides for heading south to Dilli Village. In reality we realised the tides were not really an issue during our stay but I will mention that more in the practical information section.
Day 8 – Lake Boomanjin Walk & Valley of the Giants
We headed inland again from Dilli Village to Lake Boomanjin where we walked right around the lake which was about 5km (just over an hour) although this is not a designated walk and we didn’t track the distance using the GPS so that’s an estimate. Well worth doing walking around the white sandy beach seeing the lake from all angles.
We then headed back to Dilli Village as it’s slow going on the inland tracks and headed north on the beach to Cornwell’s break to head onto Smith’s road and the right hand turn down to the Valley of the Giants circuit. This road is not marked on most of the free maps you pick up which I will mention in the Practical Information Section. This loop road does not look like many people come down here as it’s quite narrow in sections. We came across a fallen tree which I needed to cut down with my new Silky Saw before we could pass so be prepared for that.
There is a meeting place down here for people on the Great Walk as well as two walks off the 4×4 track which can be easy to miss but do have a walking sign. One of the walks is a 5 minute walk up to a Giant Satinay Tree that needs 7 adults to be able to touch around the trunk. The other walk out is a longer walk which we did not have time to do as it takes quite a long time to get there. Back up to Smith’s road and then onto Postans Road to access the beach again.
Day 9 – Dilli Village to Dundebara
Today we packed up a wet tent although the sun did start to shine. We didn’t rush as we wanted to have a reasonably low tide for the run up north. The beach conditions were good and we stopped at Happy Valley for lunch. Happy Valley was good for a coffee/bowl of wedges and has a general store with fuel. There is also other accommodation at Happy Valley in a fenced area. Onwards north to Dundebara where we found a good site out of the 5 trailer sites that are available. Dundebara campsite is fenced and set a bit back from the beach, it seems pretty popular in terms of the 5 trailer sites so you need to book up early through Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (see practical information below). Dundebara has showers ($2 Coins) and toilets as well as a good water supply which is recommended to boil before drinking although all the locals drink the water from the tap.
Day 10 – Lake Wabby & Lake Garawongera Scenic Drive
Today we headed south on the beach to the track that leads to Lake Wabby nestled in the sandblow and well worth a visit, with its deep green waters. Certainly a lot of the tag-a-long tours come here and head for a swim in the lake as well as sand boarding down the dunes into the lake, although this is not recommended by Parks and Wildlife due to the number of accidents that have occurred.
We then headed north again to join the Lake Garawongera scenic drive which although the info says it’s more of a difficult 4×4 track we found it very similar to all the others. Lake Garawongera is a nice lake to visit for a stroll or a swim with a white sandy beach leading into the lake.
We popped out at Happy Valley and headed north taking in the Maheno Wreck which looks different depending on the weather and today was a good stormy day.
Day 11 – Fraser Island North – Sandy Cape Lighthouse
Today was to be the long trip north so we set off early, well before low tide. First stop was at Indian Head where we walked up to the lookout for amazing views both north and south. Then we pushed onwards past Waddy Point and Orchid Beach. After this point the driving gets more challenging with softer sand in places and then having to cross Ngkala Rocks. The south rocks were fine and we took the inland track over the rocks and through the narrow rock passage appearing on the beach again. The north rocks were more challenging at first as the tide was not out so I attempted the inland track with deep boggy sand. At a tight corner and steep uphill section we got stuck not wanting to go too fast with risk of rollover onto the rocks below. I could have used the Maxtrax to edge forward but not quite sure how it would have worked out. The safe option was to reverse back out using the Maxtrax and then re-evaluate. After 3 uses of the Maxtrax we were out and back on the beach. By this time we realised going around the rocks on the beach would be ok so off we went again. Certainly worth waiting until the rocks are passable on the beach as it’s much easier.
We arrived at a spot just before Sandy Cape where a few people were gathered and it looked like the end of the trip with the vegetation heading into the sea and no way passed. We stopped for lunch and while eating the first group pushed through the sea water hugging the land as much as possible and got through. By the time we finished lunch the passing was much better with the tide heading out so not as deep for us.
After arriving at the start to the lighthouse walk (you can’t drive further) we parked up and headed up the steep track to the Lighthouse. Some great views and well worth the walk up to stretch the legs, we only wish we had more time to explore. We wanted to make sure we headed back on the low tide so off we went. At low tide the drive is much easier with the only real tricky section at Ngkala Rocks and a little bit of deep sand at the beach cuttings.
Day 12 – Maheno Wreck, Kirrar Sandblow & Eli Creek
We started the day with a coffee at Cathedral Beach which is our favourite spot for a coffee on the East Coast. There is no phone reception but you can buy some WiFi for $5 (250MB) which was good to catch up on the outside world and get some jobs done. Then we headed south to walk the Kirrar Sandblow (3km return) where we headed out onto the Sandblow and went around the knoll and back. This is a good sandblow but if you are to do one then the best is tomorrow at the Wungul Sandblow.
Then up to Eli Creek where we braved the cold crystal clear waters and jumped in. It is a 5 minute walk along a boardwalk to the top point of the creek where you can jump in and float down towards the sea. Well worth a go and as some parts are quite shallow an inflatable of some sort would come in useful.
We passed the Maheno Wreck again on the way back which we seemed to pass a few times and it looked different depending on the weather and who was around. Well worth a stop to look at.
Day 13 – Wungul Sandblow, Lake Allom and Champagne Pools
As we were camping at Dundebara the Wungul Sandblow was easily accessible straight from the campsite. We decided to do the Sandblow loop walk which is certainly the best option if you have time (5.5KM, 1hr 30min). The walk takes you through the forest winding up the valley until eventually you pop out of the scrub onto a huge Sandblow. This is certainly the most impressive Sandblow on Fraser and we spent a bit of time exploring it before following the walking posts back to the exit track to return to the campsite.
We then headed south to Lake Allom and completed the short loop walk around the lake. The best bit was seeing the little Turtles by the jetty, there must have been around 8 of them.
Yesterday we had called in at Champagne Pools on the way south for a look and today we wanted to time it 2 hours before low tide when there would still be plenty of water in the pools for a swim. We both jumped into the water which was full of tropical fish and spent a bit of time exploring. Well worth a swim and a visit. I expect this changes each day depending on the tides. I loved the way every evening was different as we drove back to our campsite but each time there were amazing skies.
Day 14 – Dundebara to Hervey Bay
We had packed up most things the day before so a quick final pack and we headed on the long drive south to the Barge, aired up the tyres again and popped to Rainbow Beach for breakfast. After a jet wash of the car and trailer we headed north to Hervey Bay and setup for 3 nights to re-organise ourselves again.
Fraser Island Practical Information
- Driving – We found the driving to be pretty easy as long as you are sensible. Air down the tyres before getting onto Inskip Point for the barge and time your journey for 2 hours either side of low tide. The inland tracks are slow going and you can come across trees that have fallen on the less popular tracks but not technically too challenging. We had good conditions though and if the inland tracks dry up I expect it could be much more challenging. The eastern beach is pretty easy driving although expect some soft deeper sand at the cuttings and then north of Orchid Beach it can be pretty tricky.
- Tide Times & Beach Conditions – After a couple of days we worked out when we could and could not drive on the beach. We tended to wait for high tide and set off on the high knowing it was on it’s way out and then the return journey for the day was very easy. It will depend on how high the high tide is as we had fairly low high tides so were able to do that. Best way is to talk to the locals.
- Camping – Lots of camping options from private sites to national park sites and beach camping. Important point is all camping must be booked prior to your trip as there are no turn up spots. Dundebara is a good base for most things middle and north and Dilli Village was a good base in the south. Next time we come I think the best way to do it is not to Tow and tour around different sites on the island with the Oztent moving around and exploring. This would save a lot of driving back and forwards to see the sights. However it is certainly doable having more of a base although places like Dundebara get booked up really quickly so you need to plan in advance.
- Fuel & Supplies – I was surprised how well stocked the shops were and fuel being readily available. Yes it’s all much more expensive on the island so you don’t want to be buying much but supplies are available if you need them. I took a 20L Jerry Can across but you really don’t need to take lots of fuel when you can buy it on the island to save carrying all that extra weight.
- Maps & Info – It seems that each map has different things on and the best overall is the Hema Map of the island showing all the sights. It’s a bit odd as the national park info map does not have Champagne Pools on but the tourist brochure you pick up does. As there are inconsistencies in the info its best to pick up a few of the maps and go from there.
- Campfires – Only allowed in designated campfire pits on a small number of campsites and you need to bring your own wood. We didn’t end up having a fire so could have not bothered carrying the extra weight.
- Toilets & Showers – There are showers at some sites and if your beach camping you can always call into one to use them. The national park ones require $2 coins for about 3 minutes but seemed pretty good when we used them.
- Water – All the water taps say boil the water first although you can pick up tested drinking water in places like Cathedral Beach where they will charge you on the number of litres you want to fill bottles/tanks etc. We have 2 80L tanks so had no issue with running out of water for the full 14 days.
- Dingos – We did see a few Dingos and there are now lots of information boards up with warnings and quite a few fenced areas to camp in or picnic in. We never had an issue and I don’t think people do as long as they are sensible and follow the guidelines.
- Waste Transfer Stations – These are situated in a number of different areas on the island and are fenced. We hadn’t realised there would be waste transfer areas so this was very easy when out for a day to drop the rubbish off. These are marked on the national parks map.
- Tours – There are lots of ways to see Fraser Island and many tour companies offering different trips if you don’t have your own 4×4