“Australia is invigorating, because you’re usually 10 meters from something that can kill you.”
This is how guide Peter Meyer began my two days on Fraser Island, the world’s biggest sand island, and UNESCO world Heritage site. Peter regaled me and my fellow tour group members (who came from the US, Germany, and France) with Aussie legends and endless factoids about the island (and really about everything…did you know that wombats have square poop? Did you know that finding rare whale vomit on the beach can make you a millionaire? Neither did I). A nearly 15-year resident of the island, with seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm for the place he loves, Peter is also a professional photographer plus naturalist, snake handler (in keeping with Australian male stereotypes), and off-road vehicle driver, while leading tours.
Fraser is a massive sand island off the coast of Hervey Bay, Queensland, where I went whale watching. A sand island? That means–you guessed it–the island is made entirely of sand, no soil. The coasts of the island of surrounded in stunning beaches (popular with fishermen, campers, and 4WDs, but not recommended for swimming thanks to riptides, sharks, and jellyfish), the interior of the island has sand-grown rainforests, migrating dunes, and gorgeous lakes with white sand beaches (no soil=pristine dirt-free lakes).
Along the way we passed many an SUV stuck in the sand for hours. The beach along the coast is known as the “75-mile Highway,” and is so popular with SUVs that there are actually speed limits posted. Many of Fraser’s highlights lie along this coast–the shipwreck of the Moheno (a vessel washed up in 1935 en route to Japan), the “Indian Head” overlook, a good place for spotting whales and sharks in the ocean below, the “Pinnacles” colored sands, and some giant inland dunes, great for jumping and getting sunburnt.
But the real highlight of Fraser is its biodiversity. In the tidal pools along the beach, you can see anemones, sea squirts, crabs, and other shallow water creatures. Jellyfish and sea snakes wash up on the beach. Inland, the dingo is king–there are strict protocol set up to dispose of trash to try to keep their human contact to a minimum. Dingos cohabit with kookaburras, freshwater eels, goannas, and pythons (all of which I saw during the trip). We saw so many animals on Fraser that I’ll even save those photos for another post.
What Peter said at the start of our trip was certainly true on Fraser. Every time I turned around there was a giant lizard camoflaged underfoot, or a crab scuttling into the surf. It was here that the preconceptions I had about Australia–of a slightly wild place, where bizarre animals live in every puddle, and people pick up snakes and drive off-road at full speed–held true. Of course, the whole country is not about crocodile hunting and adventure seeking, but my time on Fraser Island allowed me to indulge that fantasy for a few days before discovering the more-refined city life in Sydney.