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Fraser Island

Fraser Island is about 400km north of Brisbane. Because of the driving time (4-5 hours), to visit the Island from Brisbane you should take at least a 3 day tour. This will be more comfortable and you will see much more of the Island. If you don’t have this much time you should consider North Stradbroke Island which is just off the coast of Brisbane (45 minute ferry ride) and is very similar.  Moreton Island is a 1 hour 45 minute journey from Brisbane and if you aren’t wanting to do sand boarding or snorkelling – give it a miss.

Fraser Island is located off the coast from Hervey Bay and is the largest sand island in the world and the only place on the planet where rainforest grows on sand! Over 120 kilometers long and over 30 kilometers across at its widest point, the Island has developed over 800,000 years and is a unique natural environment. Sand deposited over thousands of years during sea level changes has formed, and still is creating Fraser Island. The island’s sands provide an excellent record of the ageing processes of sand dunes and are an outstanding example of geological and biological processes working together.

With its freshwater lakes, coloured sand cliffs, rainforests growing in sand, crystal-clear creeks and long white beaches, Fraser Island is a truly beautiful place. Fraser Island has at least 40 lakes including half of the world’s perched dune lakes. Lake Boomanjin, the largest perched lake in the world, is one of the islands’ most picturesque.

Fraser Island’s sands support a surprising variety of vegetation from low wallum heath to towering rainforests. In turn, these forests and woodlands provide a home for many animals. More than 300 vertebrate native animal species, mainly birds, live on the island. Fraser Island’s intertidal flats are a favoured stopover for migratory wading birds. There are no koalas or kangaroos on Fraser island.

Fraser Island sits on top of a huge underground reservoir of fresh water.  Much of the 1800 millimetres of rain which falls each year filters through the sand until it is held by the rock base some 30 metres below sea level.  Throughout the island lakes and springs create freshwater streams in profusion, pouring an abundance of clear water unceasingly into the sea on either side.

 Aboriginal history

Named ‘K’gari’ (meaning paradise) Fraser Island was home to the Butchulla people who lived on the island for over 5,500 years. Their heritage is evident in archaeological sites, midden heaps, ceremonial bora rings, and stone implements. European history credits Fraser’s discovery to Captain James Cook. The island was named after Eliza Fraser in remembrance of her dramatic shipwreck. Others say that it was more likely named after Captain Fraser.

Aboriginal spiritual beliefs intimately connect people with the seasons, the land and life on it. Butchulla people have gained their sophisticated knowledge of the island environment over thousands of years, and maintain a strong connection today. Abundant marine life was once a major food source. Shellfish were collected, while fish were speared or ingeniously caught in stone traps that isolated them at low tide. Turtle and dugong were hunted seasonally, and eels, tortoises, waterfowl and eggs were found in waterways. In the forest, foods included birds, berries, sweet banskia nectar and honey from the hives of stingless native bees. Women pounded flour from the roots of bungwall ferns and dug clumps of yams and other bulbs, always returning bulbs to the ground to ensure a future supply.

 There were great seasonal migrations by the Aborigines between the island and the mainland. Fraser Island was more densely populated during the winter months when fish, particularly the sea mullet, were most plentiful. With the change of seasons, the summer territories on the mainland were reoccupied. An estimated Aboriginal population of 2,000-3,000 used Fraser Island during the mullet season. Bark canoes were used to cross Great Sandy Strait. Most canoes were made of a single sheet of bark which was sealed at each end with wax and resin.

First European Contacts with aboriginals

There is evidence that Europeans may have made contact with Fraser Island Aborigines more than 500 years ago. Lead, identified as having come from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), was found in an old buried shore line near Hook Point on Fraser Island, amongst pumice released in about 1500. It may have come from the Christado de Mendonca 1521-22 expedition. His three Portuguese caravelles set off from Malacca (Sumatra), which was then Portuguese territory, to explore what was then nominally Spanish territory in what is now Eastern Australia. Records of Portuguese exploration were lost in the great Lisbon fires of 1755, but maps of Portuguese origin showing Fraser Island as an island survived in Britain and France.

 In 1770 Captain Cook was the first recorded European to sight Fraser Island. Passing northward at a distance of five miles offshore through his telescope Cook “saw several people upon the shore” on a headland (Indian Head). A number of Aborigines had assembled on what they knew as Takky wooroo for a better view of the “Endeavour”. Since at that stage Europeans regarded all “savages” as “Indians”, Cook forthwith named the locality Indian Head.

 Use of Fraser Island’s Resources

In 1842, explorer Andrew Petrie reported good pastoral lands and excellent forests. Settlers arrived, grazing sheep and cattle. Logging of valuable kauri pines began in 1863. After the Gympie goldrush of 1867, demand for timber boomed and logging expanded to become the region’s major industry for more than a century. Relics of timber-cutting camps, sawmills, tramways, jetties, wharves and towns remain today. In the late 1800s, when shipping became important in the region, major lighthouses were built at Sandy Cape (1870) and Double Island Point(1884).

Small-scale mining for heavy minerals began in 1949. Sandmining exploration increased in the 1960s, attracting opposition from conservation-minded groups. Their efforts eventually stopped sandmining in 1976, while logging stopped in 1991. The northern part of the island became a national park in 1971, with more areas added later.

 Residents of surrounding districts have visited the island for recreation since the 1870s, but the first commercial tours and accommodation did not start until the 1930s. Sandmining and logging controversies increased Australian interest in Fraser Island, while the island’s World Heritage listing in 1992 raised its international profile.

Whilst Queensland Day Tours / Goanna Adventures did operate tours to Fraser Island for over 10 years, we now concentrate on the more popular North Stradbroke Island and no longer operate tours to Fraser.