Paradise Found On Queensland’s Often Overlooked Island
As the cold weather sets in, it’s natural to look north for a winter escape. But while many destinations are too far for a short trip or too small for a whole week, there’s one spot that’s just right. When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (that’s Harry and Meghan) visited Australia last year, their only Queensland stop was World Heritage-listed Fraser Island but you don’t need to share their surname to get the royal treatment.
Over 120km long, it’s the largest sand island in the world but is still visible from the coast and the regular ferries take less than an hour so getting there is simple. It’s home to the world’s only rainforest growing on sand and the pristine natural environment provides a wealth of activities to take part in from the base of the eco-friendly Kingfisher Bay Resort. To the Butchulla traditional owners, Fraser Island is known as K’Gari, which means “paradise,” and it’s a fitting name.
The K’Gari Great Walk traverses most of the island over six days, but you don’t need to invest that kind of time to appreciate the island’s sandy beaches, cliffs, dunes and rainforests. From the resort, it’s a two-hour walk to the most famous of Fraser’s hundred-plus lakes. Fringed by soft, snow-white sand with water that’s turquoise from a distance and crystal clear once you hop in, Lake McKenzie looks like it belongs in a travel brochure and Head Ranger Ann Bauer calls it the “the jewel of Fraser Island.”
Though the biggest crowds arrive in summer, with a water temperature of 24 degrees it’s still perfect for swimming in during winter and it doesn’t just look good, either – thanks to the aquifer beneath the island and the fine sand that acts as a filter, the island’s lakes boast some of the purest water in the world.
Further afield, 4WD tracks crisscross the rainforest and regular tours pass through the island’s interior and along the flat sand “highway” of 75-mile beach to Eli Creek, where you can float downstream between swaying pandanus palms towards the ocean.
Fraser Island was a place of abundance for the traditional Butchulla owners, and if you know where to look, it still is. The Bush Tucker Talk and Taste experience show guests how to find and use native plants like warrigal greens, midyim berries and lemon myrtle, which can be added to water bottles for a refreshing citrus tang. And because these ingredients are grown within the resort grounds and hand-picked daily by chefs, you don’t need to join a tour to see the results.
The degustation menu at the fine-dining Seabelle restaurant consists of five courses featuring local produce like kangaroo, scallops, crab and pineapples and changes every five months. Executive chef Udaysen Mohite uses each menu change to “think of new and creative ways to utilise bush tucker, drawing on indigenous techniques and infusing these elements with modern culinary influences.” That fusion is evident in the signature dish, paperbark-wrapped North Queensland barramundi with macadamia nuts and lemon myrtle served with a tomato, lemon aspen, wild lime and munthari berry salsa.
Whether you need to rejuvenate the mind and body after hiking around the island or simply want a relaxing break, there’s a range of rest and relaxation remedies at the Island Day Spa. Before you even unpack, you can book an express back massage to work out any knots or tension from travelling while your bags are delivered to the room. And while there’s phone reception at the resort and a few spots around the island, it’s easy to swap constant notifications for the sounds of the rainforest and turn your stay into a digital detox.
But even while relaxing, it’s important to stay mindful. Spa manager Bridgette Hogan recommends staying aware of the strong UV rays when you’re lounging at the beach or pools, even during winter.
It’s easy to replace the urban jungle with a real one thanks to the walking trails that lead through wetland habitats and rainforests rich in bird and plant life – K’Gari boasts over 350 species of birds, some flying in from as far away as Siberia. If you’d prefer to see the marine life for which the region is famous, ranger-guided canoe trips travel through mangrove estuary systems rich in rays, turtles, fish and bird life.
But the most famous visitors are the southern humpbacks that rest in the sheltered waters between August and October. Regular whale-watching cruises depart during these months to watch them play and raise their calves, and guests can even swim with them. After more than two decades on the island, Bauer still finds it “an absolutely breathtaking experience, witnessing these gentle giants up close.”
(Lead image: Lake McKenzie / James Knight and Matthew Coles)
Published 05 July, 2019