The island has rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove forests, wallum and peat swamps, sand dunes and coastal heaths. It is made up of sand that has been accumulating for approximately 750,000 years on volcanic bedrock that provides a natural catchment for the sediment which is carried on a strong offshore current northwards along the coast. Unlike on many sand dunes, plant life is abundant due to the naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi present in the sand, which release nutrients in a form that can be absorbed by the plants. Fraser Island is home to a small number of mammal species, as well as a diverse range of birds, reptiles and amphibians, including the occasional saltwater crocodile. The island is protected in the Great Sandy National Park.
Fraser Island has been inhabited by humans for as much as 5,000 years. Explorer James Cook sailed by the island in May 1770. Matthew Flinders landed near the most northern point of the island in 1802. For a short period the island was known as Great Sandy Island. The island became known as Fraser due to the stories of a shipwreck survivor named Eliza Fraser. Today the island is a popular tourism destination. Its resident human population was 194 at the 2011 Australian Census.
In 2009 as part of the Q150 celebrations, the Fraser Island was announced as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for its role as a "Natural attraction".
Fraser Island is separated from the mainland by Great Sandy Strait. The southern tip, near Tin Can Bay, is situated to the north of Inskip Peninsula. The most northern point of the island is Sandy Cape where the Sandy Cape Light operated from 1870 to 1994. The establishment of the lighthouse was the first permanent European settlement on the island. The nearest large town to Fraser Island is Hervey Bay, while Maryborough and Bundaberg are also close by. The bay on the north east coast is called Marloo Bay and on the north west coast is Platypus Bay. The most westerly place on the island is Moon Point.
Eli Creek is the largest creek on the east coast of the island with a flow of 80 million litres per day. Eli Creek has its own unique and varied wild life. Coongul Creek on the west coast has a flow rate of four to five million litres per hour. Some of the swamps on the island are fens, particularly near Moon Point. This was only discovered in 1996 when a group of experts who had attended a Ramsar conference in Brisbane flew over the island and conducted an aerial survey. From above they noticed the distinct patterns of potholed peat which are devoid of trees. This was the first instance of fens found in Australia and in a sub-tropical region, although more were subsequently found on the adjacent Cooloola coast.
The total volume of sand above sea level on Fraser Island is directly proportional to the mass of 113 cubic kilometres (27 cubic miles). All of the sand, which originated in the Hawkesbury, Hunter and Clarence River catchments in New South Wales has been transported north by longshore transport. Along the eastern coast of the island the process is removing more sand than it is depositing, resulting in the slow erosion of beaches which may accelerate with sea level rises attributed to climate change. The sand consists of 98% quartz.
All hills on the island have been formed by sandblowing. Sandblows are parabolic dunes which move across the island via the wind and are devoid of vegetation. In 2004, there was an estimated total of 36 sandblows on the island. With year-round south-easterly wind, the sand dunes on the island move at the rate of 1 to 2 metres a year and grow to a height of 244 metres. The dune movement creates overlapping dunes and sometimes intersects waterways and covers forests. Dune-building has occurred in episodes as the sea levels have changed and once extended much further to the east. The oldest dune system has been dated at 700,000 years, which is the world's oldest recorded sequence.
The coloured sands found at Rainbow Gorge, The Cathedrals, The Pinnacles and Red Canyon are examples of where the sand has been stained over thousands of years due to the sand conglomerating with clay. Hematite, the mineral pigment responsible for the staining acts like cement. This allows the steeper cliffs of coloured sand to form. Coffee rock, so-called because when it is dissolved in water it turns the colour of coffee, is found in outcrops along the beaches on both sides of the island.
The 120 kilometres (75 mi) beach runs along most of the east coast of Fraser Island. It is used as a landing strip for planes and is officially designated as a main road (highway rules state that vehicles must give way to aircraft if they are oncoming). Along the beach are the Champagne Pools, Indian Head, the Maheno Wreck and the outflow of Eli Creek. Exposed volcanic rocks are found at Indian Head, Waddy Point and Middle Rocks as well as near Boon Boon Creek.
Fraser Island has over 100 freshwater lakes, as well as the second highest concentration of lakes in Australia after Tasmania. The freshwater lakes on Fraser Island are some of the cleanest lakes in the world. A popular tourist area is Lake McKenzie which is located inland from the small town of Eurong. It is a perched lake sitting on top of compact sand and vegetable matter 100 metres (330 ft) above sea level. Lake McKenzie has an area of 150 hectares and is just over 5 metres (16 ft) in depth. The beach sand of Lake McKenzie is nearly pure silica. The lakes have very few nutrients and pH varies, though sunscreen and soaps are a problem as a form of pollution. Freshwater on the island may become stained by organic acids found in decaying vegetation. Because of the organic acids a pH level as low as 3.7 has been measured in some of the island's perched lakes. The acidity prevents many species from finding habitat in the lakes.
Another perched lake on the island is Lake Boomanjin, which at 200 hectares in size, is the largest perched lake on the sea islands in the world. In total there are 40 perched lakes on the island, half of all known lakes of this kind on the planet. Lake Boomanjin is fed by two creeks that pass through a wallum swamp where it collects tannins which tint the water red. Lake Wabby is the deepest lake on the island, at 12 metres (39 ft) in depth and also the least acidic which means it has the most aquatic life of all the lakes.
Some of the lakes on Fraser Island are window lakes. These form when the water table has risen to a point higher than the surrounding land. Most of the valleys on the islands have creeks which are fed by springs. Motor boats and jet skis are banned from the island's lakes.
Fraser Islands climate is generally mild and is not subject to extremes in temperature due to the moderating influence of the ocean. Temperatures rarely rise above 35 °C (95 °F) or drop below 5 °C (41 °F) and humidity is consistently high. Rainfall is heaviest during the summer and early autumn, and the annual average is 1,271 mm (50.04 in). Cyclones can be a threat; Cyclone Hamish brushed the island as a category 5 in March 2009, while Cyclone Oswald in January 2013 was significantly weaker at a Category 1. Both storms however caused severe beach erosion, particularly on the islands northern tip.
Estimates of the number of mammal species present on the island range from 25 to 50. Mammals found on Fraser Island include swamp wallabies, echidnas, ringtail and brushtail possums, sugar gliders, squirrel gliders, phascogales, bandicoots, potoroos, flying foxes and dingoes. The swamp wallaby finds protection from dingos in the swampy areas which have dense undergrowth. There are 19 species of bats which live on or visit Fraser Island.
Until 2003, when they were removed by the Environmental Protection Agency, there were a few brumbies (horses) on the island, descendants of Arab stock turned loose for breeding purposes, and joined in 1879 by horses brought over for the logging industry.
Dingoes were once common on the island, but are now decreasing. The Fraser Island dingoes are reputedly some of the last remaining pure dingoes in Eastern Australia and to prevent cross-breeding, dogs are not allowed on the island. According to DNA-examinations from the year 2004, the dingoes on Fraser Island are "pure". However, skull measurements from the 1990s detected crossbreeds between dingoes and domestic dogs among the population.
Up until 1995, there were no official records of dingoes attacking humans on Fraser Island. In April 2001, a boy named Clinton Gage wandered away from his family and was attacked and killed by several dingoes. Over 120 dingoes were killed by rangers as a result of the incident, though locals believe the number was much greater. After the 2001 attack, four dedicated rangers were allocated dingo management roles and ranger patrols were increased. There are fines for feeding dingoes or leaving food and rubbish out which may attract them.
As of January 2008, the number of dingoes on the island was estimated to be 120 to 150, and sightings have become less common. A University of Queensland researcher, Nick Baker, claims the dingoes on Fraser Island have adopted unusual behaviour. Rather than hunt in small packs, Fraser Island dingoes had developed a tolerance for each other and work together in one big hunting pack. Dingo-proof fences, consisting of metals bars across a concrete pit and a 1.8 m high mesh fence were built around nine island settlements in 2008, to keep the dingoes out of the townships.
In late 2009, a former ranger (no actual formal records of him being employed by QPWS can be found) on the island, Ray Revill, claimed 70% of the dingo population, which was then estimated at between 100 and 120 animals, was malnourished. In March 2010, three separate reports of dingos biting tourists were made. Tourists have been criticised for ignoring advice from park rangers as they try to provoke reactions from dingoes while taking photographs.
As of 2015, the number of dingoes on the island was estimated to be around 180 to 220.
There has been a total of 74 different species of reptiles recorded on Fraser Island. 18 species of snakes have been identified with one third of them considered dangerous, including the extremely venomous eastern brown snake. Goannas, snakes, geckos, skinks and frogs are all present on the island. Some frog species have evolved to cope with the acidic waters of lakes and swamps on the island, and are appropriately called acid frogs. The island is home to the recently discovered Fraser Island sand skink. Freshwater turtles such as Kreffts river turtle are found in the island's lakes and creeks.
Saltwater crocodiles are exclusively tropical reptiles and usually found in Far North Queensland (several hundred kilometres north-west of Fraser Island), however, occasionally during the warmer season (December through March, when water temperatures reach consistent tropical temperatures) crocodiles may appear in areas in and around Fraser Island. During the 2008–2009 summer several crocodiles (one over 4 metres in length) were present in the surrounding ocean. It is thought that these reptiles are seasonal visitors, as they always disappear during the cold months (presumably returning to tropical northern Queensland.) This sort of activity was apparently reported but unverified decades ago (a handful of crocodiles have also historically been observed on very rare occurrences around Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast during the warmer season) but within recent years has been proven and observed more often. Crocodiles do not breed nor do they appear to have any permanent populations living on Fraser Island.
Fraser Island forms part of the Cooloola and Fraser Coast Important Bird Area (IBA). There are over 350 different species of birds on the island. Birds of prey include sea eagles, peregrine falcon, osprey and kites. Other common birds include pelicans, terns, honeyeaters, gulls, kingfishers, kookaburra, owls, doves, thornbills, ducks, brolgas, and cockatoos. The island is visited by 20 species of migratory wader birds from as far afield as Siberia. The island provides habitat for 22 different species of gull and tern, four species of falcon and six species of kingfisher. A rare bird on the island is the eastern ground parrot, already extinct in some parts of Australia.
Cetaceans, such as humpback whales and some species of dolphins are frequent visitors to the area. Dugongs and sea turtles can also be found in surrounding waters. Great white, bull and tiger sharks can be found, with the latter species sometimes approaching fishermen wading in the surf. Mud crabs are found on the western side of the island near mangrove-lined estuaries. 24 freshwater fish species are found in the island's lakes.
There has been 300 species of ants recorded on Fraser Island. Long finned eels and giant earthworms are also found on the island.
The flora of Fraser Island is diverse. More than 865 species of plants thrive on the island. It is the only place on earth where tall rainforest grows in sand. The island contains the largest extent of wallum heath remnants in Queensland. In Pile Valley, 1,000-year-old rough-barked satinays are found. Despite being logged the kauri pines dominate in some areas. Scribbly gums, red gums, piccabeen palms, blue quandong, brush box and pandanus all grow on Fraser Island. Along the coast, the foredunes are dominated by salt-tolerant species which includes pigface, goats foot vine and beach spinifex. Spinifex sericeus is an important foundation species. Decayed matter from this dune grass breaks down in the sand, providing vital nutrients for other plant species, such as the beach oak. The rare Angiopteris evecta, a species of fern that has the largest fronds in the world, grows on Fraser Island. The southwest coast is dominated by mangroves. Persoonia prostrata was a shrub native to the island which is now extinct.
As one travels from east to west across the island, the dune age increases. This leads to the progressive maturing of vegetation in the same direction, except for some areas along the western coast where soil leaching has decreased the nutrient soil layer to a depth beyond the reach of plant roots. Each lake on Fraser Island is surrounded by concentric vegetation zones. Typically these zones range from rushes in the shallows, then a mix of pioneer species on the beaches, through to sedges, heath, paperbarks, shrubs and finally eucalypt or banksia woodlands.
Fraser Island is part of the local government area Fraser Coast Region, which was created in March 2008 as a result of the report of the Local Government Reform Commission released in July 2007. Before the local government reorganisation, the island was split up evenly between the City of Hervey Bay (northern part) and the City of Maryborough (southern part).
Fraser Island South is Local Area 8 of the City of Maryborough, and includes the existing village community of Eurong, the Kingfisher Bay Resort, and Dilli Village.
In 1971, the northern half of the island was declared a national park. Now almost all of Fraser Island is included in the Great Sandy National Park, which is administered by Queensland's Environmental Protection Agency. This was extended in 1992 when heritage listing was granted. Except for a few small urban areas the island is protected by a Wild Rivers declaration.
Domestic dogs are not permitted on the island and fines can be given for non-compliance. The ban, first applied in 1981, is imposed so that the island's dingo population is not exposed to diseases.
In 2010, the management of the park, particularly the treatment of dingoes by the Department of Environment and Resource Management was called into question by Glen Elmes in the Queensland Parliament. Camp grounds are sometimes closed so as to reduce human contact with dingo populations.
Fraser Island has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:
The island was placed on the Australian National Heritage List on the 21 May 2007.
The earliest known name of the island is 'K'gari' in the Butchulla people's language (pronounced 'Gurri'). It means paradise.
According to Aboriginal legend, when humans were created and needed a place to live, the mighty god Beiral sent his messenger Yendingie with the goddess K’gari down from heaven to create the land and mountains, rivers and sea. K’gari fell in love with the earth’s beauty and did not want to leave it. So Yendingie changed her into a heavenly island – Fraser Island.
The name Fraser Island comes from Eliza Fraser and her story of survival from a shipwreck on the island. Captain James Fraser and his wife, Eliza Fraser, were shipwrecked on the island in 1836. Their ship, the Stirling Castle, set sail from Sydney to Singapore with 18 crew and passengers. The ship was holed on coral while travelling through the Great Barrier Reef north of the island. Transferring to two lifeboats, the crew set a course south, attempting to reach the settlement at Moreton (now Brisbane). During this trip in the lifeboats, Captain Fraser's pregnant wife gave birth in the leaking lifeboat. The infant died soon after birth. The Captain's lifeboat was becoming more and more unseaworthy and was soon left behind by the other lifeboat which continued on. The sinking boat and its crew was beached on what was then known as the Great Sandy Island. Whether the survivors died due to disease, hunger, exhaustion or battles with the native population will never be known for sure; most likely a little of all of the above. Captain Fraser died leaving Eliza living among the local peoples. She was rescued 6 weeks after being shipwrecked by a convict, John Graham, who had lived in the bush as an escapee, and who spoke the Aboriginal language. He was sent from the settlement at Moreton by the authorities there who had heard about Eliza's plight, and negotiated her return. Within 6 months, Eliza had married another sea captain. She moved to England and became a sideshow attraction in Hyde Park telling ever more lurid tales about her experiences with white slavery, cannibalism, torture and murder. As she is known to have told several versions of the story, it is unknown which version is the most accurate. She was killed in a carriage accident in Melbourne in 1858 during a visit.
Archaeological research and evidence shows that Aboriginal Australians occupied Fraser Island at least 5,000 years ago. There was a permanent population of 400–600 that grew to 2,000–3,000 in the winter months due to abundant seafood resources. The arrival of European settlers in the area was an overwhelming disaster for the Badtjala people. European settlement in the 1840s overwhelmed the Aboriginal lifestyle with weapons, disease and lack of food. By the year 1890, Aboriginal numbers had been reduced to only 300 people. Most of the remaining Aborigines, the Badtjala tribe, left the island in 1904 as they were relocated to missions in Yarrabah and Durundur, Queensland. It is estimated that up to 500 indigenous archaeological sites are located on the island.
In October 2014, Native title rights were granted to the Badtjala people by the Federal Court. This essentially enabled the indigenous people to hunt, fish and take water for domestic purposes; and could open the island up to economic opportunities for current and future generations of Butchulla people through ecotourism and related business development.
Initial European contact was limited to explorers and shipwrecks. The first recorded European to sight Fraser Island was James Cook who passed along the coast of the island between 18 and 20 May 1770. He named Indian Head after viewing a number of Aboriginal people gathered on the headland. After Cook's passage the Aboriginals composed a song to commemorate the event. This was later recognized as the first preserved oral testimony of indigenous observation of Europeans. Matthew Flinders sailed past the island in 1799, and again in 1802, this time landing at Sandy Cape, while charting Hervey Bay. His 1814 chart is a combination of both voyages, but did not confirm Fraser Island as being separate from the mainland. However, Flinders did suggest the presence of shallow swampy areas at the lower part of the bay. Flinders was told of an opening at Hook Point, between Fraser Island and the mainland, by two American whalers who were hunting whales in Hervey Bay. In 1842, Andrew Petrie discovered good pastoral lands and forests, attracting graziers to the island. Lieutenant Robert Dayman was the first European to sail between Fraser Island and the mainland in 1847.
Logging on the island began in 1863, initiated by American Jack Piggott (known as 'Yankee Jack'). Blackbutt trees (Eucalyptus pilularis), Queensland kauri (Agathis robusta) and satinay or Fraser Island turpentine (Syncarpia hillii) were extensively exploited as they provided excellent timber. Satinay logs were sent to Egypt to be used in the construction of the Suez Canal. For the first 70 years of logging, bullock drays were used to haul the timber to loading points on the beach. Railway tracks were laid through the forest to facilitate logging, but were later removed. The logging industry continued until 1991, ceasing following concerns raised by the Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Region, appointed by the Goss Labor government and chaired by Justice Tony Fitzgerald.
The geological wealth of the island lay in its rich deposits of rutile, ilmenite, zircon and monazite. Sand mining leases were first granted in 1950, and mining continued until 1977. Without public knowledge the Queensland Government granted mining leases to the American mining company Dillingham-Murphyores in the 1960s. In 1971, the Fraser Island Defense Organisation (FIDO) opposed the granting of more leases to the company. Despite more than 1,300 submissions that were made to the local mining warden objecting to new leases, the submission was granted. FIDO took the case to the High Court of Australia which overruled the decision noting that the public interest was not being upheld. Dillingham-Murphyores continued mining. The Whitlam Government established Australia's first environmental impact inquiry which recommended that mining cease. Eventually Malcolm Fraser canceled the company's mineral export license which halted mining on the island. This represented a significant win for the conservation movement in Australia. Fraser Island then became the first place to be included in the Australian Heritage Commission's Register of the National Estate.
A major landmark on Fraser Island is the shipwreck of the S.S. Maheno. The Maheno was built in Scotland in 1905 as a luxury passenger ship for the trans-Tasman crossing. During the First World War she served as a hospital ship in the English Channel, and was then returned to her owners to resume her usual commercial operation. By 1935 the ship had been taken out of service and was sold to a ship-breaker in Japan. On 25 June 1935, while being towed to Osaka to be broken up, she was caught in a strong cyclone about 80 kilometres (50 miles) off the coast of Queensland. The towline parted, and on 9 July 1935 the Maheno became beached on the east coast of Fraser Island.
During the Second World War the wreck served as target bombing practice for the RAAF and was used as an explosives demolition target by special forces from the Fraser Commando School. The remains of the ship are now severely rusted, with almost three and a half storeys buried under the sand. Because of the danger it poses, climbing on the wreck is not permitted.
During World War Two, the area near McKenzie's Jetty was used by the Services Reconnaissance Department (popularly known as "Z Special Unit") as a special forces training camp – the Fraser Commando School. Thousands of soldiers were trained here because the conditions were similar to those found on Pacific Islands where the Japanese were fought. Lake McKenzie was used for parachute training and the wreck of the Maheno was used for explosive demolitions practice.
Visitors to the site of the Fraser Commando School today can still see various relics of its military past including armour plates used to test armour piercing explosive charges and weapons and a concrete relief map of Singapore Harbour used as an aid in operations planning.
As part of ongoing meetings in the United Nations Trusteeship Council on the Conditions in the Trust Territories, the Republic of Nauru expressed concern that its phosphate mining exportation would be depleted by the end of the century, endangering the future of the island. In 1961, Fraser Island was proposed by Australia as a location for the resettlement of the entire population of the Republic of Nauru. The timber industry on Fraser Island managed to ensure that resettlement on Fraser Island did not proceed. In 1964 in the 31st session of United Nations Trusteeship Council meetings it was concluded that Curtis Island could provide a more satisfactory resettlement for the population of Nauru. Nauru rejected the offer of moving the entire population to Curtis Island due to political independence considerations that Australia would not agree to. Although a resettlement never did occur, the Republic of Nauru went on to achieve independence on 31 January 1968.
Estimates of the number of visitors to the island each year range from 350,000 to 500,000. The chance of seeing a dingo in its natural setting is one of the main reasons people visit the island. The use of boardwalks and marked tracks by visitors is encouraged to reduce erosion.
Urinating tourists have created environmental problems in Fraser Island lakes and on coastal dunes. The foredunes are used as a toilet by bush campers, who are estimated to number 90,000 each year. Many of the perched lakes have no outflow or inflow which exacerbates the problem. Water quality in some lakes is being affected by storm water run-off from dune roads, and by swimmers' use of sunscreen.
In April 2009, a vehicle overturned on the beach after being hit by a wave. Two backpackers were killed in the accident. Following the incident speed limits on the beach were reduced from 100 km/h to 80 km/h, and from 40 km/h to 30 km/h inland. Everyone who hires a vehicle on the island from an organisation accredited by the Fraser Coast 4WD Operators Association must attend a one-hour-long briefing on vehicle safety.
"Central Station", which was formerly the hub of the forestry industry when there was logging on Fraser Island, is now a popular tourist destination. Some of the rarest ferns grow in the rainforest near the location.
The island can be reached by a ferry from River Heads (South of Hervey Bay) to Kingfisher Bay and Wanggoolba Creek or Inskip Point to north of Rainbow Beach to Hook Point, or by chartered flight from Maroochydore Airport.
A four-wheel drive is required for all landings (except Kingfisher Bay), and travel on the island (except within the Kingfisher Bay Resort). A permit is required for vehicles and is obtainable on-line from DERM and several outlets at Rainbow Beach. Several firms provide four-wheel drive vehicles for hire. Tour buses travel the island as well as several kinds of self-drive tours departing regularly from Hervey Bay, Rainbow Beach and Noosa.
Tailor is one of the more common species sought by anglers on Fraser Island and along the Queensland coast. Other fish caught on the eastern coast include jewfish, golden trevally and surf bream, while whiting, flathead and surf bream prefer the calmer western waters. Pilchards, bloodworms, yabbies, pipi and sandworms can all be used for bait. Fishing is banned in the island's creeks and lakes.
There are many campgrounds on Fraser Island with varying amenities and access. Permits are required for camping and also for vehicle access.
There are various possibilities for overnight hiking on the island. Most notable is the 90 km long Fraser Island Great Walk. A shorter hike would be for example to start in Kingfisher Bay (ferry drop off) and head to Lake McKenzie, stay there for one night, and then hike back.