I have always been obsessed with the nature programmes of David Attenborough, and enthralled by their exploration of the weird and wonderful world that we live in. The sheer number of creatures that have yet to be discovered, and the beautiful landscapes which remain largely untouched by mankind, never cease to amaze me.
Therefore, it was Attenborough who sprang to mind when I recently visited Fraser Island, approximately 200km North of Brisbane off the East coast of Australia. I was fairly ignorant about what lay in store for me, initially thinking that we could just pop across in our rental car and explore the island at leisure. Wrong! Fraser is the biggest sand island in the world, with some of the sand dunes reaching almost 250m above sea level and going deeper than most deserts. This means that only four wheel drives are permitted or else you’ll get stuck – sometimes for up to four days according to our guide, as the tracks are one-way only!
Measuring 120km by 24km, Fraser Island is home to over a hundred freshwater lakes. In turn, forty of these are “perched” lakes, meaning they sit above the ground-water table; in layman’s terms, imagine a giant puddle gradually filling up with rainwater to create a lake. The water is essentially stagnant, but is still so clean that it acts as a natural cleanser for the body, while the lake sand is nearly pure silica. Each grain of sand can also be described as a miniature pearl, being almost perfectly spherical. For this reason, you’ll see tourists exfoliating their entire bodies whilst bathing, including their jewellery. I couldn’t help but join in, and can testify that it definitely works!
Surprisingly the beaches are classified as highways, so jeeps can zip along at a speedy 80km/hr; a pretty weird sensation when you usually associate the beach with sunbathing, swimming and general relaxation. I wouldn’t dip a toe in here though, after being warned that tiger sharks often beach themselves trying to catch fish and have to aggressively wriggle their way back into the water, jaws gnashing. Thankfully we didn’t see any! I thought I spotted a white dolphin during the ferry crossing, but was informed it was more likely to have been a manta ray. There goes my aspired future career as a marine biologist!
Wildlife is diverse on Fraser Island, with the resident dingoes having become fairly accustomed to visitors, and often making themselves busy attempting to capitalise on BBQ leftovers. Their dog-like appearance is not to be taken at face value, however, as the young ones often try to gain “street cred” in their pack and can occasionally steal food or attack. Check out the claws below!
Fraser Island is also known for its coloured sands, comprised of 72 different shades – predominantly reds and yellows. According to Google the hues are caused by the leaching of oxides that coat each grain of sand, causing bands of colour.
Another “Fraser fact” for you – it is the only place on Earth where tall rainforest grows in sand. Some of the trees are over 300 years old, and reminded me of the Sequoia trees found in Yosemite National Park in California. They also have strangler fig trees, which essentially strangle another tree in their attempt to grow up to the rainforest canopy to reach the light. I didn’t realise that they often start as seeds dropped by birds in the tree canopy, so they occasionally germinate and grow their roots down the host tree as well as up! The host usually dies leaving a hollow central core, which can be fun to climb inside.
With more than 865 species of plants, 74 species of reptiles and 19 species of bats (!) recorded on the island, it truly is a mini Attenborough paradise – and is thankfully now protected as a World Heritage site. In the words of the great man, “people must feel that the natural world is important and valuable and beautiful and wonderful and an amazement and a pleasure.” I certainly do!
Camilla, Account Director