Fraser Island is beautifully stunning.
We recently spent a few days there, exploring the northern half of the island.
It’s a 130 kilometre drive from the bottom to the top of the largest sand island on the planet. To cover such large distances (and to carry all the comforts of home), we put the bikes and camping gear in the back of the 4WD / 4X4 and drove to our campsites.
The crossing from Inskip Point to Hook Point only took five minutes. This gave us adequate time to relax in the late-autumn sun, and decelerate from “Mainland time” to “Island Time”.
We rolled off the barge and headed off to Happy Valley – sixty kilometres up the beach
Ninety minutes later, we parked the cars next to our campsite in the dunes and got the bikes ready.
With heavy grey rain clouds bearing down on us, we set off down the beach…
…around Poyungan Rocks
…and past an aircraft runway on the beach.
How strange! When you drive or ride along this section of sand, it’s important to keep an eye skyward to ensure there are no airplanes trying to land.
After about seven kilometres we crossed the dunes and headed inland.
The sandy vehicle track climbed gently through the forest for a few kilometres.
Eventually we found a narrow walking track and followed it – we thought this would be easier than competing with 4WD’s on the sandy road.
We were wrong. The walking track was narrow. Every couple of hundred metres it was blocked by fallen trees. We part rode, part walked, and part scrambled along the track.
It was hard, sweaty work.
After about an hour, the forest opened out.
Huge trees towered over us.
Shafts of sunlight broke magically through the forest canopy.
This was “The Valley of the Giants”.
Ancient Satinay trees – some of them over one thousand years old – reached over forty metres above us.
This place is magical.
Because of our slow progress, we left the walking track and continued along the sandy 4WD road instead.
I grinned happily – this was soooo much easier than having to clamber over fallen trees every couple of minutes.
We ended up riding further than we had planned. The afternoon shadows grew longer, and I eventually had to turn on my headlights to see where I was going.
By the time we returned to our campsite, the light was fading. We put up the tents in the dark, then strolled up to the Happy Valley pub for a meal, before returning to our hideaway in the dunes to watch the stars, listen to the waves, drink beer and talk about those secret things blokes discuss when they’re out camping together 🙂
We rode a total of forty-six kilometres in about five and a half hours.
During that time we climbed about 700 metres in elevation, and I burned about 2,000 kcal.
I’ll rate this ride 8.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Max elevation: 174 m
Min elevation: 3 m
Total climbing: 1091 m
Total descent: -1092 m
Average speed: 12.02 km/h
Total time: 05:36:25
The sun rose late the next morning.
We were awakened to the sound of dingoes howling next to our tents.
Jason discovered the cunning canines had broken into his esky during the night and stole a bunch of lamp chops and sausages.
He was not very impressed.
After a quick breakfast, we stashed away our camping gear, packed the 4WD’s and continued our journey northwards along the beach.
We stopped at Eli Creek to admire the crystal clear water.
One of the local dingoes dropped by to express his gratitude to Jason for last night’s meal.
We paused to admire the wreck of the SS Maheno, a First World War hospital ship from New Zealand, which ran aground here in 1935.
We ran out of beach at Indian Head, and had to drive inland for a while before arriving at the Waddy Point Camp Ground.
After setting up camp, we rode onto the vast expanse of sand at Orchid Beach.
Darb loaded a pack raft onto his bike. We’d need it later in the day when we attempted to cross Wathumba Creek on the other side of the island.
The dunes of Sandy Cape stretched out along the northern horizon.
We left the beach after a couple of kilometres and headed inland.
The sandy tracks were soft and steep – it was difficult to ride in places.
A light rain fell. The moisture hardened up the sand, making it easier for us to ride.
We continued west through vast ferny swamps.
After a hard slog, we emerged on the western coast of the island at Platypus beach.
A gaunt dingo eyed us hungrily.
Sorry, Ringo, no snacks for you today.
Dark clouds merged almost seamlessly at the horizon with the turquoise water.
The place had an eerie hush to it. The only sound was the gentle lapping of the waves on the white sand.
I have been on many beaches, but had never seen one like this.
I felt like I was in a painting.
We rode south for a few kilometres, along the sand.
The tide had fallen, leaving a wide, firm surface for the bikes.
At Wathumba Creek we tried to wade across. If we could, this would save us the time and effort of having to inflate and deflate the pack raft.
We all waded over the creek.
No need for a pack raft. The water was thigh deep. We had wet shoes, but we got through easily.
Simon asked if he could borrow some sunscreen.
I told him it was fine – he didn’t have to give it back when he was finished 🙂
After chatting with a few fishermen, we started to make our way back to the eastern coastline.
Darb and Jason were annoyed that they’d unnecessarily carried a heavy pack raft all that way.
Simon and I expressed secret gratitude about the extra weight our riding buddies carried. It meant he and I could keep up with them.
The rain fell more heavily as we rode back to Orchid Beach.
We sheltered from the storm for half an hour at the Orchid Beach general store before eventually returning to the camp ground.
We rode a total of about forty kilometres in about six hours (including our time sheltering from the rain at the general store). During that time we climbed about 400 metres and I burned about 2,000 kcal.
This ride rates about 7.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
The damp tracks and cool temperatures made it much easier than it would have otherwise been
Max elevation: 84 m
Min elevation: -9 m
Total climbing: 776 m
Total descent: -762 m
Average speed: 10.53 km/h
Total time: 06:02:45
The next day we wanted to ride right to the northernmost point of the island then climb up to the lighthouse.
This was a 40 kilometre ride each way from the camp ground. It would have been physically impossible to ride 80 kilometres during one tide cycle. We’d run out of time, and there would be no beach left for us to finish on.
To work around this, we drove part of the way, parking the car at Ngkala Rocks.
I don’t know how anyone could get a vehicle through here. It’s such a narrow track, cut into the rock.
We found it challenging even getting our bikes through.
After a bit of a scramble, we emerged onto the beach at the other side of the rocks and headed north.
It was impressive to watch drivers make their way over some of the obstacles.
At Browns Rocks we had to time our passage between breaking waves.
The beached yacht “Trax” cut a sad and lonely figure on the beach.
After seeing the holes in her hull, broken stays and shredded sails, I muttered “poor old girl” under my breath, and silently gave thanks that I was no longer a boat-owner.
A tail-wind pushed us up briskly the beach.
I sat up, rested my back, and pedaled “no hands” for a while as the wind did most of the work.
Darb chased seagulls.
We reached the cape after about an hour.
Vast dunes covered the northern tip.
It was these massive sand hills which inspired James Cook to call it “Sandy Cape” when he sailed by in 1770.
We turned left at the top, and continued for a few kilometres beneath the dunes.
Eventually we reached the track to the lighthouse, and slowly rode the bikes up the hill.
This was the perfect spot to relax and soak up the impressive views.
“Sandy Cape Light” is the tallest lighthouse in Queensland.
It was built in 1870.
At night, its light flashes every ten seconds, and can be seen by ships at sea, forty kilometres away.
It became fully automated in 1995, which means it runs unattended. There’s no traditional lighthouse keeper – just the occasional visit from maintenance crews.
After a short stop at the top, we rolled back down the hill.
There aren’t many places in the world where you get to ride on a wooden road.
As we rode eastwards along the top of the island, past oddly shaped sand hills, we saw dozens of turtles playing in the gentle waves.
The tailwind on our way up had now become a headwind.
It was much harder and slower to ride.
We stuck together in a rolling peloton in an attempt to shelter from the headwind, but it was still a grueling couple of hours.
I was relieved to see Browns Rocks again…
“We’re almost there” I said hopefully to Darb.
We rode about sixty-five kilometres in about six hours.
Considering you can usually only get about six hours of beach riding in one tide cycle, we did pretty well.
The headwind and time constraints made this a challenging ride.
I’ll rate it 8 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Max elevation: 87 m
Min elevation: -13 m
Total climbing: 1006 m
Total descent: -1009 m
Average speed: 12.89 km/h
Total time: 05:44:14
One good thing about multi-day rides at the beach is that the tides get one hour later each day.
On our fourth day, we had a bit of a sleep-in but were still able to pack up and be ready to go by about 8.30.
We would not be able to drive on the beach for at least another hour, so we took some time out to explore the Champagne Pools.
This is a rugged stretch of coast – you can’t ride or drive on it, but the views are impressive.
When the tide is right, it’s the perfect spot for a swim.
When the tide had receded enough, we continued driving southwards, eventually parking the car at Dunduraba.
While we were unloading the bikes the ranger introduced himself to us.
“What plans do you have to protect yourselves against dingoes?” he asked.
He explained that there was an active pack of young animals in the area, and that they had attacked a cyclist a few days ago. He suggested we carry a stick, and that if a dingo approached us to dismount, put the bike between us and the dog, and speak in a low menacing voice.
We rode up the hill, looking out for menacing packs of hungry canines.
Thankfully none appeared.
When we started this ride, we had hoped to look at the Wun-Gul sand-blow. The track we were riding up ran alongside it for a few kilometres.
I didn’t realize that a steep impenetrable dune stood between the track and the sand-blow. There was no way we would be able to climb it to see Wun-Gul, so we gave it a miss.
Light drizzle fell as we rode along the top of the ridge.
Simon couldn’t use his phone to take photos because it and his fingers were wet. He blew on them vainly in an attempt dry them and get the phone to respond. It didn’t work, but it was entertaining.
We dropped down the other side of the ridge of dunes towards White Lake and followed its shoreline.
Not what we were hoping for, but it still looked good.
We rode through some shady forest, and over a creek before climbing back up to the ridge line.
The overcast skies cleared as we pointed the bikes towards home.
There was one last hill to climb. Too steep and too soft to ride, we trudged uphill through the deep sand.
We relaxed as we rolled down the final five kilometre downhill section of the ride.
Scribbly gums spread their zigzag branches above us as we coasted briskly down the sandy track.
We rode a total of 30 kilometres in three and a half hours, climbing abut five hundred metres in vertical elevation.
I’ll rate this ride 7 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Max elevation: 170 m
Min elevation: 19 m
Total climbing: 827 m
Total descent: -827 m
Average speed: 13.14 km/h
Total time: 03:37:17
For the final night, Simon generously paid for us to stay in a cabin at Happy Valley rather than camp another night in the rain.
This gave us a lot more time in the morning because we didn’t have to pack up our tents.
Traveling by 4WD made a lot more of Fraser Island available to us.
It meant that we didn’t have to carry so much weight on the bikes, and allowed us to bring more of the comforts of home, like folding chairs, esky, pillows, etc.
I enjoyed our cruise down the beach, into a headwind, on the final day, slid back in my seat, and relaxed.
Thanks Darb, Simon and Jason for another memorable adventure.