Fraser Island stretches over 123 kilometres in length and 22 kilometres at its widest point. With an area of 184 000 hectares it is the largest sand island in the world. Fraser Island’s World Heritage listing ranks it with Australia’s Uluru, Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef. Fraser Island is a precious part of Australia’s natural and cultural heritage, it is protected for all to appreciate and enjoy.
Fraser Island is a place of exceptional beauty, with its long uninterrupted white beaches flanked by strikingly coloured sand cliffs, and over 100 freshwater lakes, some tea-coloured and others clear and blue all ringed by white sandy beaches. Ancient rainforests grow in sand along the banks of fast-flowing, crystal-clear creeks. Fraser Island is the only place in the world where tall rainforests are found growing on sand dunes at elevations of over 200 metres. The low “wallum” heaths on the island are of particular evolutionary and ecological significance, and provide magnificent wildflower displays in spring and summer. The immense sand blows and cliffs of coloured sands are part of the longest and most complete age sequence of coastal dune systems in the world and they are still evolving. They are a continuous record of climatic and sea level changes over the last 700 000 years. The highest dunes on the island reach up to 240 metres above sea level.
The Great Sandy Strait, separating Fraser Island from the mainland, is listed by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention). The wetlands include: rare patterned ferns; mangrove colonies; sea-grass beds; and up to 40,000 migratory shorebirds. Rare, vulnerable or endangered species include dugongs, turtles, Illidge’s ant-blue butterflies and eastern curlews.
The island is a place of exceptional beauty, with its long uninterrupted white beaches flanked by strikingly coloured sand cliffs, its majestic tall rainforests and numerous freshwater lakes of crystal clear waters. The massive sand deposits which make up the island are a continuous record of climatic and sea level changes over the last 700,000 years. Fraser Island features complex dune systems which are still evolving, and the array of dune lakes is exceptional in terms of number, diversity and age.
The highest dunes on the island reach up to 240 metres above sea level. Forty perched dune lakes (half the number of such lakes in the world), including the much photographed Lake McKenzie, can be found on the island.
These lakes are formed when organic matter, such as leaves, bark and dead plants, gradually builds up and hardens in depressions created by the wind. The island also has barrage lakes, formed when moving sand dunes block a watercourse, and window lakes, formed when a depression exposes part of the regional water table.
The traditional occupants of Fraser Island were the Butchulla people who consisted of six different clans with their territory extending from Fraser Island, Double Island Point, Tin Can Bay, Bauple Mountain and as far north as Burrum Heads (all in Queensland).
Their traditional name for Fraser Island was K’gari which is said to mean ‘paradise’. According to the Butchulla people’s legends Fraser Island was named K’gari after a beautiful spirit who helped the messenger of the god Beeral, Yindingie, who created the land. As a reward to K’gari for her help Beeral changed her into an idyllic island with trees, flowers and lakes that was seen as a paradise. He also put birds, animals and the people on the island to keep her company.
It is uncertain how long Fraser Island had been occupied by the Butchulla people. Evidence suggests that it was more than 5,500 years but perhaps even as long as 20,000 years. The exact population of Aboriginals before European settlement is unknown but it has been said that during times where the island had an abundance of resources there were up to 2000 people living on Fraser Island however the population was more than likely 300 to 400 people at most times.
The first recorded sighting of Fraser Island by a European was by Captain Cook who first sighted Fraser Island in 1770. At this time he also saw the Butchulla people and named Indian Head (on the eastern Fraser Island beach) after them however it was Captain Matthew Flinders who was the first European to have contact with the islanders and had peaceful meetings with them in both 1799 and 1802.
The eventual colonisation of Australia by Europeans caused great conflict with the Aboriginal people as the European’s didn’t respect their tribal boundaries, their social structure nor the importance to them of their environment. Land was cleared and agricultural practices established which in turn disturbed the natural supply of food cycles of the native people. Traditions and hunting methods had to be altered for survival. Logging was started on Fraser Island in 1863 by ‘Yankee Jack’ Piggott and continued until 1991 when Fraser Island was nominated for World Heritage listing.
Today, the management of Fraser Island is the responsibility of the Department of Environment and Heritage (through the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service).
The best time to visit Fraser Island is anytime; from June to September, the weather is predominately dry with just the occasional shower. Fraser Island experiences a maritime subtropical climate with warm, humid weather cooled by sea breezes. In summer, from January until March, Fraser Island is hot and wet, with an average maximum temperature of 28°C. Winter, from June to September, is usually dry and sunny with clear skies and an average temperature of 22°C
Birds are the most abundant form of animal life seen on the island. More than 350 species of birds have been recorded. A species of particular interest is the ground parrot, an endangered species found in the island’s wallum heathlands. It is a particularly important site for migratory wading birds which use the area as a resting place during their long flights between southern Australia and their breeding grounds in Siberia.
Few mammal species are present on the island. The most common are bats, particularly flying foxes. The dingo population on the island is regarded as the most pure strain of dingoes remaining in eastern Australia.
The lakes on Fraser Island are poor habitats for fish and other aquatic species because of the purity, acidity and low nutrient levels of the water. Some frog species have specially adapted to survive in this difficult environment. Appropriately called acid frogs these frog species are able to tolerate the acidic condition characteristic of the lakes and swamps on Fraser Island.
A surprising variety of vegetation types grow on the island, ranging from coastal heath to subtropical rainforests. It is the only place in the world where tall rainforests are found growing on sand dunes at elevations of over 200 metres.
The low wallum heaths on the island are of particular evolutionary and ecological significance, and provide magnificent wildflower displays in spring and summer.
Fraser Island has string fens found elsewhere as well as what is believed to be the only reticulated (leopard) patterned fens in the world. Both are found sideby-side near Moon Point. Other areas which have these leopard patterns are bogs not fens. (A bog is self growing in its own water supply and a fen has water flowing through from one side to the other).