Debbie Neilson-Hunter gets back to nature with her family on Fraser Island.
It’s late afternoon when we arrive at Kingfisher Bay Resort on the western shores of Fraser Island. Before we’ve even unloaded the bags from the car my two girls have explored our weekend digs and are itching to give a guided tour.
"Come on, I’ll show you your room mum!" The excitement in their voices soon catches on as every nook downstairs and upstairs of our modern, self-contained villa is revealed. The balconies overlooking forested hillside reward us with stunning water glimpses. Our ferry passes by on its way back to the mainland, but while the sun is dropping fast, our day isn’t over just yet.
Junior Eco Rangers
Now we’ve arrived, the next part of our adventure to this World Heritage-listed wilderness awaits. On Fridays and Saturdays and during school holidays the resort runs a Junior Eco Rangers program filled with activities like rope courses, canoeing, bush games, sand sculpting, star gazing and guided nature walks for kids from ages five to 14.
This evening, Ranger Fiona has something extra special planned – a campfire in the inspiringly named Dingo Den where the kids can toast marshmallows and hear Dreamtime stories of the Butchulla people, the island’s original inhabitants. Their stories and culture feature predominantly throughout the weekend, as we explore within and beyond the resort’s protective dingo fences. Then it’s off to shine the spotlight on the creatures that call the nearby dunes, swamps and wallum heath home.
For the adults in our party, we join the throng of budding photographers back on the jetty to watch the sea extinguish the glowing embers of the sun – a sight not generally seen from the eastern mainland. Enjoyed with an antipasto appetiser and a glass of wine from the well- stocked Jetty Hut (part bar, part activities centre) we’re soon as chilled as the bottle it was poured from. Our fish dinner is a quiet, relaxed affair in the resort’s Maheno restaurant before we’re once again enthusiastically regaled with the night-time exploits of our new junior eco rangers.
We rise early on our first full day for a guided 4WD bus Beauty Spots Tour. The kids approach the bus with caution but giggles erupt minutes after setting off. As the wheels slowly navigate the slippery, soft sands the island is built on, we’re thrown back and forth, up and down like a rollercoaster ride at Dreamworld.
It’s a long drive to our first stop – the mighty Stonetool Sand Blow – so our driver fills the distance with interesting commentary about the island’s history and natural features. We eventually cross to the island’s eastern surfside, and drive along Seventy Five Mile Beach’s Sandy Highway north to the site of the Maheno wreck — once a luxury passenger ship and former WWII hospital ship which beached here in rough seas in 1935 while being towed to Japan to be dismantled for scrap iron. We’re told 23 ships met a similar fate along these shores.
From the nearby Pinnacle Coloured Sands we turn back around to make the short drive south to the clear, cool (and popular) waters of Eli Creek where from upstream we have fun floating effortlessly back to the beach on its swift undercurrent.
The beach then becomes an air strip as our Air Fraser Island plane soars sky high for a bird’s-eye view of the larger landscape. Eyes are peeled for stingrays, sharks, turtles and dolphins offshore. Humpback whales are also seen during the migrating season (August to October). It’s the highlight of our excursion so far but as we head for lunch the island’s most famous locals are spotted, and the girls’ day is made when they finally see a dingo in the wild.
After lunch we head back inland to learn more about the island’s logging history. Along the meandering trails of Pile Valley we walk under the shade of timber giants.
Stretching over 100 kilometres long and 22 kilometres at its widest point, Fraser Island has over 100 freshwater lakes. Our last stop is at one of its most picturesque – its blue perched waters surrounded by powder soft, white sands. We’re told a dip in Lake McKenzie will make us feel 10 years younger and 10 years wiser. ‘What happens if I go in?’ Miss Eight asks nervously.
Fortunately the kids make it back to the resort in time for another Junior Eco Rangers session. Tonight, Ranger Cassie takes them on a scavenger hunt to search for materials to include in a bush craft activity.
Day two is spent by the resort’s main pool, splashing about with new friends. The wind this side has picked up so we enjoy a pre-arranged picnic from our balcony. We’re supplied enough food for three days but our little group does its best to make a dent. While the kids spend quality time with their grandad by the pool in the afternoon, I’m off to explore the beach — this time by Segway.
From nature walks, fishing and guided canoe trips to bush medicine talks and bush tucker tastings, two-and-a-half days isn’t enough to do it all here. My dad and I manage to sneak in one last highlight before we leave — a meal at the resort’s fine dining Seabelle restaurant.
As the kids tuck into takeaway pizza and fish and chips back at the villa with their babysitter, we feast on emu, crocodile, kangaroo and other delights of the Australian bush. It’s been a fun education. And while we still have more to discover we’re content to save it for another day. I’m confident we’ll be back.