Lying just south of the Great Barrier Reef, this is the world’s biggest sand island, an ecological marvel where ancient eucalyptus rainforest actually grows out of dunes up to 240m (787 ft.) high. You’d expect it to have beaches, but to have an uninterrupted surf-foamed Pacific beach running the length of the island for 120km (75 miles)—now that’s something special. Only problem is … you can’t swim there. The currents offshore are just too strong, and the shark population is just too, well, sharky. But there’s an easy way around that: Go inland, where Fraser Island offers so many places to swim, it’s like nature’s biggest water park.
Set into the sand dunes of Fraser Island are more than 100 little freshwater lakes, ringed with dazzling white sand that’s pure silica—whiter sand than the big Pacific beach, in fact. Some, like brilliant blue Lake McKenzie, sprang up when water filled hardened hollows in the dunes; others, like emerald-green Lake Wabby, were created when shifting dunes dammed up a stream. Shallow, swift-flowing Eli Creek is as much fun as a lazy river ride—wade up the creek for a mile or two and then let the current carry you back down.
You should, of course, spend some time on 75-Mile Beach—it’s actually a highway you can drive along with a four-wheel-drive vehicle (the only cars allowed on this island). A rusted wrecked luxury steamship, the Maheno, sits right on the beach, offering a rare chance for nondiv-ers to see a shipwreck up close; just north of the wreck loom gorgeous erosion-sculpted ocher cliffs called the Cathedrals. At the northern end of the beach, you can dip into the ocean in the spalike bubbling waters of the Champagne Pools (also called the Aquarium for their tide-pool marine life), shallow pockets of soft sand protected from the waves by a natural rock barrier.
With no towns and few facilities apart from low-profile ecotourism resorts, Fra-ser Island has been maintained as a no-frills destination for folks who love wildlife better than the wild life. It’s a place for camping out, bird-watching, and bush walking through eucalyptus woods and low-lying “wallum” heaths that offer a spectacular wildflower display every spring and summer. Its fringing wetlands feature pristine mangrove colonies and sea-grass beds, where dugongs and swamp wallabies thrive. And from August to October, Fraser Island is one of Australia’s best sites for seeing humpback whales returning to Antarctica © with their calves in tow (book whale-watching tours, as well as dolphin- or manatee-spotting tours, from local resorts). Dingoes even run wild here, one of the purest populations anywhere—what’s more Australian than that?