Wipe the dust from your rear-view mirror and keep one juddering eyeball fixed on the sky behind you. At any moment a plane could drop down, flinging hot sand into your paintwork, and you’ll be expected to give it enough space to land. On Fraser Island’s 75 Mile Beach, you see, the highway doubles up as a runway – and pilots have priority. But nearly everywhere else on the world’s largest sand island, you’re better off in a 4WD.
Fraser Island is Australia at its most rugged and a tarmac-free zone. From the moment you roll off the ferry and begin trundling down the interior’s steamy forest trails, you can expect to have your driving skills tested to the limit. As your tyres begin to slip into the powder-fine sand and the cabin begins to fill with the tangy smell of burnt clutch, you’ll also need to look out for fallen trees, deep creeks and the resident population of hungry, pure-blood dingoes. It’s not all slow and steady, though; when you hit the beach highway you can floor the accelerator, sending high-pitched tyre squeals through the rickety roll cage. The key to beach driving is to look out for treachorous patches of wet sand and remember not panic when you hear the “pop-pop-pop” of washed-up jellyfish being squashed under the wheels.
On a good day, it’s possible to dash between multicoloured sand dunes, Aboriginal Reserves and sparkling freshwater lakes in a single afternoon. But you won’t see all of Fraser Island in a day, no matter how good your driving is, and that’s why most visitors camp here overnight. So when you see a plane taking off, do give it plenty of room, but don’t start to wish you were on board. After all, it’s down here on the ground, with the dingoes and the dust, that you’ll feel every jolt of the island.
Fraser Island is a 25–40min ferry ride from Hervey Bay, in the southern part of Queensland. Fraser Magic 4WD Hire (http://www.fraser4wdhire.com.au), based in Hervey Bay, offers a range of self-drive options.