The Fraser Coast covers over 190km of the coastline north from Noosa, forming a world of giant dunes, forests, coloured sands and freshwater lakes where fishing and four-wheel driving are the activities of preference. But it doesn’t have to be a macho tangle with the elements: for once it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to rent tents and a 4WD and set off to explore in some comfort. The main destination is Fraser Island, an enormous, elongated and largely forested sand island, which has just about enough room for the crowds of tourists who visit each year. On the way there, the small, slowly developing coastal townships of Rainbow Beach and Tin Can Bay offer a more laidback view of the region, with another long strip of beach and the chance to feed wild dolphins. Ferries to Fraser Island depart from the Rainbow Beach area, though the main access point is Hervey Bay, a tourist hub that also offers seasonal whale-watching cruises.
The Fraser Coast’s abundant fresh water, seafood and plants must have supported a very healthy Aboriginal population; campfires along the beach allowed Matthew Flinders to navigate Fraser Island at night in 1802. The area was declared an Aboriginal reserve in the early 1860s but, with the discovery of gold at Gympie in 1867, Europeans flocked in thousands into the region. The subsequent economic boom sparked by the gold rush saved the fledgling Queensland from bankruptcy, but the growth in white settlement saw the Aboriginal population cleared out so that the area could be opened up for recreation and logging. More recently, the coast has been protected as part of the UNESCO Great Sandy Biosphere Reserve, which stretches from Noosa to Bundaberg.