If it’s good enough for Meghan and Harry... Chloe Cann follows in the footsteps of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex with a visit to the Australian idyll of Fraser Island
“We call it rush hour,” says the barman, smiling as ferry passengers disembark at the end of the long wooden jetty, while others wait to board. To my left , a wedding party sporting long oaty dresses and crisp linen shirts is barefoot on the beach. Straight ahead a dusky, candy floss pink has begun to settle on the horizon as twilight unfolds. Instead of po-faced London commuters in suits clutching Oyster cards, all I can see are the relaxed grins of those cradling cold beers and glasses of sparkling wine in T-shirts and shorts. It feels as far from 5.30pm on the Tube’s Central line as I could possibly imagine.
Kingfisher Bay Resort’s Sunset Bar, perched above the beach at the base of the jetty, does a stellar job of encapsulating the rustic charm that woos so many travellers to this unique parcel of land. Here on Fraser Island, just o the coast of Southern Queensland, nature takes centre stage, but that doesn’t mean foregoing creature comforts. This heady mix may be one of the reasons that Harry and Meghan chose to visit in October last year, as part of their first royal tour – one of just four destinations the couple visited in Australia, alongside Sydney and Dubbo in New South Wales and Melbourne in Victoria.
A Unesco World Heritage Site and the largest sand island in the world, Fraser has long been a popular destination among Aussies and international tourists. Some 700,000 visitors travel here each year, of which 60-70% are Australian. And of that figure, at least two-thirds are located within a four-to-six-hour driving radius of the island. While Germany is the biggest international source market, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands trail not far behind. But the legacy of the royal visit has thrust the isle firmly into the spotlight: Kingfisher Bay Resort, where Harry and Meghan stayed, has since reported a website traffic boost of 350%, plus a booking increase of 40% and sustained demand in the five months that followed the event.
Despite the sudden attention, it’s still easy to find peace and quiet on Fraser. Measuring more than 75 miles long and 15 miles wide, there are 155 miles of untouched coastline here, and fewer than 200 inhabitants. Just a few tiny townships stud the island, and beyond these – and the island’s two resorts – there are no paved roads; instead the beach is a public highway that’s patrolled by the Queensland police, and you have to look both ways before you cross the sand. It’s these bizarre believe-it-or-not details that will likely make Fraser a highlight of your clients’ Australia itineraries.
The island’s unusual highways are just the tip of the iceberg, however. Here, eucalyptus, brush box and satinay trees grow straight out of the sand, some up to 48 metres tall and more than 1,000 years old; 40-plus lakes of aquamarine and cobalt lie hidden in the folds of 22-metre-tall sand dunes, like Arabian oases; creeks carrying freshwater spring miraculously from thickets, carving a channel through snow-white sand; and some 20 miles of towering craggy sand cliffs, in striking shades of ochre, line the beach.
The native wildlife is beyond the ordinary too. Home to more than 350 species of birds, 48 species of mammals and 79 species of reptiles, Fraser Island is basically Australia’s answer to Avatar.
Rare “acid frog” species populate the island’s coastal heathlands, packs of pure-bred dingoes inhabit the hinterland, large Australian monitor lizards skulk around the island’s picnicking areas, and legend has it that wild horses still roam through Fraser’s interior.
Meanwhile, the calm, sheltered waters on the island’s west provide refuge for thousands of migrating humpbacks and southern right whales each year, earning Fraser the title of “whale-watching capital”.
Smarter: Given the travel time to Fraser Island – not to mention the abundance of activities and sights on offer, and the size of the island (which is almost as big as Tenerife) – one night here isn’t enough. Make sure your clients sign up for two to three nights so they have time to relax by the pool as well as explore.
Better: If your clients can’t justify the cost of the scenic transfer to Fraser from the Sunshine Coast or Hervey Bay, suggest they take scenic flights on-island instead (£54pp) airfraserisland.com.au
Fairer: Visitors can ensure the preservation of this island paradise by following the three laws of the Butchulla people, the original custodians of the land: what is good for the land comes first, do not take or touch anything that does not belong to you, and if you have plenty you must share.
Surveying the island’s flora, fauna and natural wonders is best done in the hands of a local expert, whether on a ranger-guided night walk, a four-wheel drive tour, or a whale-watching cruise, all of which are bookable through the four-star Kingfisher Bay Resort, one of just two rustic hotels on the island. A sprawling, low-rise resort built largely from recycled timber and enveloped by heathland and swathes of pristine forest, Kingfisher does a stellar job of blending in with the local natural environment.
The property’s Bush Tucker Talk & Taste experience also allows visitors to savour the local natural environment, with a chef and ranger on hand to talk guests through each ingredient, its flavour profile and medicinal uses in indigenous communities. We sample juicy morsels of crocodile, which do, in fact, taste just like chicken; the powerfully piquant Tasmanian pepperberries, loaded with aniseed and clove flavours; the lip-puckering sweet-sour tang of quandongs, otherwise known as Australia’s wild peach; the moreish chocolate-meets-coffee trace of wattleseed; plus hibiscus, emu oil, desert lime, bush tomato and more. It’s a fascinating smorgasbord and – rumour has it – one that was fit for a prince.
BOOK IT: Kuoni offers an eight-night self-drive trip through Queensland from £2,535pp. The Australia’s Nature Coast Self-Drive package includes two nights at Fraser Island’s Kingfisher Bay Resort, as well as car hire and flights. Price based on two sharing for a 1 October departure.
Getting there: Fraser island is located 10 miles off the coast of Hervey Bay. Most visitors arrive at Kingfisher Bay Resort by ferry from River Heads (a 20-minute drive from Hervey Bay). Another option is a scenic transfer flight from Hervey Bay to Fraser Island.
When to go: Fraser Island is a great place to visit year round. In winter (June-August) temperatures rarely drop below 14°C, while in summer (December-February) the mercury will hit the high 20s. Winter is also the height of whale-watching season.
Getting around: Driving on Fraser’s sand roads requires a 4WD, although it can be dangerous for inexperienced clients. Those who do choose to drive must obtain a vehicle access permit (£30).
Safety: Though the island’s shoreline looks enticing, ocean swimming isn’t recommended – the beaches are unpatrolled, plus the waters are known for their strong rip currents, jellyfish and sharks.