Hervey Bay is famous for two things: the humpback whales that hang around in the bay during the migration season, and Fraser Island. Unfortunately it isn't whale season, and the reputation of Fraser Island is slightly dubious; I'd been told by more than one backpacker that Fraser Island was 'well wicked' and that the only way to see it was to rent a four-wheel-drive in which to burn along the sandy beaches – some 20,000 vehicles visit the island every year, and doing doughnuts on the beach in a 4WD while necking slabs of XXXX seems to be the norm. Still, it's a big island – the biggest sand island in the world, no less – and getting lost by foot is a real possibility, so ignoring the island's reputation, I decided to spend a day in Hervey Bay doing some research.
Fraser Island has a lot of very under-publicised walking tracks, and I spent the day hunting round to find out about them, eventually discovering the maps and leaflets I needed in the City Council offices. For such a gateway to a popular National Park, Hervey Bay is seriously lacking in not having an office for the QNP&WS (Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service, the unpronounceable acronym that equates to New Zealand's DOC and Western Australia's CALM); all the tour operators are geared up for 4WD tours, and foot passengers are pretty well ignored, because they don't make anyone a fast buck. On the other hand, this attitude means the tracks and hiker's campsites are wonderfully empty, as as long as I could get myself onto the island, things were looking up.
Getting to the Island
Fraser Island is a long – actually, a very long island that is about 120km from north to south, and only about 15-20km wide, on average. The west coast, facing the mainland, is a sandfly-infested mangrove swamp, but the east coast, which is swept by north-flowing currents and trade winds, is one big, beautiful beach; they call it Seventy-Five Mile Beach, rather imaginatively. Having studied the maps and trails, I decided to attempt a long walk, taking in the central area of the island, as well as a fair stretch of beach. If you imagine the trail being a lower-case 'd', then I started on the left-hand edge of the d's circle, headed south and round to the beach, then north up the beach (the d's stalk) for some distance, eventually turning round and walking back down the beach, to cut back into the centre via the top of the d's circle, and back to square one. This meant I could tailor the walk to be as long or short as I liked by altering the distance walked up the beach (i.e. the height of the d's stalk). It turned out to be a brilliant route.
I set off from Hervey Bay with a dangerously heavy pack – intending to stay for eight days, I had a lot of food stashed away, some 25 meals in total, plus spare emergency rations – and hitched down to the ferry from River Heads. This is another example of the lack of attention paid to non-driving and non-touring visitors to Fraser Island; the ferry leaves from River Heads, some 17km south of Hervey Bay, but there are no buses there, so if you have no car you either have to hitch, take a taxi, or pay three times the price to leave from Hervey Bay itself. I hitched, and within ten minutes I was on my way to the ferry, a little poodle sitting in my lap, licking my legs with worrying intensity and dedication, while I entertained the driver with idle banter about the outback.