travel story- drive-on beach- australia

one of Australia’s many drive-on beaches


A ‘Survivor’ TV crew pal named Steve and I set out from Noosa early one morning on an exciting journey.  We were heading out in his 4WD truck to drive 70 kms up the beach through Great Sandy National Park to a small town called Rainbow Beach.  I had never driven on a beach before.  In fact, I was quite astounded that it was even possible and very excited to experience a new mode of travel in one of my favorite natural environments.

stormy skies- fRaser island

stormy skies at Great Sandy National Park beach

Unfortunately, the weather did not co-operate that day. We were destined to explore under heavy dark clouds, chilling wind, and occasional rain squalls. Despite that, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Great Sandy National Park’s scenery was stunning:  brightly colored sand cliffs in red, oranges, and yellows, stretched along a wide, flat beach as far as we could see. We hiked through one spectacular narrow red sand gorge. Out on the beach, we visited the desolate shipwwreck of a cargo boat that had run aground back in the 1970s.

Shipwreck- Fraser Island

Shipwreck at Great Sandy National Park

Eventually we reached Rainbow Beach. Steve dropped me off at a backpackers’ hostel then returned to his home near Noosa. I spent one day exploring  the area under more heavy clouds and rain. The weather forecast for the next week threatened even more of the same.

forest road

lovely forest road

Despite the weather threats, the following morning at dawn I energetically set out on my ‘Great Cycling/Hiking Fraser Island Adventure’…hmmmm… The weather was a definite concern.  But at that particular moment, it was holding steady.  From Rainbow Beach, I cycled north along a beautiful National Park road through scrubby pine forest for about 10 miles to the Fraser Island Ferry pier. I pedaled entirely alone, peacefully enjoying bird songs and wind in pines, at that early morning hour. Not a car in sight.

Fraser Island Ferry at sunrise

Fraser Island Ferry at sunrise

I caught the first ferry across the narrow sea channel to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. Once I set foot on Fraser, it was just me and my bike with sand, sea, forest, a raging sea, and dark racing clouds.

Thus began my first-ever beach bicycling trip. I quickly discovered that Fraser Island is completely rimmed by wide, flat beaches with extremely compact sand. To my great relief, cycling was easy. In fact, a very strong north-blowing wind pushed me along.  I was flying. At that early morning hour, there were very few cars on that great sand highway. It was  just me and the elements racing northward.

Fraser Island aerial view

Fraser Island aerial view

I allowed the wind push me northward to Fraser Island Park Headquarters, located about 20 miles north of the ferry terminal on the eastern side of the island, facing the wide Pacific Ocean.  Fraser Island’s interior is specked with small fresh water lakes and an extensive network of hiking trails and remote camping spots. I intended to cycle, rather than hike, those trails.

Lash cycling

all ready to go hit the trails after registering at park headquarters

Before starting, I had to first register at park headquarters, declare my route, and sign up for the campsites. I also wanted to ask if my cycle plan was even feasible. After all, Fraser Island’s trails were composed of sand, not soil. If that sand was compact like the exterior beaches, riding would be fine. But if  the trails were made up of soft, loose sand, they would be treacherous on a bike, especially for a heavily-laden bike like mine.

I registered and made my inquiries.  The park ranger reckoned I could easily cycle the hiking paths, so I happily set out on my bike, retracing my route southward along the beach to the closest trail entry point, a few miles away. That time I had to pedal against the raging wind.  It was exhausting and time-consuming,  but I eventually reached the small campground that marked the trail system entry point.

Fraser Island interior sand road

Fraser Island interior sand road- I was pushing through much narrower sand paths

I headed inland.  Before long, I hit a soft, deep sand trail. Uh,oh.  Riding was suddenly  impossible. I got off and began pushing my bike laboriously along the trail, as the tires slipped and turned and slid along, fighting every inch of the way.

Occassionally the ground firmed up and I was able to ride a few meters. Then I’d hit more soft deep sand.  I staggered along, pushing, balancing my over-weighted bike, huffing and puffing. After one hour of utterly exhausting struggles, I gave up. Obviously cycling Fraser’s hiking trails was impossible.  I’d have to hike instead.

driving Fraser Island

hitch-hiking on Fraser Island

After recovering from the ordeal, I agonizingly pushed my bike back out to the beach for one more hour. Then I climbed onboard and gratefully allowed the still-raging wind to blow me back north to park headquarters once again. I locked my bike up under the protective gaze of park rangers, and hitch-hiked back south to the trail entry point yet again.

At long last I could finally begin my explorations of Fraser Island.  This time I heaved my backpack onto my back, strapped it on my hips, adjusted the shoulder straps, and hit the trail once more, this time on foot. Despite the initial difficulties of getting started, I was immensely excited to explore Fraser’s forests and lakes and to camp in my tent in the wilderness.

Fraser Island hiking trail

Fraser Island hiking trail

That’s about when the sky decided to break open. I quickly pulled on my rain suit and trudged onwards to my first camp site. Quite unfortunately, cold rain was not my only problem. My pack was much much too heavy for me. That meant  that instead of enjoying walking through the forest, I ended up struggling along, cringing under the weight, feeling miserable. I eventually reached my camp site, set up my tent, had a meal and went to bed, all wet, chilly, and aching. I could at least hope for better weather the following day.

It was not to be. The next day, and the next and the next coughed up the same miserable weather: cloudy with intermittent rains, and often drenching downpours…day after day. That meant everything I owned got wet, sandy, stinky, sweaty, and messy. There was no way to dry it out or fumigate until I finished my trek and got back to civilization.

Fraser island jungle

Fraser island jungle and stream

On top of all that, although the forest and lakes were lovely, they were certainly nothing exceptional.  In fact, they were altogether  plain. I spent much of my hiking time thinking of all the much better places I’d already hiked and camped in the world– the Himalayas, the Japan Alps, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone Nat.Park back country surrounded by my very own geysers and bubbling mud ponds, New Hampshire’s’ White Mountains… In fact,  just about everywhere I’d ever backpacked had been more beautiful than Fraser Island!

Fraser Island campsite

typical back country Fraser Island campsite

Ironically, there I was hauling around a much too over-weighted backpack in miserably cold rainy weather in order to see… an average forest, average lakes, and average camp sites.  The best I could take away from that ill-fated trip were two useful hiking lessons:  1) Don’t go backpacking with a rainy weather forecast.  2) Consider more objectively how spectacular an area is before exerting so much energy to see it.

On the positive side, I did eventually emerge, intact but stinky, from Fraser’s interior trail system. I unthawed, de-odorized, and dried out at a much nicer campground that offered full facilities: toilets, showers, and a laundry room.  My legs and ass were rock hard again. And I felt a kind of perverse self-satisfaction at having explored Fraser all (well, most) on my own steam, especially since all the other international ‘backpackers’ had hired 4WD vans and were drivng around.

But I soon came to appreciate them rather than scoff. After recovering, I spent my final two days on Fraser Island hitch-hiking with travelers who had (intelligently, I have to admit) arrived in 4WD vehicles.

beautiful rocks- Fraser island

beautiful rocks and canyon hikes at Fraser Island

The last day I went driving around the island with a cheerful older guy who gave me a lift.  We had great conversations, drove for hours up the wide, sweeping beaches, and hiking up several stunning red and orange rock canyons. That was immensely more enjoyable than trudging through rain under a heavy pack and stinking to high heaven. Suddenly, I loved 4WDs again.

4WD - Fraser Island

4WDing on Fraser Island- heading out!

Finally I headed back to the Australian mainland. I hitched another ride with my bike and luggage to Fraser Island’s western shores and ferry terminal. I cycled to the nearby coastal town of Hervey Bay, where I found a charming hostel then relaxed and explored the  region for a week before heading ever northward towards Australia’s tropics.


Have you ever had any camping, hiking, or cycling disasters? If so, where and what happened?

Have you visited Fraser Island? What were your impressions of the island? 


(* flickr CC photo credits:  Nina Mathews / Eduardo M C / Robert Nyman / edumaniz / serialcee / phillie casablanca / MasterMan / Paleontour / Wildcat Nunny *)

This post brought to you in part by Travel Lodge, who would like to invite you to Book hotels in Bristol with Travelodge when you’re traveling in England.



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  1. Leigh

    When I read the title I thought – no not another disaster. A crappy hike is no fun but there is always a wonderful sense of satisfaction upon completion.
    When I see sandy roads I think of some of the off road stuff I’ve cycled near Moab. I’d wake up feeling like I was in the sandy sections – very peculiar feel.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Leah,
      Yeah, it’s weird to go through misery and then feel a kind of sataisfaction at having endured it. The masochistic element of the human ego, I suppose? I haven’t done much off-road cycling besides this attempt and some day rides in Florida with my brother. Would be cool to try some more… We’ll have to go hike and cycle together one day! thanks for stopping by. cheers, Lash

  2. Suzy

    Weather can certainly put a damper on things while traveling! It sounds like the way to go on Fraser Island is by 4WD.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hey Suzy, You said it! cheers, Lash

  3. Haylie

    Hi Lash,

    I am heading to Fraser Island soon and am not hiring a 4WD. I’m not really interested in hopping in a tour bus to see the island either so I started looking into hiring mountain bikes. After reading your post, however, I’m thinking now that maybe a bike is not going to work and we’ll just have to walk and hitch rides with other travellers.
    It was really great reading about your trip!
    I look forward to reading more of them.


    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Haylie,


      Thanks for stopping by to read and leave your comments. Ok, glad my article helped you decide about cycling on Fraser Island…yeah…Cycling on the beaches there is great, but the interior trails are nearly impossible.

      Have a great time there!

      cheers, Lash

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