Fraser Island is a big bucket list item for many people travelling Australia’s famous East Coast, we were no different, but have you ever wondered if you can do a Fraser Island self-drive tour instead of going with a guide? We couldn’t wait to visit and see its beauty for ourselves but joining a group tour was the last thing we wanted to do. Lucky for us, there are other options so here’s how you can do a Fraser Island self-drive tour and explore on your own terms with our 3 day itinerary!
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About Fraser Island
Fraser Island is by far the most unique island along the Australian East Coast. Listed as a World Heritage site but not only is it the worlds largest sand island (76miles long and 14 miles wide), it’s also home to half of the worlds ‘perched lakes’ (lakes formed above sea level in sand dunes filled permanently with rainwater), Australia’s purest strain of wild Dingo call Fraser Island home and each year thousands of humpback whales migrate to the Fraser Coast to have their calves. Add to this the miles and miles of pristine beaches and moving sand blows, you have yourself a unique tropical island paradise.
Things to know before your Fraser Island self drive tour
– There are no ‘proper’ roads on Fraser Island, meaning it’s strictly 4 wheel drive only.
– You can camp, or stay at one of the several resort-style hostels on the island. If you’re wanting to camp, you’ll need a permit to be able to use the campsites (more on this later)
– There is free drinking water available at one of the northern villages… don’t fall for paying the $15 per 10 litres from one of the island shops like we did.
– Research the tide times. You’ll need to be off 75mile beach before the morning high tide but don’t worry, there’s plenty to see inland!
– There’s no wifi/signal on the island! Ok, that’s an exaggeration, there is some signal, but only from the high points like Indian Head or some of the sand blows.
Things to consider when looking at 4wd Fraser Island rentals
‘Can you see Fraser Island without a tour’ was the biggest question we had while we were planning this trip, and since then we’ve had a lot of people asking us how we did it. Let me start by saying it doesn’t have to be expensive! If you’re travelling as a couple, or in a group, Fraser Island self drive tour works out a lot cheaper.
To make the most of your adventure, there are a few things you need to ask yourself first:
With these questions in ming, you should be able to get an idea of what you want to gain from your Fraser Island self drive tour, and find a company that suits all of your needs.
- How long do you want to go for?
(We did a 3-day 2-night tour and it was the perfect amount of time)
- Do you need camping equipment, do you have your own, or will you book a hostel? (Personally, the best way to truly experience Fraser Island is by camping on the beach – We’ll cover a packing list later!)
- Do you have experience with sand driving or do you need a quick lesson?
(Sand driving is harder than it sounds. Luckily Dec has the experience but if you need it, definitely look for a 4wd rental company who provides you with a quick lesson)
- Do you want an automatic or a manual drive?
(This will depend on your experience too. Automatics are easier if you have little experience with 4×4’s. Manuals are a lot more fun to drive if you have the experience)
- What do you want to see?
(While most Fraser Island 4wd rental companies don’t have limits on mileage, they do have limits on areas of the Island you can go to. The far north and West side are often off limits due to how difficult the routes are. Something we hadn’t considered before we went)
- Time of year
(We went during school holidays and while we did get to see things without crowds the camps were really busy. Try and plan your trip around this if it’s something that will bother you)
- Tide times
(This won’t affect if you can do a self drive Fraser Island tour, but it will affect what you can see and when. There are limited inland tracks so when the tide is in, the beach is inaccessible.
We’ve indluded a 3 day Fraser Island self drive itinerary to help you get a feel of what there is to do there!
How to find a 4wd rental company
Google is the obvious choice here but what if I told you not every company is listed on google? Mind blowing right! Our biggest advice to you is to head into town and have a look around, there are family ran businesses who offer just as good, if not better, 4wd hire packages than the bigger more popular companies, it’s just a case of finding them.
Browse the travel agencies and speak to locals, they might no of current offers available or even be able to grab you a discount. Our personal recommendation is 4WD Adventure Centre, while all their cars are automatics, their prices were the cheapest at Rainbow Beach, they don’t charge per person and they threw in the camping gear and esky for free. The only downside was the restriction from going to the cape, which we were really hoping to do, this turned out to be a common thing for 4WD hire companies.
(This is not a sponsored post. Our 4WD Adventure Centre recommendation comes purely from us and our great experience. We haven’t been paid and we didn’t receive a discounted tour)
Other 4WD rental companies for Fraser Island include:
Fraser Dingo 4WD Adventure at Hervey Bay
Aussie Trax 4WD at Hervey Bay
Fraser Island Off Road 4×4 Hire at Rainbow Beach
When hiring your own 4WD to get to Fraser Island remember to ask these three questions;
- Does the cig lighter socket work? (important if that’s how you plan on pumping up your bed)
- Have the tires already been let down for sand driving? Is a pump provided to blow them back up if needed?
- Are tire treads provided for if you get stuck in the sand?
How to see Fraser Island with your own vehicle
If you’re lucky enough to have your own 4×4, there’s no need to hire. You can simply buy a ferry (or barge as the Queenslanders call them) ticket, your camping and beach access pass and you’re good to go! You’re golden if this is the case as it really is the cheapest way to see Fraser Island.
What permits do you need for a Fraser Island self drive tour?
Fraser Island is a World Heritage site and National Park, this means there are a few permits you’ll need to obtain before you travel across the water. It’s a lot easier than it sounds and can certainly be done without paying extra for the 4WD hire company to do it for you. All permits can be obtained on the Queensland Parks website, you’ll need to create an account with them and then you’ll be able to buy any permits you need for Fraser Island as well as any QLD Park campgrounds across the state.
Beach access permit ($55.90 for a month)
This is the most important one as you’ll be refused onto the ferry without one.
Camping permit ($6.75 per person, per night. $27 per family)
When booking your camping permit, you can either book on to a site (Happy Valley eco-site not included) or you can book into a beachside ‘zone’. If you book into zone 1, you’re not actually restricted to this zone and are free to camp in any so long as you are behind the dunes and not outside the zone designation signs. You’ll then need to get a yellow tag from your 4WD rental company and display this on your tent/car. Rangers may come and check this and have a friendly chat with you about the Dingos so if you see them scouting an area don’t worry, they’re just checking tags.
Ferry ticket ($130 return, standard 4×4 + 4 passengers)
The hire company should sort this for you. Price is for a return and includes the car and ALL passengers. You’ll need to keep hold of it until your return journey. Manta Ray Barge is the only company that does the crossing so this is the only price available
Prices updated and correct as of January 2023.
What to pack for a Fraser Island self drive tour and camping trip
After living in a van for the majority of the year we’re pretty used to ‘roughing it’. If you’re new to camping though, there are a few things you might not realise are absolute musts. Hopefully, this list of camping essentials for Fraser Island will help make life a little easier for you during you self drive tour of the island:
- Esky + Ice – unless you plan on eating out of tins for the entirety of your trip, you’ll need a way to keep food fresh’ish.
- Air PUMP – in caps because even we nearly forgot that!
- Bedding, maybe? depends how hot it is!
- Bug repellent
- Sun cream
- Swimming gear
- Cooking equipment (1 pan, a knife, a spoon)
Most 4×4 hire companies will have camping equipment available for an additional fee. Out of season, you might be lucky to get it thrown in if you ask nicely.
Fraser Island self drive itinerary – Day 1
Getting to Fraser Island from Rainbow Beach
It’s wise to start the day early for your first day on Fraser Island so you can beat the morning high tide. We recommend camping at Inskip Point the night before so you can be up and ready for the first ferry over to Fraser Island, which is at 6 am. Surprisingly, we were the first ones on the day we went so it was a fairly quick turn around for us but expect a little bit of a wait if you get there later.
The ferry to Fraser Island from Rainbow Beach takes about 15 minutes. This gives you plenty of time to have a walk around the deck, take some photos and watch the sunrise – you might even spot a dolphin or two!
One important thing you need to know before you head over to Fraser Island is the tide times. This will alter the times that you can be on the beach road slightly and is different from day to day. Your 4WD rental company should be able to provide you with an up to date list of Fraser Island tide times for your stay there.
Once you’re on Fraser Island you have two options. Take the inland route or stay on the beach and drive around North Spit; this will depend a lot on what the tide is doing when you arrive; North Spit isn’t manageable near high tide.
Your first stop will be inland, so head to access point at Dilli Village via the Main Beach.
The prohibited areas on this Fraser Island map will depend on which hire company you go through
Fraser Island Perched Lakes
If the tide is in throughout the morning, this is the perfect time to tick off the first section of the Fraser Island self drive itinerary; exploring the perched.
Perched lakes are ones that form above sea level and are filled with 100% fresh rainwater. Fraser Island has a lot of these within its rainforest sand dunes and each one is beautiful in its own way. Due to the low nutrients in the water, each lake can maintain a varying amount of life but all are pretty safe to swim in.
The only access point for the Fraser Island perched lakes is through Dilli Village; the Eurong route is a one-way exit. It’s a short drive from Dilli Village to the first lake but the tide is in until midday so make the most of the off road tracks and scenery!
Lake Boomanjin is the first of 3 lakes on the Fraser Island self drive itinerary and in so many ways, it’s the most unique. It’s the biggest perched lake in the world, within one of the worlds oldest tropical rain forests… on the worlds largest sand Island. When I found that out, it just blew my mind. If you’re visiting Fraser Island without a tour, you really don’t want to be missing this one off your list.
What’s even more impressive though, if that’s possible, is its magical colour. You’ll have seen photos of the crystal clear waters and white sands that can be found on Fraser Island, well, they aren’t of Lake Boomanjin. Nope, this unique perched lake is a breathtaking rainbow of reds and oranges thanks to the nearby Tea Trees that have stained the water with their tannin that leaks into it.
Sure, it doesn’t look appealing to swim in but it’s at the top of our list of must-see things on Fraser Island and you’d be mad to miss it.
Grab your swimmers and your suncream because you’re about to step foot into paradise. Lake Birrabean is where you’ll find the picture-perfect paradise seen on all the brochures, with its turquoise blue perfectly clear waters and powdery white sand you’ll never want to leave here. You know what’s even better? The tour buses bypass Lake Birrabean and head straight for Lake Mckenzie. If you’re exploring Fraser Island without a tour and you head to Lake Birrabean, we can almost guarantee this beach will be empty. We spent a good portion of the morning here.
Ok, so it’s this lake that’s actually on the brochures but they must photoshop the crowds out because this lake was bu-sy. Despite the crowds, it’s still a really pretty lake but way too touristy to enjoy fully. With its massive car park, paved path to the beach and built up toilet block it wasn’t hard to imagine you were back at Bondi Beach.
So why is it on our Fraser Island suggested itinerary you ask? Well, we might not have enjoyed it as much as Lake Birrabean but you can’t come to Fraser Island and not see it. Plus, you might enjoy the crowds a lot more than we did!
Fraser Island self drive itinerary – day 2
The overall theme for these 3 days on Fraser Island is early mornings and early nights. It’s not that there isn’t plenty to do on Fraser at night, especially if you’re staying close to one of the villages, it’s just there’s so much to see during the day that a sunrise start really is the best way. Anyway, day two on Fraser Island turned out to be our favourite and it starts with a trip to the Pinnacles.
The Pinnacles are another iconic part of Fraser Island. Made up of over 72 different coloured sands, they really shine in the hues of the sunrise and best of all; the tours won’t start arriving until later. If you stay long enough you’ll watch the sands change with the rays of the sun.
Indian Head is the most Northern point that most Fraser Island car rental companies will let you go, past here the tracks get a tougher and are recommended for experienced drivers only. That’s ok though because Indian Head offers some amazing views across the Island and really does need a full morning.
From the Pinnacles it’s roughly 40 minutes to reach Indian Head, you’ll have to take a short inland track and park at Champagne pools to give you easy access to both after the high tide. From here you can take the short walk to the top of Indian Head, it’ll only take 10 minutes but take plenty of water; it gets hot at the top once the sun rises properly.
So why was Indian Head so special for us? Well, it turns out from here you’ll not just see some amazing views, but some amazing wildlife too! White Bellied eagles own the skies while Tiger Sharks bask in the shallows, Manta Ray and Sea Turtles play in the waves and during the migration Humpback Whales come so close to the shore you’ll be able to look down almost directly above them and see the calves playing. Seeing the Tiger Sharks was a big reminder to not go in the sea at Fraser Island, no matter how tempting it looks, so we were really surprised to see people paddling even after the sighting!! Brave or stupid? You decide.
After you’ve had your fill of Indian Head (no lies; we stayed there for a good few hours!) it’s probably time to cool off. Champagne Pools are naturally formed volcanic rock pools, almost like a jacuzzi, that makes for a great safe space to have a dip.
This is an option you could add to your Fraser Island self drive itinerary if you’ve got experience driving on soft sand. We spend so much time at Indian head, that we actually chose to skip this but there should be plenty of time if you do want to do it. The turning for Lake Allom is accessed on the road that leads from the Pinnacles, it’s a tough road so while the distance isn’t far (See Fraser Island map) it will take you longer to drive it.
Lake Allom is another perched lake, this one gives you the opportunity to swim with freshwater turtles. There’s a viewing platform here as well as a walking track and campground.
Fraser Island self drive itinerary – Day 3
Your final day on Fraser Island will most likely be more of a half-day if you’re renting a 4X4. We used this day to make the most of the little bits we’d missed out up until now, and also to return back to Lake Birrabean, yep, we loved it that much. So instead of a planned out day, here are a few little extras you could use to fill your final day on your drive back to the south end of Fraser Island.
By this point on your visit to Fraser Island without a tour, you’ll have already driven past the shipwreck at peak tourist time. Make the most of day 3 with a trip back at sunrise. As with the Pinnacles, SS Maheno is almost completely tourist free as the sun comes up. The glare from the sunrise really sets off the rusted metal and there’s an almost eerie settled presence around it when there are no tour groups around.
Slowly disappearing each year, the SS Maheno was used as a hospital ship during ww2. After the war, she was converted back to a commercial ship and sailed from New Zealand to Sydney often.
She washed up on Fraser Island in 1935 after a cyclone struck, and she’s been there ever since!! As you probably saw on day 2, during the day SS Maheno is a really popular spot for the tourists on the island so we definitely suggest going at sunrise or sunset, both times we had it completely to ourselves!!
Spend the morning and escape high tide at Central Station where you’ll find a scenic boardwalk over Wanggoolba Creek and some of the worlds oldest species of ferns. It’s a great little spot to escape the heat and learn a bit about the plants and animals on the Island. When you’ve spent all of day 2 on the beaches, being surrounded by Jungle is a refreshing change!
Another really popular spot with tourists and a great way to end your final day, Eli Creek is the biggest creek you’ll have to cross on Fraser Island. With over 4MILLION litres of water flowing through it and out into the ocean every HOUR, it’s a title that won’t be beaten any time soon.
A great thing to do at Eli Creek is taking an inflatable up the creek and enjoy a relaxing ride back to the beach, taking in the scenery around you. Or simply enjoy a bit of a swim before you head back to the mainland.
Spotting dingos on Fraser Island
The aim for almost every tourist who goes to Fraser Island is to see a wild dingo. Fraser Island has the purest population of Dingo in Australia due to how little they interact with domestic dogs, which makes Fraser Island the only place you can see an almost unspoilt Dingo. They hunt mainly at night but if you hang around the beaches long enough, you’re sure to see one try to sneak in an scavenge for some food. We spotted plenty of tracks on 75-mile beach but our first and only sighting of one came while we BBQ’d at the base of Indian Head.
Be dingo Safe on Fraser Island
It’s easy to imagine Dingos being a cute and cuddly dog-like animal when they look so much like a domesticated pet but they’re far from that. Known to get aggressive to children, especially if food is involved, there are some important things you need to remember in order to stay Dingo safe on Fraser Island;
- Don’t leave food out at night
- Don’t approach them, especially if they have cubs
- Don’t leave children unattended
- If you’re walking the bush tracks, keep a stick handy
- Don’t feed them/encourage them to come closer
- If you’re near a fenced in campsite or BBQ spot – use it. It’s probably close to a den.
So can you see Fraser Island without a tour? You sure as hell can and we’d say it’s 100% the perfect choice for those travelling as a couple or group. I hope this has helped inspire you to visit Fraser Island without a tour and make you want to see it in your own way, we’d love to hear how you get on!!
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