K'gari (Fraser Island)


The Indigenous name for Fraser Island is K’gari-the Butchulla language word for ‘paradise’. It fits like a glove.

“NUP, I’VE NEVER been there.”

When this I-Venture Club (IVC) trip was first flagged with me, there was a mighty long pause on the phone after my response, followed by, “you’re kidding?” Funny isn’t it, because when you live, sleep and breathe 4WD for all of your working life, you’d think K’gari, formerly known as Fraser Island, would have been an early bucket list sign-off.

I’ll put it down to the tyranny of distance because my home town of Adelaide is a long, long drive from the shores of K’gari, the Butchulla people’s name for what is now the Great Sandy National Park. Having just visited, I can confirm that it is both great and sandy and… well, why did I wait so long? I-Venture Club is Isuzu UTE Australia’s department of fun. If you own a D-MAX or MU-X you can join a dedicated 4WD or towing driver training day at one of our locations right around the country. You might be lucky enough to snag a place on one of our long-form journeys, like this, to an iconic must-see 4WD location.

In the seven years we’ve been running IVC we’ve coached thousands of owners in the art of four-wheeling and seen some truly stunning stuff. I wasn’t about to be disappointed this time, either. Our collection of Isuzu’s finest included a pair of D-MAXs and a pair of MU-Xs. Assembling at the River Heads ferry terminal via Hervey Bay, we were introduced to our fellow attendees. It turned out they were Fraser first-timers, too.

Sunshine Coast resident Rory Williamson loves his new Marble White D-MAX X-TERRAIN and would have brought his wife Janneke along were it not for school duties. Riding shotgun instead was surfing buddy and celebrity hairdresser Stewart Foreman who rapidly rose to the position of Chief Comedian during the course of our stay. Gold Coasters Chris and Kim Szigeti brought Kim’s brand-spanking-new Basalt Black MU-X LS-T along to learn a few new tricks while surrounded by friends.

Because I rarely do any driving on these events—I’m usually jumping out of the car to offer instructions, wave my arms about, or stand manfully in the sun—I was glad that Rose, my wife and fellow life-traveller, was along for the ride as well as some of the IVC crew. We were set.
We based ourselves at the rainforest-encased Kingfisher Bay Resort, air thick with birdsong and the scent of SPF50, and made day trips across the island. If you do the same—or, indeed, stay elsewhere, then there’s one thing to remember above all others. Travelling K’gari, the world’s largest sand island is, unsurprisingly, a story about tyre pressures.

Our trip coincided with some rain, because it’s 2022, so the sand was consistently damp. Not great for pics, but a mobility bonus with a capital B in a 4WD. First we aired down to 20psi/135kPa. Lower pressure means better buoyancy on the sands, a longer footprint carrying the weight of the vehicle more effectively with less opportunity for bogging. As a double bonus, the track stays in better nick for the next passer-by.

Kingfisher’s network of roads is bitumen, but the blacktop doesn’t last long before you’re into the silica. To preserve the main thoroughfares, sections of the track have a network of interlocking plastic mats. We initially opted for high-range in 4WD on the inland trails, something our Fraser fixer, Corey, told me isn’t usually the case, particularly in the middle of most years, when rain isn’t so plentiful. The beauty with Isuzu’s 4WD system is high range can be engaged on the move with a deft flick of the Terrain Command dial and that will take you lots of places, but when the sands are dry and soft and churned up with the passage of plenty of vehicles, low range is the go.

One of the wonders of K’gari is the proximity of lush rainforest. The island bursts with life, with seriously tall timber crowding the straight lines of the modern buildings it abuts. And all on sand. It baffles my inner gardener, but that’s just one of the many wonders of this World Heritage Listed jewel.

A stop at Central Station filled in the gaps on the botanics. Apparently the Blackbutts, the Kauri and Hoop Pines and the Satinay, or Turpentine trees, in these forests will grow happily in soils that are short on minerals. There was a forestry operation here once upon a time but that’s no more, and the foliage is stunning: full of life and colour and energy.
Walking the boardwalk trail alongside Wanggoolba Creek is nothing short of astonishing in a world where ‘astonishing’ is as overused as a teenager’s TikTok. The sapphire-clear creek tiptoes and trickles in oversaturated technicolour, as it did yesterday, and a thousand years ago. Savour that moment.

Our four-vehicle convoy made steady progress through the trees, pausing briefly to accommodate the passage of oncoming vehicles. Single lane tracks demand a bit of good-neighbourly sharing and give way. Thankfully there are regular slip-points to make that possible and keep things chilled. I’d noticed that the IVC D-MAX’s tub was filled with colourful floaties, which did get me thinking about what Corey had in mind for us. The answer was a place called Eli Creek.

North past the Eastern Beach turn-off, the creek meanders from the trees to the tide line, and its gentle pace is just perfect for some bobbing downstream on a vinyl ring and watching the natural world pass you by. Lolling around with an Aperol or an ale is a recommended way to spend an afternoon here with a bunch of mates.

A sprint up the beach will bring you to a place called Waddy Point. I’d hoped we would get a surf here, as it’s the break the locals use, but not on this occasion as the winds were onshore and apparently, it’s shark season. Instead, we found ourselves taking a dive into the appropriately named Champagne Pools.

Thanks to another quirk of Fraser magic, a rocky headland tumbles down to the sea and millennia of erosion have left behind a ring of rocks that fills with each splash of waves, a gentle and protected shallow lagoon that’s perfect for a paddle.

Right along the exposed Eastern Beach are a string of campsites nestled in behind the foredune that I’ll definitely return to— perhaps in Rose’s MU-X. Rory and Stewart and Chris and Kim were thinking along similar lines. Access is mostly easy so you can get tucked away and out of the wind, something low range and a bit more tyre pressure reduction will do for you.
Next time we’ll spend a full week exploring. With this much on the menu, a two-day break barely cuts the mustard. If there weren’t enough wonders to have my brain in nature overload, then the ‘perched’ lakes as they are called, certainly tripped the final fuse.

We’d seen something similar in Tasmania on another IVC trip, but Lake Boomanjin, with its brilliantly white beach and inviting fresh waters, is so clear that snorkelling with a mask offers near-unlimited visibility. The colour-shift to turquoise just off the beach’s shelf was a revelation.

Reflecting on our visit at the site of the shipwreck SS Maheno, it was pretty obvious that, like us, if you haven’t visited Fraser before, you should. It’s a destination that’s easily accessible, is stunningly beautiful and rewards the senses in so many layers. It doesn’t matter if you’re an off-roader with mud permanently caked between his molars or you’re just starting out.

Watching Kim behind the wheel of her MU-X and seeing all of the novice’s 4WD apprehension melt away, confirms the ability of the vehicle—and the benefit of skills learnt. For her 4WD baptism I awarded her a gold star for true grit.

Meanwhile, Rory and Stewart also filled their boots, driving to gold-star standard, and with Stew getting an elephant stamp extra for the gags. “How is it,” marvelled Rory, “that a stock-standard 4WD, can make it look so easy?”

I’d like to say it was ninety per cent driver and ten per cent vehicle, but, well, I was never a mathematical genius. It turns out that those ratios are the wrong way around—a point that Rory would cheerfully embrace. They’d never been to K’gari. Nor had I. Turns out it’s never too late to learn to go your own way.

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