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Queensland has long been known for its attractive beaches but did you know it’s also home to the three largest sand islands in the world? Moreton Island, K’gari (Fraser Island) and Stradbroke Island aren’t just beautiful, these iconic spots also offer plenty to see and do.

K’gari (Fraser Island)

K’gari isn’t just the largest sand island in Queensland, it’s the largest one in the world and with a World Heritage listing equivalent to that of Uluru, this pristine spot really is something special. Rugged headlands watch over the island’s fine-grained silica sand beaches, lush rainforests hug the shore and over 100 freshwater lakes lay hidden throughout the island. Hardy outdoor types can set up a tent in one of the designated camping areas but Kingfisher Bay Resort is the accommodation of choice for most visitors, not least because of its extensive guest activities program. Early risers can opt for a bird watching tour, active travellers can go on a canoeing adventure through the mangroves and swimming in the silky waters of Lake McKenzie is a must-do for travellers of all ages.

Fraser Island beach
Kingfisher Bay Resort is located on beautiful Fraser Island

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You’ll need a set of wheels to visit this secluded lake: either bring your own 4WD, hire a vehicle from Aussie Trax or sit back and relax on a Beauty Spots 4WD group tour. After checking out Lake McKenzie you could head to Eli Creek, a fast flowing watercourse which pours up to 4 million litres of water into the ocean every hour. A classic K’gari experience involves floating down the creek at a surprisingly swift pace, bobbing around in the water or relaxing on a blow up pool toy. You can also explore the wreck of the SS Maheno, which was once almost as glamorous as the Titanic.

SS Maheno wreck on Fraser Island
SS Maheno wreck on Fraser Island

Having a 4WD isn’t optional on K’gari as there are no sealed roads but there are some great 4WD options.  This sand island is ideal for more experienced 4WD enthusiasts as some tracks are steep and the sand can be deep and soft, particularly if there hasn’t been much rain. Don’t leave it until the last minute to head back to the barge as people often get bogged. Unless you and some other 4WD folk help to push them out it’s unlikely you’ll be going anywhere.

Getting There:  Catch the ferry as a foot passenger or load your 4WD – and yes, you really do need one –on a vehicle ferry.

Playing There: Sunset strolls, fishing trips, spa treatments, 4WD touring, free ranger walks, indigenous dining – and the list goes on. A scenic flight with Air Fraser Island which finishes with a spectacular landing on Seventy-Five Mile Beach is one of the more unusual ways to see the island. 

Stradbroke Island

‘Straddie’ is home to unspoilt beaches, dolphins, turtles and manta rays and is less than an hour from Brisbane.  It’s one of the world’s most ecologically important wetlands and is a favourite holiday spot for Brisbane locals. Stradbroke is actually made up of two islands – North and South – which were joined until a fierce storm broke up the sandy spit between the two stretches of sand in 1896. Things have been pretty quiet on South Stradbroke since the island’s one major resort closed down. When holiday makers talk about heading to Straddie it’s more than likely they’re referring to North Stradbroke which has three small towns: Dunwich where the ferries come in, Amity Point and Point Lookout. Straddie hasn’t changed much since the 70s when I used to stay there with my parents in a fibro holiday shack but this is part of its charm.

Strolling along Cylinder Beach
Cylinder Beach

Thankfully there’s better accommodation on offer these days but enjoying a meal at the iconic Point Lookout pub is about as exciting as it gets, something which makes this sleepy place an ideal spot to lie on the beach and chill out with a good book. Point Lookout is the most popular spot for holiday makers with Cylinder Beach looking like something out of a picture postcard.  Accommodation ranges from hotels which are ideal for shorter stays to private holiday rentals and camping.  Unlike Fraser, there’s no need for a 4WD unless you’re planning on travelling along the beach as the island has a network of sealed roads.

Getting There:  Catch a train to Cleveland and a bus to the ferry terminal or drive straight to the terminal and either park your car or load it onto a vehicle ferry. Water taxis run every hour or there’s the Stradbroke Flyer catamaran service for foot passengers.

Playing There: Chill out on Cylinder Beach or try something a little different and sign up for a motorised kayak fishing tour with Straddie Super Sports.

Moreton Island

Moreton Island may only be the third largest sand island but it’s home to the world’s highest coastal dune – Mount Tempest – which offers stunning views of the surrounding area. It’s an ideal spot to learn how to 4WD with easy tracks and direct beach access from the Micat Ferry. Many travellers come here to see the famous pod of wild dolphins which have been visiting the Tangalooma Island Resort jetty since the 70s. This family friendly holiday spot offers accommodation ranging from camping to 4.5 star and is home to an official dolphin feeding program.

4WD
Learn how to 4WD on Moreton Island
Tangalooma dolphin feeding
Tangalooma dolphin feeding

Guests wade into the tranquil waters of Moreton Bay where they’re coached by a team of friendly marine biologists – ‘hold your herring like an ice-cream cone’ – while dolphins wait patiently in the shallows. Watching from the jetty is free and makes for some great photos but don’t miss putting your name down to feed Rani, Bobo, Shadow and their friends. Opt for the back of the queue and – if you’re lucky – you’ll get to feed them some extra fish instead of just one.

Getting There: Catch a high-speed catamaran on a day trip to Moreton Island, load your 4WD onto the Micat vehicle barge or organise a mooring for your boat.  Scenic helicopter transfers are also available.

Playing There: There are over 20 activities to choose from but the famous dolphin feeding is a must-do.  It’s free for overnight guests and day trippers on selected packages. Contact the resort for more information.

Disclosure: The writer visited Queensland’s sand islands as a guest of the operators.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.