Stage 2 - Fraser Island Great Walk

Happy Valley to Valley of the Giants (19km)

We left our lodge at the Wilderness Retreat at 7am, keen to make as much distance as possible before the day warmed up too much - our packs seemed much heavier with 5 days worth of food and supplies loaded up as we trudged out of the village and up the deep sandy road. However, we quickly reached the official start of the Fraser Island Great Walk, a new walk set up by the Queensland National Parks Authorities as part of a system of Great walks through the state. Leaving the road, we climbed slowly up the firm, but narrow walking track, a couple of dark moving shapes that suddenly appeared on my face, a reminder that he who starts early clears the spider webs on a bush track. The bush was strangely silent after four days of walking along the rolling surf of the Pacific, but the twitters, chirps and whistles of the rich bird fauna of this open woodland landscape were a welcome replacement.

Post marking the start of
The Fraser Island Great Walk

Track through dry scerophyll forest

Soon the track broadened, as it climbed higher into the wooded dune system - a couple of short steep climbs followed before we crossed a sharp dune ridge and began our descent toward the first perched lake on our walk, Lake Garawongera. Despite the overcast sky, perspiration was already pouring of us in the high humidity. However, the broad white sands and reed beds of the lake, dotted with the ruby-like jewels of sundews, provided the opportunity for a break and cool down.

Flower-spikes of tussock grass

On the shores of Lake Garawongera

Piccabeen palms in the rainforest

First of the big trees

Leaving the lake we descended through woodland before a long zig-zag took us past a small swamp and into an area of ferny understorey with scattered cycads - the trees were starting to become noticeably taller. Straightening up again, we headed east, picking up an old forestry track that descended into an increasingly lush and tall area of rainforest.

The path became a carpet of leaves that crunched beneath our feet as we passed some of the first forest giants, over 8m in diameter with their crowns reaching 40-50m into the sky, making a curious contrast to the thin and delicate trunks of the understorey of piccabeen palms.

Grass trees in the Wallum heathland

Finally the track reached Bogimbah Creek, turning to follow the contour of its steep valley. Reaching a track intersection - we took a 500m detour to check out the old forestry settlement at Petries Camp - (probably not worth it as little remains), before commencing a steep climb southward up out of the valley and over the next series of dunes.

Deep in the rain forest


Bush rat behaving badly

The vegetation became rapidly drier and sparser as we climbed higher and soon we found ourselves walking through a dry heathland of banksia, tea-trees and grass trees that had not long been burnt in a fire. The sun, which had by now broken through the cloud cover glared at us from the white sand of the track and sparse overstorey. However, within a kilometre of crossing the top of the dune and commencing a long slow descent, the vegetion rapidly changed as heath turned into woodland and woodland into rainforest - once again we were walking on a leafy carpet beneath the giant brushbox and satinays. Welcome to the Valley of the Giants!

Campsite in the Valley of the Giants

A few kilometres into the forest we reached our campsite - with its welcome water tap, well-set out tent sites, platforms for sitting on and dingo-proof steel food boxes. The planners have done a good job with these campsites and its setting in the midst of the giant rainforest trees was an extremely peaceful one, with small yellow robins hopping about our campsite, the signature bush call of the whipbird overhead and the nocturnal scurryings of the bush rats for company.

There was but one problem here (and it may well be seasonal) - between us the Fair Nello and I killed over 200 March flies undertaking suicide missions in search of blood!

Now here the trees are really big!
Giant tallowwood in the
Valley of the Giants

Giant Satinay

Leaf-covered rainforest track

Giant kauri

Later that afternoon, we wandered quietly under the canopy of the forest giants, tallow wood, satinay, kauri pine, brush box, some up to 1000 years old and towering up to 70m above our heads - this is a great place to come and reflect on the significance of our own existence. It was comforting to know that, since Fraser Island was declared a world heritage area, they may well be there in another 1000 years!

Valley of the Giants to Lake Wabby (19km)

As the sunlight filtered down through the tall trees, we farewelled our fellow campers - another couple and a party of 6 walking in the opposite direction - and headed off along the valley floor; one last chance to be inspired by the giant trees towering high above us. Soon we climbed out of the valley and over a low sand ridge into a depression in the dunes. This moisture trap was filled with rainforest trees and lianas draping their woody vines over the track. Once into the depression the air became thick and humid. The birds sang above us, but why not? - they were high in the canopy where cooling breezes wafted, not in the saturated air and still, sticky humidity of the forest floor. It wasn't long before we were covered with perspiration.

Cycads and asparagus-ferns carpeting the
dry sclerophyll forest

Eventually we climbed up and out of the depression; the landscape changed rapidly from rainforest to much drier woodland, carpeted with asparagus ferns and cycads. At the top of the long ridge, a sign pointed to the lookout over the Badjala Sandblow. We left our packs at the sign and wandered out, climbing the steep face of the dune, where vegetation and sand fought for dominance, to emerge at the head of a massive sheet of sand stretching out above the forest towards the blue waters of the Pacific beyond.

Here the cool wind blew unimpeded and we relaxed in the shade of a small lone tree on the dune, taking in the view and the letting the wind blow away the stickiness of the last few kilometres.

View across the Badjala Sandblow

Back on the main route again, we commenced a series of long, slow switchbacks as the track worked its way through a series of meandering and undulating dunes; into a damper, lusher depression, up over a drier ridge and back into another hot, humid depression again - this section was becoming a real slog in the forest. There was little joy to be had in stopping to rest, as the March flies and diurnal mosquitos soon found us and moved us on. Finally, we cross the deep, powdery sand of the Poyungan Road; we had broken out into an area where air could drain and reduce the impact of the high humidity; we followed the track down through wet sclerophyll and in to more shady rainforest, our feet crackling on the dry leaf carpet beneath us.

All that remained was one last climb up through drier casuarina and eucalypt woodland to Lake Wabby, the anticipation of a cooling dip near the campsite growing stronger with each step. Imagine our disappointment when we crested the saddle to find a sign indicating Lake Wabby 500m to the east, walker's campsite 1 km to the west up a steep hill. We needed to unload and set up camp, so we trudged slowly up the hill to the site, well laid out but in dry bushland a few hundred metres from the day-trippers car park and 1.6 km from the lake. We renamed it the "Not Lake Wabby Campsite"!


Sandy 4WD track in wet sclerophyll forest

Tent set up, we had a quick lunch and headed off for the 3km sidetrip to Lake Wabby. The setting of this lake is spectular, with the golden sands of the Hammerstone Sandblow descending steeply down to plunge into its warm dark waters, facing a backdrop of thick green forest at its far side. Visit it soon if you want to see it - each year the sandblow consumes a little more the lake as it spreads inland!

Cool at last!

The beautiful setting of Lake Wabby

The Hammerstone Sandblow is slowly swallowing
the lake

Many day trippers had heeded this advice as the edge of the lake was lined with people sitting in the warm waters that dropped steeply into the lake. They seemed very friendly, all waving madly when we arrived. However, as we took shirts off to go in for a swim, we realised they were not waving at us; a horde of March flies attacked the moment we stopped moving and drove us quickly into the water. Even here the flies persisted and soon I had a school of very satisfied and grateful fish swimming about me gobbling up the offerings of swatted flies. It was a small revenge.

Back up at the top of the hill again, only the mesh of the tent provided full relief from the mosquitos and biting flies until the pleasant darkness finally sent them packing. It had definitely been a hard day at the office, but the longest and hardest two days of the Fraser Island Great Walk were now behind us!

Hiking Tip # 1

If any people like me suffer from the problem of chafing from the hipbelt of your backpack when carrying a heavy load and perspiring, I have found a solution - panty liners!! Just cut one in half and stick each wing to the skin over your hip bone to reduce chafing. They passed a hard two days field-testing in the humidity of the Fraser Island forests and stopped any discomfort from friction caused by the belt rubbing wet clothing over wet skin.

Lake Wabby to Lake McKenzie (11.5km)

It was another warm sunny morning as we left the "Not Lake Wabby" campsite and followed a long ridge under open woodland. The sandy path, as along most of the tracks on the island, was covered with the entrances and mounds of the huge ant population that calls this sandmass home. They have a sizeable part of the recycling contract on the island and carry out their task with gusto. I noted that a swatted March fly never lasted more than a minute before being discovered and carried off by the ants into their nests - it felt good to be contributing to this recycling process!



Avenue of shady tea-trees

Leafy track beneath the big trees

Eventually the track descended slowly into a damper valley; trees became taller, shade deeper, and the first piccabeen palms announced our arrival in another section of rainforest. We were treated to a close-up encounter with a 3m long carpet python; its beautifully patterned body draped over a fallen log on the side of a path.

After looping around through the rainforest, the track climbed up and followed the contour of the ridge - below us the sharp ecotone between wetter and drier forest was clearly visible.

2m carpet python beside the track (only a tiddler!)

Another big goanna

A few goannas and large skinks wandered across the path ahead of us on this day of reptilian encounters, as we trudged across the crackling sticks and eucalypt twigs that were strewn over the track. To our left, the first glimpses of Lake Mackenzie (or Boorangoora, as the indigenous Butchulla people call it) appeared through the trees and soon we found ourselves descending a white sandy 4WD track toward the lake. Below, the brilliant white sandy beach and blue waters urged us on.

Another half kilometre and we arrived at the walker's camp in its dingo-proof fence adjacent to the day-trippers car park. Another disappointing lake arrival - it was very easy to wonder why we had put in the hard effort of walking in to this beautiful site when everyone else just drove there. I feel that walker's camps should be well away from the car visitors to preserve the sense of isolation that the walker seeks.


The brilliant white shoreline of Lake McKenzie

It was time for a swim in this most famous of Fraser Island's perched lakes. We wandered down to the beautiful white beach and clear blue water - oh well! now we know why all those cars and buses were in the carpark. The beach somewhat resembled Bondi on a Sunday with bodies beautiful strewn along the sands and the loud carryings on of a group of backpackers disturbing the still air. Again, not what we anticipated at the end of a long walk, but the water was cool and refreshing and the mosquitos and March flies did not seem to like the pleasant wind blowing in across the lake.

March fly escape module - Lake McKenzie


Daytrippers enjoying the clear blue water and white sands of
McKenzie sur Lac

Returning to the camp for lunch and fly killing (I am worried that I have started doing it for pleasure rather than survival - the March flies are pushing me over to the dark side!), we eventually retreated into our mesh tent for a peaceful siesta. When we woke it was late afternoon and almost everyone had left the beach - peace had returned and another refreshing swim in the evening stillness made us feel more alive than at any stage over the last two days.

For the first night we were alone at the campground and, after dinner, we took a stroll down to the beach once more. A gentle cool breeze wafted across the lake, which was silent apart from the soft lapping of wind ripples on the shore and the soothing chorus of frogs drifting across from the reed beds. Venus was shining brightly in the west and Mars in the east, and the clouds drifted slowly across the face of an almost full moon. The brilliant white sands gleamed in the moonlight and the distant beaches showed up like a string of pearls around the dark lake waters. This was certainly one of those moments; strolling hand-in-hand with the fair Nello on a moonlit beach of a beautiful lake, the only two people far from civilisation. This is what it is all about - this is why we are happy to walk 75 km with heavy packs on our backs.

Aah, it becomes clear, Boorangoora, we were wrong to judge you by daylight, you save your magic for the night; free from the madding crowds.

Magic moonlit moments

Lake McKenzie to Lake Benaroon (15km)

We had gone to bed in the clear stillness of a moonlit night and by early morning a heavy rainstorm had passed by and the sun was rising to chase the remnant clouds away. The changes in weather in this part of the world seem to be very rapid. Ignoring the impertinence of a bush rat, which chewed a hole through the raincover and pocket of the fair Nello's pack overnight, we strolled down the the shore of Lake McKenzie for one last visit and for that most refreshing of swims - the six o'clock skinny dip. The lake was perfect after the rain, serene and reflecting the clouds and tree-lined shores in its still waters.

Early morning reflections on Lake McKenzie

We left at 8.30 am just as the first of the day's tourists were arriving. It was a good time to go, though in fact we were driven out - by a horde of March flies, who had resumed activity an hour earlier and, missing their usual day-tripper prey, attacked us with a vengeance as we packed up our gear. What a contrasting place - ethereal beauty to March fly hell in less than 12 hours!

Emerald water +white sand = Basin Lake

A short climb out of the lake depression saw us descend slowly into the next hollow, which held a small swamp, before climbing steeply through woodland to reach Basin Lake. This small lake has to be one of the most beautiful perched lakes, with its limpid waters surrounded by a circle of white sand beach, set deep in a hollow of dense eucalypt forest. A quick dip soothed our bodies, which felt like we had gone through an involuntary acupuncture session after the attack of the March flies.


From Basin Lake the track angled down a steep dune ridge; trees gradually became taller and vegetation denser and soon we found ourselves once again in the lush rainforest of a water-rich dune valley. A few hundred metres further on and we were walking along the meandering boardwalk beside the crystal clear waters and sandy bed of palm-lined Wanggoolba Creek. On the south side of the creek lay Central Station, with its historic buildings and tree plantings from a 1920s forestry venture.

Plantation of tall eucalypts at
Central Station

By now, we were beginning to anticipate the pattern of the walk and knew that the previous steep descent meant an equally steep climb up out of the valley on to the central high dunes, covered with a tall eucalypt forest containing massive blackbutt, brush box and satinay trees.

Palm-lined Wanggoolba Creek

Strangler fig enveloping
the trunk of its host

1920s seed-drying hut at Central Station

Path through a fallen forest giant

Following the ridge around, the track ambled past Lake Jennings, visible only as brief glimpses through the trees. The sky was becoming quite dark with the odd peal of thunder rumbling in the distance and, as we descended to Lake Birrabeen, a steady light rain began to fall. Fortunately, little made it to the forest floor and, by the time we reached the shores of the lake, the sky was again clearing. It was a good time to have lunch on the white sandy beach, lined with gnarled paperbarks.

Storm clouds passing over Lake Birrabeen

The sun returns to Lake Birrabeen

Heading to Benaroon

Old man paperbark

Batteries recharged, we quickly walked around the edge of Lake Birrabeen and past the dry reedy swamp of Barga Lagoon. At its southern end the swamp merged into the waters of Lake Benaroon - at last our stop for the night! We walked around the white sandy beach to the campsite and set up the tent before returning for a refreshing dip. Lake Benaroon does not have the perfect white beach of Lake Mackenzie, but it also does not have the crowds - isolation creates its own beauty and the water was just as cool. Once again we would have the lake and the campsite to ourselves.

Lying in the shade of a paperbark with a cool wind blowing, our thoughts were again disturbed by the sound of distant thunder. The thick band of grey cloud began to roll in and we hurried back to the tent to get everything under cover. "I think that it is all bluff" said the fair Nello as the sheet lightning above generated an almost continuous roll of thunder; a minute later sheets of rain forced us into the tent, from which we only emerged two hours later into the darkness of a drenched forest. Here we appreciated one of sand's many qualities - the ability to soak up rain like a sponge - for anywhere else we would have stepped out into a muddy lake after such a thunderstorm.

Stormclouds approaching Lake Benaroon

As we ate our dinner, the moon broke through the departing clouds and bathed the forest around us in an ethereal glow. What a curious and changeable world it is!

Lake Benaroon to Dilli Village (13km)

We awoke early to the sound of the dawn chorus of forest birds - a quick morning dip in the lake to wake us up, quick breakfast and pack up and we were away just as the mosquitos and March flies were becoming active again. Following the flat track along the reeds and paperbarks of the lake shore we made rapid progress, but perched lakes by definition sit in a hollow and you cannot avoid the climb out. The track led us away from the lake and up the next dune system, covered by a shady mixed woodland. Reaching the top, we undulated along a sand ridge through eucalypt, casuarina, banksia and tea-trees, brushing by the still damp bright green feather like leaves of asparagus fern that covered the forest floor. The forest seemed refreshed after the downpour of last night. Soon the ridge sloped downwards again and the track emerged at the white sandy shores of Lake Boomanjin, the largest perched lake in the world.

Early morning by the lake

Farewell Lake Benaroon

Tea-tree silhouettes


Rainbow bee-eater feeding on a dragonfly

After a brief break, we crossed over its northern edge; a broad stretch of sand and reeds, across which meandered the shallow tannin-stained waters of small streamlets flowing into the lake. The contrast of brilliant white sand and honey-coloured watercourse was striking.


Inflow into Lake Boomanjin

Rounding the shoreline, we found the perfect spot to sit and take in the Boomanjin landscape - under the shade of a densely leaved, gnarly old paperbark, next to the tea-coloured waters of the lake. A cooling breeze wafted across the lake surface, creating a ripple of wind waves against the bank and keeping the biting insects at bay. We could have stayed longer in this idyllic setting, but the day was heating up and we had another dune to climb on our way out of Lake Boomanjin.

Crossing the northern basin of Lake Boomanjin

Tannin-stained waters of Lake Boomanjin, the largest perched lake in the world

Golden orb spider waiting for unwary
insects and bushwalkers

This time, the forest seemed drier and hotter and the wind could not penetrate the thick vegetation; spirits raised by the lake's edge quickly sagged again. However, we soon reached the steep wall of the Wongi Sandblow, guarded by a large population of golden orb spiders. Their architecturally perfect and incredibly strong webs were strung across the path up to the sandblow, and glinted golden in the sunshine as the large creator of these masterpieces sat fatly in the centre waiting for insects or the face of an unwary walker!

We climbed up to see the wind-sculpted pale golden sands of the sandblow slowly creeping forward into the forest, with the deep blue of the Pacific visible in the distance.


Looking down the Wongi Sandblow toward the Pacific

Moving on, we meandered through a series of depressions behind the dune system, before climbing one last time up onto a long ridge, which led us down through scribbly gum and bracken and finally into banksia scrubland, where we were accompanied by the high-pitched buzz of a host of bee-flies hovering about the track. Soon their buzz was replaced by the welcome sound of the distant surf telling us that the walk was almost over.

A few more meanders and undulations and we crossed a wooden footbridge over a sedge-filled swamp to reach Dilli Village Campsite, a welcome oasis of green lawns and shade, behind its dingo-proof fence. We had completed the Fraser Island Great Walk. The pleasure of a couple of nights in the comfort of a cabin, a proper bed, shower, non-dehydrated food and the soon-to-be cold beers that we had left in our food drop, plus no biting insects and a cool dark waterhole in neighbouring Govi Creek to relax in, showed that simple rewards are often the best.

Pied butcherbird -
bush songster

Relaxing in front of the cabin at Dilli with its ....

.... green oasis and .....

.... cool dark waterhole
On whinging about biting flies

You may well have noted a fair amount of whinging about the March flies and mosquitoes. Normally, we consider ourselves fairly tolerant of these insect pests - a dash of DEET, a swish of the hand and everyone gets on with it. On Fraser Island, however, they do not seem to play by the rules. Mosquitoes in the forests of Fraser Island are active by day as well as night, although DEET does repel them. They were the lesser of the two evils. I know March flies from walks in the alpine areas of southern Australia and they have never really bothered me. The Fraser Island March flies, of which there were at least three species - small black, large green-eyed (the most common) and monstrous bronze-eyed - were a different proposition and almost drove us mad at times. They were active from 7am to sunset, completely indifferent to tropical strength DEET, and even bit through clothing and the hair on your head in their suicidal drive to suck your blood. In ones or twos they would be have been easily handled, but with a dozen or more attacking at any one time, you either had to keep on the move, retreat into your mesh tent or jump into water to avoid them. At least they were relatively rare on the coast! They have apparently been active for three weeks, so the moral is; if you want to walk on Fraser Island, do so before November! We had originally planned this trip for September, but for a number of reasons it was delayed to what is probably not the best time for walking in the north of Australia.