Fraser Island

Ages 4 & up
Queensland, Australia

Fraser Island, off the Queensland coast south of the Great Barrier Reef, is the world's biggest sand island, so you'd expect it to have beaches -- but to have an uninterrupted surf-foamed Pacific beach running the length of the island for 120km (75 miles), now that's something special. Only problem is . . . you can't swim there. The currents offshore are just too strong, and the shark population just too, well, sharky. But there's an easy way around that -- go inland, where Fraser Island offers so many places to swim, it's like nature's biggest water park.

Set into the sand dunes of Fraser Island are more than 100 little freshwater lakes, all of which have their own sandy beaches -- whiter sand than the big Pacific beach, in fact. Some, like brilliant blue Lake McKenzie, sprang up when water filled hardened hollows in the dunes. Others, like emerald-green Lake Wabby, were created when shifting dunes dammed up a stream. Shallow, swift-flowing Eli Creek is as much fun as a lazy river ride -- wade up the creek for a mile or two and then let the current carry you back down.

Of course you should spend some time on 75-Mile Beach -- it's actually a highway you can drive along with a four-wheel-drive vehicle (the only cars allowed on this island). A rusted wrecked luxury steamship, the Maheno, sits right on the beach (a rare chance for nondivers to see a shipwreck up close); just north of the wreck loom erosion-sculpted ocher cliffs called the Cathedrals. Past the rocky outcrop of Indian Head, at the northern end of the beach, the kids can actually take a cautious dip in the ocean by sitting in the Champagne Pools, pockets of soft sand protected from the worst waves by a natural barrier of dark rocks. The bubbling seawater turns the shallow pools into miniature spas.

Fraser Island is a casual, no-frills destination for folks who love wildlife better than the wild life -- there are no towns and very few facilities, apart from a couple of low- co-tourism resorts. It's a place for camping out, for hiking through eucalyptus woods and rainforest and wildflower heaths, and for fishing. From August through October, you may even be able to see humpback whales returning to Antarctica with their calves in tow (book whale-watch tours, as well as dolphin or manatee-spotting tours, from local resorts). Dingos run wild here -- what could be more Austraprofile elian than that?


Nearest Airport: Hervey Bay 15km (91D3 miles).

Accommodations: Fraser Island Retreat, Happy Valley (tel. 07/4127 9144; Kingfisher Bay Resort, west coast (tel. 1800/072 555 or 07/4120 3333;