Australia's coastline is famous for its white sand, rocky outcrops, inviting surf, often tumultuous waves and its incredible marine life. Perhaps lesser known are its hundreds of smaller islands that hug the mainland of every state and lie further offshore in territorial waters. Many are uninhabited, several are national parks and a number are homes to resorts. Although the islands of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef are probably the best known to the outside world (Dunk, Hamilton, Hayman, Heron, Lizard, Great Keppel, Whitsundays) a visit to others around the country can be the highlight of your trip down under.
Kangaroo Island (www.tourkangarooisland.com.au), off the southern coast of South Australia is actually Australia's third largest island. With pristine landscapes, an abundance of wildlife, beaches that you would only dream of and fewer tourists than you'd imagine, it makes as ideal getaway from Adelaide or a complete destination on its own.
Accessible by 45-minute trip on a SeaLink ferry (www.sealink.com.au) four times a day from Cape Jervis, the southern-most tip of the mainland 60 miles from Adelaide ($35 per adult one way plus $68 if you bring a vehicle), it is also possible to fly to Kangaroo Island from Adelaide (30 minutes) on Regional Express (tel. +61/8-8553-2938; www.regionalexpress.com.au) for $69 one-way or Air South (tel. +61/8-8234-4988; www.airsouth.com.au) from $55 on-way (early-bird special). The island is actually rather large, a tad over 1,700 square miles (larger than Rhode Island, smaller than Delaware), so you may choose to rent a car on the mainland and bring it over, or there are car rental facilities on the island itself (including Hertz and Budget).
The island boasts a rather large number of accommodation options, albeit all low key with not a high rise in site. Most people opt for bed and breakfast stays, or will rent a seaside cottage, plus there are hostels and camp grounds. There are several deluxe private homes available for short stays and the standard hotel/motel options. An overnight stay at a hosted bed and breakfast including accommodations and breakfast ranges from $100 to $200 for two people, depending on the location. Motel accommodation starts at a low $40 per night for two people. Get away from it all at The Allure Beach Retreat (www.allurebeachretreat.com.au), a simple two room eco-retreat surrounded by pristine wilderness with its own private access beach located at Pennington Bay. Rooms here are priced at $170 per night for two people. Charlie Bates (www.charliebates.com.au) is a 100 year old cozy stone cottage located in Peneshaw. Again, there are two rooms here, priced at $106 for two per night, or $132 for four people with a three-night minimum.
Apart from laying on one of the idyllic beaches all day, there is a lot to see and do here including Kangaroo Island's four major parks: Flinders Chase National Park with its stunning rock formations (Remarkable Rocks and Admiral's Arch); Seal Bay Conservation Park where visitors can walk among huge colonies of Australia sea lions; Kelly Hill Conservation Park known for its magnificent limestone caves; and Cape Willoughby Conservation Park with its historic lighthouse. If for no other reason, you should visit Kangaroo Island for its abundant and accessible wildlife. The island is home to huge numbers of kangaroos, koalas, echidnas and endangered Cape Barren geese, plus you are likely to also spot bandicoots, wallabies, fairy penguins, possums, frogs, bats, goanna lizards and seals (and perhaps a few snakes, but I don't want to scare you).
Fraser Island (www.fraserisland.net), the world's largest sand island, may be in Queensland, but it is very different from the larger resort-style islands located to its north. Firstly it is totally sand which makes it rather unique. But rather than being desert-like it is actually green, with rainforests, dozens of fresh water lakes of various colors to swim in, sensational sand dunes up to 600 feet high and some of the most superb beaches you will ever encounter.
The island is generally accessed from Hervey Bay, a town best known for its premier whale watching from July to November, located about three to four hours drive north of Brisbane. You can fly into Hervey Bay (although the airlines call it "Fraser Coast") from Brisbane on QantasLink (www.qantas.com.au) from $96 one-way, from Melbourne or Sydney on Virgin Blue (www.virginblue.com.au) from $114 and $53 one-way respectively or from Sydney aboard JetStar (www.jetstar.com) from $52 one-way (all fares were valid between February and May, 2008). From Hervey Bay, you need to take a barge or catamaran to get across. The catamaran is $24 per person one-way whereas the barge costs around $124 round-trip but that includes your 4WD vehicle plus up to four passengers (only 4WD vehicles are allowed on the island). There are several competing barge companies so for a comparison of rates and schedules visit www.boxatrix.com/fraser/barge.htm. The site also features listings of 4WD vehicle rental locations in Hervey Bay and on the island.
You will definitely need an off-road vehicle if you plan to explore the island. There are no paved roads outside the resort areas and most of your driving will be along huge stretches of beach (including the famed 75-mile beach). It is essential to get your hands on a good map of the island plus be very aware of tide times as many a wayward visitor has got stranded on a beach during high tide or had their vehicle immersed while on a leisurely outing to a remote beach. If you choose not to rent a 4WD vehicle, your best bet will be to stay at a resort and take organized group tours of the island from there.
When I first visited Fraser, accommodation options were limited to one or two properties, but today the choice has widened somewhat to include several privately owned homes for rent, plus budget cabins and units. Camping is still one of the most popular ways to experience the Island. Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village (www.kingfisherbay.com) is the largest of the eco-resorts, the most luxurious and the most expensive. You can actually get a helicopter flight here from Hervey Bay to save you the boat ride ($172 per person one-way). Room rates here start at $168 for two people per night. They also have villas for four people from $268 per night or larger houses that sleep up to 12 people priced from $485 per night. Fraser Island Beach Houses (www.fraserislandbeachhouses.com.au) offers a selection of absolute beach frontage two and three bedroom units, plus a number of smaller studios. A minimum of two nights is required. Rates start from $141 per night for two people.
A World Heritage listed site, Fraser is home to more than 200 species of birds along with wallabies, possums, turtles, flying foxes (a type of fruit bat), dugongs (Australian manatees) and goannas. But Fraser is best known for its pure bred dingoes, which roam the island is large numbers. Generally dingoes are not dangerous (try to remove the thoughts of "a dingo's got my baby" from your mind) but it is important not to feed them and to be aware that they are wild animals, not cute dogs. For a swimming experience to remember, take a dip in Lake Boomanjin, the largest perched lake in the world, Lake Wabby, just north of Eurong on the east coast, Lake McKenzie in the middle of the southern part of the island and Lake Bowarrady, where you'll be sharing the water with tortoises. Don't miss the classic photo opportunity at the S.S. Maheno shipwreck site located on a stretch of beach about 38 miles from the southern tip of the island on the ocean side.
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