“This was the best holiday, ever,” stated T1 as we boarded the ferry home at the end of our stay at Kingfisher Bay Resort on Queensland’s Fraser Island.
I hadn’t known what to expect when I started planning a trip for the five of us to the largest sand island in the world. When I was commissioned to write a travel piece for Australia and New Zealand magazine* I even considered leaving the kids with friends for the weekend while hubby and I went, as I wasn’t sure it would be a family friendly destination. How wrong I was!
The last time I’d visited Fraser Island – on a day tour back in 2008 while backpacking – it rained all day. Hubby and I had a great time but we always knew wanted to go back and explore it for longer (and preferably without the torrential downpour). I remembered seeing 4x4s, wild campsites and people fishing from the beach. I didn’t expect to find a family resort on the island, but that’s exactly what I discovered when I started to do some research.
Fraser Island for families
The ferry at River Heads is only about three and a half hours north of Brisbane (if you’re travelling with kids allow more time for a stop or two along the way). The ferry only takes around 50 mins, so it’s doable as a long weekend destination from the city although, we extended our stay along the Fraser Coast afterwards to research another article (more on the stunning locations like Rainbow Beach and Tin Can Bay to follow!)
You don’t need your own 4×4 to visit Fraser, despite what you might have heard. Of course it’s a fantastic destination for wild adventures, beach driving, fishing, and camping, but at Kingfisher Bay you can leave your car in a secure car park at the resort’s mainland reception and travel as foot passengers. The resort runs lots of activities and tours, so you can still explore the island, but without the worry of getting bogged on the beach!
“I’m looking out for dolphins, whales and turtles,” T2 exclaimed staring out across the water for most of the journey over.
Top tip: Bring binoculars for the ferry so you can check out the island and look out for wildlife as you’re sailing by. We forgot our binoculars, so I used the zoom on my camera to look out for dingoes! Using this we realised a group of tiny people we could see further down the beach were actually getting married on the sand which the kids thought was really cool.
When the ferry arrived, we were met by a little train at the jetty to take us to reception. This was another big hit with the kids!
We were staying in a two-bedroom villa which was perfect for a larger family like ours. It had an open plan kitchen, dining and living room, the kids had bunk beds and a single bed in their room so they were all really happy to be sharing, there was a double bedroom for us and the bathroom had a lovely big bath in it (great for young kids who don’t like showers!). What I loved most about our spotlessly clean villa was there was a dishwasher and washing facilities, along with sachets of liquids in case you forgot to bring your own (very important for families as there is nothing worse than washing up on your holiday, or running out of clean clothes!) I also loved how the villas blended into the landscape. The large deck was a great place to spot wildlife – we had three friendly kookaburras hopping around our deck for most of our stay which the kids thought was fabulous!
The first night the boys went along to the Junior Eco Rangers club – a kids’ club that I knew they would adore. Named by Australian Traveller magazine as one of the top 100 things to do with your kids this summer, I can definitely see why. The kids went off with a ranger for an evening of star gazing, camp fires, marshmallow toasting and Aboriginal legends. While hubby, E (who was a bit too young to join the boys) and I went along to experience the fusion of bush tucker and modern cuisine in the resort’s signature Seabelle restaurant. We sampled taste sensations like lemon myrtle oil and bush spiced butter on freshly baked bread and steaks cooked with a quandong jus. E enjoyed battered flat-head and hand cut chips before curling up in her chair and going to sleep, leaving us with a very peaceful evening of wine and cocktails.
We collected two very excited, smokey boys at the end of the night. For them, this turned out to be the highlight of their entire holiday – they were full of campfire stories and couldn’t wait to tell us what they’d got up to. On the way back to our villa they even pointed out some of the plants they’d learned about.
Kingfisher Bay Beauty Spots Tour
Although children and babies are welcomed on the tours, I decided to do the island Beauty Spots Tour on my own as it was a long day and I knew the kids would hate getting on and off a bus all day long. Instead hubby hung out with the kids at the resort for the day, enjoying the play park and the beach which was fabulous for shell-hunting and nature spotting.
The tour was a great chance to see the island’s main sights.
It involved a wade down the fresh waters of Eli Creek (plan ahead and wear shorts ready for this but be prepared to get them a little bit wet if you step into a dip like I did!), the Stonetool Sandblow, Central Station Rainforest – where you learn all about the island’s logging heritage and take a hike through the forest, the Pinnacles coloured sand, the iconic Maheno shipwreck, and the highlight of the day is a visit to the absolutely stunning Lake McKenzie where the pure white sand is lapped by gin-coloured water. An unexpected addition to the tour was the chance to take a scenic flight over the island. I’m not a fan of flying – especially not in tiny planes where the cabin is smaller than my car – but I found myself volunteering for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The plane took off from the beach runway as cars drove past us. We were treated to the most incredible view, flying over the island’s interior and then back out to sea to look for whales and dolphins. If you get the chance to do this, this will be the highlight of your stay so give it a go even if you’re a bit nervous like I was!
Whale Watching Cruise
The next day I took the opportunity to go on a whale watching cruise. The waters around Fraser are known as the best place in the world to see humpbacks as they take some time out in the calm waters to socialise, have fun and teach their young important skills. I’ve been lucky enough to go whale watching a few times and I can safely say this was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. They were splashing, tail slapping and breaching all around the boat. It was difficult to know where to look next – it was just awesome.
Back at the resort I went along to the Bush Tucker Talk and Taste where I got to taste the traditional flavours of the land and hear how they are weaved into the menu at Seabelle. While a ranger talked through the tasting platters, the chef cooked up emu, crocodile and kangaroo.
On one evening I went out with T1 on a guided night bushwalk. He’s obsessed with wildlife, so seeing his excitement as we gathered in reception and met a ranger by torch-light was such a treat. We learnt how to spot spiders from a distance using the beam of a torch (their eyes shine like tiny diamonds when you shine it on them), we investigated a log full of funnel web spiders, we saw our first ever sugar glider and we hunted for rays from the jetty. T1 would have been happy staying out all night long looking for wildlife and listening to the ranger’s stories and it was so lovely getting some time alone with him as anyone with three kids knows how rare that is. His brother and sister had an equally fun night alone with Daddy (as they aren’t so wildlife obsessed) so everybody had a good time!
In between tours we found time to explore the beach, play in the resort’s park, dig in the sand, drink hot chocolate (and wine!) from the jetty hut and laugh at the armies of thousands of crabs that made the sand look like it was moving as they ran from our movements.
After our lovely meal in the Seabelle restaurant, we mixed things up for the rest of the stay. One night we ate pizzas at the resort’s Sand Bar, and as we ordered way too much (we were hungry and got carried away!) they packed the rest up as a take away for us which was great as it meant we had lunch for the next day. We also brought some food over with us, and picked up some things in the resort’s shop which was handy so we could cook things like bacon and eggs in our villa too. As you are tied to the resort (there’s no high street full of restaurants to choose from on Fraser Island!), it was good that there were a range of eating options available from fine dining, to buffet food in the Maheno Restaurant through to bar food and take away pizzas at the Sand Bar. There was something to suit even picky kids like ours too!
Fraser Island IS for families
The kids were disappointed not to see any real life dingoes (I was lucky enough to spot one on a beach on our way back from the whale watching cruise if you scroll back up to look at the photo next to the shipwreck but unfortunately they weren’t with me). But they now carry their toy dingoes from the resort shop everywhere they go. Fraser was a huge hit with them, so much so that they really do think it’s the best place they’ve been so far in Australia.
Kingfisher Bay is a great family resort – it’s a place to have adventures with young kids (or big kids!) in a safe and easy environment. Beware – the ‘what’s on’ guide is packed full of activities which makes it difficult to decide what to do next. We didn’t even have time to try out any watersports which was a shame, and there were other guided walks we missed that we really wanted to do. Three nights wasn’t really enough. We’ll just have to come back again for another family holiday soon!
*Kingfisher Bay hosted our stay and many of our activities as I was writing a magazine feature. Look out for that in Australia and New Zealand magazine in early 2017. All opinions are my own.
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