What's in a name? Everything. We go on a pack-free adventure across the world's largest, renamed, sand island.
In the crisp morning air, our feet crunch lightly on the rainforest floor. The only other sound is coming from the birds who holler at each other across the canopy, as if in conversation. One foot in front of the other, I let my mind drift gently away. And then—“oh f*ck!
I lurch off the trail, shouting “it’s a f*cking snake!” My girlfriend, a few paces back, lets out a little squeal and runs an unnecessary distance back. Regaining my footing, I look closer—laying just where my foot was meant to be planted is a perfectly camouflaged carpet python, her scaly back glistening in the day’s light, tongue flickering in and out as she tries to figure out what this big, blonde, hairy alien is doing in her forest.
We are exploring a different side of K’gari, the world’s largest sand island, formerly known as Fraser Island. We’re hiking through extraordinary rainforest where thousand-year-old trees reach up to create a dense green canopy, and crystal-clear streams trickle through lush undergrowth. Right now, we're two days into the trek and we're yet to see another hiker hit the trail. The only sounds we hear are the myriad of birds that call this utopia home.
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The story of K’gari’s creation continues to echo in my mind, since it was shared with me by Luke Barrowcliffe, one of the island’s traditional owners. Luke is a part of the Butchulla nation, a group of people who, according to archaeological evidence, have lived on and cared for this island for at least 5,000 years, and possibly up to 50,000 years.
“When we think about K’gari, it’s like home to us, it’s our country,” he says.
“It’s like walking into your own house that you own —when you walk in that door, you feel at home. When we come over here, we feel that same way every time.
“You feel totally removed from urban civilisation. As soon as you come across here, you leave it all behind," he explains.
According to Luke, K’gari was a white spirit who helped the god Yendingie create the most beautiful place of all. K'gari then decided to rest there, and transformed into the island itself.
K’gari (pronounced 'Gurri') in Butchulla language, was created with her eyes forming the lakes—always facing up to the sky country. She was clothed with trees and shrubs before the Butchulla People were created, so as time went on, K’gari would never be lonely. The Butchulla People lived and died by three laws:
This story is with me now as I wander through the same bushland Luke’s ancestors did thousands of years ago. I wonder how K’gari felt when the Butchulla People were forcibly removed from her?
Our sandy trail winds through and around some of the largest and most impressive trees I have ever laid eyes on. We’re in the aptly named 'Valley of the Giants' and I feel tiny in their presence. There are even giants among the giants here; some of these satinay trees are a mind-bending 1,000 years old, meaning we are in the presence of some of the oldest continuously living organisms on earth.
As I lean against an ancient trunk, I imagine Butchulla ancestors moving silently through this same forest, gathering food and making shelter, possibly under this very tree. This tree was chilling here when the Vikings were raiding Europe; when Genghis Khan and Marco Polo were born, this tree was already over two centuries old. In Europe, tourists line up to take photographs of ancient artwork and relics, here we can walk among a different, even older, kind of beauty.
It is easy to find an adventure that works for you on K’gari (see our guide below). There’s over 90 kilometres of diverse trails to tackle, and a multitude of operators catering for small group adventures who have an excellent head for sustainability.
Take our pack free, eco-hike for example. Following a much-needed rinse off in the misty Lake Garawongera, we amble dripping and sandy-footed into our picturesque little bush camp. Our tents are set up already, our overnight bags are there waiting to be ripped apart in search of less pungent attire, there are cold beers to drink and fresh food ready to cook. I could ABSOLUTELY get used to this pack-free life.
There's also plenty to explore here, from wildlife and adventure, to tracing back through the branches of time. It's even better when you have the opportunity to explore this wondrous island through the stories, songs and dances of its First Nations peoples.
For this island to reclaim its name is powerful and important. The island was formerly named 'Fraser Island' after Eliza Fraser, a Scottish shipwreck survivor in the 1830s (who was proven to have lied profusely about the Butchulla’s poor treatment of her). Before that, it was erroneously named the ‘Great Sandy Peninsula’ by Captain James Cook during his 1770 voyage. Neither of these are right or fitting for this slice of heaven.
Luke speaks passionately about his island, and he explains that there is a growing movement for Butchulla People to move back to their ancestral homeland, bringing with them their ancient culture that is completely entwined with this magical place. Hopefully soon, this paradise will have her people back again.
You can get to K’gari by air or by boat. You can jump on a ferry or barge either as a foot passenger or in your 4WD from River Heads (20 mins south of Hervey Bay) or Inskip Point (also known as Manta Ray Barge) at Rainbow Beach. The barge journey takes between 30 to 50 mins depending on which port you jump off at. Coming from afar? The closest airport is Hervey Bay.
It’s time to put your feet up. Treat yo self – you’ve earned it – with a stay at Kingfisher Bay Resort where you can relax, or ramp up the adventure again with guided canoe paddles, 4WD tours of swimming sites, and night walks to spot sugar gliders, scorpions, stingrays and eels.
K’gari is also home to quite the array of accommodation options, from tented hiking to eco resorts. If you’ve got a style in mind, we highly recommend having a look through this GUIDE.
For this story, we joined the legends at Fraser Island Hiking for their two night rainforest eco hike! Pack free, yeeewww!