Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
It seems a perfect scene of natural tranquillity, but the waters sloshing around these fishermen’s bare legs are infested with six-foot tiger sharks that have been known to chase fish all the way to the shallows and launch themselves, snapping wildly, onto the sand. In the right conditions, the rainforest, with its thick stands of eucalypts, can quickly burst into flames. And, while dingoes are largely harmless, they have been known to attack humans and even kill. This may look like a gentle tropical paradise, but this is Fraser Island – as wild and unpredictable as it is beautiful – and it commands respect.
At more than 80 miles in length, the island is the world’s largest sandbank, and it teems with life. The skies are filled with birds, from the darting form of the delightfully named spangled drongo to the white-bellied sea eagle that rides the breeze on wings spanning two metres. The waves conceal whales, dolphins and sea turtles, and the western beaches are covered with armies of blue-backed soldier crabs that rear up on their hind legs and flee in panic at the approach of a human foot. Emerging occasionally from the brush are wallabies, echidnas, possums and palm-sized sugar gliders.
There are also some creatures of the less cuddly variety. ‘We have six of the world’s ten deadliest snakes,’ local photographer Peter Meyer says cheerfully, with a hint of pride that’s common to Australians when talking about things that might kill you. ‘Not to mention the spiders – the Fraser Island funnel-web is the deadliest spider in the world. But they’re unlikely to hurt you if you don’t disturb them, and it’s very rare for people to be bitten.’ He gives a chuckle. ‘The thing I’m most afraid of is the ants,’ he says. ‘We’ve got an inch-long bull ant here that will rip your leg off.’
Peter has lived on Fraser Island for 17 years, his skin browned by years spent capturing images of its forests, towering dunes, ice-blue inland lakes and mangroves – yet he claims he is far from knowing all of the island’s secrets. ‘Fraser is one of the few places on Earth where you can walk off the path for one minute and be standing in a spot so remote and secluded that you can be reasonably sure no human has ever set foot there.’
He negotiates his SUV through the bush over a winding, deeply rutted track of dried mud, then climbs on foot to his favourite spot on the island – a broad dune of sand punctured with the abstract skeletons of trees, surrounded by rainforest and views out to the Coral Sea beyond. ‘I’ve never seen anyone else up here,’ he says. ‘Never even seen any footprints that weren’t my own. That gives you a tremendous sense of freedom, and that’s something I always try to capture in my photography – but photos can never really convey what it feels like to be up here.’
After a long moment, he turns and tramps his way back down the dune, seemingly entirely at home in this wild landscape – but still watching carefully where he puts his feet.
Kingfisher Bay Resort organises guided tours of the island (tours from £100).
Where to stay and eat
Accommodation at the King Fisher Bay Resort ranges from simply furnished rooms with native-wood balconies and views over the wallum wetlands, to whole designer houses, complete with veranda and barbecue. The stylish Seabelle restaurant has a seasonally changing menu inspired by the indigenous Butchulla tribe, which includes crocodile and emu steaks (rooms from £120).