Pipe Dreaming Saturday: Fraser Island and Vancouver Island

An Aboriginal tribe originally settled on the world’s largest sand island thousands of years ago. They called it K’gari- their word for ‘paradise.’ In the 1800s the island was infamously discovered by shipwrecked Europeans, and came to be known by a new name: Fraser Island.

The crystalline waters of Lake McKenzie front a white sand beach on Australia's Fraser Island.
The crystalline waters of Lake McKenzie front a white sand beach on Australia’s Fraser Island. Photo courtesy of Places Online.

Today, people still have reason to call Fraser Island ‘paradise,’ as much of the 710 square mile sand island looks just like it did back when it was first settled. According to Aboriginal legend, K’gari was a divine servant who lay down in a shallow bay and was decorated with forests and pearlescent lakes. The island’s actual genesis is much less romantic: Pacific currents deposited massive volumes of sand in a shallow spot along Australia’s eastern coast until a large island formed. Over hundreds of thousands of years, forests began to take root miraculously in nothing but sand, with the help of specialized fungi that fed on nutrients in the sand. The result is an ancient tropical rainforest that really shouldn’t be here in the first place. Throughout the island’s interior the trees give way to more than 100 lucid lakes such as the famous Lake McKenzie, whose blindingly white beach borders placid baby blue water. Or at Lake Wabby, where a sand blow cascades onto a golden beach. Head to Fraser Island’s east coast and you’ll find wonder after wonder along the magnificent Seventy-Five Mile Beach, the island’s main drag complete with speed limits. At the Champagne Pools, mighty ocean waves break onto rocks and flow gently into natural jacuzzis- once used by Aboriginal hunters to catch fish. Further north, Eli Creek’s clear waters meander through an ancient rainforest, onto the beach, and into the ocean, carrying eager visitors along the way.

A true adventure destination, Fraser demands to be explored. And the best way to do that is to rent a 4×4 vehicle and off road through the forests, past the lakes, and along the beaches- as the island has no formally paved roads. Once a destination reserved for backpackers and the truly rugged, Fraser’s western coast now hosts an eco resort with more modern creature comforts. But you can still only get there through a ferry ride. Fraser Island is truly paradise- one that comes in the form of natural wonders, pristine and utterly wild.

Fraser’s natural appeal is so, well, natural because it’s severed from most modern infrastructure. Plus it doesn’t help that Australia is on the literal other side of the world from the US- but a North American island is a good contender to Fraser’s raw beauty.

Just a few miles off the coast of southwestern Canada lies Vancouver Island. A long, thin, rugged island, Vancouver is home to a quintessential Canadian wilderness while being only a ferry ride away from the exciting city of Vancouver. Right off the bat, Vancouver is in no way tropical- but it is in fact famous for having the most mild climate in Canada: you could ski and golf on the same winter day.

Rugged mountains and forest-clad islets frame Clayoquot Sound, off Vancouver Island's western coast. Photo courtesy of 604now.com
Rugged mountains and forest-clad islets frame Clayoquot Sound, off Vancouver Island’s western coast. Photo courtesy of 604now.com

In any season, options abound for adventure on Vancouver. From exploring rich tide pools in Clayoquot Sound, to bike riding around charmingly bookish Cowichan, to exploring caves and observing sand sculptures in Qualicum Beach, to strolling around the rocky Gulf Islands, to zip lining through gorges and temperate rain forests, to winter storm-watching along the Pacific Rim. Vancouver is considerably more developed than Fraser, but the civilization only adds to the island’s uniqueness. Numerous charm-packed towns front calm coves and deserted beaches and are home to eco-hipster communities, fresh food, adorable inns, and numerous cultural and heritage experiences (yes, they do have totem poles).

Victoria is the island’s largest city, home to an international airport, and is where most visitors begin their explorations of Vancouver Island. There’s also the option of flying into Vancouver and ferrying across the islet-clad Strait of Georgia to Victoria or Nanaimo. Driving is usually the chosen mode of transport between activities, but you can also ‘harbor hop;’ jumping onboard a seaplane and catching a lift between the harbors of the Vancouver’s coasts. Lodging options abound in practically every region of the island, and you could literally spend weeks visiting its attractions.

Whether a jaunt to Oz’s Fraser Island is more your speed, or if you’d prefer a shorter hop to accessible Vancouver Island, rest assured that both islands will provide you with the perfect mix of history, natural wonders, and raw, rugged beauty.

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