Great Sandy Strait - Fraser Island's Playground
GREAT SANDY STRAIT - A JOURNEY UP THE STRAIT
The wide open passage from the Wide Bay Bar takes you between the bottom tip of Fraser Island and the mainland at Inskip Point, one of the most popular yet remote national park camping spots in south-east Queensland. Yachts and motor cruisers regularly cross the bar to make their way north through the strait to Hervey Bay. They can immediately find safe harbour tucked away in the lee of the wind in Pelican Bay which is the best place to drop anchor and rest for the night. You can usually find a small flotilla of yachts anchored up and waiting for changes in the weather in Pelican Bay. It gives the owners a great opportunity to explore Bullock Point where the Fraser Island vehicle barges are moored at night and Carlo Point where a small houseboat industry and caravan park attracts thousands of holidaymakers.
It is not unreasonable for yachties to row to shore and make their way to Rainbow Beach, just 13 kilometres from Pelican Bay or five kilometres from Carlo Point. Once there the Carlo sand blow including the coloured sands, the propeller from the Cherry Venture and the hustle and bustle of the small backpacking town can be enjoyed. The Rainbow Beach Surf Lifesaving Club is a great place to have lunch with absolute beach frontage overlooking the coloured sands.
Rainbow Beach is the gateway to the Great Sandy Strait and the most convenient access point to Fraser Island. World Heritage listed Fraser Island is just a 15-minute barge ride from Inskip Point, a five-minute drive from Rainbow Beach. Rainbow Beach boasts a glorious windswept surf beach backed by the towering cliffs of the coloured sands. Sun, surf and sea breezes complement the full range of activities available including golf, horse riding, surfing, lawn bowls and fine dining.
Just around the corner you will find Tin Can Bay with a population of about 3000, a marina, shipwright, yacht club, fishing co-operative and the chance to re-stock supplies for the next part of your journey at a local IGA.
Tin Can Bay is home to dugong, turtles and dolphins, many of which you can sometimes see from the shore or up close while swimming. One of the biggest attractions at the Bay is, of course, the opportunity for people to hand feed the rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins in front of Barnacle’s Café for free. Tin Can Bay has little creeks that can be navigated in tinnies – places like Snapper Creek, Crab Creek, where many yachts owned by Tin Can Bay’s residents are safely anchored. Cooloola and Carland Creeks offer great fishing and are the hideouts for the magnificent mangrove jack. Where else can you stand in knee-deep water and cast a line into some fantastic deep channels and creek mouths while your kids are playing safely in the water right behind you?
Just a little north is Kauri Creek, one of the better haunts for fishermen, yachties and houseboat holidaymakers. Its large mouth and extensive backwater offers privacy and protection from the elements and is often used to shelter when the weather blows up. Navigation is easy. The Great Sandy Strait is wide and handsome for many kilometres and is the perfect start to the trip north to Platypus Bay.
Heading north from Kauri Creek the first port of call is Tinnanbar. Tinnanbar can be described as a sleepy seaside village with a small permanent population. The facilities at Tinnanbar include a caravan park and kiosk (Tinnanbar Waters). The area is popular at holiday times but is quiet for the rest of the year. You will find one of the most beautiful beaches in Queensland at Tinnanbar, boasting white sand, crystal clear turquoise water and views to Fraser Island. The safe, unpolluted waters are populated with sea turtles and dugong. The village is probably the nearest mainland settlement to Fraser Island, facing north along Sandy Strait. It is sheltered from prevailing winds and has good sandy beaches at all tides suitable for swimming and sailing. There are several creeks close by with water depths to 27m in the strait.
Tinnanbar is easy to find if you are coming from the sea but by land from Maryborough or Hervey Bay take the Cooloola Coast Road and follow the Tin Can Bay signs and turn left about 40km from Maryborough. It is under an hour’s drive from Maryborough. From Tin Can Bay turn right on to the Cooloola Coast Road and follow it until you see the Tinnanbar sign and turn right. The road from the turnoff to Tinnanbar is gravel for about 13km. There is also a short cut through Bauple using the forestry roads. A permit is required from National Parks and Wildlife. There are two good boat ramps at Kauri Creek and Tinnanbar. The general store has milk, bread, groceries, bait and ice, LP gas and fishing gear. Fuel and alcohol are not available.
The next port of call by sea on the mainland just past Shark Inlet, Tawan and Black Swan Creek is Poona. Poona is popular with holidaymakers who enjoy the quiet life, quiet water and good fishing. It is a marine wonderland – fish, dugong, turtles, dolphins, mangroves, seagrass pastures and birdlife. There are many fish species in the area, along with sand and mud crabs. Yabbies can be pumped on the low tide flats. You can take long walks, watch the birdlife and discover the wildflowers. Right on the beachfront, with views towards the southern part of Fraser Island, Poona is about 30 minutes from Maryborough or about 45 minutes from Gympie off the Cooloola Coast Road. Just follow the signs. It has a caravan park, the Poona Palms, which also has a convenience store and units as well as all the normal caravan park facilities.
Beside the caravan park is the boat ramp and a park complete with barbecues and public toilets. There are also many houses and units to rent along and close to the foreshore. Almost directly opposite Poona on Fraser Island is Snout Point, well known by yachties and boasting some good camping spots. North of Snout Point are some lovely white sandy beaches, ideal for a dip on a hot day.
After heading north from Poona the next mainland gems are Boonooroo and Tuan. Boonooroo and Tuan are now so close they are almost one settlement and still maintain their “old fishing village” character. Boonooroo has a range of general services and facilities for the visitor and is a wonderful place to while away a week of fishing and relaxation. Included in the facilities are a licensed bowls club where the meals on Friday nights are great value, a nine-hole golf course and a tennis court. The Boonooroo Caravan Park has a full range of amenities including a convenience store with bottled gas, EFTPOS, fuel (unleaded only), newsagent and post office. Boat ramps are at Tuan Creek and Boonooroo Point.
After Boonooroo is another gem, Maaroom – a small, friendly fishing village on the waterfront with views to Fraser Island. Both villages are south of Maryborough, along the Cooloola Coast Road. Maaroom is about 20km from Maryborough and 50km from Hervey Bay while Boonooroo is a couple of kilometres further on. Just follow the signs. Down at Maaroom’s water’s edge is a pleasant spot to have a picnic with a sheltered gazebo and playground. There is an all-weather boat ramp with tidal access for fishing. The Maaroom Caravan Park, in a bush setting 400 metres from the waterfront, has grass sites and concrete annex slabs, a saltwater swimming pool, barbecue area and small kiosk. Cabins and overnight vans are also offered.
Between Boonooroo and Maaroom but on the other side of the strait near Fraser Island are Stewart Island and Garry’s Anchorage. Garry’s, as it is known, is ideal for camping and a great place to moor your boat, houseboat or yacht. It is highly popular with yachties and house boaters because of its sheltered position and deep water.
There are also many other islands popular with fishermen and boaties, some inhabited, some not. These include Dream Island, the Moonboom islands, Bookar and Turkey islands among others.
Just a bit further north on Fraser Island are South White Cliffs and Ungowa with the wrecks of two ships, the Ceratodus and Palmer nearby. There are camping sites at Ungowa, Deep Creek, Yankee Jack (permit required) and the sandfly-infested Turkey Island. A few kilometres north is Woongoolbver Creek (or Wanggoolba as some maps have it), the landing point for one of the barge services from River Heads.
River Heads is the major departure point for vehicles and has magnificent views of Fraser Island, the Great Sandy Strait and the Mary and Susan River estuaries. There are public boat ramps from which boaties can set out for either a day out fishing or to take a 40-minute run up the Mary River to Maryborough. This is a charming trip with the pay-off being stunning views of the magnificent old Queenslander homes along the river bank in Maryborough and lunch and a cold beer or wine Portside before the return journey. Between Woongoolbver Creek and the next point of interest, McKenzie’s Jetty, is about 6km of mangroves and shallow mud flats so steer well clear of the shoreline. Once at McKenzie’s it is well worth dropping the anchor and doing a bit of exploration. The jetty here is in an even more dilapidated state than Ungowa’s but there is a lot of history behind it. Lake McKenzie’s Jetty is almost within shouting distance of the only tourist facility on the western side of the island, Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village.
Boaties leaving Kingfisher Bay invariably head for the shipping channel that takes them up the narrows between Big and Little Woody islands. These islands, along with the much smaller Duck and Picnic islands at the southern end of Big Woody, are part of the Great Sandy National Park.
You’re then very close to Hervey Bay and the Urangan Boat Harbour, a beautiful facility which includes the Great Sandy Strait Marina and Outrigger Resort, the Hervey Bay Boat Club and a variety of restaurants, cafés and retail shops. The lights of the marina and boat club area are very attractive at night.