Photographer's guide: Fraser island (K’gari)
With it's beautiful sandy beaches, surprisingly diverse wildlife, unique rainforests and striking lakes, Fraser island (K’gari), a 45-minute ferry-ride off the coast of Hervey Bay, Queensland, is a location that's perfect for a photography getaway. After spending a week on the island, here's our tips to make the most of your stay and bag some stunning shots.
Kingfisher Bay Resort
Almost all arrivals to Fraser island will land at Kingfisher Bay, the main starting point for a huge variety of activities both on and off the island. The Kingfisher Bay Resort, a 4-star hotel, is both world-heritage listed and the premiere eco accommodation option to rest your head when you arrive. From here, it's an easy five-minute walk to the first of our photo locations - the pier.
It may not sound all that exciting, but some of our favourite photos from our stay were captured at the exact same spot where the ferry dropped us off. The best time of day to visit is at sunrise when you'll usually find a bunch of keen fishermen, but it's the bird species attracted by the fresh catch that are the real stars.
We witnessed diving cormorants drawn to the flurry of fish activity, a good challenge if you want to try and freeze them just before they dive, or even better, emerging from the water with a fish. A long lens (and maybe even a teleconverter) is critical here as the birds regularly fly in and away from the pier.
Raptors are also a common sight, nesting in the cliffs above the pier and hanging out around the pier to grab a fish or two from an unsuspecting fisherman.
The pier is also the location of one of the best views on Fraser island for sunset, and with a vista this epic you really can't miss it. In the early evening, experience it with a drink in hand at the (perfectly located) sunset bar, as you watch the sun sink below the horizon. Arrive early to bag a spot at the bar, but there's also plenty of room to move along the pier as the sun drops.
Finally the right of the pier at low tide is one of the best places on the island for finding a huge variety of smaller wildlife. Here we found huge armies of soldier crabs, feeding herons, and even a mud crab or two.
The mangroves found even further around the headland are a beautiful maze-like area to explore, and an area otherwise hidden when the tide is high. Tread carefully and bring a camera backpack to keep your gear safe and dry.
Patience is the key to photographing crabs. Soldier crabs in particular are very sensitive, and will vanish in the blink of an eye as soon as they detect even the smallest movement. Ditch your shoes, pack a macro lens, a pair of shorts (it's muddy after all), choose your location, and finally get ready to sit and wait.
After a while, you'll begin to see the sand stir as the tiny crabs begin to emerge. To give you an idea, the soldier crabs in these shots were all captured at less than a metre away. A silent shutter may also be useful, and brace your elbows to your sides to keep the camera steady as the ground can be very soft.
Around the resort
Being an eco-resort there's plenty to see and do around Kingfisher lodge, with walking the best way to get around. For photographers, we had the best success right in front of the resort, where a walking track snakes in-and-out of a series of small wetland areas, a relative haven for a huge variety of bird species.
Some of the accomodation looks over the wetland areas, so it might be worth requesting a room with a water view if you're serious about birding. It meant we were able to capture flying birds right from our balcony as herons fished below.
Expect to see New Holland Honeyeaters and plenty of Welcome Swallows, one of the toughest bird subjects to capture in flight. As always, visit early or visit late, and be prepared to sit and wait for the best shots.
Finally don't miss Peter Meyer's gallery. The island's resident photographer has decades of experience shooting Fraser, and his beautiful work showcases the very best of this stunning location. The gallery is located in the Village Store complex.
Eurong Beach Resort
Eurong beach is home to the wilder, untammed side of Fraser island. As such, the accomodation is a little more rudimentary here, but that just fits with the more relaxed and rugged vibe on this side of the island.
The only real way to get from one side of the island to the other is by 4WD, and it's an experience not be missed as you pass through the rainforest in the middle of the island on your way over.
The main attraction is 75-mile beach which doubles as a highway that runs up the surf side of the island. To get around is strictly by 4WD only, although you may see the occasional walker circumnavigating the island on foot.
The beach doubles as a landing strip for planes making joy flights, which can make for a great photography subject as they bump to a halt on the windswept beach.
Depending on what time of year you visit, you're likely to see plenty of fishermen surf-casting from the beach. As on the Kingfisher side, look for birds who will dive for the fish as they're reeled in, and you can also try and frame the endless lines of fishermen and fishing rods in your shots.
Eurong is a great location to practice your seascapes, with sunrise a good time to try creative techniques like slow shutter panning. To do this, choose shutter priority and a shutter speed of around 1/3rd of a second along with a low ISO. As you press the shutter, pan the camera evenly across the incoming waves.
There's a bit of trial and error involved, but for the best results look for areas where the light is hitting the waves and there's a uniform gap between breaks. Another technique worth trying is a pan with a tripod, as you can freeze one wave with motion around.
Photographically the best way to shoot Eurong is using a 4WD as a mobile 'hide'. The scale of the beach is huge, and to access locations like the iconic wreck of the Maheno and the larger dunes is easiest done with a 4WD. Drive with care and pay attention to both the speed limit and warning signs.
Shooting from a 4WD means you'll also be best prepared to capture Fraser's most iconic wild animal, the dingo. Possibly the oldest breed of dog in the world, and the top order predator on the Island, Fraser Island's dingoes are genetically unique as a result of the island's isolation.
As photographers we have an important role to play in acting responsibly around these beautiful but wild animals. The best way to photograph them is from inside your vehicle with a long lens. If you are out of your vehicle and a dingo approaches, stay in a group and don't move suddenly.
Finally the wreck of the SS Maheno, a trans-Tasman liner that was washed ashore during a cyclone in 1935, is one of the highlights of a visit to to the Eurong beach side.
Time it right and you'll catch the surf breaking around the rusty wreck, but there's also plenty of other interesting angles to discover. Just don't get too close: 80-odd years of metal being exposed to sea salt means there's plenty of rust and sharp bits.
We may have saved the best for last. The rainforests on Fraser island are the only place in the world where tall rainforests can be found growing on sand dunes at heights of over 200 metres. The soil drains so effectively here that many of the trees have incredibly long roots to reach the nutrients hidden deep below in the dunes.
Here you'll find king parrots, yellow-tailed black cockatoos and sulphur-crested cockatoos, but we also spotted kingfishers and kookaburras, although none we were quick enough to photograph.
Keep your eye out for dingos too, as you may be lucky like we were and able to capture images of them with a different background to the more common beach-framed shots.
You may not have your choice of lighting when photographing here, as often a visit to the rainforest is done as a side trip on the way from one side of the island to another.
We recommend trying to backlight the leaves against the light and packing a polariser. A small torch can work wonders for making images pop, and try and expose for the highlights to protect your shadow detail as images can have large dynamic range.
We've only touched on some of the photographic potential of Fraser island, and our trip didn't even squeeze in a visit to the island's jewel-like lakes. Our advice? Pack all your gear and be prepared for a beautifully diverse photographic experience.