How to plan a Fraser Island self drive tour

Fraser Island is a big bucket list item for many people travelling Australia’s famous East Coast, we were no different, but have you ever wondered if you can do a Fraser Island self-drive tour instead of going with a guide? We couldn’t wait to visit and see its beauty for ourselves but joining a group tour was the last thing we wanted to do. Lucky for us, there are other options so here’s how you can do a Fraser Island self-drive tour and explore on your own terms!

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About Fraser Island

Fraser Island is by far the most unique island along the Australian East Coast. Listed as a World Heritage site but not only is it the worlds largest sand island (76miles long and 14 miles wide), it’s also home to half of the worlds ‘perched lakes’ (lakes formed above sea level in sand dunes filled permanently with rainwater), Australia’s purest strain of wild Dingo call Fraser Island home and each year thousands of humpback whales migrate to the Fraser Coast to have their calves. Add to this the miles and miles of pristine beaches and moving sand blows, you have yourself a unique tropical island paradise.

Things to know before your Fraser Island self drive tour

– Fraser Island has no ‘proper’ roads on the island, meaning it’s strictly 4 wheel drive only. This is great if you own a 4×4.

– You can camp, or stay at one of the several resort-style hostels on the island. If you’re wanting to camp, you’ll need a permit to be able to use the campsites (more on this later)

– There is free drinking water available at one of the northern villages… don’t fall for paying the $15 per 10 litres as we did.

– Research the tide times. You’ll need to be off the 75mile beach before the morning high tide but don’t worry, there’s plenty to see inland!

– There’s no wifi/signal on the island! Ok, that’s an exaggeration, there is some signal, but only from the high points like Indian Head or some of the sand blows.

Things to consider when looking at 4wd Fraser Island rentals

‘Can you see Fraser Island without a tour’ was the biggest question we had while we were planning this trip, and since then we’ve had a lot of people asking us how we did it. Let me start by saying it doesn’t have to be expensive! Sure the cheapest way to see Fraser Island is definitely by group tour but not by much. If you’re travelling as a couple, or in a group, a self drive tour of Fraser Island works out a lot cheaper.

To make the most of your adventure and make sure you’re hiring from the same company, there are a few things you need to ask yourself first:

  • How long do you want to go for?
    (We did a 3-day 2-night tour and it was the perfect amount of time)
  • Do you need camping equipment, do you have your own, or will you book a hostel? (Personally, the best way to truly experience Fraser Island is by camping on the beach – We’ll cover a packing list later!)
  • Do you have experience with sand driving or do you need a quick lesson?
    (Sand driving is harder than it sounds. Luckily Dec has the experience but if you need it, definitely look for a 4wd rental company who provides you with a quick lesson)
  • Do you want an automatic or a manual drive?
    (This will depend on your experience too. Automatics are easier if you have little experience with 4×4’s. Manuals are a lot more fun to drive if you have the experience)
  • What do you want to see?
    (While most Fraser Island 4wd rental companies don’t have limits on mileage, they do have limits on areas of the Island you can go to. The far north and West side are often off limits due to how difficult the routes are. Something we hadn’t considered before we went)
  • Time of year
    (We went during school holidays and while we did get to see things without crowds the camps were really busy. Try and plan your trip around this if it’s something that will bother you)
  • Tide times
    (This won’t affect if you can do a self drive Fraser Island tour, but it will affect what you can see and when. There are limited inland tracks so when the tide is in, the beach is inaccessible)

Check out our 3 day Fraser Island itinerary to get a feel for what there is to do and see there!

How to find a 4wd rental company

Google is the obvious choice here but what if I told you not every company is listed on google? Mind blowing right! Our biggest advice to you is to head into town and have a look around, there are family ran businesses who offer just as good, if not better, 4wd hire packages than the bigger more popular companies, it’s just a case of finding them.

Browse the travel agencies and speak to locals, they might no of current offers available or even be able to grab you a discount. Our personal recommendation is 4WD Adventure Centre, while all their cars are automatics, their prices were the cheapest at Rainbow Beach, they don’t charge per person and they threw in the camping gear and esky for free. The only downside was the restriction from going to the cape, which we were really hoping to do, this turned out to be a common thing for 4WD hire companies.

(This is not a sponsored post. Our 4WD Adventure Centre recommendation comes purely from us and our great experience. We haven’t been paid and we didn’t receive a discounted tour)

Other 4WD rental companies for Fraser Island include:

Fraser Dingo 4WD Adventure at Hervey Bay

Aussie Trax 4WD at Hervey Bay

Fraser Island Off Road 4×4 Hire at Rainbow Beach

When hiring your own 4WD to get to Fraser Island remember to ask these three questions;

  • Does the cig lighter socket work? (important if that’s how you plan on pumping up your bed)
  • Have the tires already been let down for sand driving? Is a pump provided to blow them back up if needed?
  • Are tire treads provided for if you get stuck in the sand?

How to see Fraser Island with your own vehicle

If you’re lucky enough to have your own 4×4, there’s no need to hire. You can simply buy a ferry (or barge as the Queenslanders call them) ticket, your camping and beach access pass and you’re good to go! You’re golden if this is the case as it really is the cheapest way to see Fraser Island.

Budget-friendly Fraser Island tours

If you’ve looked into tours already, you’ll know that budget-friendly Fraser Island tours don’t really exist. Or at least, not if you’re looking at group tours. A self drive Fraser Island tour, on the other hand, could see you paying as little as half the price of a guided tour if you’re travelling in a couple or group. 

  • A 3 night 2 day guided tour of Fraser Island could cost you around $435.
  • A self-drive tour of Fraser Island, however, costs around £370 (for everything excluding camping permits). So if you split that between four, you’ll only pay $90 plus $6.55 each per night for the camping permit…

That’s some pretty big savings if you ask me! Of course, you do have to factor in the rental deposit (varies per company) and refuelling the car before you return it but even with those costs, it’ll still be less than $435pp.

These costs do not include any additional insurance you might choose to take. It’s advised to get extra coverage if you don’t have experience driving on sand. We chose not to, therefore these prices exclude insurance.

What permits do you need for a Fraser Island self drive tour?

Fraser Island is a World Heritage site and National Park, this means there are a few permits you’ll need to obtain before you travel across the water. It’s a lot easier than it sounds and can certainly be done without paying extra for the 4WD hire company to do it for you. All permits can be obtained on the Queensland Parks website, you’ll need to create an account with them and then you’ll be able to buy any permits you need for Fraser Island as well as any QLD Park campgrounds across the state.

Beach access permit ($51.60 for a month)

This is the most important one as you’ll be refused onto the ferry without one.

Camping permit ($6.55 per person, per night)

When booking your camping permit, you can either book on to a site (Happy Valley eco-site not included) or you can book into a beachside ‘zone’. If you book into zone 1, you’re not actually restricted to this zone and are free to camp in any so long as you are behind the dunes and not outside the zone designation signs. You’ll then need to get a yellow tag from your 4WD rental company and display this on your tent/car. Rangers may come and check this and have a friendly chat with you about the Dingos so if you see them scouting an area don’t worry, they’re just checking tags.

Ferry ticket ($120 return)

The hire company should sort this for you. Price is for a return and includes the car and ALL passengers. You’ll need to keep hold of it until your return journey. Manta Ray Barge is the only company that does the crossing so this is the only price available (price correct as of October ’18)

Other Fraser Island Accommodation options.

If you want to visit Fraser Island without a tour, but you don’t want to give up the comfort of a proper bed and WiFi, there are other options available. From eco-lodges to hostels and even the resort where Prince Harry and Megan stayed. As you can imagine, these will cost you slightly more than $6.55 a night, and you’ll still need a beach access permit.

What to pack for a Fraser Island self drive tour and camping trip

After living in a van for the majority of the year we’re pretty used to ‘roughing it’. If you’re new to camping though, there are a few things you might not realise are absolute musts. Hopefully, this list of camping essentials for Fraser Island will help make life a little easier for you:

  • Esky + Ice – unless you plan on eating out of tins for the entirety of your trip, you’ll need a way to keep food fresh’ish.
  • Tent
  • Airbed
  • Air PUMP – in caps because even we nearly forgot that!
  • Bedding, maybe? depends how hot it is!
  • Bug repellent
  • Sun cream
  • Swimming gear
  • Cooking equipment (1 pan, a knife, a spoon)
  • Plate/Bowl
  • Camera
  • Torch/lights
  • Drone

What to expect from your Fraser Island self drive tour

Expect heaps of fun! From the moment your wheels hit the sand, your holiday has begun! Depending on the time you arrive, and what the tide is doing, will depend on if you can hit the beach track straight away or if you need to take the inland road.

Road rules apply here but you’ll find a lot of Aussies don’t stick to this – especially when they see it’s a rental car in front of them, but the best thing you can do is stick to the rules to avoid a fine.

Be prepared for early rises, especially if you want to hit the best bits before anyone else.

Beautiful sunrises, lots and lot of beautiful sunrises!

Epic wildlife! From Manta Ray to Sea Turtles and even Tiger Sharks, you’ll be able to see it all off the coast of Fraser Island.

Some epic 4×4 tracks. Once you head in to explore the lakes, the tracks turn it up a notch. Sand drivings one thing but the real 4×4 adventure starts once you’re tackling roots and fallen trees.

So can you see Fraser Island without a tour? You sure as hell can and we’d say it’s 100% the perfect choice for those travelling as a couple or group. Check out our Fraser Island itinerary for all the best spots to visit! I hope this has helped inspire you to visit Fraser Island in your own way, we’d love to hear how you get on!!

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