The Fraser Coast is a holiday playground truly blessed by nature – a coastal paradise that attracts around one million visitors annually for a wide range of marine-based adventure and recreation.
The Great Sandy Strait is a serpentine passage stretching 70km from Hervey Bay to Tin Can Bay. It is more than 10km wide at its northern end and barely 1km wide at its southern limit, Inskip Point. The Great Sandy Marine Park encompasses the largest (and least disturbed) wetland area in southern Queensland – nearly 1000sq km of inter-tidal sand flats and seagrass beds fringed by mangrove forests, melaleuca wetlands and wallum heathlands.
The Strait’s marine environment supports large communities of dugongs, dolphins and sea turtles, as well as providing vital nursery and feeding grounds for prawns, fish and crustaceans.
The expansive tidal flats and wetlands are major feeding grounds for migratory and resident shorebirds, waterfowl and waders, taking in a bewildering array of species. You’ll find whimsical names like godwits, tattlers, stints, whimbrels, greenshanks and oystercatchers. The multitude of islands in the channel also act as stepping stones for terrestrial birds – like the rare ground parrot – from the mainland to Fraser Island.
Hervey Bay lies at the head of the Strait, 290km north of Brisbane. Officially proclaimed as a city in 1984, it is essentially a string of villages – Urangan, Torquay, Scarness, Pialba and Point Vernon – sprawling along the southern shoreline of an expansive bay.
This region enjoys a balmy subtropical climate, tempered by southeast trade winds during summer and moderate northeasters during winter. The landmass of Fraser Island to the east protects Hervey Bay from the worst effects of storms that occasionally sweep in off the Coral Sea, and cyclones rarely disturb the city’s laid-back, unpretentious lifestyle.
A prominent landmark on the foreshore is Urangan Pier. Stretching 868m into the Strait (it was originally 1107m), the pier was constructed in 1917 to create a deepwater facility for the exportation of sugar, timber and coal from Hervey Bay.
About 5km due east of Urangan, Woody and Little Woody Islands together form an undeveloped section of Great Sandy National Park. Jeffries Beach, on the Woodys’ southeastern sides, hosts a secluded camp (with no facilities) that can only be accessed by private boat from the harbour. Just north of Woody Island, an artificial reef is a popular site for scuba diving.
VILLAGES AT THE WESTERN SHORE
The western shore of the Strait below the Mary River is dotted with a series of delightfully quaint villages – Maaroom, Boonooroo, Tuan, Poona and Tinnanbar – all with waterfront views of Fraser Island. They are reached from Hervey Bay by driving inland to Maryborough, then heading southeast along the Cooloola Road.
Six kilometres beyond Maryborough, the road passes the Poona National Park – 5000ha of coastal lowlands, paperbark forests and wallum heathlands around the Kalah Creek catchment. This is a great place for low-key, nature-based activities such as photography and bird-watching, and can be explored by 4WD.
Each of these villages has a small resident population that is joined on a regular basis by tourists towing vans and tinnies in search of relaxation and excellent fishing. They all know Great Sandy Strait is an angler’s paradise, easily accessible from these tiny hamlets.
For those who prefer a bit more bush for their buck, there are two camping areas in the Tuan State Forest, both on the banks of beautiful Kauri Creek, south of Tinnanbar. Log Dump Camp has a composting toilet and boat ramp, while Hedley’s Camp boasts a boat ramp, but no other facilities. Camping permits are required and fees apply.
TIN CAN BAY
The town of Tin Can Bay is a popular boating and fishing port, 70km south of Maryborough. A fleet of prawn and scallop trawlers operates out of here on a seasonal basis, and there are good fishing and crabbing opportunities for amateur enthusiasts.
Visitors wishing to explore the Great Sandy Strait will find a marina at Norman Point with houseboat and yacht charter facilities, and a boat ramp with a large trailer parking area and boat-washing facilities. An added attraction is the early morning appearance of rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, which can be fed under supervision. Throughout the year the town hosts various events, including the Tin Can Bay Seafood Festival, the Bay to Bay yacht race and a dragon boat regatta.
The journey down the Great Sandy Strait concludes at Inskip Point, a hook of land at the northern tip of Rainbow Beach. The recreation area at the point can be reached by 12km of sealed road from the town of Rainbow Beach or by 4WD along the beach itself.
Inskip is a popular camping destination and departure point for the barge service to the southern end of Fraser Island. There are five camping areas along the eastern side of the point – four of them with toilets, but no other facilities – and there are limited sites available for 2WD vehicles, caravans and camper trailers at two of the camps.
With a 4WD, you can also take a leisurely drive around to Double Island Point or explore the wilds of the Cooloola Recreation Area.
The Great Sandy Strait may be only 70km long but there is so much to see and do along this magnificent world-class waterway that you could literally spend days or weeks to experience the lot.
- Hervey Bay is 290km north of Brisbane via the Bruce Highway and Maryborough.
- Inskip Point is 12km north of Rainbow Beach and 252km north of Brisbane via Gympie.
- Activities include boating, fishing, birdwatching, camping.
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