Island Rivals: Which South East Queensland Island suits you?
Trent Webster, Editor, Australia
30 May 2018
Queensland is known for its islands surrounded by crystal blue waters. Normally when you think of these tropical islands you are thinking of the Whitsunday’s coast. Flying north and getting a boat out to relax on the white sand beaches.
A magic holiday granted, but 4WDers and adventurers alike have access to three absolute magic islands, right on Brisbane’s doorstep.

Fraser, Morton and North Stradbroke Island’s all display the best of what Queensland has to offer. And all of them are easily accessible for even a weekend adventure.

But which one to do first? Is one easier than the other? Aren’t they all similar?

Over the last year or so, we have been lucky enough to check out all three islands, and I was so surprised at just how different they are.

North Stradbroke Island
Photograph by Not A Gap Year
So where to start? Let’s go with accessibilty.

North Stradbroke Island is the hands down winner for ease of access. With tar on both sides of the barge, you can access this island with a 2WD vehicle. Actually, other than the beaches and a few other inland tracks, all the roads around the island are formed. A perfect place to start your island adventures, and even a great place to practice your sand driving.

Now I know that Fraser Island has the 2WD access from Harvey Bay, but remember, once you’re on the island it’s 4WD everywhere, so whilst you get across with no issues, you need to be just as prepared as if you were accessing it from the southern end.

With that said, Morton Island probably sits in the middle as far as ease of access. With a bitumen departure ramp, you can roll onto the ferry, and then sit back and enjoy the ride across. You do need to make sure you have aired down your tyres prior to the barge arriving on the other side though – (see my sand driving tips for more info on this) as when the ramp drops it’s sand all the way from there.

Barge onto Morton Island at high tide heading towards inland track through to Comboyuro Point Camp
Video by Not A Gap Year
Fraser Island then, from Inskip Point, is the most difficult and most well-known access point to any of the islands. On your way to the barge you finish on the bitumen and have to cross what is probably one of the most filmed stretches of sand in Australia. Notorious for how soft it is, the first few hundred metres will either make or break your ego. But, with low tyre pressures and enough right foot, you can walk the walk and access the quickest of all the barge crossings.

The only other thing to remember for both Morton and Fraser Islands are the tides. Low tide (or at least a runout tide) is the best time to access both islands.

Inskip Point, notorious for soft sand, so make sure you’ve aired down
Last barge across to Frazer, which runs every 15 minutes throughout the day
Heading north at sunset to Dundubara Camp Ground, Frazer Island
So, what’s the difference?

Fraser, Morton and North Stradbroke Island are as different as you can get.

You probably guessed it by the fact that you access the whole island via formed roads, that North Stradbroke is the most developed of the islands. It has everything you need for a quick weekend escape through to a couple of weeks’ worth of adventure. All your modern-day conveniences are on this island and at the campgrounds (with exception of the beach front sites). With stocked (but small) supermarkets, service stations, bottle shops and a hardware/camping shop, you don’t need to be an experienced traveller to have an unreal time out on North Stradbroke.

You also have mobile access around the island, and Wi-Fi access at most of the campgrounds. The other islands offer patchy coverage, although you will have more success if you are with Telstra.

For both Fraser and Morton Islands though, you need to be more prepared. Although both Islands have resorts on them, unless you are staying there, you don’t normally get access to their facilities. That means, its usually best to plan to be self-sufficient for a good portion of your trip at least.

Both islands have general stores, but they are just that. The stores carry a good range of the essentials, with a few bits and pieces that may just get you out of trouble.

Fraser Island has multiple spots for fuel, and if you are planning to be there for a week or so, I’d say you will need to stop in at least once. Morton only has 20L drums available via the Bulwer store. If you can’t carry enough fuel yourself for your time on Morton, you’ll need to organise fuel with the store prior to leaving the mainland (just to make sure that they have it available when you get there).

All three islands also have gas bottle filling/exchange.

When it comes to the islands…size does matter. I know Fraser is the largest sand island in the world, but it’s not until you are travelling between the major attractions that you get an appreciation of this. Most things are a day trip, and the tides are always influential on your journey. So, make sure you look ahead before booking. It could be the difference between an easy trip up to the lighthouse and a stressful one.

Morton Island sits in the middle. It’s nowhere near the size of Fraser and exploring the island is also helped by the fact that you can access both sides of the island, as well as a few more inland (bypass) tracks. Tides will still impact your journey, especially on the western side, so you still need to put in the proper planning.

Swimming is another major difference between the islands. The crystal-clear waters of North Stradbroke and Morton Islands are both perfect for swimming, snorkelling and even surfing, but Fraser is another story… Due to its location, swimming in the ocean is not recommended. Sharks, and of more recent times, stingers have been sighted in the waters around the island. This doesn’t mean there is no swimming on the Fraser Island, it just means you need to stick to the fresh water creeks and inland lakes.

Swimming on Frazer is restricted to the creeks and inland lakes
Both Morton and Straddie have ocean swimming year round
Swimming is another major difference between the islands. The crystal-clear waters of North Stradbroke and Morton Islands are both perfect for swimming, snorkelling and even surfing, but Fraser is another story… Due to its location, swimming in the ocean is not recommended. Sharks, and of more recent times, stingers have been sighted in the waters around the island. This doesn’t mean there is no swimming on the Fraser Island, it just means you need to stick to the fresh water creeks and inland lakes.
Frazer Island Dundaburra Camp amenities
Photograph by Not A Gap Year
So, what about camping??

As with all camping, your set up and needs will dictate how “easy” you will find things, so I have broken it down as best as I can to cover everyone.

North Stradbroke is ideal for everyone, quite simply because it has it all. If you are wanting an easy getaway where you can pull up and just plug your van into the power and your set, then Minjerribah Camping has a number of campgrounds to suit. Their booking website is easy to use, and the interactive map is great for helping pick the perfect site.

If you are looking for a bit more adventure or just to escape the crowds, then they also have a number of beachfront camp areas. These don’t have power or drinking water, so you need to make sure you have what you need with you. Access to these sites are with 4WD vehicles only, and you are not permitted to drive on the beaches within 1 hour either side of high tide.

Morton Island and Fraser Island are both managed by the Queensland Department of National Parks, Sports and Racing and bookings are made via their website.

Access to all the campsites on both Islands are by 4WD vehicles only. If you are planning to tent or swag it, then you shouldn’t have too many issues. If you are taking your camper or caravan, just make sure you check when booking, as not all sites allow these.

Both islands have beach front camping where you need to take everything yourself. Likewise, both offer structured campgrounds with dropper toilets, showers and water. Queensland NPSR recommend that for both Morton and Fraser that you take your own drinking water, although it can be found at set locations around the islands, you are still best treating it before consuming.

For those worried about the dingos on Fraser Island, QNPSR have set campgrounds that are surrounded by dingo fences for increased safety, but you still should remain vigilant if travelling with kids.

Morton Island Sand Dunes
Photograph by Not A Gap Year

By definition an adventure is an unusual and exciting or daring experience. If you have never done any touring or camping, then I’d start out on North Stradbroke and travel north from there as your experience grows. Don’t let this take anything away from Straddie, it’s a great place to camp, I guess it’s just an “easier” location as you require less planning. If you’re a seasoned camper/ traveller, then the Island is what you make of it.

Fraser Island definitely requires the most planning and ability to look after yourself for a few days at a time. It also has a wider variety of terrain, and usually all of them on the same day. Soft sands, rocks, hills and tides.

Morton Island is not far behind Fraser, but size and multiple paths do make it that bit easier to navigate and explore.

With all that said, all three islands are more than doable, and despite what you see in the magazines and videos, you don’t need to have a massively modified 4WD to do any of them. Just remember to take your recovery gear, let your tyres down (no 30 PSI isn’t down) and watch the tides.

Negotiating some of the many rock outcrops on Frazer Island
Photograph by Not A Gap Year
Would we do any of the Islands again?

To be honest, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. All three islands offered up different experiences and left us with different memories. I would more than happily go back to any of the islands.

But if I had to choose only one?

I had to choose only one island…then it would be Morton Island. For me, it is the only island that offered everything.



Finding The Pines in
Barrington Tops
Island hopping in
South East Queensland
Following the Tele Track
to Cape York