There are a few ‘must-visit’ destinations for four-wheel drivers in Australia. The Kimberley, Cape York, Birdsville, and Fraser Island top that list, but planning a trip there, let alone choosing the right vehicle, can seem overwhelming, if not prohibitive. And while it’s true that there’s some basic survival equipment we always recommend taking anywhere remote, the most important tool is your vehicle.
We had the chance to tag along for a tour of Fraser Island with Mazda, giving us a chance to finally visit the largest sand island in the world while exploring it in the range-topping Mazda BT-50 Thunder. Is Fraser Island truly what adventure touring dreams are made of? Check out our trip below and find out!
Day 1 – Arriving at K’gari
Here’s what we drove during our time on Fraser Island, including where we stayed.
Where We Stayed
Our accommodation for the two days on the island was the famous Kingfisher Bay Resort. Getting there is easy, with four barge services to the resort each day from River Heads and return. Alternatively, do what we did and fly into Wanggoolba Airstrip before taking a transfer to the resort through the inland tracks.
The resort is home to two restaurants, a bistro, and three bars. Prices for rooms range from $279 for a standard room to $570 for a family resort room. Villas are also available with one, two, and three bedrooms available priced from $399. A full ‘what’s on’ guide is updated regularly and can be found via this link. Our room was clean, quiet, and located within walking distance of reception, we highly recommend staying here for your trip.
Address: Kingfisher Bay, Fraser Island (K’gari) QLD 4581
Hours: Open 24 hours
Phone: (07) 4194 9300
What We’re Driving
We climbed out of the Cessna single-engined prop plane and walked mere metres to our vehicle, making an immediate b-line for the range-topping Mazda BT-50 Thunder.
The latest generation 2022 Mazda BT50 is far from the newest dual-cab ute on sale in Australia – that crown currently sits with the next generation Ford Ranger – however, we were pleasantly surprised with the Mazda once we jumped behind the wheel.
The ‘Thunder’ is an exclusive model to the Australian market that retains the standard turbocharged 3.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine found in the wider BT-50 range and boasts 140kW of peak power along with 450Nm torque, the latter of which is delivered from 1,600 to 2,600rpm.
More than just a sticker on the tub, the ‘Thunder’ adds a host of off-road-ready options, the most obvious of which is the bold front-end treatment that includes a single hoop steel bull bar and a Lightforce dual-row LED lightbar alongside the following additions.
- Front-end treatment that includes a single hoop steel bull bar and a Lightforce dual-row LED lightbar.
- 18-inch black alloy wheels, wide fender flares and side steps.
- Premium sports bar and an advanced electric roller tonneau.
- ‘Thunder’ decals on the tub sides.
All of this would option up to cost around $13,000 if you were going to do it yourself through Mazda dealerships, however, can all be yours for $71,290 AUD (plus on-road costs) in automatic form. Steep? Yes. However, in checking the price of comparable utes in the dual-cab market it’s about average for a top-spec model. Our particular press vehicle had almost every single option ticked and ended up with an ‘as-tested’ of just under $80,000 AUD.
Day 2 – Exploring the Island
This is where we went while we were on Fraser Island, including Happy Valley, Eli Creek, and Lake McKenzie.
Where We Went on K’gari
After drinking our body weight in coffee we jumped behind the wheel of the Mazda in anticipation of the day ahead. We’d be making our way out of the resort towards the east side of Fraser Island before driving up the beach to Happy Valley and Eli Creek. We’d then traverse our way back across to the west side of the island before backtracking and doing the whole thing in reverse.
We talk more about the performance of the Mazda BT50 below, however, to give you an idea of the terrain, it’s best described as extremely bumpy inland and highway-like on the beachfront. You’ll struggle to decide between driving and sitting in the passenger seat as the tracks are fun but the changing landscapes and views through the different biomes are the highlight of the journey. You don’t come to K’gari for hardcore 4WD’ing (although you can find some tricky stuff up North) you come for the sights you can’t find anywhere else.
Driving from the resort to the east side of the island and you’re treated to a combination of dense rainforests and classic Aussie bush landscapes before you pop out onto the beach. It’s slow going inland with a 40km/h speed limit applying to all inland tracks, but your speed increases to around 80km/h on the sand where you can make up some serious ground. Happy Valley was our first stop.
A few kilometres up the beach and you’ll spot Eli Creek. It’s impossible to miss as a main attraction on the island and is home to some of the freshest water we’ve ever seen. The largest creek on the eastern beach of Fraser Island, it pours up to four million litres of fresh water into the ocean every hour and we highly recommend floating down the creek on an inner tube. Unfortunately, it was bucketing down with rain during our trip in the Mazda.
You can make your way from Kingfisher Bay Resort to Happy Valley through the inland tracks for a challenge, however, we took the scenic route up Seventy Five Mile Beach.
Happy Valley is 60km from the southern tip of the island and 200m back from the beach. It’s home to Fraser Island Retreat with nine cabins and plenty of facilities for those who are stopping by or looking for more comfort than a simple mattress and tent. There’s a general store, bistro, and fuel (we recommend filling up before you get on Fraser Island, or be prepared to pay big). It’s a nice spot to duck in on your way to Eli Creek.
While Fraser Island (K’gari) has laid claim to 23 shipwrecks between 1856 and 1935, the S.S. Maheno beached near The Pinnacles is the most famous. We stopped here on our way back from across the island, but it’s only a few clicks from Eli Creek and Happy Valley so you could take advantage of the light and snap some photos in the morning and afternoon on your way up and down the island.
The story has been told many times before, but the short version is that the Maheno was one of the first turbine-driven steamers, cutting a regular route between Sydney and Auckland until she was commissioned as a hospital ship in Europe during World War One. She and her sister ship the Oonah were sold to Japan for scrap in 1935 and the rudders were removed before their journey to Japan. When they reached Queensland Waters, a cyclonic storm snapped the tow chain and the Maheno drifted helplessly onto Fraser Island’s ocean beach (source).
Lake McKenzie (Boorangoora)
Our day trip was capped off with a trip to Lake McKenzie (Boorangoora). Arguably the most popular destination on the island it’s a ‘perched’ lake, which means it contains only rainwater, no groundwater, and measures 1,200 metres long and up to 930 metres wide. The result is one of the clearest possible bodies of water you’ll find anywhere, a great place to take a dip in the afternoon after a long day driving the sand.
How Did the Mazda BT50 Perform?
|2022 Mazda BT50 Specifications
|3.0-litre turbo-diesel I4
|140kW @ 3600 rpm
|450Nm @ 1600 rpm
We’ve driven our fair share of dual-cab utes this year, testing everything from the absolutely mental 2022 Ram 1500 TRX to the new Ford Ranger Wildtrak and even the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. This was our first time in the Mazda BT50 and the range-topping ‘Thunder’ model left us with a great first impression courtesy of its smart interior layout and choice of leather materials throughout. That was before we started driving.
Fraser Island is home to some seriously challenging inland tracks, not for their technical nature, but the beating they put on the suspension with bumps galore. Our vehicle featured the factory-available suspension upgrade courtesy of Old Man Emu and ARB and is priced at $6,720 AUD. This includes a GVM upgrade of 3360kg or 3500kg as specified at the time of purchase and before the vehicle is registered. We were sitting in the ‘medium load’ suspension option, perfect for touring without towing as the ride wasn’t too harsh or firm.
In terms of engine and power, the 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel (4jj1) is a gem of a motor. Although the power figures won’t blow any competitors out of the park, it makes the bulk of its torque down low, offering all 450Nm of torque from 1,600 to 2,600rpm. That’s great for quick punches of the throttle when you’re in tight situations off-road, in our case, those tricky beach exists and rutted-out holes near large tree roots. Check out our full ute power comparison to see how the BT50 compares to other Australian-market Dual Cab utes.
Do We Recommend Travelling to K’gari
We’d heard tales of Fraser Island (K’gari) being one of the best places to visit in Australia, period. And while we often fall victim to disappointment by getting our hopes up, Fraser Island didn’t disappoint.
The highlight of the island is the scenery. You travel from rainforest to bush to beach in mere kilometres. Exploring is made easy, comfortable, and relaxing thanks to the Mazda BT50 and you’re quickly reminded why this is one of the top-selling vehicles in the country.
As the saying goes “it’s not the destination, but the journey” and it doesn’t ring more true than on K’gari. We recommend spending at least four days on the island and checking out all the locations listed above. Our first time on Fraser Island in the Mazda BT50 was a blast and it won’t be the last! Check out all the Fraser Island (K’gari) attractions via the link below.
The 2022 Mazda BT50 ‘Thunder’ is priced from $71,290 (automatic) in Australia before on-road costs.
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