Harry and Meghan’s next tour stop is a par­adise of leg­ends and lakes, flora and fauna

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

An is­land of sand and lush rain­for­est beauty sounds like just the ticket for newly-weds – and now par­entsto-be – the Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex, as they pause to take breath dur­ing their whirl­wind tour of Ocea­nia, their first as a Royal cou­ple.

Their 16-day ad­ven­ture in the An­tipodes in­cludes stops in a num­ber of fa­mil­iar spots – from the Kiwi cap­i­tal Welling­ton to Auck­land, New Zealand’s most pop­u­lous city, and Aus­tralia’s hol­i­day heavy­weights Syd­ney and Mel­bourne. But the is­land where they will be touching down to­mor­row is an al­to­gether more cu­ri­ous des­ti­na­tion. Not that they are go­ing there for pure R&R (that will surely come ahead of the birth of their ex­pected child next spring).

Ly­ing just off the south-eastern coast of Queens­land, Fraser Is­land is a Unesco World Her­itage-listed land mass formed en­tirely of sand. At more than 75 miles long and 15 miles wide (nearly the same size as Tener­ife) it is the largest of its kind in the world. Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal leg­end, the is­land is the body of K’gari (pro­nounced gurri), a spirit from the sky who fell in love with the beau­ti­ful bay made by Yendingie, a mes­sen­ger sent to cre­ate land on earth. The trees and shrubs be­came her clothes, its lakes her eyes and its streams her voice. To en­sure that K’gari – mean­ing par­adise – would never be lonely, Yendingie pop­u­lated the land with crea­tures and peo­ple.

The Butchulla peo­ple’s Dream­time story of cre­ation is by far the sweeter half of the is­land’s his­tory and on ar­rival the Royal pair will hear more about it from Butchulla rep­re­sen­ta­tives who will join the Pre­mier of Queens­land and in­vite them to take part in a Wel­come to Coun­try Smok­ing Cer­e­mony.

The sec­ond act of the his­tory of this is­land is al­to­gether more sober­ing and be­gan one night in May 1836, when a cargo ship ran aground on a coral reef. En route to Sin­ga­pore from Syd­ney, the brig had be­gun its jour­ney in Scot­land and some of the Scot­tish crew (in­clud­ing Cap­tain James Fraser and his wife El­iza) ended up on K’gari. Cap­tain Fraser died shortly af­ter mak­ing land­fall, while El­iza sur­vived. Beyond those few con­crete de­tails the pic­ture is hazy: El­iza was “res­cued” three months later and, re­turn­ing to the UK, told many a tale of en­slave­ment, em­bar­rass­ment and hard­ship at the hands of the Butchulla. To hon­our her hero­ism, the is­land was named af­ter her. Not long af­ter­wards, the Butchulla, who had in­hab­ited the is­land for 5,000 years, were shot, dispossessed or died of dis­eases brought over by the Euro­peans.

Few de­scen­dants of the six abo­rig­i­nal clans sur­vive to­day – and not one in­hab­its the is­land per­ma­nently. But a small part of the Butchul­las’ an­ces­tral legacy lives on, as the Duke and Duchess will dis­cover. “What is good for the land comes first” is one of the three laws of the orig­i­nal cus­to­di­ans. As part of their visit, Harry and Meghan will un­veil a plaque that names Fraser part of the Queen’s Com­mon­wealth Canopy – an ini­tia­tive that seeks to ear­mark and pre­serve pris­tine indige­nous for­est.

The fan­tas­ti­cal flora that in­hab­its this is­land of nat­u­ral curiosities is cer­tainly wor­thy of pro­tec­tion. I have never set foot any­where quite like it: crys­talline lakes of navy bor­dered with Lis­ter­ine blue lie hid­den in the folds of cen­turies-old sand dunes; dense trop­i­cal rain­for­est, where trees more than 160ft tall stand rooted in noth­ing but swathes of sil­ica; mile upon mile of wind-sculpted sand cliffs stri­ated in ev­ery shade of ochre rise up from the beach, like a scene from a Wild West film; and fast-flow­ing fresh­wa­ter creeks mirac­u­lously ma­te­ri­alise out of the scrub, car­ry­ing wa­ter so clear and pure that it can be heard, but is hard to see. This is no bio­di­ver­sity hotspot – it’s a liv­ing, breath­ing Eden, some 750,000 years in the mak­ing.

An equally fan­tas­ti­cal ar­ray of fear­some fauna threat­ens these parts too (Snakes! Sharks! Din­goes! More snakes!) yet I spot none of it while ca­reen­ing around the is­land. My only en­coun­ters with the na­tive wildlife are of the au­di­ble va­ri­ety. The shrill, stac­cato chat­ter of whistling kites; the slow “siz­zle” sound of crick­ets, like power lines in sum­mer’s heat; and the croaky bleat of Cooloola sedge frogs. The cor­nu­copia of habi­tats on Fraser cra­dles all man­ner of crea­tures, how­ever, with more than 350 species of birds, 48 species of mam­mals, 79

Crys­talline lakes of navy bor­dered with Lis­ter­ine blue lie hid­den in the folds of sand dunes

species of rep­tiles and 18 species of frogs spot­ted here. The wider Fraser Coast area also lays claim to the ti­tle of whale watch­ing cap­i­tal of the world, its calm, shel­tered wa­ters pro­vid­ing refuge for thou­sands of mi­grat­ing hump­backs each year.

To view ev­ery­thing in one large gulp, vis­i­tors can take a scenic flight straight from the sand on 75 Mile Beach, Air Fraser’s mo­bile “run­way” marked by noth­ing other than two cones and a propped-up sign read­ing “cau­tion air­craft land­ing”. From 4,000ft in the air the thick­ets of rain­for­est re­sem­ble a sea of broc­coli flo­rets, the oc­ca­sional white thread of sand track snaking through the green­ery be­low, while the hulk­ing four-wheel drives that pa­trol the shore­line sud­denly look like tiny toy cars you could pinch with your fore­fin­gers. Who needs a drone when you can gawp at the milky white crests of waves bar­relling to­wards the shore live from above?

While tak­ing off or land­ing on a beach might not seem a par­tic­u­larly wild prospect in prin­ci­ple, it be­comes more so once you fac­tor in the pa­rade of four-wheel drives speed­ing along the sand in both di­rec­tions, just inches away from the frothy surf. Watch­ing them stream along through the film of sandy heat haze on the hori­zon is al­most as sur­real a scene as a still from Mad Max. “It’s a gazetted high­way,” ex­plains Gary, our guide from King­fisher Bay Re­sort. “You’ve gotta look both ways be­fore you cross.” The is­land’s sand “roads” are pa­trolled by the Queens­land po­lice, and those caught speed­ing or driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence can be fined.

Four-wheel drives are the only ve­hi­cles that can tackle Fraser’s all-sand ter­rain – and not just any old model will cut the mus­tard here – but in­stead I cruise the is­land in a souped up, cus­tom-de­signed, four-wheel drive coach, on King­fisher Bay’s Beauty Spots tour. At first sight the coach looks or­di­nary, but it bounces over deep grooves and speeds and shud­ders through tracks in the sand like no­body’s busi­ness, with puffs from the pneu­mat­ics part of the sound­track.

Trav­ellers can pitch up with their ve­hi­cle and a tent – pro­vid­ing they’ve ap­plied for all the nec­es­sary per­mits. And many lo­cals do just that, com­ing over with friends or fam­ily for a fish­ing trip, or sim­ply a chance to un­plug from the mod­ern world and re­mem­ber what be­ing in the wilder­ness feels like. The is­land’s quiet enough that you can tuck away into the bush and barely pass an­other soul. But for those with lim­ited time and knowl­edge of the is­land, stay­ing at one of the hand­ful of lo­cal re­sorts and tak­ing or­gan­ised tours with the pro­fes­sion­als is by far the more com­pelling, and safer, al­ter­na­tive. Thank­fully, the King­fisher Bay Re­sort doesn’t feel di­vorced from Fraser’s charm. The re­sort’s struc­tures – many of which were made from re­cy­cled tim­ber – are scat­tered widely and hid­den be­low the tree line; so much so that when you ar­rive at the jetty there’s barely a build­ing vis­i­ble through the thick for­est beyond the beach. Spiky leafed pan­danus trees and wild­flow­ers en­velop the pool and restau­rant area, tiny, colour­ful birds flit be­tween the re­sort’s lofty lobby and the great out­doors, and wal­lum, or heath­land, skirts King­fisher’s edges. They say it takes a fool­ish man to build his house upon the sand, but to have Fraser’s raw land­scape at your toes seems a wise in­vest­ment to me.

ROYAL TOUR The golden shore of Fraser Is­land, above; and Butchulla art­work, above right

KICK BACK AND RE­LAX Hol­i­day­mak­ers at King­fisher Bay Re­sort, left; the Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex, be­low

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