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Kingfisher Bay Resort

Kingfisher Bay Resort, waterfront

Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia
Australia's best-loved eco-resort is a world away from stuffy, sack cloth environmentalism – it's a wonderful retreat with sun, sea and sand, sand, sand.

first impressions
A holiday at this four-star resort on spectacular Fraser Island will even turn your friends Green – with envy, that is.

Nestled amongst native, tropical rainforest teeming with wildlife, and set on the edge of the Great Sandy Strait – a protected wetland that's home to several endangered species such as dugongs and turtles – this family-friendly getaway brings you back to nature ... with all the mod-cons of home.

It's also the perfect place to explore the awe-inspiring scenery of Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, and a World Heritage Site boasting "outstanding natural beauty". Just a 45-minute ferry trip from the mainland, Fraser has more than 250km of windswept, white sandy beaches, making it a paradise for swimming, boating, 4x4 driving (and, of course, sunbathing).

Perhaps given its sandy location, it's no surprise that Kingfisher Bay has gone against the grain of conventional, large-scale resort management. Since it opened in 1992, it's been setting the standards of eco-tourism with its praiseworthy philosophy to "create a minimal impact on the environment" (and has a host of awards including the coveted Steve Irwin Award for Eco-tourism for its efforts). From energy-saving architecture and on-sight recycling, to its aptly named 'Poo Farm' – a sewerage plant and wormery that transforms guests' waste into compost – Kingfisher Bay has set an impressive benchmark for other resorts to follow.

Thanks to sensitive, thoughtful design (and award-winning architecture), guest accommodation is striking but unobtrusive to the delicate flora and fauna which surrounds; species commonly spotted around the complex include the flying fox, tawny frogmouth, rainbow lorikeet, white-throated honeyeater (and, of course, the kingfisher, after which the resort is named), to mention just a few.

Hotel rooms – offering either sea or bush views – are light, airy and spacious, and come furnished with queen-sized beds, and a separate, king-sized single, as standard. Each also features a selection of stunning, wall-mounted photographs, courtesy of talented local landscape photographer, Peter Meyer.

Rooms boast air-conditioning, large TV with a variety of channels, tea and coffee-making facilities, hair-dryer and iron (with ironing board), direct-dial telephones with voice mail service, and large wardrobes.

Bathrooms, meanwhile, are tiled throughout, and feature large showers, deep tubs and a range of complimentary, environmentally-friendly toiletries.

A terrace room at the Kingfisher Bay Resort

But it's the large, private, native-timber terrace – with matching recliners and table – that makes these rooms so irresistible. From here you can enjoy free exhibitions, 24/7, at what Kingfisher calls 'nature's art gallery' – exhibits include wild flowers, endemic trees and shrubs, dramatic ocean views, and abundant (and often inquisitive) local fauna.

For something a little larger, mums and dads might consider the two and three-bedroom self-catering villas, which – to quote the (quite accurate) Kingfisher website – nestle "discreetly in the treetops" overlooking the main complex. With huge wooden decks, large bedrooms (some of which contain bunk-beds for the kids), and a spacious lounge and kitchen, parents may, indeed, think of them as real 'hideaways' – somewhere to hide away from the children, that is.

Thanks to stringent guidelines laid down by the resort, the villas – of which a number are privately owned and rented – are immaculately furnished and come with all the mod-cons you'd expect: fitted kitchen with cooking amenities, air-conditioning, large TV, large bathroom with shower (and in some cases, spa baths) and sofas.

For really large families or groups, the three Kingfisher Houses are the ideal option: Scribbly Gum (sleeping nine); Sterling House (sleeping 12); and Monteith House (also sleeping eight). These vast villas, set discreetly apart from the main complex, each have spectacular views of the surrounding area, and come furnished with every conceivable amenity and mod-con.

But if it's something really special you're after, look no further than the exclusive Banksia Executive Villas, where being spoiled comes as standard. Sleeping up to eight guests, these villas ooze class: bespoke, modern furnishings; custom-made kitchenettes, entertainment systems, and – as Kingfisher rightly boasts – views "to die for".

food and drink
The good news is that you're spoilt for choice; the bad news is ... that you're spoilt for choice – choosing what and where to eat here is no easy task! Kingfisher has it all when it comes to food, from gourmet seafood, to lite bites, healthy options and hearty buffets.

Start with a mouth-watering meal at the resort's award-winning seafood restaurant, Seabelle, where the team of talented chefs have produced a superb, signature menu using a variety of locally-produced herbs and spices. Drawing inspiration from the indigenous Butchulla Tribe, dishes include such exotic ingredients as blue quandong, rosella, aniseed myrtle, lillypilly, and bunya nuts. Be sure to ask about the brilliant Bush Tucker Talk, an informative 30-minute hosted lecture about the native ingredients on the menu. If you're feeling brave, you can go one better and try them – raw.

Boasting elegant and sophisticated decor, Seabelle brings traditional Australian bush tucker into 21st century cuisine.

Here's a tip: kick-start your tastebuds with a wonderful rosella-based tipple from the cocktail bar. From experience – and for your own safety – our writer strongly recommends that you follow his 'Seabelle Shanty': "One rosella, two rosella, three rosella, floor."

The Maheno adds a touch of flair in an open-plan and relaxed atmosphere. Breakfast (which is served here daily) is a lavish affair: a grand buffet where 'choice' is an understatement. Expect everything (and more) including traditional cooked breakfasts, fresh fruits, cereals, meats, home-made pastries and cheeses.

Maheno also serves-up a wide selection of lunchtime options, but it's the evening buffet on Friday and Saturday nights that makes this place so popular. Even non-guests from the Queensland coast make the trip by ferry especially each weekend. And rightly so – the locally-caught seafood is magnificent, while the meats – sourced within 100km in an initiative Kingfisher calls "From Paddock to Plate" – are varied and cooked to perfection.

For lighter bites – or for families with younger children – take a short stroll to the Sand Bar, where salads, burgers, sandwiches and other tasty snacks are served on the wooden terrace throughout the day.

Be sure to save enough room for a sundowner with tapas and cheese platter at the Jetty Hut, overlooking the water. Here you'll find a selection of beers and wines to while away your evening. Get here early, grab a table overlooking the beach, and experience the unforgettable sight of sunset over the Great Sandy Strait.

If you're still ready to party, head back to the main complex for a glass or three of wine and sing-a-long with the resort's gifted musical duo, Blue Gypsy.

And if you're still going strong? Hit the dandy Dingo Bar, a favourite with staff and the place to practice those hard-to-master dance moves. Following one guest's experience – and for your own safety – our writer strongly recommends you follow his 'Dingo Bar Ditty': "One fandango, two fandango, three fandango, floor."

service with a smile?
If you could bottle and sell the enthusiasm of Kingfisher employees, you'd be a rich man indeed. Expect a smile at every corner, and a helping hand or warm word everywhere you turn.

Facilities in and around the main complex are plentiful; from a child-minding service, to safety deposit boxes, an ATM machine, porter service, and laundry. There's even an Office Box and General Store in nearby Kingfisher Village, and a handy foreign exchange (boasting competitive rates).

There is disabled access throughout the complex, while rooms are interconnecting for guests with special needs.

The Conference Centre is ideal for those guests on business, while three computers in the foyer offer 24/7 internet access for a small charge. Wireless is available at a number of hotspots around the main complex.

Reception is open 24 hours-a-day and provides, amongst other things, complimentary towels (for use on the beach or at the resort's four swimming pools) and comprehensive information about the island and resort. It's also the place to book Ranger-guided 4x4 tours, whale-watching cruises, canoe adventures, and catamaran excursions (see Local Attractions, below). What's more, Reception is the easiest place on the island to catch a glimpse of the native creepy-crawlies. But don't panic! These bugs, snakes and spiders are full to bursting ... (they're stuffed).

local attractions
OK, where do we start?!

whale-watching at the Kingfisher Bay Resort

Kingfisher boasts an array of pursuits to suit any taste, budget and derring-do. Its magnificent location, on the doorstep of the Great Sandy Strait, also makes it the perfect place to explore the natural wonders of Fraser Island.

Activities start at 6.30am with the fascinating Ranger-guided Bird Walk – a 60-minute tour of the complex and surrounding woodland, which more than 350 bird species make their home. Binoculars, flashlights, (and expert commentary) supplied.

If you miss the morning walk, don't worry: the spooky Night Walk Adventure begins at sundown each evening. Guests are treated to a guided tour of the grounds ... by flashlight. Rangers use powerful spotlights to point-out rare acid frogs, bats and sugar gliders. It's a hit with kids (and big kids) alike.

Be sure to check the What's On guide (available at Reception), for a list of the week's activities. These include Bush Tucker and Bush Medicine talks; Fraser Island European History lectures; astronomy classes; traditional story telling; a fishing clinic; and even "Toadbusting" – a lesson about the island's rampant population of destructive cane toads, and ways to eradicate them humanely.

And of course, there's the Poo Farm... A site visit takes between 30 and 45 minutes, and showcases the inner-workings of the resort's own sewerage plant and worm farm. If the kids kick-up a stink about coming with you, drop them off with the Junior Eco Rangers, where they'll learn about stargazing and beach and ocean wildlife, and take part in a selection of fun outdoor pursuits.

Spend at least one afternoon enjoying a Sail Fraser Island Cruise on board skipper Brent Milne's wonderful catamaran, 'Shayla'. This awesome tour of the island's stunning coast lasts around four hours, during which time guests receive complimentary food and drink (try Brent's "signature" 'Milo' milkshake) and a running commentary about the sights. You can also try 'Boom Netting' – clutching a rope cargo net, and being dragged behind the boat through the water – it's great fun, and the closest you'll ever come to being aquatic. Between August and October, there's a good chance you'll see humpback whales during their annual migration; dolphins, dugongs and turtles, meanwhile, are present between July and November.

With more than 1,500km of sandy tracks, Fraser is strictly 4x4 territory (a fact ignored by dozens of drivers to their peril!). Off-road vehicles – seating up to eight – are available for rental, however you can take the stress out of driving by taking a Ranger-Guided Personalised Tour. These full-day, made-to-measure excursions are exceptional value for money, and take-in all the well-known sights of the island (and a few 'secret' ones known only to the guides). They're also 'Advanced Eco Accredited' – or sensitive to the environment. Most tours head to the lofty promontory of Indian Head – so named in 1770 by Captain Cook as he sailed past Fraser and noticed the 'natives' on the headland – where there's a good chance you'll see Manta Rays, tiger sharks and dolphins. You could take a swim in the crystal-clear fresh water at Lake McKenzie, hike through the tropical eucalypt rainforests, or float down Eli Creek through some of the world's highest sand dunes to the beach. You'll also want to visit the shipwreck Maheno, drive along (the aptly named) Seventy-Five Mile Beach, and see the magnificent giant king-ferns at Wanggoolba Creek. Whatever you choose, you won't be disappointed.

The Ranger-Guided canoe trip to Dundonga Creek is another must: a two-hour, serene paddle through age-old mangroves.

Kingfisher Natural Therapy and Beauty offers a range of treatments; we can recommend an invigorating Swedish massage after a long day's exploring (or a night on the tiles).

For a spot of retail therapy, the Kingfisher Village stocks a selection of affordable gifts including clothing, carvings and other curios. It also holds copies of photographer Peter Meyer's outstanding book, 'Fraser Island, Australia' – an indispensable photographic guide to the island.

will it break the bank?
Going green doesn't cost the earth. Hotel Rooms start from around AU$235 per person, per night; two-bedroom villas start at around AU$295 per night, while executive villas start from around AU$395.

Check the website for the latest 'Hot Deals'. Packages also available.

Kingfisher Bay Resort, Fraser Island
PMB 1 Urangan, Queensland 4655

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