K’gari – Fraser Island shipwrecks and the story behind them

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K’gari – Fraser Island shipwrecks and the story behind them

Long long ago, between 1856 and 1930, a strange phenomenon occurred on the coast of Fraser Island, when 23 of the 8000 shipwrecks recorded in Australia occurred on the same island.

Around 1870 the Sandy Cape Lighthouse was turned on but that didn’t prevent ships from sinking in K’gari’s wild coast. S.S Maheno is the most popular since what is left of this luxury ship can still be found on the east coast beach of the island, near The Pinnacles.

S.S Maheno Shipwreck represents an unbeatable historic attraction on the island, the immensity of it, colours and shapes create a beautiful and unique scene. Our top tip … drive there before anyone else and enjoy one of the best sunrises of your life!

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How did S.S Maheno Shipwreck skeleton end up there?

In 1905 Maheno was built in Scotland as one of the first turbine-driven steam engines. This was a huge achievement back then and it is hard to imagine how this beautiful ships skeleton that is just a tourist attraction for us now, was once a luxury boat admired around the world for her service.  

The first mission of S.S Maheno was to transport passengers between Auckland and Sydney through the Tasman Sea until it was needed as a hospital ship during the First World War. What was once a vessel that regularly voyaged in the Tasman Sea to collect and transport passengers eventually carried the sick, dying, wounded soldiers and casualties of war.

After the war, in July 1935, New Zealand sold the ship to Japan, along with Oonah, a former Tasmanian ferry, and with a crew of 8 people, Maheno started its journey to Asia; they didn’t know then that it would end up laying to rest on Australia’s, nay the world’s largest sand island.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depends of which way you look at it, the SS Maheno never quite made made it to dock in Japan because of a fierce cyclone that snapped the towline. The crew attempted to reattach the vessel’s towline but failed because of the rough seas. The Maheno and its crew of eight men drifted helplessly, while the Oonah struggled to send a broadcast message via radio, requesting help for the Maheno.

After three days, the ship and its crew were finally located washed ashore on Fraser Island. The owners spent huge amounts of money on various attempts to try and re-float the ship so they could sell it on for scrap but no luck. The SS Maheno was here to stay. The once beautifully made ocean liner that saved so many sick and wounded troops, was finally stripped of its fittings and abandoned on the shores of K’gari Fraser Island.  

The contrast between the almost untouched landscape of Fraser Island and the history of this very special boat makes the ruins of the Maheno even more outstanding. 

Ss. Yongala, Townsville Queensland.

More famous shipwrecks in Queensland

Yongala, Townsville Queensland.

Source: Queensland Tourism.

Built in England in 1903, SS. Yongala used to be a luxury passenger ship and its mission was to take travellers around Australia. Tourism, comfort and high-class was everything that mattered on this 350-foot longship.

Around 1911, SS Yongala sank on route to Townsville during a cyclone and the ship disappeared, including its passengers. The wreck is almost intact and it is not for nothing that it has become a dream destination for divers.


Tangalooma Wrecks, Moreton Island, Queensland.

Few things can be compared with the sensation of snorkelling around 12 sunken ships on a beautiful crystal water island. The environment created by Tangalooma Wrecks looks like a scene from a science fiction movie and can be explored by kayak, snorkelling or diving.

Photo by Guillaume Marques. Source: unsplash.

Unlike other ships that have been victims of the powerful cyclones that affect Australian coasts, Tangalooma Wrecks were sunk deliberately to form a break wall and a solution to small boats that found it very difficult to dock due to the strong currents.

Ex Hmas Brisbane

Ex-HMAS Brisbane

Situated between Maroochydore and Mooloolaba, 28 metres below the water surface, the Ex-HMAS shipwreck creates the perfect artificial reef for adventurous divers.  

Source: Queensland Tourism.

Back in the day, this underwater treasure used to be a former Royal Australian Navy Ship and was sunk in 2005. To visit it you will need to book a diving tour or own your own if you a dive permit.

We don’t want to continue spoiling it as we wish you to discover these amazing hidden gems by yourself! K’gari Fraser Island Adventures provides 4WD hire and tours so you can cruise around the island and stop at SS Maheno Shipwreck to enjoy this human and nature creation.