K’gari Fraser Island may look like an idyllic sandy paradise (and it is), but ask a ship’s captain if they’d like to sail her shores and the answer is likely to be a resounding no. K’gari’s treacherous coastline has claimed many ships along with many lives over the years, with 23 wrecks recorded since 1856. There hasn’t been a wreck here for more than 50 years but if you want to see the remains of possibly the most famous of them all, visit the rusting remnants of the SS Maheno. In fact no trip to the island is complete without experiencing the eerie atmosphere that surrounds this rusting testament to history. Her skeletal remains draw visitors in their droves each year.
one of the first of her kind
The SS Maheno is very old and her story began back in 1905. She was built as one of the very first turbine-driven steamers, a technological marvel and a shining example of engineering. She sailed the route between Sydney and Auckland for a number of years as a luxury cruise liner. Since her creation, Maheno was a record breaker; by 1907 she set a record for the passage between the two ports that stood for twenty five years.
the ss maheno at war
The SS Maheno arrived at the naval base of the Gallipoli Campaign on 25th August, 1915. Just 10 years old and in her prime, she was converted into a hospital vessel where she faithfully carried casualties from the Battle of Hill 60 and for the next few months brought wounded soldiers from Gallipoli to Malta. Her work didn’t stop there. Soon she was sailed to the UK where her life saving duties continued, carrying the wounded from the battlefields of France including the battle of the Somme to the safety of England.
A fateful voyage
Once her wartime duties were over she was sailed back home, with plans to resume her old route between Australia and New Zealand. But by 1935 she was flagging and with modern engineering diesel engines were taking centre stage. Maheno was eventually sold to a shipbreaker in Osaka, Japan. Sad, right? It gets sadder! The SS Maheno never reached Japanese shores.
During her journey from Australia to Japan a huge storm pummelled both her and the Oonah, the 1,756 ton ship responsible for towing her through the ocean. So strong were the winds and the power of the waves that the towline connecting the two boats broke, and the terrified crews were unable to reattach them during the catastrophic storm conditions. The Maheno was cast adrift with 8 sailors on board, her fate left to the waves.
The ship and her crew were not discovered until 3 days later when they were found stranded on the coast of the island. Despite attempts, she could not be refloated so the Maheno remains on that same beach today, slowly rusting into the waves.
Despite her retirement, as a war veteran the Maheno was put to good use during the second world war and was recommissioned…as a bombing target. The RAAF, navy and Z force commando forces all had a crack at her during the opening years of the war.
the ss maheno today
The story of the SS Maheno is a sad one, but visiting the remains of the ship is now one of K’gari Fraser Island’s most popular sights. The wreck is, unsurprisingly, extremely unstable so you can’t go inside, but the sight of this once mighty ship laying fragile and broken on the shoreline is a reminder of the power of the ocean that surrounds the beautiful shores of K’gari Fraser Island.
A serendipitous name, the Maheno, for it means Island in Maori; she knew where she wanted to retire.
Come see her for yourself on one of our epic tours that take in everything this historic island has to offer.Book A K'GARI FRASER ISLAND TOUR HERE!