The gang just before we set off.
Ahh, Fraser Island. The name sums up images of an island, called Fraser, and.... well, thats about it really since I knew nothing about the place. Or at least I didn't until I arrived in Australia, and then you hear about it in every backpacker magazine going. My knowledge was limited until we talked to a very helpful guide in Coffs Harbour who booked our package for us and told us what to expect. Essentially, its the worlds largest sand island, stretching for around 190 x 100 kms. But instead of being all barren sand dunes, its covered with lush rain forests and lakes, the only place in the world where such nature is found growing on sand.
By our baby - Bessy, our trusty 4x4.
The island does not have any roads of any discernible nature, so the only way to get around is by 4 x 4 jeep across the beaches and through the jungle tracks. Its famed for its lakes, its beaches and its wildlife, ranging from huge spiders to wild dingos to 8 kinds of poisonous snakes! Only 8, sure we'll be grand, we thought.
We were departing from Rainbow beach and the day before in the hostel we had a meeting where were told all about the island and the jeeps that would get us there. We met the other 9 people who would be coming with us on our adventure, two English girls, a German brother and sister, a Dublin couple, a Frenchman, a Japanese bloke and a Korean girl. We had an early night since we were setting off at 7 in the morning.
In the morning we had an introduction to the trucks and were shown how to use the camping equipment which they had provided us with. The time came to set off and while everyone hummed and hawed about who would drive I sat in the front to see how the gears felt. Before I could say "lets draw straws" the door was closed on me and I was our designated driver for the morning. It was actually quite easy to get the hang of, a few roundabouts on the way to the barge making me aware of the huge weight we were carrying on the roof of the truck. I was just starting to enjoy it until we came to the barge, which was on the other side of a considerable wide beach with was to prove some of the softest sand of the three days. I had been told by our guide to put my foot down and drive straight onto the barge while he was going to turn off to the right after leading us across.
It seems the rest of the team in the back hadn't heard this conversation, and on seeing him turn right and me continue to plow on towards the boat they decided to panic a bit and start shouting in unison for me to stop. Luckily we didn't become bogged down and hit the ramp to the boat with a good bump. The rest of the crossing went fine and we hit the sand on the other side with around 4 or 5 other jeeps, some hired monsters like ours and others privately owned by adventurous motorists. We had a 90 minute drive up the beach to our first stop, which had to be done by sticking to the slightly harder sand close to the water, without submerging the jeep of course. This went largely fine, apart from the odd drop where the fresh water runs into the sea causing a few sore bums in the back.
The view of Lake MacKenzie as we came out of the forest.
We made our first stop without incident and headed to Lake MacKenzie, changing drivers from myself to our Frenchman Matthew. I was glad we did because the trail to the lake was though the jungle and it was unbelievably rough, with some holes and drops that you could measure in feet. Matthew handled it like a pro, not even getting stuck in places where the trucks ahead of us did. We were glad to see the lake and a smoother road after an hour and we set about having lunch before going to the beach. We had been provided with stacks of food and a suggested itinerary, so we tucked into beef sandwiches as recommended. We ate on one of the tables provided near the car park and it was like eating a picnic in a forest back home, until a 3 foot lizard decided to stroll by just 20 feet from our table, reminding us of where we really were.
Julia taking an aerial shot from the top of our 4x4.
We headed for the beach and were stunned to see the most incredible white sand, gorgeous blue waters and practically deserted beach, our reward for our tough trek through the jungle. We killed a few hours just swimming in its crystal clear waters and lying on the powder like sand, all of us reluctant to leave our little corner of paradise. Sadly the tides dictate driving on Fraser's beaches, and we had to make a move before the route we wished to take became impassable. We changed drivers again, this time German Henrik taking the wheel for the tough drive home. It went fine again, we did get bogged down once in an unbelievably soft spot of sand, but we were out at the first attempted push and on our way. We made our way to our suggested campsite and arrived just before dark, choosing a spot just a stones throw from the beach and its clear waters.
John and Dubliner Barry doing the 'manly' cooking tasks.
I should mention that we couldn't swim in the sea while on Fraser Island, due to a combination of sharks, stingrays, jellyfish and a very vicious current that would take you 60 miles before spitting you out! We weren't going to ignore their advice on this one. We set up camp just as the sun sunk below the palm trees and we started to prepare dinner, a decent sounding combo of steaks and potato salad on offer. The blokes handled the cooking of the steaks, as is natures way, and the ladies dealt with the spuds and veggies. We initially planned to make potato salad, but since its made differently in every country we ended up with spuds cut in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. It was all eventually mashed so that was pointless, but it tasted great and that was the main thing.
Overlooing the waters below Indian Head.
The steaks on the other hand must have come from the laziest couch potato of a cow who dropped dead of a heart attack, as they had more fat and grizzle on them than I ever thought possible. They were fine though, and the only problems anyone experienced was that the girls were not too keen on weeing in the absoulute total darkenss that surrounded our campsite, and so the boys had to escort us girls on more than one trip into the night. We did get to see the stars in all their unhampered glory, the milky way looking like the same hazy white fog that I see when walking back home in the countryside. We had a great laugh, with everyone drinking late into the night and having a great giggle.
We woke with a few sore heads early the next morning, the heat in the tents driving us out before 7.
The endless sand dunes on the wake to Lake Wabby, Lawrence of Arabia eat your heart out.
30. We had a simple cereal breakfast, no showers of course, and headed off straight away to Indian head, a stretch of cliff overlooking the sea that is famed for its view. I decided to drive us there and John says I handled it surprisingly well. But as I told him, after 5000 miles on the wrong side of the road in Europe this was a piece of cake. Here I did have to contend with very different conditions, not just the sand and washouts but plenty other 4 x 4s and the stream of small planes landing on the beach, yes, on the same beach we were driving on. So you need eyes on the road and on the sky. We arrived in no time and climbed the cliffs steep slopes, the view at the top being a real treat with an incredible beach on one side and the endless sea on the other.
Me with Lindsey and Kerry from Luton, Lake Wabby in the background.
We saw a school of four sharks swim by as well as turtles and stingrays, and an Osprey pulling fish from the sea. After an hour nature spotting we headed for Eli Creek, which is one of the larger fresh water streams flowing from the islands center to the sea. If you had a flotation device you could flow with its current for a few hundreds meters to shore, but since we didn't have any we decided to walk it anyway. The walk to the creek was along a forest lined boardwalk, and there were a few other groups in front and behind us. One guy in front of us had a huge camera, and when he said "thats a big one" I was worried he was talking about a fish in the water that we were about to enter. No, it was ok though, he only meant a spider about the size of my hand in the trees beside us.
What a buch of heads! In Lake Wabby's green water with the fish nibbling at our legs.
Three of them to be precise, all a fair size. The girls who were walking behind took about ten minutes to muster the courage to walk past. Once at the end of the boardwalk we strolled through the creeks waist high water and back down to the sea, where we spent a few hours soaking up the sun while playing 'creek volleyball' with a few Aussie kids who wanted to join us. Next we headed for Lake Wabby which is set a 2 km walk from the beach and cannot be reached by jeep, so we parked up in the nearest campsite we could find and started to walk in the sweltering heat. The first part of the walk was through dense forest where the noise from the various insects and birds was so loud that we could hardly hear each other speak. Then, somehow, this gave way to the most vast expanse of sand I have ever seen, and we had to plow on across the dunes with only our towels to shield from the suns rays.
Me climbing the incredibly hot and steep sandy slope from Lake Wabby.
The walk seemed to last an eternity but finally we came over a brow to see the magical green waters of the lake shimmering in the sun like a mirage. Yes, I mean green as in literally green. The boys arrived first and began walking down the steep sandy slope of the lake, but this quickly became a run as we realized the sand was facing and sun and as such was about as hot as the sun's surface. They jumped in at the bottom and waited for us girls to arrive so they could laugh at us making the same mistake of starting the walk slowly and then ending it in a run. Most of us jumped straight in to try and relieve the burning that the unbearable sand had caused. There were four or five other groups there and we all had a good giggle while enjoying the lakes cool waters.
The stunning sunrise at about 5am taken by me of course as everyone else was sleeping. Looked nice!
Little fish swam all around us and God knows what else, but we had a great time and passed two hours without even noticing them fly by. We made the walk back to our campsite and set about digging our hole for the night, so that we would have a place to, amm, well, you know what I mean. We had picked what seemed like a quiet spot when we left for the lake but when we returned there were 4 or 5 other jeeps all unpacking their things, so we were party central for the night. We had a good meal of Asian stir fry which was cooked by our two Asian team members, who somehow managed to burn the rice despite supposedly cooking it three times a day back home. We had great fun playing drinking games for the next few hours, being joined by some of the other groups at different times, ranging from a pi**ed French girl who thought we were her group to a German lesbian who took a fancy to our young German Julia and invited her to 'watch the stars' with her.
Grainne digging our 'hole' for the night, to put, ahem, you know what in there.
Tempting! We were also visited by our one and only dingo of the weekend around 11 at night, his piercing eyes being lit up by our trucks lights in the total darkness. We shouted "go home dingo" in the ridiculous fashion that our guide had advised us and he quickly turned tail and ran from our drunken shouting. We ran to make sure he was gone and got a little over zealous, Grainne managing to kick sand at some poor girl who was coming back from the 'toilet' (hole in the ground!) in the pitch dark, prompting her to shout in broken English "I am not a dingo" and putting us all in stitches. We drank until the wee hours, with myself, our Frenchman Matthew and our Dubliner Barry being the last ones to hit the hay of all the groups there.
The next morning's heat was right on time as always and we were up and on our way by 7 o clock.
Us girls by the rusty Maheno shipwreck with one of the 'beach planes' in the background.
I had risen earlier and managed to get an awesome picture of the sunrise about five that morning that impressed everyone on our truck. We had to be at our ferry by 2 and so had time to do only one thing, and we all unanimously decided to go to Lake MacKenzie. Well, I say unanimously, Hidi our Japanese bloke and Oomi our Korean girl barely had a word of English between them, so they just nodded and grunted through most of the weekend. Bit like me then. The lake was as stunning as always, and after an all too short hour and a bit we headed back. We again got stuck on the way back, this time after we had just discussed how we were cutting things a bit fine if we were going to make the 1.30 sailing. We jinxed ourselves good and proper. We got out with the help of a few friends from another truck and two big shovels, and thanks to Henrik's great driving we made the barge just in time.
Enjoying the crystal clear waters of lake MacKenzie.
Our Luton girl Lindsey hadn't driven all weekend, something we were happy about after she sat in the drivers seat and asked us where the brake pedal was! We needn't have worried, she was great and got us across the soft sand and into the hostel with no problems. Despite being absolutely wrecked and in desperate need of a shower (that sand goes EVERYWHERE!) we all agreed it was a brilliant weekend. We were very lucky in that our group was all great fun and quite outgoing, everyone getting along fine and only the mute Oomi not saying much all weekend. Apart from ugh and ooh and the like. We slept like babies that night and said goodbye to our new found friends, before departing for Airlie beach on a 15 hour overnight bus ride leaving at 7.30 pm and arriving at 10.
30 the next morning! At least we didn't have to pay for a hostel!