Fraser Island - Sunday, September 29, 2002

This is a long one, so HANG ON!!!

What a fabulous experience we had on our bus ride up to Hervey Bay, the gateway to Fraser Island! Who would have thought we'd get to watch a movie as well as stop for a food break? When we arrived at the hostel several hours later, we were immediately ushered to the bar for a beer and a briefing on details of our trip the following day to Fraser Island. Along with 9 other people, we given the do's and don'ts of traveling/camping on Fraser Island by 4wd. Since Fraser Island is one of ~750 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, rangers enforce pretty strict rules so that tourists don't ruin conservation/preservation efforts. (check out - http://www.env.qld.gov.au/cgi-bin/w3-msql/environment/park/discover/resultframe.html?id=255 )

There are many ways to tour the island after receiving a ride on a car barge or ferry - day tours in huge 4x4 buses, private 4x4 hire/camping, group 4x4 tour (5-9 people sharing a vehicle and camping gear) or stay at one of the islands resorts. After little debate, we opted to rent our own 4x4 so we had more freedom to explore and not have to deal with bad group dynamics or the 18 - 22 yr old European & American college types who are generally most interested in where they can get their next drink. Our hostel arranged everything using their partner Aussie Trax 4wd Company - car, camping gear, barge & camping permits, route recommendations, and tide reports, etc.

During the briefing on Thursday night we met 9 others from the hostel who were doing the group trip. They seemed like pretty nice folks (Canadians, UK, Irish, German) and since we hit it off pretty well with them over beers later that evening, we decided to travel along roughly the same route starting on Friday. That evening we also went to the grocery store to pick up food for our camping meals on the island. We tried to keep our meals simple as we had limited cooler space and cooking equipment, not to mention that pretty much everything would be served with a pretty generous portion of Fraser Island sand, compliments of the ever present on shore winds.

The day started at 6:15 AM (this is vacation??) where we received our camping gear and our cooler packed with the food we purchased the night before. Then we took a ride to the rental company headquarters to receive our 4x4 and trip briefing. Since we rented our own car we of course got the smallest 4x4 available - yup, a Suzuki jeep type thing which we dubbed "Suzuki-san". After watching a great video on how to drive on the sandy trails and beaches of Fraser Island, where there are no paved roads, we took off to meet our barge for the trip across the bay. On our way down to the barge we tried to figure out exactly how "Suzuki-san" would handle the tough conditions and beating that he would sustain taking us to our places of interest. The little rig didn't exactly seem as if it would have enough juice or toughness to make it through the trails or beaches.

The barge ride over took about 40 minutes, and we realized the decision to rent our own rig was a good one. The barge was full of 9 passenger 4x4's with luggage, coolers and loud 20 year olds loaded into every possible nook and cranny. Lucky us, since we had a small car we were one of the first cars off the barge, thankfully not stuck behind a long train of inexperienced 4x4 drivers on a one lane road for the next 10km. Since driving in sand and snow are very similar, Dave was right at home, passing the only 2 cars in front of us and getting out in front of the pack so we didn't have to choke on their dust.

Our first stop on the island was Central Station which was the center of logging operations for Fraser Island during the early part of the 19th Century. There is a tree that grows on the island which was used extensively for shipbuilding and applications such as the Suez Canal because it is very hard and naturally resists water. Thankfully, logging was stopped in the later part of the century, so the island could regenerate. Now the forests have regenerated and the only sign of logging on the island is the remnants around Central Station.

We met the rest of the group from our hostel at Central Station and immediately set off for the east coast beaches. Watching the tides and avoiding soft sand/saltwater, we planned our day to take advantage of safe travel on the beach during low tides. Also, the rental contract doesn't permit driving during high tide (varies each day, but from about 10AM to 2PM during our trip) or we might have lost "Suzuki-san" to the Pacific Ocean along with the rental deposit.

Along the dicey trail to the beach, we stopped during high tide at one of a series of small lakes called "perched lakes". What makes these unique is that the only source of water is rain or groundwater trapped between the dunes. Just imagine a white sandy beach, but on a crystal clear lake with few weeds and no wildlife/fish. The sand was so fine that it works as an excellent jewelry cleaner/polish. So, with clean rings, we set off towards the beach, only bogging down a few times in the deepest of sand trails. Thanks to our travelling companions in the big rig. They offered a car load of pushing and shoving to get us moving again. Of course their Land Rover had no trouble since it had a ton more power compared to the little "Suzuki-san".

The plan was to reach the east coast beach during low tide and travel about 50k north (the farthest we were permitted with the rental car) to Indian Heads and set up camp for the night. After losing the rest of our group (the Land Rover), we decided to keep moving north to set up camp before dark (again a rental thing, no driving after dark). The toughest part of driving was yet to come... The small track connecting the east coast to Indian Heads is the worst stretch of 4x4'ing to encounter on the island. Basically, the technique is to shift the car into 4wd "Lo" for extra traction, get up some speed and hopefully power through the soft sand and reach the other side. No can do for "Suzuki-san" on the first attempt. We received a push from a car load of energetic 20 year olds and lined up for another try. This time we floored it and throwing all caution to the wind, powering our way through and dodging oncoming traffic to make it to the other beach.

Having put forth all the effort to make it to Indian Head before sundown was well rewarded with amazing views and a beautiful uncrowded beach. We set up our tent at the campground and then drove up the beach a little way to see Champagne Pools. These are natural swimming pools created by a cut out section of rocks where the waves crest over the rocks trapping water in the pools. After that, we parked "Suzuki-san" back at camp and then set out to hike up Indian Head. We had a prime spot for camping as we were an easy walk up up the hill to the rewards of a setting sun and marine life in the waters below. It was amazing to witness the abundant sea life from the sheer cliffs atop Indian Head - schools of fish, manta rays, loggerhead turtles, sharks, etc. We also witnessed a Sea Hawk (similar to an eagle, not the NFL mascot) dive into the surf and pluck out a nice sized fish dinner treat.

It's a shame, with so many beautiful stretches of beach and great waves, that swimming and water sports are not safe on Fraser Island. The currents, not to mention the plentiful sharks, are a problem that sees a number of people swept away by the rips and tides of the great beaches. As evidence by a few 4x4's with surfboards on the roof, there seems to be a number of brave souls who search out some of the surf on the island.

Our dinner and a nice campfire were visited by the local ranger, who has to visit each campsite and give the obligatory Dingo warning chat. You can be heavily fined and even thrown off the island if you are caught feeding the animals or even just leaving a messy campsite for the Dingoes to rummage through. A bit about the dingos...The island's dingo poplulation is the purest strain in Australia. With so many tourists visiting the island, rangers want to ensure that the dingos and other wildlife are protected from humans as much as possible. For instance, there is a $3000 fine for feeding a dingo. By feeding dingos food scraps (sometimes just to get them into a good photo), humans are inadvertantly altering their inherently their natural hunting methods. The dingos will learn to become reliant on easy human food scraps and when hungry will attack humans for food. A nine year old was attacked last year.

Too bad the dingo's didn't visit the campsite of some particularily rowdy Aussie version of trailer trash. While these folks were VERY nice and helpful in pushing all vehicles stuck in the sand, they enjoyed the ever-popular late 80's/early 90's big hair rock music late into the early morning hours. We awoke with the sunrise and made a hearty egg breakfast (with the few that didn't break in the 4x4) then headed south to take in all the sights we blew past the previous day. In an effort to beat the rising tides, we raced through the cumbersome sand to Eli Creek for an afternoon of swimming, stopping by the Maheno shipwreck (luxury liner beached ~1935) and Rainbow Gorge (gorgeous strata of colored sand).

We met up with the Land Rover folks and enjoyed the largest freshwater creek on the island. The water was clear, chilly, and fast flowing, making for a enjoyable break from the strong Aussie sun. After the tide fell, making the beach passable, the group found a great camping spot on the beach (100 yards from the water) and marked the campsite. Before nightfall, we fit in a 45 minute hike to Lake Wabby so we wouldn't have to wake up early to do it on our last day. Lake Wabby is known as a barrage lake b/c it is formed by the damming action of a sandblow blocking the waters of a natural spring.

Once we reached the lake and surrounding dunes, it felt like we were in the middle of the desert. Dave brought along the carboard from a case of beer and attempted to slide down the dune every possilbe way to no avail. Remember the old, plastic "snow saucers"? Would've worked like a charm! Climbing up over the steep dunes was very challenging, but rewarded all with great views across the expansive dunes all the way to the ocean.

On the way back to our beach campsite, another pod of whales started breaching a few hundred yards offshore and followed us all the way "home". AMAZING!!! We sat around a bonfire eating/drinking with the group. It's great getting to know folks from around the world--Sean & Sherry from Canada, Noreen from Ireland, Matt from UK, Carsten from Germany, and a few other young kids who we didn't spend much time with (mostly by their choice since they didn't seem to thrive in a group atmosphere...so much more to say..). We would have been just fine on a group trip with the folks mentioned above, but we don't regret for a minute chartering our own rig. Not a single problem with group dynamics, except when Dave wouldn't do what I told him to do (hee hee). I guess I did have a few bad moments telling Dave how to drive which doesn't make sense b/c I've never gone 4wd in my entire life!!! If that's as stressful as it gets, we're doing OK!

Nope, we didn't see any dingos on this trip. Bummer. However, there were tracks along the beach when we awoke on Sunday morning, so they were checking out our campsite. Too bad they nip some of the unruly youngsters!!! This being our last day on Fraser, we finished off our tour with a visit to Kingfisher Bay Resort (http://www.kingfisherbay.com), an eco-tourist resort Dave visited on his last visit to Fraser 3 yrs ago with his friends. It was certainly 100 steps up from beach camping, but I'm glad we stopped by....nice place! After lunch we headed out to Lake McKenzie for an afternoon siesta on another crystal clear lake with white sand beaches before our afternoon ferry back to civilization.

All in all, we met some great people we hope to keep in touch with, had an amazing adventure with a chance to see the pristine wilderness up close before destroyed by condos!

Previous Posts: 

Monthly Archives: 

Copyright © 2002- www.theharalsons.com