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Andy’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 08 Jun 2006

Location: Fraser Island, Australia

Map11 PEOPLE, 1 4WD AND A LARGE SAND ISLAND
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Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and the only way to get around it is by a 4 wheel drive. So at 5.45am i woke up to meet my fellow companions in the bar, sort out groupings and organise the trip. Trying to introduce yourself to people and seem fun and excited while the sun is still rising is something i find quite difficult, especially after a night of surround sound snoring (you know who you are Gemma) and incessant bird calls (nature is great until it interrupts my eight hours).

But luckily our group of eleven backpackers was very friendly, and we began to gel immediately. For some reason i became the authority figure of Team A (cunningly renamed the A-team). So, with the information folder in hand (i looked like Dennis Norden for the rest of the trip - see pic in the Fraser folder for those who donít know him) i began to mould and shape this malleable clay of 11 people into a lean, mean Fraser machine.

After sorting out the food and alcohol we would be needing on this camping trip we set off in our 4×4 to learn the doís and dontís of Fraser Island. After this tedious start to the trip we hopped on the ferry and began our journey around the island.

The initial drive was alot of fun. I donít think my butt cheeks have ever been clenched tighter. Essentially there are no roads on the island, just sand tracks which in places can be deep, steep and narrow. Tearing through the rainforest along these paths at high speed was at times fun, at times scary, and at other times dangerous (especially with Kelly driving!). A few times my head nearly pierced the roof.

Our first port of call was Central Station. A strange name for a tranquil clearing in the middle of the forests, but i soon learned it used to be the main locale when Fraser was a site for logging and mining before the island was declared a World Heritage site. From there we took a small stroll through a pocket of rainforest that is one fo the most spectacular on the island and reminded me of Jurrassic Park. Huge ferns littered the ground while tall, thin palm trees draped with vines provided the first layer of a canopy that in places prevents any light piercing through. Within the rainforest was a small creek where the weater is so crystal clear that it is invisible unless the surface water ripples. at first i just thought the creek had mud in it, but sure enough, once we started a game of Pooh sticks, we could see the water (i didnít win the game).

We were not allowed to drive on the Western beachÖi donít think anyone is. So we had to drive to the Eastern beach. When we first pulled up onto this beach we were all so impressed. The beach is 75km of gorgoues golden sand stretchinf dead straight as far as the eye can see. The water is also amazingly blue, as is the sky. After seeing so many pictures of this beach (on the internet, in other peoples photo albums, in brochures and so forth) and waiting for the day when i would be there, it was immensely exciting to finally be realising what i had dreamed about for such a long time. This has been a perennial emotion on this trip and one that is both satisying and enjoyable. It is an emotion which affirms where i am, what iím doing and how lucky i am to be on this journey. Itís very cool!

Decided to stop for a spot of lunch on the beach and a paddle in a very shallow area of the sea. The waters around Fraser are no-go areas due to being one of the most heavily populated tiger shark stretches of water. So just a paddle!

From there we raced up the Eastern beach (which is alo the main highway on the beach! Very odd to speed along a beach and have to keep left for oncoming traffic) to Lake Wabby where our first casualty took place. I got bitten by an ant. Not just any ant! It was at least a centimetere and a half long. I know some of you may snigger but consider this, aboriginals used to use these ants as stitches when they were cut badly. they have such big pinches that they would pick an ant up and place a row of them down the cut where the pinchers would keep the wound closed. Trust me. these things hurt. Luckily Charlotte (one of ímyí team) was aa budding Doctor Quinn medicine woman and fashioned me a bandage from leaves and twigs she found in the surrounding woods.

The walk, and agonising pain (honestly!) were well worth it. Lake Wabby is a strange place. On three sides the lake is bordered by luch forest. But on the forth is a giant sand dune that rises steeply from the lake shore up to a height of about 20 metres. The lake itself is an emerald green colour and has catfish that sometimes nibble at your feet. Ours must have been too cheesy because we were not appracohed once whilst swimming in it.

Apparently the lake is being swallowed up by the sand blow at a rate of 2 metres a year, so head there quickly if you plan to.

From there we stopped at Maheno shipwreck on the main beach. A large, rusting skeleton of a cruise liner that beached over 70 years ago.

After this, with light rapidly fading we set course for Base Camp where we had to set up our tent in the dark (farcical!) before we all cooked up a great BBQ and began to prodigously work our way through the alcohol and play drinking games.

Second day was again an early start, but i will probably only be on Fraser Island once in my life so i was not too bothered. Our first stop (apart from getting stuck in the sand) was Indian Head. From the top of this cliff which juts out into the ocean we could see the ocean below clearly. Despite claims that we would see dolphins, sharks, turtles and more we only managed to see a few Manta Rays. Later groups saw the whole caboodle, so perhaps we went there too early.

We stayed at my favourite place on Fraser Island, Champagne Pools for most of the second day. These rock pools are the only salt water it is safe to swim in on Fraser. The place consists of a small beach which in front of which are two pools cut off from the ocean directly behind by a low wall of rocks which rise higher on the right side. Waves constantly crash over these rocks into the pools churning up the water and creating a foam on topÖhence the name. Bigger waves wash over the higher rocks and down a series of stepped levels into the pools below. All in all, very pleasant.

Ocean was choppy and waves were particularly high that day, so they smashed against the rocks and hurtled anyone near the rocks back into the pools and towards the beach. Lots of fun!

Eli Creek was our next port of call. Waded up the creek to see turtles that supposedly inhabit it. Not one! But we did then float back down the creek back out to the ocean where we met our first dingo which are the wild dogs which inhabit the island. According to the saftery video we w\were fore\ced to endure, one must make a cross with your arms held out in front of you but keeping your hands tightly against your chest and then back away (apparently with a look of abject terror on your face if the video was to be followed to the letter). Anyone who has seen the vid will know exactly what iím talking about and realise why none of use assumed the position.

Our last day on Fraser began with a trip to Rainbow Gorge and Happy Valley. The names were deceptive, it was my idea of hell! Happy Valley is a desert landscape where hardly anything grows, and that which does was pitiful, sand-blasted and saun-dyed. There really was no respite from this environment. Even the spring in the middle bubbles up from the gound only to be swallowed by the sand as soon as it reaches the surface. However we did climb one of the sand dunes (which can reach to 200 metres high) and rolly polly down it. Still finding sand in my pants.

After the parched environment of Happy Valley we decided it would be a good idea to take a trip to Birrabeen Lake. What wasnít a good idea was everyone agreeing that although i was missing a driving licence, i could have a short drive down the beach. The smell of burning was the first sign something was wrong. Then someone noticed the handbrake light on. At 70km an hour having ones handbrake on is not advisable. Booted out of the drivers seat shortly after. Probably best.

Lake Birrabeen is stunning. It had the clearest water and whitest sand (pure silica!) i have ever seen. Practically deserted. Only another 10 people there and they were half way round the other side.

Lake McKenzie, Birrabeenís more famous sister lake was just as picturesque; it is one of the top 10 beaches in the world, though i have no idea who compiles this list or what the criteria are. The water here was much bluer and the sand just as white, but it was more crowded which made me like it less than its quieter sister.

On the boat journey back we all reminisced about what a great time we had. It was truly one of the best experiences (yet) of my entire journey. Very lucky to have such a good group. We didnít stop lauging all weekend. The weather was also unbeatable. Gorgeous sunshine, not a cloud in the sky and hot, but not unbearably so. My tan from Perth is finally back with a vengeance.

Enough for now. Pics of Fraser to followÖi went to a camera shop and they have recovery programmes which can fins pictures on a memory card even when you;ve deleted them all. So all my pictures are back! Hurrah. Losing ones pictures is like losing memories.

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Next stop:
Airlie Beach - gateway to sailing the Whitsunday Islands.

Animal of the week:
Golden Orb spider. The trek back from Happy Valley was the scene of my most scary backpacker moment. Charlotte walked through a spiders web. We all stopped and in front of us was the biggest spider i have ever seen. Easly the size of my hand, black, with red fangs about a centimetre long. Everyone had to duck under it to get past. Five minutes later i was still on the wrong side of the web to everyone else. Awful! If a taller person had been in Charlotteís place they would have walked head first into it, and these things can bite and send a person to hospital for a few days.