Fraser Island

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Flag of Australia  ,
Saturday, February 24, 2007

Up the coast we continue, and the next stop world waiting for is the massive sand island of Fraser Island. The largest sand island in the world, and World Heritage listed, Fraser is a truely spectacular place. Only accessible by 4*4 via a ferry trip, this was set to be an adventure from the start. By far the easiest, and cheapest, way of going about doing anything like Fraser was to go on a semi-organised expedition (of sorts). Organised in the sense of your car, fuel, kit, and other people to go with are all sorted out for you. All you have to so is to navigate your way around the island without crashing, getting lost, or being eaten by a dingo.

The vehicles are rather ancient looking Toyota Landcruisers (how ours stayed in one piece I will never know), each of which can seat 11 (three rather cosily in the front, 8 even more so in the back) with high-tops. This is fine for accessing your stuff and loading it without having to balance an Esky (coolbox for the un-initiated) on a ladder, but makes them feel exceedingly unstable when going over any sort of bump/corner/combination of the two. The latter was more often than not the case, and there were several occassions when we felt as though we were going to tip, but more on this later.

The briefing we had at some unearthly time the morning we left for Fraser gave the impression that we would be permanently surrounded by other traffic, constantly having to reverse down the hill whilst trying to not reverse down the nearest ravine. No where near as many cars when we got onto the Island, but the mixture of a relatively large number of 4*4s and a World Heritage area gives an almost perfect example of the tense juxtaposition of the environment and people in Queensland (and Australia at large) - whilst the area is of outstanding natural beauty with unique examples of many things, this has to somehow mix with the desire of people to drive around, have a good time, camp, fish and swim.

For an island made almost entirely of sand (there is one rocky outcrop at the northern end, where we sat for a bit and saw huge rays just beyond the surf line about 60 feet below) Fraser has quite a good number of freshwater lakes, all of which you can swim in. The are all subtley different in colour, but broadly they are green, brown and blue. The blue ones were absolutely spectacular (Lake Mackenzie and Boomanjin) as the sand was pure white, and the water went from clear to azure to deep blue, but was like walking into a warm bath. Fantastic. Though these were amazing lakes, it was a rather unappealing looking brown/green lake that I liked the most - this was Lake Allom, and it was absolutely teeming with turtles that were no bigger than a medium sized dinner plate. From where we were on the shore (and later in the water) we counted 26 turtles, though there are several thousand in the lake. Supposedly, the lake is green/brown because of the tannin from the tree roots, but having several thousand turtles shitting in there probably had an effect too. Perhaps best not to think about that when in the water (perhaps even better not to, as the lake is not flushed clean by any fresh water).

As you can probably imagine, letting 44 people (there were 4 trucks in our convoy), pretty much all in their late teens or early twenties loose behind the wheel of 4*4s, using differential locks etc could well have been a recipe for mayhem. Yes, certain amounts of mayhem did happen, but what the heck. Limited by the maximum 30kmph inland (and, frankly, to go above that would have either bust an axel, something on the chassis, something else, or would have been plain suicide), we let the engine rip when we got onto the beach. Only really allowed to drive on the hard sand at low tide, the max allowed (and that we could get to in the thing) was 80kmph. We tried to go faster, but the thing started shaking felt like it was about to disintegrate. Of course, I had a go both inland and on the beach at driving. Beach was a piece of cake, all you had to do was to not drive into the sea and you were fine (and to watch out for creeks that could have flipped the vehicle). However, inland was completely different, spending most of the time in second gear, bumping over huge roots (remember, no paved roads - all sand, so everything gets worn down pretty fast) and trying to negotiate huge potholes that send the vehicle swinging from one side to the other. I have to say the the high-top certainly made this part more interesting, and I swear that we nearly tipped it on a couple of occasions. Most of these seemed to be when I was driving, as no one else really had the tough parts of the road. When heading up a really steep hill and faced with one of these, there is not much you can really do apart from keep going, as to stop is pretty much fatal. Maybe next time take a car without all the crap on top...

Back to the mayhem on the island - camping by the beach with no internet or TV meant we had to make our own entertainment. With the help of a visit to the bottle shop (off-license) before we left for Fraser, this all went off pretty smoothly. I think between 5 of us in our group, we managed to polish off 4 slabs of beer over the two nights (slab has 24 cans), and we were still pretty capable to drive the next day. Must have been the sea air. Anyway, the parties were pretty mad. That's all I'm saying here...

Being on an island, and camping by the beach, when you can safely move around is dictated by the tides. A situation like this is probably one of the only times you will see over 40 people (on second night only half this) willingly get up and be ready to leave at 6am after a night on the town (or beach). We'd been told that the tide times were between 6am and 8am. Load of rubbish, I think. Not only was the tide pretty much up, but a ranger we bumped into said it was low at 11, not between 6 amd 8. I have a feeling that the organisers told us an early time to make sure we actually did something on the island...

Other bits I've not mentioned about the island that deserve something are the Maheno wreck, Eli Creek and the sea. On the island, you can only swim in the lakes (unless you want to get killed) as numerous different types of shark plus stingers are everywhere, as well as an exceedingly strong rip and lack of life-guards. The Maheno wreck is the rusting hulk of a luxury liner that was swept ashore in a cyclone in 1935 en-route to the scrap yard, and now sits in the middle of the beach. Slowly rusting, tipping onto one side and broken in half, it is comparable to an underwater wreck, just without the fish and water. Lastly, there's Eli Creek, which is an absolutely crystal clear freshwater stream on a bed of pure white sand. Like some clear streams back home, but with the white sand and not so cold, walking up it and up the valley that it came from (up to a point) felt like walking into a lost world - almost a tropical version of the feeling felt in the canyons in the Blue Mountains.

That's about it for Fraser Island. This was between the 21st and 23rd of February. There's more to write for the few days between then and now (Thursday 1st March) but I'll do that when I get back from the sailing trip. In a couple of hours we're heading off on a Maxi sailing boat around the Whitsunday's - not too sure what the weather's going to be like though, as there's a massive tropical low off the coast, moving south towards us. Supposedly, it's forming a cyclone, but we'll see what happens. Could be a bit windy.
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