Norwegian Nightmare

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, February 26, 2004

I've finally uploaded pictures from Melbourne and Sydney so check them out if interested.

Thursday February 19th

Had to wait till 8pm for my 13 hour bus trip south to Hervey Bay so spent the day beside the lagoon (known to the locals as the 'gene pool' thanks to all the backpackers). Found a book exchange to swap some books, and came away with the James Clavell Asian epic Noble House which should keep me going for a while. The only trouble is, now I want to go to Hong Kong.

Friday February 20th

Slept quite well on the bus, and arrived at the hostel in the morning. The room was not airconditioned, very humid and smelt of the sweat of the hundreds of backpackers who had dried their undies on the string stretched between the bunks (or maybe it was just the smell of my French roommates, I'm not sure).
People come to Hervey Bay for two reasons: to whale-watch and to visit Fraser Island. As the whales were still down in the Antartic I was here for the island. On my travels I had spoken to several people who said that Fraser was the best trip they had been on on the east coast. The popular thing to do is to get a 4WD car and spend 3 days and 2 nights driving and camping around the island. The hostel organizes this for you, but once again you are at the mercy of the gods as to who you get grouped with. So far I had been pretty lucky, with good groups on all my trips but today my luck ran out.
There were four groups of eight people from my hostel, so I thought I was bound to get a good mix of people. Wrong. I got lumped with seven Norwegians. At first I didn't think it was such a bad thing as they all spoke good English, but once they were all together they started to jabber away in Norwegian. I tried to engage in conversation about Norwegian things, but after talking about the music of A-Ha, congratulating them on their World Idol success and why I dislike Ole Gunnar Solskjar, I was pretty much at a loss. I wanted to tell them that the Norwegian for 'Norway' (Norge) is also the medical term for the crack of your arse, but I thought I'd hold that one back until later.
The hostel supplied the 4WD LandCruiser, all the camping equipment, and a list of food to get for the three days. I thought we'd buy everything together as suggested and split the cost - like all the other groups did - but no, they decided to get things separately. If any of you have been camping in a group it makes obvious sense from an eating perspective to cook together, as eight people trying to cook their own dinner on a two ring gas burner is a logistical impossibility. They didn't listen to me. I went to bed with the feeling that the next few days were going to be very long indeed.

Saturday February 21st

Up at 5:30am to pick up the camping equipment and truck. Had a meeting about the island, how to drive a 4WD, and what to do if attacked by dingoes (apart from bleed, obviously). We stuffed everything in the truck and set off for the ferry. I drove first as the 2 guys and 5 girls (at least that was something) didn't have their drivers' license with them, but there was no way I was going to do all the driving - although in hindsight I wished I had.
Fraser Island, which is another World Heritage site, is the largest sand island in the world, covering an area of over 160,000 hectares. Not only is it sand, but unusually it is also home to rainforests and large freshwater lakes. There are no sealed roads, only sandy tracks through the forest and the 75 mile east coast beach to drive on.
Once off the ferry it was into 4WD mode and into the forest. There are several large lakes to visit, as well as creeks to take a dip in, with camping either at several campgrounds or along the beach. It was a bit bumpy and the sand was quite soft in places but I didn't get bogged. We made it to the other side of the island and the beach where - at low tide - you can drive. Forget Daytona Beach in Florida, this is real beach driving. Wide stretches of hard sand, through creeks and over dunes, whilst keeping an eye on light aircraft landing and taking off beside you, it was all good stuff. Of course, the a/c in the truck didn't work so we stopped at the popular Eli Creek for a swim and a few beers (but only one for the driver - I think I know why the Norges didn't bring licenses).
For about 400m you float down the creek in gin-clear, chest deep, icy cold water trying not to bump into any floundering Japanese. Very refreshing it was too. Swimming in the sea is an absolute no-no because of the viscious rip tide, jellyfish and sharks, so we stayed up the creek for a while before heading north, past what was left of the 1935 wreck of the Maheno and up to the rocky outcrop of Indian Head. Here we ducked under the spiders hanging in their webs stretched between the trees to climb up above the beach for a bit of shark-spotting. In the clear water below we saw three fairly small (3-4 feet) reef sharks and then a tiger shark easily twice as long. Even from a very safe distance I think all our norges quivered. I'd like to say that I saw a whale as well, but not only isn't it the whale-watching season I don't think her husband would have been very pleased.
We ended up setting up camp thankfully near other groups. We cooked up some meat but nobody had brought veggies or salad (like the group list had said) but I declined to say 'Well it did say to bring them on the group list.' They continued to jabber away over dinner, making only a token effort to speak English.
Now it might seem a bit obnoxious of me to expect everybody to speak English, but the truth of the matter is everybody does. One of the greatest legacies of our colonial history is that I only had to do four years of French at school and it didn't matter one jot if I couldn't conjugate the verb 'to surrender.' For the rest of the world however, they have to spend countless hours learning my language if they want to get on in the world. That's just the way it is. The vast majority of travellers - and especially Scandinavians - speak exceptional English and they have no problem using it at all, but when they all get together it's only natural that they converse in their own language. I just wish they wouldn't do it when I'm stuck with them on a desert island for three days!
Like an orphan, I went off to find another group where I could join in without feeling like an idiot - or at least less like an idiot. On the way I came across a couple of dingoes lurking in the trees no doubt after our food (or any babies). They are quite accustomed to campers and so know that easy food is to be had, and the fines for feeding them is severe. Whilst attacks aren't unknown they are quite rare, and they soon wandered off into the night. But probably not very far.

Sunday February 22nd

Woke up fairly early in a sweltering tent. Sand was everywhere, including the norge. Went for a quick dip in the sea to wake up, careful not to to fall over and be dragged out to sea and the waiting sharks.
Eventually managed to pack everything up, but because the tide was high we had to wait four hours until we could drive on the beach. Instead we walked a couple of miles up to an area called the Champagne Pools where there was a small natural lagoon and beach. More attempts to talk with my group but soon they were off speaking Norge again. I swam away and found some folks from the previous night who had their own group issues (they had a psychotic 18 year old from Birmingham who had threatened to kill them).
When the tide had dropped we drove south again and found a small resort with a restaurant where they all bought lunch. I had sandwiches from meat and cheese I bought, but some numpty had put an opened garlic dip container in the beer cooler which had leaked all over my beer cans. I was not happy.
One of the Norwegians dudes - Fatty Morten - decided to do the next bit of driving, and he thought it would be fun to drive as fast as possible on the beach, not caring about the passengers and equipment flying around in the back. On the fifth time of smacking my head on the roof I lost it and yelled at him, to which his response was: "But I was only doing 60!"
We then went inland to a 'perched' lake (ie tea-coloured) for a swim, but driving back on the narrow sand tracks Morten took a corner too fast and tight, clipped a tree stump and nearly flipped us. We bounced back upright but not without popping a tire. Brilliant. Two hours till sunset, stuck on a deserted track with a buggered wheel, and a jack that turned out not to work. I tried to fix the jack and was covered in sand, getting bitten alive by the sandflies whilst all Morten could do was complain about the car. I bit my lip about his crap and downright dangerous driving, and sent the girls to see if they could get help. Fortunately about 20 minutes later they had managed to get a kind Aussie bloke to drive up the track and lent us his jack. We eventually got it fixed - although trying to jack up a big 4WD truck on sand is a bit dodgy - and, thanking the Aussie profusely we headed for somewhere to set up camp.
By the time we found somewhere it was too dark to put up the tents and cook so we happened upon one of the two resorts on this side of the island and got dorm rooms. We tried to cook the reat of the meat but despite shouting and yelling dingoes came up and took it from our table. We grabbed the rest of the food and camped out in one of the rooms.
It turned out to be quite fortunate to be in the dorm as there was a massive storm in the night and all the other groups got soaked in their tents and ended up sleeping in the trucks. So as it turned out, getting a blowout was a bit of luck, but I didn't tell them.

Monday February 23rd

More driving, but by me this time. After last night's storm the tracks were muddy and flooded, and a helluva lot of fun to drive through. There were two other lakes I would like to have seen, but because they had taken too long to get ready, and then decided to get a sit-down breakfast, we only had time for Lake MacKenzie before catching the ferry back.
MacKenzie is the most picturesque and popular of the lakes, with brilliant white beaches and crystal turquoise water. It was crowded, but at least that meant I had someone to talk to! It was then back in the truck to the ferry and back to the hostel where we had to clean everything and turn the truck back in. The tire and rim damage cost us AUD35 each, despite arguing with the manager about the dodgy jack. On an individual basis I had good conversations with my Nordic friends, but when they asked me to join them for a beer when we got back I politely told them to kiss my norge.
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