Fraser Island (CONTAINS VIDEO)

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Flag of Australia  ,
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fraser Island is famous because it is the world's largest sand island. Now, when I say sand island, don't picture the stereotypical 'beach with one palm tree' desert island. It is very large at about 15km wide by about 125km long and it's all sand-based. It is full of trees and bushes, rooted in sand and all the roads are sand as well, meaning that only 4-wheel-drive vehicles can drive there. A lot of people get these 'self-drive' deals but that sounds like a recipe for disaster to me, sending regular Joes off to try and manoeuvre a 4WD jeep through soft sand roads.

Anyway, we take the more sensible option, a guided tour with a bunch of other tourists in a big 40-seat truck and a professional driver. It doesn't half jiggle aroud in the deep sand ruts and my breakfast threatens an encore more than once. Our trip is of the 'see everything in one day that normally takes three days' variety, meaning that we get driven around at high speeds and get 10 minutes at each of the main attractions. That's fine with us though, as we get to see everything and most of the sights don't take too much more than 10 minutes to look at.
The highlight of the day is Lake McKenzie, where we spend about an hour and a half. It is a big freshwater lake in the middle of the island that has warm, crystal clear water and amazingly fine white sand. The sand you find on ocean beaches seems to stick to you and you find it in all sorts of body crevices and items of clothing days later. The sand here just falls off you as soon as you stand up. It also has some kind of properties that make it good for cleaning jewellery, so we give the old wedding rings a bit of a polish and, sure enough, they look a little sparklier. The fresh water, obviously, is different from sea water in that you don't get that salty taste on your lips. We really enjoy the break at the lake and we are happy that the tour spent a bit of extra time there.

As we get back on the bus, a couple of chaps dressed up like pilots are there, standing around looking important. As it happens, they actually are pilots and our guides start to tell us about an optional extra we can do straight after the tour - a flight over Fraser Island in a little 8-seater plane. Even though it's a bit out of our price range, we decide to bite the bullet and give it a go, so the few of us who opted in are dropped off the bus at a tiny landing strip in the middle of nowhere. Only problem is that there are no planes there and no people around. The bus has taken off down the road and the small group of us are making nervous jokes about having to sleep on the island when we see and hear a couple of planes soar above the tree tops, swoop down and come to a stop right in front of us.

Neither Jane nor I have ever been in such a small plane - I am sitting right behind the pilot and could probably reach over and grab the steering wheel from him if I were so inclined. We spring off the ground like a long-jumper and suddenly we are cruising above this amazing island. We learn that the island was formed thousands of years ago by a volcanic eruption that lurched the land out of the ocean. In time, seeds blew on to the island and somehow managed to grow in the sand. The initial layer of vegetation allowed larger bushes and, in turn, trees to take root to the extent that the island really is a fully-fledge forest.

The flight is quite exhilarating and gives us a nice perspective of what we had just seen at ground level. They even drop us off back near Hervey Bay, thereby avoiding the ferry we would otherwise have taken. Not so good is that no transport has been arranged to take us back into town. The 'airline' had forgotten to call their bus driver, who was lazing around in his swimming pool when he got the call to pick up a dozen thumb-twiddling passengers at the airport.

Nonetheless, we make it to our hostel, pick up our gear and wait around for our overnight bus to Airlie Beach. The overnight bus concept could either be a great money- and time-saving strategy or it could be 12 hours of sleepless torture. Can't wait to find out!
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