Fraser Island

Trip Start Apr 30, 2004
Trip End Jan 28, 2005

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Thursday October 7th - Day 163
Eager to begin our two day tour of Fraser Island we were sat on the wooden bench outside the caravan park with ten minutes to spare until our 8am pick up.

It's October, the sky is early morning powder blue, there's not a breath of wind and opposite parrots are perched on the telegraph poles; we're a long way from home.

When the bus pulled up it was green, square and looked like some sort of military vehicle, with its fat chunky tyres and towering wheel base. There appeared to be no way aboard until a hydraulic door on the back lowered, revealing a set of attached steps, and on we went.

Our driver and guide, Peter, drove the 4 wheel drive unimog (that's what he called it) straight onto the ferry, and an hour later we drove off and right onto the beach at Moon Point on Fraser Island.

From its most northerly tip at Sandy Cape, Fraser Island stretches 124km to its most southerly at Hook Point and ranges in width from 5km to 27km. It's the worlds largest sand island with over 600 metres of sand hidden below sea level and the highest point being a dune called Mount Bowarrady at 244 metres.

Reputedly Fraser contains more sand than the Sahara Desert, who knows.

Despite all the sand, Fraser is covered in vegetation and has an incredible range of habitats, and travelling across the widest part between Moon Point and Happy Valley we saw many of them during the morning.

The road was just a deeply rutted, single lane, sound track, which due to a complete lack of rain was very soft and extremely difficult to manouevre in. The unimogs suspension and tall wheel base was tested to its limits.

We bumped and shook our way through coastal mangrove swamp, areas of Banksia trees and tree ferns and as we neared the centre we were in full on sub tropical rainforest, all this with nothing but sand to grow in.

We were able to stretch our legs in the Yidney Scrub, which being the only area of virgin rainforest contained some magnificent specimen trees including 200 year old kauri pines, brush box, blackbutt and satinay.

Satinay is one of the worlds most water resistant timbers, and trees from Fraser were used for the sidewalls of the Suez Canal. Also, Brushbox was used extensively throughout the Sydney Opera House.

Having started in 1863, logging didn't cease on Fraser until 1991. The northern part of the island became National PArk in 1971, and in 1992 the whole island was listed as a World Heritage Site.

More than 300 species of native animals live on Fraser, but most are nocturnal and difficult to see. The largest is an Australian wild horse called the Brumby, which are also extremely tough to spot as there are only 4 left.

The diversity of habitats in a relatively small area make Fraser one of the worlds top bird watching venues and is home to 325 different soecies. From the sea eagle to the king parrot its twitchers paradise.

After a pleasant, included in the price, lunch at Happy Valley, we finally made it onto the eastern coast beach, which is 70 miles long and doubles as the islands main road.

It was bizarre as we headed south, bouncing along the beach, all manner of 4 wheel drive vehicles passing in the opposite direction and PAcific Ocean waves breaking hypnotically on our left. The water looked incredibly inviting but swimming here is a pastime for overdosed adrenalin junkies. If the nortorious undertows and riptides don't get you the man eating sharks will. It's fish city just off the beach and with a steep drop off its shark heaven. Great whites and Tigers would have your leg for lunch in a moment.

Throughout the trip Peter is miked up and with 15 years of working on Fraser under his cap, he has a wealth of knowledge and fascinating stories that he imparts, with an equal measure of enthusiasm and humour.

An hour down the beach, Peter persuaded the old unimog up the beach and parked. Everyone offloaded and began the 2km tramp across a huge sand dune to Lake Wabby. The sand is so fine and soft it squeaks as you walk.

Another unique feature of Fraser is its 52 frshwater lakes and around 80 freshwater streams and creeks. THe island is sat on a vast freshwater reservoir known as a groundwater table or water lens which is responsible for these oases.

Lake Wabby is small, green and very refreshing. Surrounded on three sides by eucalypt forest, the fourth side is all sand dune. The water is very clear and home to large salmon tailed catfish and small kreft turtles.

We spent an hour swimming and wishing we'd bought a boogie board with us, as another group who had were surfing from the top of a high and steep dune straight into the lake. Peter later informed us that in recent years several tourists had been paralused doing this (it's quite shallow), so maybe it was just as well we didn't get a go.

The square green bus drove us back to Happy Valley where we moved into our very basic but clean accomodation.

Later, after another good meal and a jug of beer a number of people headed down the unlit sandy track to the beach, in the hope of spotting one of the wild dingoes who roam around after dark. The dingoes are wild dogs that are not to be approached, and its illegal now to feed them. Years of feeding and harassing by tourists, culminated in 2001 with the death here on Fraser of a nine year old Brisbane boy. Despite the pprotest of the aboriginal and enviiironmental groups 30 of the estimated 160 dingoes were destroyed soon afterwards.

Fraser is also home to a large number of snakes, some of which are deadly. We didn't walk the unlit track to the beach.

Expenses (A$2.5/pound): Fraser Island Trip $370.50, Beer $8.50.

Friday October 8th - Day 164
With the sand being so soft we had a fairly early start to make the most of the firmer stuff uncovered at low tide. We drove to the most northerly point of our trip, Indian Head. The oncoming traffic was busy, as were the numerous beachside campsites.

In excess of 350,000 visitors arrive annually to get a taste of this incredible environment and try a bit of camping, fishing, walking and 4WDing.

Indian Head was named by that old sea dog Captain Cook in 1770. As his ship sailed up the length of the east coast, local aborigines (Cook called them Indians) followed it, eventually gathering on the highest point to spy a better look at the strange object in the sea. Cook, on seeing all these Indians together, muskered every ounce of inspiration and came up with the name Indian Head.

Carbon dating of artefacts shows indiginous people were resident in the area around 300AD, and these aborigines called it K'gari (island of paradise). In 1770 Cooky discovered this part of OZ and thinking it was attached to the mainland named it Great Sandy Peninsula. In 1822 Captain Edwardson corrected Cooky's shoddy mapwork and renamed it the Great Sandy Island. In 1858 it was changed to Fraser's Island in memory of the castaways Captain James Fraser and his wife Eliza. Today it's called Fraser Island as Aussies like to shorten all names, I suppose eventually it'll be known as F.

As seems the norm, the aborigines were treated appallingly and their demise began when the timber getters arrived in 1862 along with diseased merchant seamen carrying alcohol and opium. Numbers quickly declined and in 1904 the remaining 150 aborigines were removed and sent to mainland reserves.

After trudging to the top of the volcanic outcrop that is Indian Head, we were rewarded with breathtaking views in all directions. We saw numerous whales out to sea, dolphins, sea eagles and brahminy kites. Looking down to our left was a shallow bay with white sand, turquoise water and row after curved row of breaking waves. Up to their waists in the water were several beach fishermen, and from our way up high vantage point we could see the large dark shadows of manta rays under the surf and more alarmingly just beyond the waves an 8 foot tiger shark patrolling parallel to the beach. It was fantastic, but pointless to try and shout to the fishermen as they weren't in any danger, unless they started swimming out and besides with the howling wind they wouldn't have heard us.

Many tourists hire small 4WD vehicles to come to Fraser, but back on the soft sand we came across one vehicle that had broken down and one that was stuck and we were relieved we'd picked the hassle free and bomb proof unimog tour.

Travelling south again we stopped for photos at the coloured sand cliffs, where different minerals have turned the sand strange colours, the Maheno shipwreck which, was a passenger liner on its way to Japan to be scrapped that was washed ashore in 1935, and Eli creek, which at 6.6km is the longerst on the island and has a flow rate of 4.5 million litres of fresh water per hour.

A packed lunch at Central Station was followed by a walk in another rainforest area before we were driven to LAke Birabeen, where we spent the rest of our afternoon.

Lake Birabeen was stunning. Large blue and surrounded by white sand and colourful stripey reeds. We were lucky as Peter got us their first so we had half an hour to swim and explore in relative peace before 5 more coaches turned up and it was as busy as Bondi at Christmas, as the saying goes here.

By 5.30pm we'd been ferried and unimogged back to our campsote and we thanked Peter for what had been a quality tour to an incredible island.

It was all a bit rushed after that. In order to save a nights accomodation we'd decided before going to Fraser to book an overnight bus to Airlee Beach. But wearily getting our rucksacks out of storage and with sand in the undies it seemed a daft plan. But we followed it through and by 8.30pm we were sat on the bus saying a silent farewell to whaletastic Hervey Bay.

Expenses: Taxi 9, Dinner 10.95
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