Its Gripped, were sorted, lets OFFROAD...!

Trip Start Oct 04, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

When we were planning this trip for Paul, we were originally going to head north, up to a city called Cairns. Whilst here we could have gone scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef and maybe visited one of the many rainforests Northern Queensland has to offer, but seeing as Paul experienced the underwater world in the Whitsunday's we thought it would be a bit of a waste of valuable time. Then we had the idea of taking him to Fraser Island.

Located just off the coast from Hervey Bay (a 12 hour overnight bus ride south from Airlie Beach), World Heritage Listed Fraser Island is over 120kms long and over 30kms across at its widest point. It is a unique natural environment - the largest sand island in the world and the only place on the planet where rainforest grows on sand.

The best thing about the island though is that you can only drive on it in 4 wheel drive cars, due to all the sand dunes. So for the next 3 days we were about to embark on a 4 wheel, self driven, tour of the island! The only problem with these tours is that unless you book with 10 friends, you never know who your end up with. Something that became evident at the evening briefing...

Sitting there with our group, you can forgive me for thinking we were going to have an 'interesting' time. For a start we had 2 Italian blokes, Simone and Alexandro and a Father and Daughter from Germany (although it wasn't until the following day we found this out, believing they were a couple at first). The problem with these people was that Alexandro, and the German Father couldn't speak English, so for the entire 3 days when we spoke we had to pause so that Simone and the Daughter could translate into their respective language! A tad annoying!

The next cool couple were Mark and Kelly from Manchester, Kelly was princess who had never camped before and Mark was a split for Liam Gallagher! Very Manchester! Finally there were a couple of English girls, that were, to be honest a little boring, so boring infact, i've actually forgotten there names!
Anyway, that was our crew, nothing we could do now it was all booked, so we watched our safety video and headed off to bed.

The following we day we made our way to the garage to pick up the car. It wasn't until then we realised how big the cars were. That said, with our entire luggage packed it was still a tight squeeze! After being shown the 'scientific' way of getting all the kit on the roof, we signed more forms, watched more videos on safety and headed for Fraser!

Out of the 11 people on board there were only 5 people willing and legal to drive the beast, me and Dan, the 2 Italians and one of the English girls. With the Italians weary of driving on the left hand side of the road, the duty of driving to the port fell to me. With 10 sets of eyes on me whilst I drove, it felt a bit like my driving licence test, just worse!

Luckily I managed to drive the short distance with out writing off the car, and after a short wait at the dock, boarded the car ferry. It wasn't until I got to the island that I experienced my first problem. Following everyone off the boat up the very steep ramp, I didn't manage to get enough speed, so halfway up I stalled the car at a 45degree angle. So embarrassing I had to roll the car backwards back onto the deck to try again, "Go hard, go fast, don't give up" being something the guide had earlier said! A bit embarrassing, especially as all the other cars had seen it.

Feeling a bit red faced we followed the convoy to Central Station, a major junction on the island. I, as well as 3 other cars in front missed the entrance to the car park, so had to do a U turn 100metres further on. Watching everyone do it in front, it looked simple enough, but I forgot to calculate the extra weight we had on board (we had 11 people the other cars had 3 and 4) so after trying it, I managed to get the car stuck in the sand! After 10 minutes of trying my best to get it out, and with the smell of a burnt out clutch lingering in the air, I finally realised that it would be an idea if everyone got out (something the guide had also mentioned earlier!) Although this rectified the problem, that was enough driving for me today!

From Central Station, we took a 'short' walk to Basin Lake, one of the many freshwater lakes found on the island. After what seemed an eternity, we made it, hot and sweaty, to the beautiful lake. It didn't take too much persuasion for me and a few others to dive straight in. It was weird drinking the water, knowing that it's actually fresher than what we get out of the taps! Dan and Paul forgot to bring their swimming shorts, so I took great pleasure swimming around whilst they baked in the sun, especially Paul, who, after getting sun burnt in the Whitsunday's, had to be covered from head to toe, never forgetting to bring his factor 30 anywhere, keeping it in his hand at all times! (look at the photo's!)

There's only so much fun you can have at a small lake, especially when only half of the group could go into the water, so we headed back and drove on a little to further to Lake McKensie, Fraser Island' biggest, and most famous lake. Walking down to the beach it was hard to believe that we were actually at a lake, the sand was so white and the water so blue, it looked more like the ocean! Being the main lake though meant it attracted the most people, and because the sun was shining and the beer flowing, the atmosphere was quite electric, so to speak! We managed to get a quiet spot in the shade further up the beach where we chilled for the next 2 hours.

One problem with the sand on the island, is, like up at the Whitsunday's, is very fine, seriously buggering up your camera's if it gets in contact with them. Because of this, I thought I'd better stick my camcorder out of harms way on a bush, which in true Matt McShane style was where I left it, only realising 2 hours later driving to our campsite! With it getting too dark to go back, and camp needing to be put up still, I realised that that would be the last time I saw that, well I had lasted a year without losing it, which, with my previous record is quite good!

By the time we made it to our first campsite sun had already set, so it was a race against time to get the tents up, it was at this point we all realised that 'funny enough' there isn't any lighting on the island, and out of the 11 of us, only 1 person had the common sense to bring a torch! We did manage to get all the tents up in time, but cooking our steak dinner wasn't the easiest thing, we either got well done when we wanted medium rare, or blue if we wanted well done!

Although we didn't have a torch, thanks to Paul, we did have music so we sat around our torch and listened to all the new music from England! It wasn't long until word spread through the neighbouring campsites about the music, and in no time flat we managed to create quite a party down on the beach, actually meeting up with the aussie guys from our Whitsunday's boat. In the distance a wild storm was raging so we all sat there watching the fork lighting cross the sky, hoping that it stayed in the distance and not venture over to us!

We awoke to glorious sunshine, reassuring after the storm in the distance last night. We packed up, trying in vain to remember how the guide had shown us the previous day, and hit the road. Today we were going to drive down Fraser's very own motorway, on 75-mile beach. (There's those original beach names again!) The motorway was literally just one very long flat sand road, doubling up as a runway for planes when needed. Its always hard not to speed when you have a very long straight road in front of you, but after seeing photographs of cars upside down on the sand, we choose to stick to the 110kmph limit! That said, there were so few police cars on the island, we weren't too worried about getting speeding tickets!

Our first stop of the day was Eli Creek. The Creek is the largest freshwater stream on the eastern coast of the island, flowing from the centre to the sea. It was only 9am, but the weather was already blistering hot so it was a relief to jump in and float down to the mouth.

Back in the car we drove a short distance further to Fraser's famous shipwreck, The Maheno. The S.S. Maheno was built for comfort and speed in Scotland 1904 and was used as a Hospital ship in World War I. After the war in 1935 it was declared unseaworthy so it was sold to a Japanese company for scrap metal. Unfortunately on 8th of July 1935 Maheno got caught in an unseasonal winter cyclone, grounding it on the Coast of Fraser Island since. Most of it has rusted away now, but in the 2nd World War the Royal Australian Air Force use the Maheno as target practice!

We all had a laugh when Alexandro the Italian wanted a photo taken inside the ship next to the "do not enter ship sign," as he managed to whack his head on exiting it, then stubbed his toe on a piece of rusty metal whilst holding his head! Typical Italians!

After about an hour of driving North we reached the end of 75mile beach, in our way was an enormous cliff that we were told to climb. On arrival at the top, we realised why. Not only were the views amazing, but looking down from the top, you could actually see tiger sharks and stingrays swimming below. We now realised why the guide had emphasised not swimming in the sea!

We made it back to camp with plenty of time to spare this time, so after erecting the tents and getting the cooking area ready for the ladies we walked down to the sea to try a spot of fishing. We had been dragging my rod around the island from the start, and I was determined to use it. We discovered Mark used to be a professional fisher (if that's possible?) so I gave the rod to him as I didn't really have a clue! After he had the set the line up we had a few goes casting out, but everytime the waves would just push it back in. After a bit of discussion we realised that the only way to beat the waves was to walk out further in the sea. Obviously seeing the sharks earlier made this task a little dangerous, so you can imagine we dint stay in the water to long! We needn't have bothered though, all we caught was seaweed!

After another heavy night of drinking we awoke for our final day on the island. For today we had about 100kms of driving off road back to the port, stopping at another lake, famed for its steep sand dunes beside it and because of its abundance of catfish in the water. I was determined to catch something on this rod so I brought it along with us. Whilst the other people in the other cars were running down the dunes falling headfirst into the water, we sat there patiently, and after 10 mins we rewarded with a bite! I'm not going to say it was a whopper, but we all felt very proud!

Driving back to the port we made a quick detour back to Lake Mackensie, I thought I'd better go and have a look to see if my camera was still there. I didn't really believe it would, especially seeing how many people were sunbathing at the Lake today, but surprisingly it was, still sitting on the bush I'd left it on! This just topped the weekend off, it was just brilliant, up there with one of the best things done in Australia so far. The only thing bad about the trip was we had to be so careful with the car. The guide had warned us of the cost of any repairs so we drove more cautiously than we would have preferred.

We came up with a solution to this though, were buy a 4-wheel drive and come back and do it all over again next year! Anyone want to join us 3 seats still available!
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