Sand - absolutely everywhere....!

Trip Start Aug 17, 2003
Trip End Jun 04, 2004

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Wednesday, December 3, 2003

By this stage I was starting to feel that I'd sprouted wool and started "baaing" regularly, following the herd from one activity to another, as I suffered a 13 hour overnight bus ride from Airlie Beach to Hervey Bay to go to Fraser Island. Don't get me wrong - it was definitely worth going to Fraser Island as it was absolutely beautiful - but I was starting to feel like I'd lost the ability to make decisions for myself by this station - and vowed that my next few stops would be places and involve activities I'd actually thought about, rather than following the rest of the herd!!!

So, Fraser Island.... the world's largest sand island, off the coast of Queensland, and unfortunately a tiger shark breeding ground (get far enough south to not have a risk of jellyfish, and you still can't swim in the sea for fear of losing a limb to a shark....! Odd country this...)

I went along with the deal most backpackers use (mainly because it came dead cheap with my Whitsundays sailing trip) - a self drive 4x4 trip. So me and 7 strangers met at 8am one morning, and then proceeded to work our way through the complexities of insurance (finally I won through on the fact that $10 each to reduce the excess payable if we had an accident was definitely better than a potential $5000 excess....), the supermarket (I admit that this is where I turned into my mother and just organised them - I basically told them what they were eating for 2 days, and then bought the necessary....!), and planning an itinerary (helpfully made easier by the organisers, who suggested one for us!)

We were an interesting group - 5 Brits of ages varying from 21 to 27 and the broadest spectrum of personalities, a Canadian girl with a clear attention deficiency disorder, and a Japanese couple who seemed very lovely - only we couldn't communicate with them at all.... It didn't bode well, and was certainly an interesting trip from the "social interaction" point of view. I kept looking around for a camera, and could imagine the Big Brother psychologist commenting on the way we were reacting to each other. They say one of the things about travelling is learning about yourself, and that was certainly true....!!!

But anyway, on from the personality analysis... The first day we drove across the island using inland tracks which were VERY VERY bumpy. Somehow I got voted as the first driver, which was pretty daunting, but very very good fun. Not convinced the guys in the back were enjoying being bounced around quite so much though! The tracks are literally just sand tracks, single lane, with passing spaces every now and then - difficult to negotiate when you're on a steep hill!!!, and with forest either side. A corner taken slighty too fast and it could have been a close encounter with a tree (which incidentally our insurance wouldn't cover us for....)

We stopped off at Lake McKenzie first, an absolutely beautiful freshwater lake, with turquoise water and white beaches. Words just can't describe how beautiful it was. And it was so lovely to swim without swallowing salt water! I think that really was my idea of paradise. It was just absolutely beautiful. We stayed there for a few hours sunbathing and swimming and just enjoying how gorgeous it was...

Then we drove on to our overnight stop at Dilli Village, on the eastern side of the island. I relinquished the driving and had my first taste of being in the back being thrown around - I still maintain the guy driving was just very unsteady (very jerky clutch control!) and that when I was driving it was much smoother, but I have to admit that I'm not fully convinced!!!! We'd been warned not to drive at night (no lights etc, very narrow roads, trees....) and so we were starting to get a little bit concerned when it started to get quite dark and we still didn't seem to be near our campsite - but eventually we got there and got settled (and lots of other cars arrived quite a long time after us!)

After a lot of whinging about camping from 2 of the boys (didn't expect it'd be like this, we're not backpackers, we're just on holiday, thought we'd be staying somewhere decent - READ THE BROCHURE BOYS........), and total uncooperation for dinner/washing up etc etc, we managed to settle into an easy truce and played cards for a few hours before calling it a night (quite a relief!!)

The next day, we had to get up and get moving early as we were due to drive along the beach to the north of the island - and you have to drive between certain hours around low tide so as not to get bogged in sand. Eventually we got everyone up (one tent was actually taken down around one of the boys, which came as a bit of a shock to him) and we headed off. Driving down the beach was great - we were able to get a bit of speed up, and it was a really quite odd sensation! Having been warned repeatedly that if we drove in salt water, we would lose our deposit on the car (and my credit card was one of the ones holding that deposit!), we were pretty careful to avoid going in the sea - but at times it was difficult to tell what was water left over from the tide, and what was freshwater creeks flowing out to the sea from inland! It all worked out ok in the end though.

On the way up the beach, we stopped off a few times - first at Eli Creek, the biggest creek on the island, which was very pretty - crystal clear water, and there was a walk around it in amongst all the plants, which was very cool. A brave few were swimming in the water - as it's 19C all year round, it's pretty cold - and especially as it wasn't a great day - overcast and really pretty cold...

We also stopped at the Maheno wreck - a cruise ship which was caught in a storm when being towed to Japan for scrapping, and which blew up on the beach on Fraser Island. Now it's pretty much just a rusty carcass on the beach. It made for quite cool photos though, and looked really quite out of place.

The next stop was the Pinnacles, rock formations made of brightly coloured sands in layers through the rock. It reminded me of the coloured sands of Alum Bay on my school trip to the Isle of White aged 8..... ;-)

Our overnight camp was at Indian Head, a bare bones campsite, with absolutely no facilities (more whinging) which seemed to be about 50cm deep in sand, meaning we had an absolute epic trying to get the car into the car park - and being one of the last groups to get there, we had to drive the furthest to find an empty campsite!!!! Nightmare. Lots of frayed tempers all round! As we had had to leave early in the morning, we had lots of time in the afternoon to explore the area - so we headed to the Champagne Pools, natural rock pools which fill with sea water at high tide, and are the only place where it's safe to swim in saltwater on the island. Unfortunately the weather wasn't really good enough for sunbathing, but it was nice to chill out and catch up on the lack of sleep from a night's camping!

At sunset I walked up to the top of Indian Head to watch the sunset, and because it's supposed to be a good place to spot marine life - turtles, rays, sharks, even dolphins. However, the main thing we watched was a massive storm coming in off the sea and heading straight for us!!!! We did see a couple of turtles, but then decided it was best to head back to the camp and try to find some way to fix up a shelter which would keep the rain off. We actually had a complete laugh fixing up 2 tarpaulins to trees to give ourselves some shelter, tying the tarps to just about anything not moving, and trying desperately to plug holes when the rain started to pour and there were multiple leaks. Cooking in this tiny, leaking shelter was also very amusing - but in adversity we seemed to all manage to get on a little better!

I had a small sense of humour failure (who, me??) at one point when the Canadian came back and said that the tents were "swimming" - it turned out they were slightly damp.... - and a ranger came by to warn us there were snakes and we should be incredibly careful after dark when going to the toilet etc - and to only wear closed shoes (I only had sandals with me on the island!). That combined with the dingos roaming the island, who have attacked people in the past, and being with a bunch of people that were really starting to get on my nerves (not being known for my tolerance and patience with people...) I had just had enough - but we all decided that getting hammered was the way to get through it, and in the end had a laugh about it all.

The next day it continued to rain, pretty much all day, making it pretty miserable. We drove back off down the beach, and then cut inland, stopping at Lake Wabby, which was another spectacularly beautiful lake - but unfortunately the weather meant we didn't really enjoy it that much.... So we headed back to the ferry port, and spent a couple of wet and pretty frustrating hours in a coffee shop there, glad to not be attempting to drive those narrow tracks in pelting rain, but quite frustrated with not being able to do anything....

People keep asking me how the Fraser Island trip was, and if I enjoyed it, and I keep saying kind of.... The Island was great - the inland lakes were truly beautiful - a real paradise - and the 4x4 driving I got to do was great fun, but being stuck with a group of people I'd never met before, with such different personalities just made it too much of a chore. If I could go back and do it again, I'd take one of the guided tours which are offered - then the conflicts brought about by cooking, driving, setting up camp etc are taken away - and there's a set plan of where to go and when, so no arguments about stopping or not stopping somewhere. So that's my piece of advice to anyone who's travelling to Fraser Island in the future - stop at Hervey Bay or Noosa and take a guided tour!!!!
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