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Fraser Island Freak-Out


Sometimes, while travelling, you lose all rational thought and do something, not ‘crazy exciting’, but just plain crazy. I had persuaded my travelling buddy, Geoff to cycle with me Australia’s East Coast. Having never really ridden a bike, it all went surprisingly well, until we rambled over to Fraser Island – excluding bikes, backpacks, a vehicle and pretty much all common sense. Although bad luck plagued us, and we became social outcasts in our vain attempt to circumnavigate the island,  (although this was mainly due to our insistence on schlepping five unwieldy Woolworth plastic shopping bags around and hitching rides on an island where it is di rigour to hire a four by four jeep), the island is definitely a wonderful spot to visit.

Fab beach on Fraser Island

Found off the East Coast of Queensland, north of Noosa, Fraser Island gleaned its name from Eliza Fraser, survivor and wife of the captain of an ill-fated ship, wrecked here in 1836.  With help from the island’s Aboriginal people, many of the crew endured their two month wait for help, from then on the island went on to attract hordes of Australian and internationals.  As there are no paved roads, the many networks of sandy trails can be traversed by 4 WD, which as a popular tourist activity brings over 21,000 vehicles per year to the small island. We decided to forgo this experience, mainly because we wanted to get off the bikes for a while but more so because we are cheap.  Justification was that a walking holiday was what we needed as a break, although in hindsight we should have known better as this is an island made totally from sand, and so walking through it for several hours; well I can think of more fun things to do such as probing a particular irritating hang nail.

The day we decided to voyage to the island looked promising, sunny and loads of traffic to hitchhike to the ferry terminal with. Unfortunately as the hours ticked by we realized we could have actually just walked the 16miles to the ferry in the time it took to pick a ride up. Unfortunately we had already missed it anyway and had to go to out of our way even further to catch a boat at River Heads. Luckily we were carrying a four-litre cask of wine, one of our more essential camping items and so the time flew by. Arriving on the island at Wangoolba Creek we found out the nearest campsite was Lake McKenzie, a good 11km walk, which was fine (as I say we like walking) except it was now pouring rain and pitch dark, so we stumbled along taking various wrong turnings until we literally fell into the camping area by sheer luck a good three hours later.

Geoff with the famous luggage solution

A World Heritage Site and the earth’s largest sand island it is 125 km long with around 200 lakes, home to towering kauri forests, abundant rainforest wildlife, 200 bird species and has a coast teeming with fish, sharks and a strong undertow. Dingoes of Australia, one of the oldest species of dogs in the country also reside here. Believed to arrive on the continent 6000 years ago, they were domesticated by Aboriginals quite early on.  Although its usual prey is mice and rats, interaction with humans on the island has developed the dingo’s capacity of destruction and insolence to worsen. Mainly due to tourists trying to feed, pet, and occasionally pushing their children up to them for cute photo opportunities, dingoes often frequent campsites in a shifty and deceitful manner.

Sympathy for the plight of the Canis familiaris dingo however was not in mind when I viewed our tent.   Excited about viewing the area we had traipsed through in the dark the night before, we had run down to Lake McKenzie for a look at its tremendous colours. The Lake is part of the water table and so has never flowed over ground, thus preserving its clarity and rich turquoise hue. The darkening clouds, gave way, and I became trapped in an outhouse with some campers, all who had had possessions ruined by dingoes.
“Thank god we’re carrying our food on us.” I had just said sanctimoniously to a German girl.  The words, were still floating in the air as Geoff ran up, and announced to everyone that our tent had been besieged by the rampant critters.  Staring at the muddy flat mass that had only minutes ago been a tight erection of professional outdoors skill, was not a position one likes to be found in.  Especially since it was once again raining, our sleeping bags looked more sodden then serviceable, and we now had a sunroof, with no sun.

Swimming in the clear blue

Despite this chaos the island can be a quiet retreat, and with so many walking tracks through dense kauri forests, brush box and satinays, and along clear streams, you can avoid the yobs in jeeps.  One still afternoon on the Central Forest Station Conservation walk in Pile Valley, I watched in amazement as a slim dark eel lazily made its way down a stream, slowly weaving its way through the water in crystal clarity. Around Central Station’s Wanggoolba Creek, grows the gigantic rare angioperis fern and it is also the main place to stock up on food and better yet, “free-hot” showers, which sure come in handy when you have been cleaning clams.
Although the first notable meal of these sea creatures unfortunately landed in the sand due to me and my clubfoot tripping, (well its not a real personal disability it was due more to standing up too quickly in anticipation of the tasty meal and realised a bit too late that all my leg nerves had gone to Adelaide).

We traipsed up the beach to Eurong and trolled through Ellie Creek (the largest creek on the Australian East Coast) and stumbled up to Lake Wabby, a site definitely worth seeing. A huge sand pile that is growing 3 metres per year – there is so much sand here you almost feel like Laurence of Arabia without the camels. After the sweaty 45 minute walk in, refresh yourself in the lake, but as much as you want to, DON’T dive in after a good kamikaze run down the hill – unless you want to have someone hand feed you the rest of your life. Apparently, so the ranger told me, many people do aspire to this and spinal injuries plague the area, “Too many visitors,” he drawled “tanked up, ready to take their chances with fate (and the Australian health services) I guess.”
Slowly we made our way past the somewhat creepy Maheno wreck, a liner wrecked in the 1930’s,and to Cathedral Heads, and it’s gorgeous coloured sand cliffs, Finally reaching the upper north of the island near Indian Heads and Wabby Point, an area of rocky headlands and where there are still wild horses roaming.
Even though the constant tune of rental truck horn blasts was getting to me as vehicles raced the beach besides us and despite our sunburn, parched lips and blistering due to plastic bag chafing, I must admit there is nothing like a good old fry up with fresh fish, eaten around your own fire (when its not smoking you out) with an
entire sunset to yourselves. I truly felt like one of Eliza Fraser’s crew after such a pioneering experience and would recommend this kind of holiday to anyone who can invest in a good psychiatrist to heal posttraumatic stress disorder.

Travel Tips
Most hostels in the Hervey Bay area run either organized tours of the island or can fix you up with a rental vehicle, with costs shared amongst six people.
Purchase camping permits in Hervey Bay or on the island: costs around $7.50 (£3) per night
Getting There: Return flights (London- Brisbane) cost about £700
When to go: Any time of year gives good weather: though avoid school hols in January
Visas: Required by all visitors: Call Australia House: 0207 887-5102: or the
Australian embassy in the uk

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