The north-south divide grew by the minute in the cramped truck as the rain lashed down outside. Nine Brits and two Irish had all met the previous day in Hervey Bay and early relations were strained as the realisation dawned that this might not be the idyllic, fun-packed three days on Fraser Island we’d all envisaged.
Our surroundings couldn’t have been further from the sun-soaked, sandy paradise we’d seen in the photos as we had, unfortunately, headed straight into the middle of a severe cyclone – torrential rain, gale-force winds and hail to boot.
Alex, from London and who I’d met a few weeks previously in New Zealand, was driving the 4-wheel driver vehicle, loaded to the gunnels with camping gear, food, drink and eleven increasingly despondent backpackers. Her efforts at manoevering the truck through uneven sand tracks whilst simultaneously avoiding falling trees were not being appreciated by two rather outspoken girls from Manchester who both believed they could do a better job.
The misted up windows did nothing to aid our navigation efforts and tempers frayed as we attempted to agree on a plan of action. It was apparent that the atrocious weather was not going to subside.
In our collective eagerness to see some of the island’s infamous natural beauty despite the conditions, we parked the truck and began a walk to Lake Mackenzie. Deflated spirits were dampened (or rather, drenched) further as we trudged along the sodden track.
The lake, I’m sure, would have been spectacular had it not been pouring with rain and after a short stop for some obligatory photos, we returned to the van. We departed to find somewhere sheltered to have lunch but it soon became obvious that bad weather hadn’t entered the minds of the island’s planning committee as no shelter could be found. Eventually, we arrived at the island’s only resort and stood miserably under a leaky wooden shelter eating soggy salami sandwiches.
The prospect of setting up camp in the lakes of rainwater on the grass was not exactly enticing and it was a relief when someone suggested trying to book a room at the hotel for the night, with a view to returning the next morning, two days ahead of schedule. At the reception we learnt that a severe weather warning had been issued and the beached (which doubled as a highway) had been closed.
There were only a couple of rooms left for the night but squeezing 11 into two rooms was infinitely preferable to spending the night outside, at the mercy of the storm. The ensuing atmosphere was that of elation that we were out of the rain but there still remained a tinge of disappointment that the trip which was supposed to be one of the highlights of the east coast had turned out to be a disaster.
Events worsened when one of the Mancunian girls slipped on a wet step and dislocated her shoulder. The complete absence of any medical assistance on the island (which seems a little foolish given the resident population of aggressive dingoes!) meant that her shoulder was not put back into place until almost 24 hours later when we returned to the mainland.
That evening we did what any self-respecting Aussie would do in a crisis and cracked upon a few VB tinnies. We managed to return the next morning (feeling even worse with our hangovers) despite rumours of the ferry not being able to make the short crossing in the treacherous conditions.
Back on the mainland, we discovered that we would not receive any refund whatsoever for the trip and, in addition, we would have to pay for staying in the hostel for the two nights we should have been on the island. The trip was arranged through a company called Koala’s and I would advise against both booking a trip with them and staying in their hostels. I found them to be the worst standard of my entire trip.
One day I hope to return to Fraser Island and truly appreciate its magnificence without a cyclone to spoil it.