Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Australia - Fraser Island

From Noosa we get back onto the Bruce Highway and continue north about 3 hours to Hervey Bay. This is the jump off point for tours of Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. We have booked a self drive 3 day tour of the island in a 4 wheel drive Land Rover. When we arrive we receive a general briefing about the island, the vehicles we will be using and potential dangers. For example, it is not advised to swim in the ocean as it is the largest breeding ground for Tiger sharks in the world, a species known to attack humans. Additionally there are wild dingoes roaming the island, who will continually search the campsites for food not locked away in the vehicles at night. Now we are aware of what we are getting ourselves into! After the briefing we are divided into groups. There are 4 groups with between 9-11 people per group. In our group there are 9 of us: myself, Rhian, Peter, Maria and Paula also from NI, Ben from France, Sam from England and Thomas and Cleo from Germany. We introduce ourselves to each other and then go to the supermarket and bottle shop to stock up on supplies for the next three days. We buy plenty of food and lots of beer and "goon" (cheap and nasty Australian wine in a bag). It gets dark around 17.30h, so we knew there would not be much else to do.

The next morning we get up at 6am to pack our things, store our luggage, check the equipment and pack the landrovers. This has to be done in a certain way so as not to injure the passengers inside once driving on all terrain roads. We set off around 9am to get the barge over to Fraser Island, a journey of only 30 minutes. Peter is elected to drive and he secretly enjoys that kind of stuff, so was very happy about that. We drive off the barge and set out to explore the island. We have a full tank of gas and almost 3 days to do it. We firstly cross through lush rainforest and stop at Central Station for a break. The dirt tracks are tough going and we have to navigate our way through the bumpy terrain. The first real stop is at Lake Birrabeen, where we walk down through the forest and onto pristine white sand, before jumping in the crystal clear water. After a refreshing swim we drive further onto the other side of the island and the beach. Once on the beach we can speed up a bit and make more progress. There are other vehicles using the beach and normal road rules apply. It is also an airstrip if need be, and we actually drive past a small plane that has just touched down. After a while we reach Eli Creek and dip our feet in the cool water. Shortly afterwards we reach the Maheno shipwreck, a rusted old ship blown ashore in 1935 and partly buried in the sand. The light starts to fade so we drive on up the beach to the campsite. After setting up the tents we cook a fabulous dinner, put on some music, have a few drinks and the craic, all under a sky filled with stars. The other landrovers park and camp on the same stretch and there is a "goon" fuelled party.

The next day we awake again around 6am as it was a relatively early previous night. Also, once the sun is up it becomes unbearably hot in the tents. We are not allowed to drtive on the beach before 11am, so the mnorning is spent having a long breakfast and relaxing. Then we set off up the beach again and reach Indian head. From here it is a short climb up from the beach to the vantage point on the cliffs above. From here we see sharks, stingrays and turtles in the clear waters 50m below. After admiring the beauty of the place, we walk back down and along another beach, where our vehicles are not allowed. After almost 2km we reach the "champagne pools". This is the only safe spot to bathe in the saltwater. There are secluded pools where the waves break over the rocks and fill them with the foam of the breaking wave. Hence the name. It's nice there, but after a while we get bored and walk back down the beach to the landrover. We drive around 40km down the beach to our next campsite. Tonight we camp alone and are not near the other groups. Once we started cooking the dingoes arrived and circled the camp for a while. We had to go to the toilet in pairs, just in case. There was a small party for the 9 of us and another great night's banter.

We awake to our final day on the island. It's really only a half day as we have to get the barge back to the mainland. We set off early to get to Lake Wabby, an inland lake filled with catfish. From where we leave the landrover we walk about 1.5km down through the forest and onto the sand. There are steep dunes leading down to the lake, which is a murky green colour. Some of us swim across to the other side and back for some early morning exercise. From here we move on to our final stop and one of the nicest places on the island, Lake McKenzie. The beautiful white silica sand stretches around the clearest blue water lake I have ever come across. It is just incredible to swim there and so refreshing. A very memorable last stop on Fraser. Soon it's time to make our way over the bumpy tracks, bouncing all over the place, to get the ferry. Peter did a great job of keeping it all under control though. After 360km around the island in a 4x4 and sleeping on the sand, we are pretty sore though.