Thursday, February 10, 2011

Australia East Coast - Fraser Island

Here's a bit of background on Fraser Island for those of you who don't have a clue what or where I'm going on about!

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, stretching over 77 miles in length and 14 miles at its widest point.  The highest sand dune is 244 metres.  Drilling on the island has shown that the sand extends to 100 metres below sea level in places.  Fraser Island was listed by UNESCO in 1992 in recognition of its natural values. The island is well known for its exceptional natural beauty, with uninterrupted sweeps of ocean beach, strikingly coloured sand cliffs, as well as spectacular rainforests, dune lakes and rainwater lakes - and plenty of wildlife.

After reading about it in our guide book and hearing all the reports from our friends back home (Lisa V & Alex H) that have visited, we were seriously low on cash, but had a feeling we couldn't miss this place, so we booked a day trip over to the island. 

The night before we headed out to Fraser the person we booked the trip through found us at our campervan and told us that we were the only people on the day trip with that tour the following day and the tour company would like to upgrade us for FREE to a 2 day tour and we would be staying overnight on the island! Plus the tour we booked was a pretty posh one (1st time I think we've booked a posh tour whilst we've been away, we're usually on the bog standard backpacker ones) so instead of staying in tents on the island, we'd be staying at a resort with a pool and all our meals chucked in! What a result!

Eurong Resort

So we said goodbye to Roberta for a couple of days and got picked up by our guide outside our campsite at about 7am.  It was a sunny morning, with a few clouds, so I think we got quite lucky considering it had rained most of the night.  Whilst waiting for our bus to pick us up, we got chatting to a really lovely couple that were waiting for the same tour and also staying on our campsite. Turned out that we were the only people on the 2-day tour going from Rainbow Beach that day, but we were going to be meeting up with a larger 2 day tour group once we were on the island.  So the 4 of us had loads of time chatting and getting to know each other.  Merryl and Kev are from South Gippsland, which is in the countryside just outside Melbourne, however, a year ago they made the huge jump to move from South Gippsland (after living there for 40 years) to Queensland, to be near to their daughter and their grandchildren, aswell as bagging themselves a lovely pad right on the water with a little jetty for their yaucht.  They'd never been to Fraser before, but had travelled to SO many different countries, they gave us a huge amount of inspiration for our next trips. Little did we know at this point, that we'd become such good friends by the end of the trip, that we'd be staying over at their house on beautiful Bribie Island, near Brisbane, the week after! 

Mart with Merryl & Kev when we visited them
Our tour guide (Cameron) turned up... in a MASSIVE 4 wheel drive bus, it was a converted army vehicle.  The only vehicles that are allowed on Fraser are 4 x 4's because of the sand, he said plenty of people get stuck and the roads on Fraser are actually better when it's been raining as the sand is more compacted and so it's easier to drive on.  Also, it takes a bit of skill driving down the beach when the tide is coming in, you don't want your vehicle to get caught in the wave going back out as it can be pretty forceful and drag you out with it.

He drove us 20 mins out of Rainbow Beach to catch the vehicle ferry over to Fraser, which was only 12 mins on the water.

Cameron then drove us down the beach about 30 miles, along the way he was filling us in on the flora and fauna of the island and we spotted something washed up on the shore, we thought it was a dolphin but we got a bit closer and realised that it was a dead baby whale, bless it.  He said that the Island Rangers would come across it and drag it away from the shore and into the sand dunes for the Dingo's to eat.

poor whale
We eventually (after the bus conked out along the beach) arrived at the Eurong (meaning 'Rain' in Aboriginal) Resort where we were staying at on Fraser Island.  All 4 of us had a quick cup of tea and set off further into the island with Cam to find the other group.  

I was pretty glad that we had decided not to do a self drive tour onto the island, a lot of backpackers do these.  They round up a few people within their hostel, hire a 4x4 and tag along behind another 4x4 with a guide.  The roads were so bumpy and some of them were being thrown around all over the place, plus some roads were only single lane so there was a lot of reversing into big piles of sand to let people pass.  The bus we were in was driven by an expert and as it was so big you definitely didn't feel the bumps as much as you would have in one of the smaller 4x4's.  

So we met up with the other group and our new guide, Steve, at a place called Central Station. 

Central Station was a former logging camp that was occupied by logging employees. Logging started on Fraser Island in 1863 by 'Yankee Jack' Piggott and continued until Dec 1991 when the island was nominated for UNESCO World Heritage. The logs taken from Fraser were used all over the world, the world famous Fraser Satinay tree was used to rebuild London docks after World War II. 

Steve took us straight past Central Station onto a rainforest walk to Wanggoolba Creek.  He stopped and filled us in on the facts as we were going along.  Turns out Steve has been doing these tours for about 15 years, so pretty much knows everything there is to know about this island, which was great and people were asking tons of questions. Good old Steve!

We were asked not to paddle in the creek as over time it would become damaged by so many visitors passing through.

After our rainforest walk we headed back to Eurong for a big buffet lunch.  Steve picked us up again an hour later and we started our drive along the beach.  The beach is appropriately named 75 mile beach and you can drive down the stretch at a maximum speed of 80kmph! The beach is actually a recognised highway!

the obligatory bird pic. A Sea Eagle

Half way down the beach, Steve started telling us about a local airline who run flights from this beach and that the pilots would be stepping aboard so we could hear a bit more about it (get the feeling someone was scratching someone elses back here).  The pilots came onto the bus and said we could get a 15 minute ride over the island, where you can see all the lakes from above aswell as 75 mile beach and hopefully some sharks or rays in the water below us. Suddenly I feel an elbow in the ribs from Mart saying 'come on, it's only $70 each (45pounds)' - so we stuck it on the credit card and jumped into the plane with Merryl and Kev and another English couple and took off from the beach in this TINY plane! 

Actually after my initital reluctance, I was SO glad we did it! We had break in the clouds so as we were flying over the island the sun was beaming and we could see all the rainforests from above, which the pilot said looked like broccolli plantations.. I kind of see what he means.  We saw the lakes, sandunes and the shipwreck on the 75mile beach.  Unfortunately the water was pretty choppy and a bit discoloured from all the flooding so we didn't spot any sharks or rays.  The plane was so tiny, it only held 7 people and had tiny little wings, so you could feel every cloud we went through! Mum, you would have hated it! Dad, you would have loved it!

the rainforest from the air - also looking like broccoli heads

sand blows

Eli Creek

75 Mile Beach

a lake they call 'Butterfly Lake'

shipwreck from the air

After our flight the pilot landed on the beach and we joined the rest of the group who were exploring a place called 'Eli Creek' just off the beach. The water was freshwater and it was freezing! But the kids still loved it, they were taking their body boards to the top of the creek and just floating along, down into the sea.

We drove further down the beach to inspect the Maheno shipwreck.  The luxury cruise ship was built in Scotland in 1905 to travel between Sydney and Auckland, it was also used as a hospital ship during World War I in Europe.  In July 1935, while being towed to Japan for scrapping, the Maheno was struck by an out of season cyclone and washed ashore Fraser Island.  The ship has 4 levels and after 75 years spent sinking slowly into the sand, only half of the top level is now showing.

the ship in its hospital days

We pushed on to an area that has formed natural pools by the ocean, these are nicknamed 'Champagne Pools' as bubbling sea water washes into them through holes in their sides.  We were feeling a bit chilly so didn't take a dip.

Finally, we ended up walking up the most prominent landmark on 75 mile beach, Indian Head.  The 60 metre high rocky cliff is a great place to view the beach and we were so excited as you could usuall see sharks and rays in the sea below. However...we didn't see any, we were so gutted! Again, the water was too choppy and discoloured from the floods that you couldn't see anything :-(.  Swimming off the beach of Fraser Island is deemed unsafe, for 2 reasons; 1. The strong currents and 2. Sharks! There's said to be sharks surrounding Fraser Island (must be a good feeding ground for them) I know it's silly, but we really wanted to see just a little fin poking out of the water..but nothing!

looking hot in my sexy shoes and cap ensemble

this is someone elses (From the web) shark pic from Indian Head

On the way back down the beach, we got really lucky... we spotted a Dingo! Dingo's are Frasers most famous inhabitant. There are roughly 150-200 of them on the island and all of them find food for themselves, they are not fed by any tourists or rangers.  The dingoes appear similar to a domestic dog, but they are more closely related to the Asian wolf.  They are thought to have arrived thousands of years ago with humans from South East Asia, when dogs were relatively undomesticated and closer to wild Asian Gray Wolves. You are told to keep well away from Dingoe's as they can attack in some circumstances and the old saying 'A Dingo Ate My Baby' is roughly true, as they have been know to attack children, seeing them as food, before.  Dingoes usually travel and live in packs, however this one was on his own, so our guide said that he'd probably been kicked out of the pack for some reason (he also had a lot of fighting scars on him).  If he was in a pack he'd also be a little bit heavier and no so gaunt as they'd be more succesful at finding food. 

I love this photo

We headed back to Eurong in a bit of a downpour and checked into our room. Oh My God...a real bed.....and a shower and a loo in our room...AND a TV (even if they had only 2 channels and one of those channels had cricket on, so at least Martin was happy!)...what a treat!! We spent a good hour just lazing around the room, having showers, reading, lying on the bed and spreading our stuff out.  I know this sounds v.dramatic, but you just don't realise what you take for granted until you're living without it, and just having a loo to go to in the same room was a luxury after being in the campervan for 2.5weeks!

We met up with Merryl and Kev in the dining room and another bit of good news.. it was Mexican night! We had a gorgeous meal, chatting for ages about travelling and our families whilst eating nachos and burritos, was fantastic - then to top it off, Lethal Weapon 3 was on TV when we got back to our room, you couldn't ask for more! Haha!

The next morning (after a nice little bacon sarnie and a cup of tea for us both), Steve picked us up at 8am.  Today we were headed to 2 of the most famous lakes on Fraser Island. 1. Lake Mackenzie and 2. Lake Wabby (don't you love these names!)

It took us a good 45 minutes to travel (on a very bumpy road) from Eurong to Lake Mackenzie - but it was worth it!

The lake is a rainwater lake and sits upon a layer of sand that is so fine you can exfoliate your body or clean your jewelry with.  The guides ask you to not wear suncream into the lake as over time it can cause damage to the lake and its sandbed, especially as this is the most visited lake on the island.

Unfortunately we didn't get the calmest of days, the water was a little bit choppy so it wasn't the 'still' lake we had seen on images from the web/leaflets etc.  We still thought it was pretty spectacular and we already know that this picture will be up in our house when we get back!  We stayed here for a couple of hours and we had such a gorgeous morning relaxing and enjoying where we were on a Saturday morning.  Back in England we'd just be getting up to some frost or miserable cold wind and rain - we haven't taken any of these gorgeous places for granted whilst we've been away.

We dropped back to the resort for the last time for a buffet lunch (last of the free meals, so we stocked up! hehe. actually we did only have noodles for dinner that night, so it worked) and then drove back down the beach to trek to Lake Wabby.  The trek through the forest to get to Lake Wabby took us about an hour and it was pretty hot, I started off in shorts and a top, but by the end I'd taken my shorts off and was trekking in my bikini bottoms! At the end of the trek in the forest we ventured out onto a HUGE sand dune, and then down to the lake... it was stunning! Mart ran and dove straight in! The lake had a family of around 6 catfish swimming around, but when someone popped into the water, the catfish would follow them around, at one time Mart said I had all of them around me!

We spent another couple of hours here at Lake Wabby and then trekked back through the forest to the bus...and along the way, I spotted a brown snake!! These snakes are the most venomous in Australia - I hate snakes and even though I'd dreaded seeing one all the time we'd been in Aus, I was secretly quite chuffed I spotted it as Mart missed it!  It was curling itself into a hollowed out log in the dry bush/scrub area of the trek - I hopped out of that area pretty quick actually.

A bit of info on the Brown Snake:

* It's the 2nd most venomous snake in the world (Taipan is number 1 - which also lives in Australia!)
* 1.5  -2m long
* Active during the day time
* Without medical treatment acute detorioration will occur within 5 minutes, with certain death following between 30 mins to 1 hour
* Found in hollow logs (yes, figured that one out), unused animal burrows, under rubbish around buildings (careful taking the bins out!) and rock crevices
* Found all over Australia
* Causes more snake bite deaths than any other snake
* The average Brown Snake lives 10-15 years
* Medical advice: don't wash the bite, splint the bite if possible and immobilise - then get    to the f*cking hospital!

We then hopped on the bus, onto the ferry and back to Roberta at our campsite. 

Merryl and Kev, it turned out, were in the caravan just next to us, so we met them the next morning and swapped email addresses and phone numbers with them.  They also kindly invited us to stay at their house, if we were going past, on our way back to Brisbane to drop our van off.  We were going that way, so Mart and I took a look at our itinerary and arranged to see them at their house on Bribie Island the following Sunday evening - will put our visit with them in our next blog, their house and their hospitality were both lovely! (so nice of them, not sure how often you'll experience that kind of friendliness?!?)

Our trip to Fraser Island was worth every penny, it's such a unique place, and we were so so glad that we got upgraded as a one day trip would definitely have not been enough!

Em & Mart