Saturday, 14 July 2018

This island's name means Paradise

Fraser Island, Australia

Our first sunrise, you don't get sunsets on this side of the island
K'Gari, otherwise known as Fraser Island is an adventure – you aren’t quite sure what to expect and you feel a little bit anxious. It’s one of those places that you need to get some advice before you go and watching a few You Tube clips helps as well. You see, its a sand island that has formed from sand washed up from New South Wales. There are no "roads" - it's main highway is the beach and the inland tracks have a maximum speed of 30kph. Then there are the tides to contend with, muck your timing up and you could get washed out to sea, drive too fast and you could do some damage to your vehicle when a hidden deep washaway reveals itself. We needed to get some information about this place before we went there.

We called into Gympie information centre to see if they have any brochures on Fraser Island and find one that is very helpful. It has a detailed map showing the four main scenic drives, the camping areas/grounds and points of interest, as well as bushwalking tracks. I’ve now realised that hiking in Australia means a walk that is more than four hours or so. I much prefer the shorter option, so bushwalking is my kind of exercise.

If you aren’t camping in commercial campgrounds, then you need to book your camp sites online before you go, mobile signal is not reliable enough to think you can do it while you are there. While you can book your camp sites and pay for your driving permit online, you will need to have the tickets to put on your tent/camper and car which you can get from Information centres and a few other places listed on the National Parks website. The campgrounds we wanted to stay in were in a zone that had some closed campgrounds, so we couldn't book online as the system can't book specific campsites or campgrounds, just sites within a zone. Confused? it's not like any other place we have camped before.

The lady at the information centre asked us if we had any sand driving experience – Lindsay explained that we have driven across the Simpson desert a couple of times – it’s not the same it seems and that doesn’t give us any brownie points for driving on Fraser. There are a number of vehicles that have sunk in the quicksand there, there are so many she thinks that soon, there won’t be any more room to sink and it will be safe! Oh, we haven’t heard about this before, so we call into ARB and ask them for some tips to drive on Fraser. He says the quicksand is on Rainbow beach, so not to worry. He advises that when we cross the washaways to err on the sea side as it will be shallower. Sometimes the washaways can be higher than your tyre and it’s best to wait for them to subside before crossing. Don’t drive on the beach two hours either side of high tide is another tip. The main highway on Fraser Island is 75 mile beach, so we will need to plan our days out before we go out each day, so we don’t get caught. It is recommended to drop your tyre pressures down to 20psi, but Lindsay has decided that 15psi might be better seeing that we now have a camper in tow. A nice consistent speed is best and let the sand stop you, don’t use the breaks so that the wheels don’t dig into the sand.

We got the barge at Inskip where there is no road to the barge, you cross over the sand and drive onto the barge at the waters edge. We let our tyres down before we reach the sand to make sure we have enough traction in the deep sand at Hook Point.

Our first campsite with ocean views, only a few metres to the sand

Our first campsite was in zone 2, there are normally three areas here One Tree Rocks, Cornwalls and Gabala but the first two were temporarily closed. There weren't many sites left. We found only one that would fit our camper giving us a view right onto the beach and ocean. Two groups of rangers visited us to check our camping pass and to give us a pep talk about the dingoes. They use the same guidelines as the bears in North America - don't leave any food out - apparently they know how to get into an Esky. The reason the other campsites were closed was due to increased dingo activity. And it wasn't long before we had our first dingo visit. We just ran at him and told him to get lost. You have to show them who is the Alpha (boss). Many of the dingoes are tagged. Right ear for females because they are always right, right? and left for males. Probably the only time I felt a bit uncomfortable was when a male ran into our camp and stopped, then the two others that had been chasing him appeared. I had three of them staring at me from a few metres away. Nothing happened, Lindsay chased them away. We would have the same ones run through our camp each day just checking to see if we had been stupid enough to leave anything out.

the dingos sit by the fishermen, hoping they will be fed

While we were in this area we visited Lake Wabby, Lake MaKenzie, the rainforest at Central station and had a drink at Happy Valley on the way back from some other lake. Mobile reception is pretty non existent on the island but we did manage to get one bar about half an hour up the track from Happy Valley, in the middle of the rain forest. Go figure.

Lake Wabby - some crazy tourists from the northern hemisphere - it's not that warm guys!

Before we went out each day we would check the tide charts to make sure we weren't trying to drive on the beach at high tide.

Lake McKenzie

You need to get passed the Poyungan Rocks and Yidney rocks at low tide. If you don't, one of them you have to cross a very rocky outcrop, not fun with a camper in tow and with the other you can go via an inland track which is quite sandy and steep, so low tide was the better option.

The beach at low tide, we had a "landing strip" just outside our second camp where planes would land and take off, there were just a couple of cones with a sign saying Caution: Landing strip
One of the inland tracks, a bus came around the corner but we saw him in time so pulled off.
Who ever is the smallest has to reverse until they can get off the track

Zone 5 has the Maheno shipwreck. Just north of here is the coloured rocks called the Pinnacles, Indian Head, Orchid Beach, Champagne Pools, Lake Allom, Eli Creek.

The rainforest boardwalk at Central Station
part of the Maheno, probably the anchor - see the speed limit in the background

Lindsay wasn't keen on getting up at sunrise to photograph the Maheno and it was a little too far to walk with all my gear so I did a trial drive during the day seeing as I wasn't experienced in driving in sand just to give me the confidence to go off in the dark.

The Maheno Shipwreck at sunrise
Looking into the sun, not so pretty

The whaling season has just started where the big humpback whales come up from Antarctica to give birth and mate. We thought we'd be too early but we saw hundreds. It was a bit difficult getting a photo from the beach but we did manage to get a few. Most of the time they are just snorting out water or showing a fin or tail, getting a shot of them breaching needed a lot more patience.

Our second campsite at Maheno, another ocean view - with breaching whales!
Migrating humpback whales look spectacular when they breach, often they would be in groups
Champagne Pools at the northern end of the island

Our original plan was to spend 3 days in zone 2, then 3 days in zone 5, then move to zone 1 so that we could leave the island at low tide first thing in the morning but as we were driving there, we changed our minds. It was overcast and what were we going to do that day. It takes quite some time to get from the Maheno wreck to Hook Point and we were about two hours passed low tide.

We were told to turn left at the Jabaru, and there he was. He's a bit far from Darwin; he must like this spot.

We hadn't had any issues with the deep sand during the whole six days. Then a few hundred metres from the barge we sunk into very deep sand. All the other vehicles were going to the right of us, it was obviously much harder sand. One person stopped to help but Lindsay was in the middle of letting our tyres down some more, so didn't want to keep him. He thought we would be alright. We also dug out the sand in front of all the tyres. Had the diff locks on. We moved about one tyre rotation. Stop. Dug the sand out again, tried again, one rotation and stop.  We had to take it in turns to shovel the sand as it was hard work. Repeat, stop, repeat stop. Crap. So we emptied the water out of the camper. By this stage, Lindsay was digging with the shovel and I was using my hands. The tide was starting to come in and we were only a metre from the water's edge! Lightening our load helped and we finally got going. When we got to the barge there were two caravans there, it was embarrassing, how on earth did they get through?

One of the northern beaches

I never knew these grew in the wild like this
When we came off the Island we went to a high pressure car wash in Rainbow Beach that cleans the underside of the car with high pressure jets. We also did the camper. They remove 20 truckloads of sand a year from their tanks and never reuse the water.

We stopped off in Narrabri on the way home. It was so cold in the morning that we skipped having a shower or even having breakfast. The plan was to wait a couple of hours for the temperatures to rise a little bit. An hour later we checked the outside temperature - it was minus 3°C! When it got to 11°C we had breakfast. By the time we got to Albury, Lindsay felt he was on the home stretch even though it there was at least another four hours to go. We got home after dark after doing 12,007kms that day. A huge storm greeted us in Melbourne and we had been driving against a head wind for most of the day.  A tree had fallen over blocking our route home and there wasn't enough room for us to turn the camper around, so Lindsay weaved his way through the trees to a side road that is just meant for the people who live there. He would have gone back to help everyone clear the tree with his chain saw but after doing that many miles, he was just too tired.

Up this way is Kondalilla National Park - about 50 minutes south west of Noosa

July 2018