We’ve just had a really fantastic three days on Fraser Island, and we wanted to write about it while it’s still fresh in our minds – so this morning we’re having a lazy morning at the holiday park in Hervey Bay, Chris is doing laundry and pottering around while I write this, and then we’ll carry on this afternoon.
From Banana we spent a day driving down to Hervey Bay, via Biloela, Calliope and Bundaberg – we considered stopping in Bundaberg to go on a tour of the rum distillery, but it was a bit miserable and raining, and we decided to just get the driving out of the way and get to Hervey Bay. I started looking through the list of holiday parks and there were absolutely loads in Hervey Bay, so in the end we just chose one because we liked the address – Denmans Camp Road – and got here just before dark. It’s a lovely little place, one of the nicest we’ve stayed at, and they’ve got a pool and hot tub, so once we’d parked up we grabbed our swimming cossies and went straight over to the hot tub for the last half hour before dark. While we were in there, another couple came in and joined us, and we got chatting to them and found out they were an English couple travelling for a year on Working Holiday Visas, and she’s a hairdresser – Chris has been thinking for a couple of weeks that he could do with a haircut, so she very kindly agreed to cut his hair in the morning before they left!
We woke up the next morning to bright sunshine, which was a relief after the rainy day we’d had the day before – we’d been starting to think Fraser Island might not be so much fun in the rain! We went over and chatted to this couple while she cut Chris’s hair, sitting on a camping chair outside their campervan. Then we said goodbye to them and walked down the road – we’d seen a church there the night before and decided we’d go there in the morning, as it was Sunday. It wasn’t a huge success, in the end, as it wasn’t an Anglican church and the service was a bit on the heavy Americanised preaching side, rather than a normal Communion service, so that turned out not to have been a great choice! We snuck away straight afterwards rather than staying for a cup of tea, and had a lovely time for the rest of the day – we walked from the holiday park down to the beach, and walked along it for a couple of hours looking into rock pools and ambushing crabs that were digging holes just below the high tide mark, and then we walked back along the road and stopped for a coffee at a little cafe, and then we came back to the holiday park and went for a swim in the pool – it was a lovely lazy day to contrast all the driving we’d been doing.
At 3pm we went off to the 4WD hire company to have our mandatory safety briefing – the rules are quite a lot stricter for Fraser Island than they were 10 years ago when I was last here, and now all hire vehicles must have 8 passengers or less, no luggage on the roof, and all drivers have to watch a safety DVD and have a briefing that includes some tips on 4WD driving and general information about driving on the island. We’d booked with Fraser Dingo 4WD Hire, and I think they were a great choice, actually – it’s a small company and the owner, Ashley, was the one doing the briefing and showing us round the vehicle, and he was full of useful information and ideas for while we were there. He gave us a folder full of information – maps, tide tables, information published by the National Parks Service about dingoes and other hazards on the island, our camping permit, vehicle permit and barge ticket, and also a personalised suggested itinerary that he’d put together based on tide times. You’re supposed to stay off the beach for two hours either side of high tide, and the tide times were really in our favour – low tide was between noon and 1 p.m. on all three days we were there, so we could be on the beach from about 10am till 4pm, which was brilliant. We did follow Ash’s suggested itinerary for the most part, as it made sure we would get to all the main sights with plenty of time to enjoy them.
We had a quick introduction to our vehicle – all his vehicles have names, ours was called Wombi and it was a Toyota Landcruiser painted white and green, with a queensize bed fitted instead of the back seats, and all the camping gear in boxes under the bed – camping stove, chairs, cooking stuff, everything we needed. I had a quick flick through the cooking stuff and decided what extras to bring from the camper, and Chris had a quick lesson from Ash about how to use the choke in the mornings when Wombi’s steel engine would take a while to warm up, and Ash drew us a map for when we got back, to show us where the petrol station and car wash were – and then we took the keys and said goodnight to Ash, and left Wombi there for the night while we went off to the supermarket to buy food for our three days on Fraser, and then spent the last night at the holiday park.
In the morning we were up early for our last shower for three days and then drove over to the hire office, and transferred all our stuff from the camper to Wombi. We’d bought a box of red wine (no glass to bounce around!) and a couple of big containers of water, and we also took our hiking boots, clothes, a few extra cooking bits and pieces, and our duvet from the van – we didn’t take our pillows as those were included in the equipment with Wombi, but we massively regretted that decision that night, when we grabbed the pillows and realised they were inflatable ones! In the end Chris went without and I made a pillow out of my clothes, but we missed our pillows from the van! Anyway, once all our stuff was packed, we headed out to the barge 15km away (via a quick coffee stop for Chris, who didn’t know where his next latte might be coming from!) We got to the barge and went into the ticket office to pick up the tickets and camping passes and everything that Ash had booked for us, and by then the barge was starting to load – we reversed on, along with another two or three vehicles, and we were off!
On the barge, we sat and read through the folder of information, which was full of everything from tips on how not to get stuck in soft sand, to reminders that the beach is designated a highway and road rules still apply, to instructions about what to do if a dingo approaches you (‘Stand tall, cross your arms and maintain eye contact – do not run away. If attacked, defend yourself aggressively – you are fighting for your life.’) They had an incident a few years ago where a 9-year-old child was killed by a dingo, and they take the dingoes very seriously, there are signs everywhere warning people to keep their children close, and to walk everywhere in groups and carry a stick to defend yourself if you need to.
Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and is World Heritage-listed, and is full of amazing phenomena that are found either nowhere else or in very few places – lakes perched on sand dunes, scribbly-gum forest growing on sand, amazingly clear creeks running down to the sea, and the crowning glory of 75 Mile Beach, a huge, long, straight beach running down the east coast of the island, which is used as the main road for getting around. There are also inland tracks to various lakes and across the island, which are all sand, and pretty rough going – everywhere on the island is 4WD-only, from the minute you get off the barge. There are a couple of small settlements, fenced in with electric grids to keep out the dingoes – Eurong, the main settlement, even has a stretch of sealed road, so you have to change back to 2WD just to go through there! There are a few private campsites and accommodation places, a few holiday rentals, and a few National Parks campsites, all of which are fenced. At the main points of interest, there are loos and sometimes fenced picnic areas managed by the National Parks. Apart from that, it’s a huge landscape of rainforest and sand, with camping zones all along the beach where you can camp wherever you like. There are a few tour buses around, as a lot of people see the Island via 1-day or overnight tours – the 4WD buses are pretty impressive! There are also people in self-drive hire vehicles, and the in-between ‘tag-along tour’, where you drive your own vehicle but as part of a convoy, with a tour guide driving the lead vehicle and setting the itinerary. We were really glad to be under our own steam – we were really lucky with the weather and the tides, but also really lucky to be here at quite a quiet time of year, I think, as we felt almost on our own a lot of the time – sometimes on the inland tracks we’d go an hour without passing another vehicle, and even on the beach we were driving alone most of the time. At the lakes and creeks, we were often either on our own or with just one or two other people – it was amazing.
The first day, when we got off the barge and engaged 4WD, we went bumping off along the inland track across the island to Central Station, which is a big campsite and picnic area, and the starting point for lots of different walks. We went for a walk along a boardwalk over Wangoolba Creek, which has amazingly clear water – looking down from the boardwalk, you could almost be looking just at a sandy bottom, until something moves and causes a ripple and you see the water! From there, we bumped further along the road to Eurong. It was only 10km, but distances are funny things when you’re bashing along a 4WD track – it took us at least half an hour, and it didn’t improve our speed when we swapped seats so I could have a go at driving! I enjoyed it, but actually I was having just as much fun as the passenger, so once I’d had my 10 minute go I handed back to Chris and just enjoyed bumping around while he drove. He did a great job of driving while we were there – he’s done some off-road driving before (most recently for his stag do, which he was talking about a lot this week!) and he knows what he’s doing, so I felt very safe in the car, even when it was a bit bumpy or tilty!
We drove through Eurong (stopping to change to 2WD for a few minutes, and then back again!) and got onto the beach at Eurong, and headed north. Driving on the beach was amazing – the hire contract says you’ve got to stay out of the salt water, so we were driving a bit further up the beach on the hard sand, although we occasionally saw that people with their own vehicles were driving through the shallow waves or even parking on the wet sand to go fishing! It’s such a long, straight beach with white sand and blue waves, and it was so sunny, it just looked like a postcard the whole time. We took our time and enjoyed the drive, and pulled over to let faster vehicles overtake us a few times – some of the tour buses scream around the island at a crazy speed, presumably trying to fit in all the sights in one day! As you drive along the beach you cross lots of fresh-water creeks running down into the sea – most of them just feel like cattle grids as you drive over them, but one or two had big wash-outs at the sides, and had to be negotiated more carefully.
We stopped at Eli Creek – we actually drove past it the first time, as we were expecting to see lots of vehicles parked there, and there was nothing there! We came back and parked up, and got changed into our swimming cossies, and walked down the boardwalk over the creek to the end, where you can get in to go swimming. I got into the water – which was freezing! – and started swimming down the creek, which was flowing really fast, it was like a lazy river at a waterpark! Chris dipped a toe and didn’t fancy the cold, so he wandered back along the boardwalk taking photos, till I floated out at the end of the creek where it comes out towards the sea. I had enjoyed it so much I persuaded Chris to come back and do it again with me! So we left our clothes and shoes at the bottom, and ran back up the boardwalk to the top, and floated down together. When we got back, we splashed around in the creek for a while, and then got out and took off our wet cossies, and hung them on the rails of the boardwalk for a while to dry – there was still no one else around, so we got dressed at the side of the car, and were just about ready to leave when two tour buses pulled in! We drove a bit further up the beach to the wreck of the Maheno, which is right on the beach, rusting away – we parked on the beach and walked over to it and took some photos, and waved at what must have been a stag party, all parked on the side of the beach and sitting in their camping chairs drinking and waving at everyone who went past, all in fancy dress as superheroes!
We were planning to camp that night at one of the National Parks campsites at Dundubara, as we couldn’t drive on the beach till 10 the next morning, and there was a walk starting at Dundubara that we could do before then. So we carried on driving up the beach till we got to the campsite, and then went in – it was a big place, with lots of quite private sites with picnic tables and plenty of trees between them, and a big amenities block with showers and loos, and some washing-up sinks, and gas BBQs to use. We parked up in a nice sheltered corner, and put up a washing line to hang up our cossies and sarongs, and then unpacked the cooking stuff onto the picnic table and made supper. By 6pm when it got dark, we had finished eating and were exhausted and ready for bed!
We woke up early the next morning – no curtains in Wombi, so we woke up with the sun! We got up and got dressed, and put on our hiking boots, and went off for a walk up the Wungul Sandblow, behind the campsite. We took a stick with us, as Ash had said the walk is often full of spiderwebs, so Chris went ahead of us waving the stick to dislodge the webs across the path! We came out of the forest at the foot of the sandblow, which was utterly spectacular – a huge set of sand dunes, with amazing drifts and patterns blown across them by the wind. It was quite hard going walking up it in the soft sand, but worth it for the views back from the top! We noticed that there was a circuit walk from the other side of the sandblow, so we followed that for another hour or so back to the campsite. We’d been planning to have a quick bowl of cereal for breakfast, but we soon discovered I’d forgotten to pack the cereal, so we had to have bacon and eggs instead – shame! After breakfast we packed up and left the campsite just after 10, to drive up the beach as far as Indian Head.
Indian Head juts out over the sea and is as far north as we were allowed to go in our hire vehicle – I think there’s very soft sand north of there, we saw one group digging their vehicle out of the sand just past Indian Head. So we parked at the base of it – no other vehicles around – and started picking our way through unkempt paths up towards the top of the head. There were no signposts and the paths were overgrown, we felt as though we might be the first people there for ages! Of course, when we got to the top, there was a group from a tour bus who’d climbed the other side on the better-used path – but we enjoyed the illusion while it lasted! The group was leaving as we got there, so we were on the top on our own, and spent 15 minutes looking down into the sea trying to spot sharks or dolphins – we didn’t see any, but the view from up there was incredible.
We came down a different path over the rocks onto the beach, and there were a few more vehicles parked there by the time we got back – including a Swiss couple Chris had chatted to the night before, who are on a 2-year trip in their LandRover off-road camper, they travelled overland through Europe, the Middle East, India, and then had the vehicle shipped to New Zealand, and then to Australia – amazing trip, and to make it even more amazing, they’re travelling with their baby who was 3 months old when they left, and is now 18 months! The baby was having a wonderful time playing on the beach – I suppose Fraser Island is one giant sandpit, to an 18-month-old! We drove off down the beach, and I took a turn driving, as I hadn’t driven on the beach yet – it was great fun!
We made our way all the way back down the island, almost to the bottom of the beach, to Lake Wabby. We parked up at the start of the access road and made some lunch, and then realised it was a 2-3 hour walk to the lake from the beach, and would mean we wouldn’t be back in time to make camp before it started to get dark. So instead, we drove up an inland road to a closer access point, and walked down from there to the lake. We were one of only two vehicles in the car park, and we passed the others on the path, three American boys playing with a Frisbee – when we got to the lake, there was one other group right at the far end of the lakeshore, and the boys, and us – so it felt very uncrowded! Lake Wabby is incredible, it’s perched on the sand dunes, with the sand rolling steeply right down into the water, and you have to climb up and walk over the dunes to get to it. We left our hiking boots at the top of the dunes and walked down barefoot to the lake shore, and went for a swim, then lay in the sun for a while to dry off before we walked back. Absolutely amazing place.
We drove back down the inland road to the beach, and it came out in the middle of a camping zone, so we actually pulled right into a spot off the beach which we could reach directly from the road, thinking that in the morning we could head off up the road without having to wait till 10 am to drive on the beach. We parked with the back of the vehicle to the beach, so we could cook and eat out the back of the vehicle with an amazing view of the beach – it was beautiful. A bit annoyingly, just as it got dark, another vehicle pulled in and parked in the closest bay to us – a bit rude, really, as you could camp anywhere along the beach, so everyone obviously used a bit of common sense and didn’t park within view of anyone else – these guys must have been panicking as it got dark, and just stopped at the first place they saw. Anyway, we just pretended they weren’t there, and we were camping on the beach on our own! We hung up our things between some trees to dry, and made supper, and walked down onto the beach with a glass of wine. As it got dark, the mozzies came out, so we got into the front seats of the car to finish our wine and read for half an hour before bed – and while we were sat there, two dingoes came sniffing round the car! We watched them from the car, but we didn’t get any good photos – the light was so bad, and they were gone quickly. It made us a bit wary about going to the loo in the middle of the night, though! We switched on the headlights and went together, so one of us could watch out for dingoes while the other one had a wee!
I’d set my alarm to go off ten minutes before sunrise, so we could open up the hatch at the back of the vehicle, and lie in bed watching the sunrise over the beach. It was absolutely magical – so amazing, to camp right on the beach like that. We enjoyed the sunrise, and then snoozed for a bit, and then got up and made breakfast and were off on the inland road by 8 a.m. We followed the Central Lakes Scenic Drive, which wasn’t really very scenic as it was through forest the whole time! But it was a fun drive, very bumpy, and we didn’t see any other vehicles for ages.
We got to Lake McKenzie, which is the most famous and most visited lake on the island, and as we turned in, so did a tour bus – so we shrugged at each other and thought this would be one place that would be crowded. But actually, when we got there, the tour bus had unloaded at one end of the lake shore, and we were the only other vehicle in the car park – we wandered down to the lake at the other end, and walked away from where they were all swimming, and we had a stretch of beach to ourselves for the first half hour. It’s a beautiful place – fine white sand, making a really shallow sloping beach into the most incredibly clear freshwater lake, which seems to be made up of lots of shades of blue, as it gets slowly deeper – it’s just sand on the bottom, so it’s absolutely wonderful for swimming in, as well. We went for a swim, and then lay on the beach drying off in the sun and reading, until a group of rather chatty American women came down to our little private beach – we decided we’d had enough sun then, and packed up and wandered back to the car.
We thought we’d follow one of the other marked Scenic Drives, round the Southern Lakes, so we headed back to the beach (via a stop at Central Station to do our washing up!) and drove down to the south, to Dilli Village. We left the beach there and headed off on the inland track to Lake Boomanjin. We bashed along for ages, enjoying the drive and not passing a single other vehicle, and then had a bit of a mishap – we came to a patch of mud with a big puddle in the middle of it, and Chris went for the challenging drive, rather than the cautious drive, and aimed straight through the middle of it – and got stuck! He tried to reverse out, and got more stuck – so we both jumped out, and had a wander around the car, seeing how it looked, and having a bit of a giggle at our predicament… Somehow I didn’t feel like getting cross with Chris for trying to drive through the middle of a huge puddle, he looked so sheepish about it that I didn’t want to add to his distress! We had a look in the boot and found not much recovery equipment at all, except for a shovel and a bucket, so Chris started shovelling mud while I fetched sand to try to dry up the puddle – then we started collecting branches to lay under the wheels to get some grip to drive out. I think we probably would have got ourselves out eventually, but thank goodness, just at that point two vehicles came up from the other direction! They got out and we all had a good laugh about how stuck we were, and thankfully they had a rope with them – they were also on holiday, in their own vehicles, and had bought a tow rope specifically for Fraser Island, and were leaving that afternoon without having needed it – or so they thought! So they got out their brand-new tow rope, and towed us out very neatly and easily. We shook hands and left with no more damage than a slight bump to Chris’s pride – he felt a bit silly for getting stuck!
The people who towed us out had told us there was a big flooded stretch of road that they’d just come through from the other direction, so we decided we’d turn around if it looked bad – and when we got to it, it did look quite bad, so we turned round (via a quick stop at Lake Boomanjin, which is also flooded, so not much to look at as there’s no lake shore!) and came back down the road to the beach. We drove up towards Eurong and stopped on the beach to make some lunch – we sat on the tailgate to eat our sandwiches, and just as we finished packing everything up, a dingo came down out of the bush onto the beach, fifty metres away from us! We jumped in the car, and started taking photos from the safety of the car – it sniffed around just up the beach from us, and walked up and down, and stayed there for ages, so we got some good photos! We stayed and watched it until it eventually wandered back off into the bush.
By the time we’d been through Eurong for a coffee, some fuel and some postcards, it was time to head back across the island to the barge pick-up point at Wangoolba Creek. We waited while some foot passengers from one of the tour buses got onto the barge, then drove on with a few other vehicles, including a National Parks ranger who came over to ask us how our trip had been, and if we thought we’d had good value for money for the 4WD hire – we told him we really did, it was a fantastic three days and so nice to have our own transport. The ‘camper-cruiser’ idea was especially good, it was lovely not to have to pitch a tent, and we felt very comfortable and secure in the car.
By the time the barge landed back on the other side it was dark, so we drove back to Hervey Bay, and picked up the campervan – we drove both vehicles to a petrol station for the floodlights, and unpacked our gear from Wombi into the camper, then refuelled, and took Wombi off up the road to the car wash, where we spent a very amusing twenty minutes getting all the mud and sand off, before driving back down to the office where Ash was waiting to take the keys back from us.
We really had the most amazing time, we can’t believe how lucky we were with the weather – bright sunshine all three days – the tides, seeing dingoes, and everything being so uncrowded. It’s such a beautiful place, really like nowhere else in the world, and we just loved being there, hiking, camping and swimming, driving around on the beach and on the inland tracks – it was all so much fun! We got back last night exhausted, and had a shower and went straight to bed! This morning we’re heading down the road to Rainbow Beach, and then slowly starting to make our way towards Noosa and then Brisbane. Here’s hoping the weather holds – it’s another beautiful, sunny day today and we’re in shorts and t-shirts again. It doesn’t feel like winter yet!