Richard's Travels

Tales from the Southern hemisphere

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fraser Island

Due to getting the night bus, I arrived in Hervey bay very early in the morning. I was able to check into my hostel to get a couple of hours sleep before walking around. Hervey bay is a strangely non-touristy place compared with everywhere else I've seen on the east coast so far - it doesn't consist entirely of tour operators, travel agents and souvenir shops! Most people who come here have already booked a trip to Fraser island, so I guess these things aren't needed.

My day was spent walking along the very long beach, with a welcome lack of "no swimming, jellyfish" signs. After a walk along their 1.5km pier watching the locals fishing, I visited Vic Hislop's Shark Show. The owner, a local shark catcher, runs the place in an attempt to educate people about how dangerous sharks really are. According to him, the government covers up a lot of shark attacks because of the value to the tourist and film industry (apparently it costs $5000 to swim in a cage with great whites!). He has many pictures, shark jaws and videos of him catching sharks from a little beach. The one I liked the best was a video of him catching his 4th tiger shark of the morning, 300m from where a dive boat was anchored!

Later in the afternoon, we had to meet back at the hostel to sort out our groups for Fraser island. It became quickly apparent that as a driver I was in demand, as 2 groups almost couldn't go due to a lack of drivers! They like to send out each car with 3 drivers (over 21, held license for 2 years). The groups were showing what I'd noticed about lots of places in Australia - they are full of gap year students who are only 18 or 19. After watching briefing videos and sorting out our food, an early night was needed to recover from the overnight bus and prepare for getting up early in the morning.

On Wednesday morning, we assembled by our vehicles to collect all of our equipment. Our transport for the next 3 days would be a Toyota Landcruiser with an extra tall roof for our equipment. We were in a group of 11 people, 3 of us drivers. However, neither of the other 2 girls really wanted to drive, so it looked like I'd be the full time driver! After eventually fitting everything into the van and being shown all the little things like changing range, we departed for the ferry. Immediately I discovered that lower cars are much better than higher ones - even going round small corners this one felt like it would tip over! I wasn't looking forward to the offroad tracks on the island!

When we reached the island, we moved into 4wd mode to tackle the inland tracks of the island. We had to get across to the other side of the island in a fairly short time, as the amount of time we could drive on the beach was limited by the tides. To start with, driving was limited mainly by the cars in front, as we were all just learning. Once we all stopped off at Lake Mackenzie for a quick look (will mention more about this later), we headed back out onto more empty tracks. The speed limit for these tracks was 35km/h, which was very difficult to achieve! Additionally, some of the tracks leant over to the side quite dramatically, giving us a bit of a scare. However, we soon realised that we weren't in the worst vehicles on the island as we came across a Mercedes ML beached, blocking the single track. Of course the hire centres didn't think to equip us with tow ropes, so we spent ages (along with some other cars) trying to help push him out. Eventually a ranger turned up, and helped get the car unstuck (while grumbling that they weren't really supposed to be using their towropes for this - what do they carry them for then?). Unfortunately, this cost us too much time and we weren't able to reach our target destination before high tide. Instead, we stopped off at Happy Valley township for a drink, then drove upto Lake Garawongera for a bit of a swim.

As it got closer to the time when we were told it would be ok to go back on the beach, we restarted our journey northwards. Rather than visiting any more spots on the way to our destination, we decided to go straight there and set up camp to make full use of the daylight (the sun sets really early in Australia!). This went reasonably well, with everyone getting the tents up and starting cooking without any trouble. Dinner wasn't the most elaborate, and we began to regret blindly following the suggested recipes. Then again, many of our group weren't even used to cooking for themselves, let alone for 10 people! After the sun went down, we used the lights in the van to sit around drinking and playing cards for the rest of the night.

Once I'd gone to bed, things started getting a bit wierd. One of the blokes in our group, an 18 year old manc who had seemed really nice earlier, woke us up by shouting at one of the guys in my tent, who went out to see what the fuss was about, getting hit in the face for his troubles! At this point I went back to sleep, but when I got up in the morning I realised what exactly went on the previous night. After drinking about 3 litres of goon (cheap boxed wine), the guy couldn't find his lighter and decided that someone had stolen it. After waking quite a few people up, he fell on one of the tents (breaking it while there was someone inside), threatened a few people in our group and harassed one of the girls who locked herself in the car. In the morning it became very quickly apparent that noone wanted to continue with him in the group, so we agreed to take him over to the ferry and get rid of him.

Before making the trip over the island back to the ferry, we first went to visit the champagne pools, a set of rock pools and the only saltwater pools on the island. From the walk up to the champagne pools, you are supposed to be able to see sharks & dolphins in the sea on a clear day. Which it wasn't. In fact on the way back from there it started raining a lot, so much so that driving on the beach became quite scary due to lack of visibility! Fortunately the rain didn't last more than 30 minutes, so driving back over the inland tracks wasn't the nightmare I had envisioned. After getting rid of the guy at the ferry, the mood in the car picked up immensely, and we got back on with enjoying our trip. The afternoon was spent with a walk upto Lake Wabby, another lake surrounded by sand dunes. After climbing up the sand dune to see if there was any sort of spectactular view (nope!), running straight down into the lake seemed the only sensible thing to do. It would've been very good to have had a body board there, as sandboarding down the dune into the lake looked like it would be fun! In the evening we spent a lot of time deliberating about whether to cook dinner at our campsite, or go off in search of a fixed campsite with public BBQs. The latter option was eventually chosen, making life a lot easier than trying to cook all of our meat on our camp stoves.

For the final day of our trip, we decided to head back up the beach to get a look at a shipwreck on the beach which we'd driven past a couple of times, but not stopped at yet. It was from an old boat which had survived WW1 and had been retired, but was being towed over to Japan when bad weather struck. The wreck is actually on the beach and you can walk around the one side. After this, we headed back to Lake Mackenzie, the nicest lake on the island. Lake Mackenzie is the biggest lake on the island, and the water is so clear you can drink it. Probably one of the biggest tourist spots on the island, this was full of all the groups similar to ours, passing the time before catching the ferry back to the mainland. Once we'd finished here, our time on the island was over and we headed back to the hostel to hand everything back A pleasant surprise was that when we got back, the hostel gave us the deposit of the guy who'd gone crazy on us instead of keeping it to pay for the damage to the tent! Drinks were on him that night as he'd already left.


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