18.04.2013 30 °C
We were both looking forward to Fraser Island, it is one of the highlights of the trip. Fraser Island was created by over 800,000 years of drifting sands and is one of the world’s ecological wonderlands Known as G’Kari, or paradise, by the local Aboriginal people, this world heritage listed sand island attracts anglers, campers and all lovers of the natural world. It is hard to grasp the size of the island at 120km (75 miles) long and covered with lush rainforest , staggering beautiful beach and mineral-rich pools of fresh water all sitting on top of a pile of sand. Some of the sandblows (dunes) reach up to 200 metres high and the surrounding ocean is shark-infested which means no swimming! There are sharks, whales and dolphins up the East side and reported saltwater crocodiles up the West side.
I did some research online to figure out the best way to get onto Fraser Island without being ripped off. There are 3 separate ferries and barges that take vehicles across to the Island. The best option by far is the Matra Ray Barge which crosses from Inskip Point to the southern tip of the island, the crossing is only 10 minutes and costs $100 return for 1 vehicle plus 2 adults ($75 on a Sunday). It’s locally run and by far the best deal. The other services are run by large corporations who can charge up to $250 return! I also got some advice on how to approach the barge on the beach as depending on where the tide is it can be several hundred metres of sand driving before you get the barge ramp!
Only 4x4 vehicles are allowed on the Island with enough clearance underneath to handle the deep sand and ruts. Let your tyres down to 15 to 20psi to gain more traction in the sand. This will be the first time either of us have driven on Sand so we’re not quite sure what to expect. I’ve done a lot of off-road driving in the past but never much on sand so this is going to be a steep learning curve!
We prepared beforehand and gathered enough supplies to last us a week or more on the Island. There is no drinking water on the island, any water you do use from taps needs to be boiled before drinking. There is fuel and some supply shops but they are very expensive so best to take what you can onto the island. We loaded up with 70 litres of water, as much food as we could store and keep cool in the 12 volt fridge and towel cooler and filled two external Jerry cans with Diesel bringing the total to 120 litres of Diesel… that should do, now for the ferry crossing!
The crossing on the Matra Ray barge went well and we were on the Island. The barge drops you on the southern tip beach of Fraser and you need to drive a fair way up the beach before you hit the first major centre which has various tracks going inland. Because it was just coming off high tide the route was blocked so we waited in a line of vehicles for the tide to drop so we could progress. It’s important to have an up to date copy of the tide times as much of the beach can be unpassable or dangerous during high tides and there is a chance you could get cut off by the rising waters, I’ve seen too many photos already of stranded vehicles in the sea and don’t want our beloved truck to end in the same fate!
Once the tide dropped enough we all headed off up the beach in a long convoy. It was all going well until the first beach wash out crossing and I chose the wrong line, not seeing the subtle darkening of the water ahead and drove down a deep hole. We got out the other side just, vehicle first dropping then bouncing up out the other side as I frantically applied power. The roof rack took the worst of it, already weak where it attaches to the vehicle and overloaded with water and fuel it literally jumped off its anchoring feet clean into the air and landed with thud. Everything was still on top just moved forward about 6 inches... OK time to take it easy until we get the hang of this. The roof rack needed repairing but we decided to carry on carefully until we could get to a quiet to work on it.
We were driving up this magnificent beach that seemed to stretch into the distance for ever, the deep green Pacific sea crashing in white foam on the long shallow beach which seemed to stretch for some distance and the white sandy landscape of the island with low slung green bushes and far off view of larger hills (sand blows) covered in rainforest. It was a magnificent and surreal experience driving for what seemed like forever up this never ending beach scape, passing occasional trains of 4x4 vehicles curving and bending their way down the beach trying to keep the more solid sand and void incoming waves crashing on the beach… several times it felt like I was in a Mad Max movie watching these trains of far off intrepid vehicles slowly getting closer!
We wanted to camp up by a fresh water lake on the first night so headed inland on one of the scenic marked tracks on the map which passes by three inland lakes before returning in a long loop to the eastern beach. The scenic track is about 15 miles long in total and rough with large exposed tree roots and steep narrow gorges. We went very slowly as the roof rack was still loose, I could even feel the load moving on top of the vehicle as I eased the motor slowly over the ruts and roots. We had our first deep water crossing on the track as it ran along the side of a lake which had been swollen by the recent rain overflowing onto the road. We hesitated after scouted the water, it came nearly up Tony’s waste in one part, fearing we would lose the vehicle to the lake if we didn’t make it. After figuring the best route to avoid the deep holes we decided to give it a go and I climbed in and drove at the water keeping a high speed and plenty of power in the engine to create a bow wave in front which helps keep the engine compartment dry. We made it and I got water in my door window it came up so high.
After passing the 3 lakes; Lake Boomanjin, Lake Benaroon and Lake Birrabeen it was getting dark so we headed for Central Station which was deep in the rainforest near the centre of the island and was remarkably quiet when we arrived. There is a Rangers station here but we couldn’t see any lights or activity and there was little sign of any other people around apart from the odd tent and vehicle we could see deep in the campsite. Very quiet!
We stayed 2 nights at Central, mainly because we wanted a quiet place we could fix our roof rack before the whole thing came off in a heap on some pot hole or root and it was a lovely spot under the high canopy of the rainforest. It took us a day to fix it up but we felt it was good enough to hold for the trip, we even strapped the roof rack to the chassis down the side of the vehicle with long tie straps!
Camping in the rainforest we saw many birds including the red and yellow tailed Black-Cockatoos, magpies and the Crested Pigeon amongst others and there are huge White-Belied Sea Eagles near the coast with 2 meter wing spans. On the ground the biggest things are Dingos, Bandicoots and large Goanna lizards. The Dingos on Fraser are the purest breed in Australia and look marvellous with their bushy tails and long ears but they are also dangerous and there are many of them. Unfortunately a 9 year old boy was killed in 2001 by Dingos so you have to be wary on your own and make sure all food and rubbish is tied up and put in the vehicle at night. The Goannas are an eye opener, they are large lizards, looking like some sort of dragon dinosaur and they come around the campsites during the day scavenging. They usually patrol around the campsite doing orbits hoping to snuffle up some scraps. The creatures can reach up to 1.5 metres in length head to tail and have large feet which make quite a noise as they brake twigs and scuffle slowly around you, one even snuck up behind me when I was sitting in my camp chair quietly reading my book. Neither of us saw each other until he was under my chair – I looked back to find the ancient monster nearly under my seat, we both got startled and he scurried off into the bush at a great pace, they can really move when they want to!
We successfully repaired the roof rack and headed off up the east coast beach to explore the North of the Island where it gets more remote and quiet. It was Easter and quite busy in the Island with many intrepid families all stuffed into these serious 4x4 vehicles all kitted out with full camping gear, some even had hot showers setup in little standing tents! The east side of the Island has a 75 mile beach stretching the entire length and used as the main highway so we headed up and stopped at some sights on the way including a ship wreck on the beach which had been abandoned in 1920’s after running aground in a storm. It is a steam passenger cruiser and lucky all souls made it to safety on the beach after it ran aground. You also had a keep a keen eye out for planes landing on the beach!
We stopped at Indian Heads near the top of the 75 mile beach. The only rocks on Fraser Island are found up here with several rocky heads reaching out into the sea and Indian Heads is the biggest.
Just beyond Indian Head is the Champaign Pools, the only safe sea bathing spot on the Island protected inside rock pools splashed and refilled by Ocean waves. We both got our swimmers on and joined the rest of the people jumping around in the salt water pools, it was lovely to cool down during the hot day and also clean the mozzie wounds in the antiseptic sea water!
Apart from Mozzies you need to watch for Sandflies and large blood sucking flies with big green eyes, which look like Horse Flies and hurt once they get a chance to settle on you and start feeding.
We spent 2 nights at Waddy Point just past Indian Heads, a lovely green gorge running down to the sea protected by the local rocky heads and full of wildlife. We camped in one of the fenced off Dingo safe camping areas along with other campers. We got visited by Bandicoots during the night who dug up a load of soil next to our tent and we saw lots of birds. The Sandflies were quite bad though so it was a relief to leave after 2 days. Sandflies are incredibly small, smaller than midges which make them hard to even see and they make your skin itch like hell with their consistent biting.
After Waddy Point we headed North hoping to get to Sandy Point, the most northern remote tip of the Island. We were warned that the track up is dangerous and may be unpassable in places. There are many outcroppings of dark chocolate coloured rocks on the Beach called Coffee Rocks and when you can’t find a way over the rocks you have to take short inland bypass tracks to get around. These tracks can be difficult with very deep sand and often steep inclines over dunes.
And on the first inland bypass track we got bogged for the first time! We had forgot to remove the spare tyre from underneath the back of the motor which dragged and slowed us down as we drove through a hollow of deep sand promptly stopping and bogging the vehicle. We managed to get ourselves out after digging sand from underneath the vehicle and placing the spare wheel on the roof then slowly rocking the vehicle forwards then backwards to flatten and compact the sand. We made it passed this time with lots of momentum and the engine working flat out to churn through the deep sand. The whole day was full of excitement like this as we worked our way slowly up to Sandy Point. What fun! it was exhilarating to finally make it through and reach the far remote tip of the Island.
Sandy Point is noted as remote and has no facilities at all, there are few people and no mobile reception at all so you have to be careful not to have any accidents as it’s a good day of rough driving (when the tide is low) to get for any help. But with the remoteness comes the beauty of this part of the Island.
We camped at remote Sandy Point for 4 nights, right up high on the beach above the recent high tide mark. We hardly saw anyone apart from a group of campers who arrived for 2 nights and setup just down the beach from us. This was the perfect spot to view any Whales, Dolphines or Sharks passing in the water in front of us and we also saw large groups of migratory birds resting out on the shallows of Sandy Point. We regularly saw dolphins working their way up the beach close in to shore, one came about 5 meters from Tony standing in the shallow water! What a spectacularly beautiful place. We still had enough supplies remaining with plenty of Diesel in the two roof Jerry cans. Food was running down and we’d used up all our fresh food and were down to cans and good old sliced white bread which seems to last forever! Water was running down but didn’t quite get to Blackadders urine drinking stage … Although Tony started on his before the water ran out saying he preferred it!
After the 4th night at Sandy Point we had been on the Island for 10 days with no showers and often no toilets, supplies were also dwindling so we packed up camp and started our journey back down the Island to the Barge. It would take us at least another nights camping to get off the Island maybe more. I managed to bog the vehicle again on way down negotiating a passage over the coffee rocks on the beach and got the out-riggers jammed against a rock whilst my back axle was stuck on a rock and I couldn't get enough traction to pull out forwards. Luckily we got towed out forward by a big Patrol that was coming up the track!
We made our way back down the East side of the Island with no major dramas and caught the Barge back to Inskip point then headed to Marybrough about 60 miles up the coast to find a Caravan Park with hot showers and mains power. It was a relief to get off the Island after 11 days of camping but we had the most amazing experience. I thought overall it was more controlled than I had expected with Rangers keeping a close eye on everyone but then I guess it has to be to manage all the visitors and maintain the wildlife and unique environment. It was certainly breathtaking experience and I highly recommend it to anyone.