Sand in our sandwiches

Trip Start Aug 16, 2005
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48
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Trip End Apr 14, 2006


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Where I stayed
Kingfisher Caravan Park, Tin Can Bay
Rainbow Holiday Village, Rainbow Beach
Eurong Beach Resort, Fraser Island
friend's house, Buderim
Pine Ridge Caravan Village, Runaway Bay

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Friday, February 10, 2006

Continuing to head south we paused our journey at the little town of Childers. Childers used to be a backpacker stop because of seasonal farm work but was otherwise unknown. However in 2000, a local nutter with a grudge against backpackers set fire to the hostel and 15 young people (mainly British and Swedish) died. It didn't help that there weren't any smoke alarms or decent fire escapes. We spent a long time at the memorial which included photos and messages from friends and relatives.

We were headed for the tiny and out of the way resort of Tin Can Bay, for the same reason most people come here - to hand feed two dolphins that visit the harbour every morning, pretty much without fail. We didn't realise at the time but the dolpin feeding was in the middle of a local controversy - an MP was trying to stop it in a knee-jerk reaction and had just backed down. We did think it was strange that amid all the 'keep the wildlife wild' initiatives, this free activity took place. However, the feeding is carefully monitored (the dolphins are given just 10% of their required daily food) and only 10 people are allowed in the water at one time. We managed to push past the children and get almost to the front of the queue. With one fish each in our little buckets we waited to be called in to the sea. We waded in waist deep, formed a line and 'Mystique' swam slowly down in and gently took the fish from our hands. It was a lovely experience and Darren had the honour of getting squirted by her as she expelled sea water from her blowhole.

Our next stop was the village of Rainbow Beach, which sounds nicer than it is. We had a day to kill before our trip to Fraser Island, so visited Carlo Sandblow before installing ourselves as permanent features of the campsite swimming pool. A sandblow is basically a big sand dune that has got out of control, started moving inland and is swallowing up fully grown forest, leaving the odd skeleton trunk sticking out. There are lots of sandblows along this section of the coast, which has the fab name of the 'Great Sandy National Park'. As you would expect we got very intimate with the sand during our three days in the area - we wined with it, dined on it, and took it to bed!

We took a two day 4WD tour to Fraser Island - the largest sand island in the world (125 km long and 30km wide). Our 4WD vehicle was not at all what we had imagined - it was a coach, but looked like a lorry at the front. Still, we all got a turn to sit in the cab with the driver as the vehicle careered along the beach at 100kph, which was good fun. The waters around Fraser Island are too dangerous to swim in (teeming with sharks and nasty currents) but luckily there are loads of freshwater lakes that are deliciously refreshing to take a dip in. Our first stop was Lake Wabby and after the 45 minute trek through forest and over a huge sand blow, getting into the cold emerald green water was sooooo nice! The sand blow is encroaching on the lake so fast that it is estimated the lake will have disappeared completely in 50 years. In Lake Wabby there were hundreds of little fish that if you sit still for more than 5 seconds come and have a nibble at your skin. Darren couldn't cope with them, but Angie, whose back was peeling a little, made full use of their tickly service.

On Fraser Island we were harassed by evil March flies - these are huge flies (the equivalent of a horse fly, but a gigantic oz version) and they like to bite, but being so big they are slow and relatively easy to give a good whack if you spot them in time.

(Angie:)
I took a scenic flight over the island as a little birthday treat, and got some great views along 75 mile beach, over the inland lakes and across the miles of rainforest - strange when you think that they are all growing on sand. Fraser Island was logged before it became a National Park. In particular, huge Satinay trees (a waterproof timber) from here were used to rebuild the London Docks after WW2 and to line the Suez canal. The best part of the flight was looking down into the ocean and seeing manta rays. Hurray! At last! Not quite as close as I wanted, but their distinctive dark shapes were clearly visible.

After looking around the Maheno shipwreck - a liner which ran aground in 1935 and lies rotting atmospherically on 75 mile beach - we arrived at India Head, a granite outcrop that offers great views. We saw another Manta Ray and turtles aplenty from the viewpoint. Darren finally lost his sunglasses for good (3rd time unlucky!), which dropped off his head when he was sitting on the edge of the cliff. Luckily he didn't reach out to grab them. However, having had them returned from a glacier and a Fijian beach, we half expected a diver to appear on the beach asking if anyone had lost some sunglasses.

Fraser Island has an important population of dingos which are pure bred, having not mixed with dogs as on the mainland. However, the dingos are becoming agressive pests around picnic areas. All the warning signs made us almost as scared of them as we were of cassowaries. That and the fact that in 2001 a nine year old boy was mauled to death. We didn't get to see any wild dingos unfortunately (we had given up on the resort bar by the time they made their nightly visit), or any Brumbies - the wild horses on the island.

On our second day we walked through Picabeen (a type of palm) forest alongside a creek so pure that we filled our drinking bottles from it. We saw a small population of giant ferns, some of which are 1500 years old. This is an ancient species of fern which shared the earth with dinosaurs.

Our Fraser island guide was an informative and knowedgable local called Roachy. He had a bee in his bonnet about cigarette butts. There are hundreds littering Fraser's beauty spots and he attributes them mainly to backpackers. They leak out their deadly tar and chemicals into the water supply. It caused us to pick up 50 butts at one of the lakesides in disgust. He also had a thing about Fraser Island rangers 'with their lies and deceit', but it was great to have such a passionate guide.

Our last stop was the scenic but overcrowded Lake Mackenzie. It felt like we were on the shores of the Mediterranean. Fraser's most popular lake has deep blue water at a perfect temperature, surrounded by white silicon sand. It is a perched lake - water has accumulated ontop of a layer of leaves and silt and therefore doesn't seep into the sand.

On the evening of Angie's birthday it was a full moon but we could find no parties in the little village we were in. Instead we did some star gazing (we've learnt a new constellation - the Southern Cross) and Darren saw his first shooting star. We were in bed by 9.30 - Angie's earliest birthday bedtime in many a year!

We managed to get out of the van for a couple of days visiting a old friend of Angie's Mum, and his wife. They had a lovely house on a hilltop with views from the roof terrace over the Sunshine Coast. We were treated royally with an air conditioned bedroom, loads of food, endless flowing wine and even a meal out at the local surf club. It was hard to leave the luxury and go back to cramped van living. During our stay we visited Underwater World, the largest oceanarium in the southern hemisphere. We had a great time watching the rays being fed, holding a sea cucumber (it was a black spiky type we have seen loads whilst snorkelling but they are surprisingly soft and silky to the touch), learning how intelligent otters are (they are real escape artists), and watching seals dive and play underwater.

After long negotiations with the van hire company, we managed to swap vehicles as we passed through Brisbane. Our new van has all its windows, does about a third more kms to the tank and, joy of joys, has air-con! It's a bit late considering we have done 90% of our journey and are in much less muggy climes, but it's still appreciated. We parked up for the night at a 'Relocatable homes' holiday village. A lot of the caravan parks we've stayed at have had a significant proportion of permanent residents in decidely unrelocatable accomodation - most of the caravans have solid extensions, carports and from the plants growing up around them don't look like they've moved anywhere for a long time. It's a fascinating lifestyle and we've been trying not to stare!

We entered what is know as the Gold Coast. This an area over massive over developement where the bush has been hacked back to build tower blocks, shopping malls and luckily for us, loads of theme parks. We had a choice of Wet 'n' Wild (done that), Sea World (been there), Movie World (poor man's disney?) or Dreamworld - a proper amusement park - bang on! We'll have some of that.

From miles around you can see a 120m tall thin structure which we figured must have something to do with the world's highest free fall ride, 'The Giant Drop'. Angie started to get a bit nervous. We headed first for the huge rollercoaster, and ticked off one of the big five rides in the park immediately. Another was 'The Claw' which made everyone scream like a big girl (see video clip). But we left the two scariest rides to last. By this time, Angie had had plenty of time to watch the 'Tower of Terror' and 'The Giant Drop' doing their stuff and was feeling like she might chicken out. Darren was having none of it and knew he had to be cruel to be kind. After queueing for over an hour we finally found ourselves strapped into the Giant Drop. 8 people sit on a row of seats perched on the edge of a platform, which rises sedately up the tower for 38 storeys. The view was great but it was hard to appreciate it. After hanging there for what seemed like ages we felt something go. It was us, hurtling towards earth at 135kmp/h and pulling 4.5Gs. Darren thought he would like the ride after trying similar ones in the UK, but was unprepared for the fear of falling in this way - you feel like you are losing your seat from under you. He thought it was worse than doing a skydive! Angie however loved it (Darren always knows best).

With adrenalin pumping we went on 'Tower of Terror'. This is a car that accelerates from 0-180kpm/h in under 3 seconds (leaving you breathless, literally) along a horizontal track which curves sharply up the same tower that the Giant Drop uses so the car then travels vertically up. It seems to hang in the air as it loses momentum 2/3rds of the way up and then plunges back down the track so you do the rest of the ride in reverse. This was a great ride and as soon as we got off we ran back round to do it again (the queues having died down by this point). We also had time to visit the small water park (Angie screamed more on the toboggan slide than any other ride), watch an Imax film on Indian Tigers and see the end of a live Tiger show. We even squeezed in another go on the 'Giant Drop' which was more scary when you know what's coming.

That evening we headed over the border leaving Queensland to explore northern New South Wales for our last 10 days with the camper van.
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