Superlative

Trip Start Sep 08, 2011
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Trip End Jan 08, 2012


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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Monday, December 5, 2011

I woke up excitedly; Australia is a unique country/continent, full of flora and fauna not to be seen elsewhere. I'd already seen Uluru, The Bungle Bungles, The Great Barrier Reef – what could match that? Well, today was the turn of Fraser Island: the world’s largest sand island. Just to clarify, it’s an island made up entirely of sand. I can’t stress enough that there is no earth or soil, just... sand. How could I not be excited about it?

Fraser Island is 123km long and 22km wide. Its highest point is 244m and apparently extends to roughly 200m below sea level...and it’s all sand. The most shocking thing as you approach the island is how green it is. It’s covered in vegetation. Again, I can’t stress how mind blowing it is to see trees growing out of sand.

On arrival at the island, our tour party boarded the bus, a 4WD vehicle with the biggest tyres I’d seen, but the smallest seat. I was not the only one to sit in discomfort throughout the day. To add insult to injury, literally, there are no asphalted roads on the island; all the roads are sand tracks...deep sand tracks. On every bus, the driver would inform us that it was necessary to wear the seat belts or risk a fine, most passengers would be a bit blasť about it, but in this case after 10 seconds on the road, everybody belted up and stayed belted up all day. To quote Bette Davis in All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride." So bumpy, in fact, that after about 10 minutes on the road, we got a flat tyre.

It was a good news/bad news situation. Clearly the bad news was that we all had to get off the bus and wait for the tyre to be changed, which you might imagine was no easy task. We had to wait for 45 minutes. While on the bus we had been zipping through forests and I still couldn’t get my head around the fact that trees seemed to be growing in sand. It couldn’t be true; there must have been some earth around, at least a tiny layer. So, the good news was that I had the opportunity to see for myself what the ground was made of. At this point, I should add that the bus had broken down in the middle of a sub-tropical rain forest. A sub-tropical rain forest, I might also add, that was growing in sand. Yes, I checked and it really was sand. My mind couldn’t cope with that fact. I know I’m a city boy and all, but I was pretty sure that forests needed some earth to take root. Well, not here. In fact, we were told that a lot of the vegetation had adapted so well to life on the island that they wouldn’t survive if transplanted to 'proper’ earth.

Once the tyres had been changed and we were back on the road, we had to make up some time, so we skipped a comfort stop (another tick on the bucket list; I’d taken a leak in a rainforest on a sand island!), and headed straight for Eli Creek. In order to get to Eli Creek, you have to drive along the beach on the west coast of the island; a beach otherwise known as Seventy-Five Mile Beach (it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why). Of course, as all the ‘roads’ are sand tracks, it makes sense that you can drive along the beach, there’s even a speed limit – 80kph, meaning  if you adhered to the speed limit, it would take you over an hour to drive from one end of the beach to the other!

We sped along the beach at over 80kph, I’m sure. I suppose there was time to be made up after the flat tyre. The first stop, as already mentioned, was Eli Creek, which is a small stream that runs into the Pacific Ocean.  When we got off the bus, the first thing that struck us was how loud the ocean was. If I had little confidence in the water around Rotto, then there was no way I was going near this ocean. The waves were enormous as they broke against the coast. Fortunately, we were headed in the other direction. The cool thing about Eli Creek was that when you walked in it (it only ever reached about knee height), there was only sand underfoot– no stones, rocks or anything sharp. It was a cool feeling. When it was time to get back on the bus, we saw a dingo. My first (and probably only) dingo in the wild. Apparently the island has almost 200 of them living there, and they are supposed to be the purest bred of the species. Unfortunately for them, their numbers also seem to be dwindling, so I felt more than lucky to have seen one.

Next stop was the Maheno shipwreck. Australia is the home of so many shipwrecks that it was interesting to be able to see one that was still in the water. Nobody had died on it and quite why it was left there, I really don’t know, but having heard so many stories about shipwrecks in general and then to see this one and the force of the sea next to it, it became all too clear why so many ships had run into trouble off the Australian coast. One curious fact about it, was that during WWII, the shipwreck was used as target practice by the RAAF. In that time they dropped over 200 bombs and only managed to score two direct hits.

Seeing a tropical rain forest on the island was wild enough, but things got wackier still when we got to Coloured Sands. It has been reported that there are 72 different colours of sand on the island; at the Pinnacles (Coloured Sands), the sand had been sculpted by the sea into a cliff face! Despite how real it looked, it couldn’t be touched because, naturally, it would have just crumbled. It was amazing. If I hadn’t been told that it was made out of sand (I hate to keep going on about that, but I can’t help it), I would never have believed it.

Then it was off to a hotel for lunch and my first bowl of soup in 2 months! God, how I missed soup! After lunch, we went for a short walk through the rainforest. It was virtually the same as the rainforest in Daintree, but for one or two differences – the sand (of course), and the fact that there was a stream running through it that was completely silent. Not a sound. This was because the bed of the stream was ... (you guessed it) sand, and so caused no friction for the water to splash against, hence the silence! No rocks, no noise.

All day there’d been a couple who were clearly Spanish. What I wasn’t sure about was that I thought I heard them speak in Catalan from time to time. But it was always in passing. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I approached them asking them, in English, where they were from. “Barcelona,” they replied. – “Barcelona, Barcelona?” I pressed – “Well, a town very close.” – “Vivo en Terrassa,” I said – “Alaa, somos de Mollet!” My first Catalans on this trip! Ah, it was good to talk about home for a bit. It turned out that they were on holiday in Australia for just 3 weeks (they were leaving the next day). In those three weeks, they’d done almost the same as I would be doing in three months! They looked and sounded exhausted. No wonder.  

Finally we came to the highlight of the day: Lake McKenzie. Lake McKenzie, basically sits on a decapitated sand dune. All the water comes from rainfall and is purified by the sand. According to the guides, the water in Lake McKenzie was among the purest in the world. And of course, it was perfectly safe for swimming, as it had no contact with the sea in any way, there was nothing in the water to worry about. I didn’t need a second invitation and rushed down to the lake and jumped in the water. It was beautiful! One of the oddest things was that you could see quite well under the water without the aid of goggles. That’s how clean it was.

Unfortunately, time was up and we had to go home. It was time to leave the largest sand island, the smallest bus seats, the cleanest water, the most amazing sand sculpture, the purest breed of dingoes and the wackiest rainforest behind. Fortunately the day was rounded off in the best possible way; dolphins playing by the ferry in the Great Sandy Strait. It had been a very good day.
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