Australia - Hervey Bay / Fraser Island
Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
124Trip End Ongoing
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With the Greyhound to Hervey Bay leaving at 9:35 and us yet to return the hire car we were forced to get up at 6:45 to fit everything in. Bags packed and checked out, Andrew dropped Verdi off at the bus depot with the bags while he returned the car and was brought back to the bus station by the hire company.
The bus journey was one of the longer ones we had endured, at around 5 hours, but the time still went very quickly with much of the duration spent planning our future excursions and listening to our ipods.
We were supposed to arrive in Hervey Bay at 2:20 leaving us plenty of time to get to the Koalas hostel in time for our 3:00 briefing for Fraser Island. We started to get a bit concerned when the Greyhound trundled into the bus depot at 2:50 and even more concerned when the Koalas mini bus didn't pick us up until 3:10. The paperwork had warned us that trips could be cancelled if people were late for the meeting!
When we finally checked in at about 3:30 we were relieved to discover that lots of other people were also late and still had to check in so the meeting had been postponed for a while. The staff also laughed at the idle threat on the paperwork.
When the meeting finally did get underway we were split into groups and introduced to our travelling companions for the next few days. Our group (group A) consisted of; Vicki, Dave & Pete - three friends from Watford; Jamie, John and Nick - another three friends from Watford that happened to know the other three; Bergit & her sister Claudia - from Germany and finally Ronan - an ex-soldier from Israel...an eclectic mix to say the least. We were the oldest of the group and promptly tagged 'mum & dad'.
The rest of the meeting consisted of an information video and talk on Fraser Island and driving the 4x4, both largely consisting of a somewhat laborious list of 'do's & don'ts'. We also had to decide between ourselves what food and booze to order for the forthcoming trip, collect the money and go to the supermarket together to get most of it. (as none of it was included in the price of the trip!).
Everything organised we headed to the local fish and chip shop for dinner before returning to the room to pack our bags (only small daysacks allowed) for Fraser and then getting to bed at 10:30 in preparation for the ridiculously early start; 5:45am.
Day 2 - Australia Day
Arising at the ungodly hour of 5:15am we threw some clothes on, grabbed our luggage and met our group next to our transport for the next few days - a big, heavy 12 seater 4x4. As a group we then checked through our equipment; camping and cooking stuff, food and most importantly alcohol, and were then instructed on how to pack it all into the van so that it would all fit and wouldn't make the van so top heavy that it would roll on the sand dunes (PIC).
Another briefing followed, with further information of the driving techniques that would need to be adhered to and the protocol for preparing the van for different driving conditions. Andrew listened especially hard to this information, as he was to be the first driver (as it turned out he would be the driver for most of the time on the island). Once a few legal, paperworky matters were resolved Andrew drove the group to the ferry port and we were soon on our way to Fraser Island.
The ferry journey was a relatively speedy 40 minutes and allowed us a breath of fresh sea air on the open deck of the boat, the group took the opportunity to pose for a snap (PIC). Once we arrived Andrew drove the group to the first port of call, Lake McKenzie, a stunning paradise which left us all speechless - we were expecting some great lakes but we weren't prepared for what we saw (PIC).
We were soon stripped down to our bathers and in the cool fresh water of the lake - it made such a difference to swim in a salt-free lake where the water was so clean you could drink it - though the hundreds of other sweaty bodies that pass through it each day dissuaded us to fill up our drinks bottles!
Almost an hour passed with the group playing football and frisbee in the lake before we decided that we should probably move on and see what else the island had to offer - we could have easily spent the rest of the 3 day trip at Lake McKenzie.
The next stop was Lake Wabby, a smaller lake bordered by a huge sand dune that is gradually encroaching on the lake, making it smaller and smaller every year (PIC). The walk from the car park to the lookout over the lake was about 1km, a long way in the searing midday heat, so when we were presented with another 1 km walk to get to the lake we decided that we would leave it for another day. The return walk presented a huge goanna waddling along the same track - unfortunately the camera wasn't working at the time so there is no photographic evidence of how huge it actually was (the camera had earlier got some sand in it and had decided to freeze up - some panic and vigorous shaking managed to free it up - though not before the goanna had waddled off the track and into the bush).
We continued on our way out to the Eastern side of the island where the only stretch of drivable beach lies. This gives the opportunity to cover a greater distance at a respectable speed. The driving on the inland track only averages at about 10-15 mph due to the constantly uneven track, whereas the speed limit on the open beach is about 40 mph.
The route up the East beach provides some stunning views and some interesting features, such as a Maheno shipwreck; beached in 1935, and the Pinnacles; an amazing natural formation of coloured sandstone (PICS).
On reaching the northern section of the island we found an area to set up camp (PIC) and were joined by another three vans from the same tour group, Koalas.
Tents erected, we began the food preparation and started dipping into the beers - a welcome respite, and finally a chance to relax after the long day and early start. All of a sudden the rain began to fall, not what we wanted when trying to cook on an open stove! The cooking had to be postponed but Andrew and a few of the other lads decided that a bit of a downpour was no reason to stop enjoying the great outdoors so proceeded to take the football down to the flat sand for a spot of beach soccer (PIC).
Eventually the rain subsided and despite the night closing in rapidly the food had to go back on the camping stoves - we were all starving! The food took a while but turned out to be pretty good, even though it had been cooked from a frozen block and halted halfway through for an hour or so.
Another game of footy - night beach soccer this time (PIC), and some more beers, saw the evening draw in. We were later joined by a group of Aussie lads who knew a couple of our group from a previous Whitsunday's trip and with it being Australia Day we were soon celebrating along with them.
The night seemed to last a long time, especially with it getting dark at about 5:30pm and we retired to our beds at 9:30, leaving some of the lads in the group to carry on the 'celebrations' till gone midnight.
Our first night in a tent for years was a mixed affair. The first few hours were comfortable and we both slept quite well. The middle of the night however saw the two of us waking constantly and struggling with the hard floor, small travel pillows and occasional noises from outside creatures. Eventually we both had to venture to the 'en-suite' (Sand dunes) and Verdi spotted a dingo close by, just laying down on the opposite side of the van - probably full from all the BBQ scraps that had been left by the backpackers that night. The last few hours before we had to vacate the boiling hot tent, at 7am, were sufficient to give us another few hours sleep.
The appearance of the 4x4 full of sand, trash and dirty, greasy cooking equipment was almost enough to make us want to go back to bed but we soldiered on and took it all up to the nearby official campsite to wash the dishes and get some overdue showers.
Back at the camp we loaded the van and grabbed some breakfast with the rest of the group and then departed for our first destination - Indian Head. This is the most notherly point on Fraser Island that we could get close to by car. We still had to endure the long steep climb up to the peak to be able to gain the amazing views over the Pacific Ocean (PICS), and to try and spot some sea life. This area of Fraser is heavily Shark infested, mostly with Tiger sharks. We did briefly manage to see a couple of them, along with a couple of large rays 'flying' through the surf.
We then tried to move onto Champagne falls, an array of rock pools where the waves crash over the rocks and spray the people in the pools below. However, as these falls are beyond Indian Heads and are across very soft sand which will trap 4x4's much mroe capable than ours, the only way to reach them was a 3-4km walk each way. The time and effort this would have taken made the decision for the group - we wouldn't bother!
Instead we travelled down the beach and progressed inland to Lake Garawongera, a huge lake with woodland surrounding it and areas of rushes and water grasses growing in the middle. We descended upon a clear portion of the lake and whiled away an hour swimming in its warm waters and playing more football and frisbee.
The lake also has a picnic site within the woodland and we all decided to eat our picnic lunch of sandwiches and watermelon whilst cooling and drying off in the shade of the giant gum trees (PIC).
With refreshed bodies, especially those who hadn't had a morning shower, and satisfied stomachs we returned to the Eastern Beach and drove southwards to Eurong, one of the few inhabited areas of Fraser Island. The village had a store which we utilised to stock up on a few essentials (water and ice lollies), it was at this point that we spotted a big Huntsman spider on one of the Koala 4x4s that had been on there the previous morning - it had managed to cling on all that time. It then amazed us all by literally leaping about 4ft off the van and onto the pavement of the store! Glad it wasn't on our van!
Searching the beachfront for a place to set up our tents we realised that the area is obviously a popular one as every camping point for almost 4km was already taken, by 3pm! In a convoy of 3 Koala vans we eventually spotted another Koala van set up and joined them in a large enough spot to ultimately cater for all 5 Koala groups.
Once the tents were set up (PIC) and a few relaxed beers consumed it was time to start the cooking; once again the rain decided to make an appearance part way through the cooking and once again Andrew decided that rather than sit around getting drenched he would join a few of the other lads and get drenched playing beach football instead while Verdi enjoyed a couple more drinks and played some beach frisbee with a couple of others.
With the rain subsiding the cooking restarted but with the night drawing in the cooking took place mostly in the dark - perhaps not the best way to tell if steak and sausages are cooked properly!
More and more drinks later and it was soon the witching hour - and more importantly the start of Verdi's Birthday. A drunken group rendition of 'Happy Birthday' and a few celebratory drinks downed by the lady of the hour and people started to retire to bed. We were the last to leave our area, which had become 'party central' and were tucked up into our tents by 1:00am - for some reason someone had fitted a spinning roof to our tent but we just tried to block it out and get to sleep!
Day 4 - Verdi's 27th Birthday
Perhaps it was the cool breeze that came straight off the sea and through our tent, or perhaps it was the fact that dingos left us alone as they were too busy stealing another groups belongings, but it is most likely that the reason for our excellent nights sleep was that we were completely bladdered! We slept right through to 7:30am and then woke sheepishly nursing our hangovers.
After some breaksfast and van packing we returned to Lake Wabby, intending to go all the way down to the lake this time. We judged that the 'easier' route would be to park on the beach and walk in, a route 200m shorter than the 2km lookout route we had discovered previously. However, as the walk progressed, firstly through thick woodland and then over huge sand dunes (PIC) we quickly arrived at the opinion that it was probably the most demanding and time-consuming route we could have taken, especially in the already strong midday sun.
The dunes seemed to go on forever and the eventual sighting of the lake was almost like a mirage, a stunning oasis that still seemed to be a mammoth hike away. We reached the top of the dune that descends to the lake and met up with a couple of other groups of people, standing around watching some crazy fools slide down the steep dune on a plastic sheet.
'Sounds like fun' thought Andrew (PIC) but unfortunately the taboggon actually works better with 2 people, and the leg destroying walk back to return the plastic sheet was enough to put him off another attempt.
Instead we joined the catfish in the lake and swam, and played, for a while before braving the long walk back to the 4x4.
The one place we all wanted to revisit before leaving the island was Lake McKenzie, the closest to the paradise we all wanted to experience. For this reason we knew we had to leave plenty of time to get back there before needing to leave for the ferry, which departed at 2:30pm. Unfortunately, the 18km drive from Wabby to McKenzie took longer than expected and on arriving we found that we only had about 30mins at the lake.
We made the most of our time there, spending the majority of it in the crystal clear waters before heading back to the ferry port. The short wait at the port gave us a chance to have some more watermelon for lunch and we then took the 40 min journey back to Hervey Bay.
Back at the hostel we returned the van, luckily receiving our bond back, and cleaned all the cooking equipment before checking into the hostel for one more night. As soon as we entered the room the grubby clothes came off and in the shower we went for possibly the most needed shower...ever! It seemed that we had brought back a sand dune each in various crevasses we didn't even know existed.
After Verdi had opened her birthday cards and spoken to the folks we popped to the nearby Chinese restaurant for a bargain all-you-can-eat buffet (5 GBP each), and then did our laundry chores before collapsing into bed at 9:30pm. A tiring few days but a wonderful experience!
Where I stayed