Note to Self : Don't Plough Down the Dingoes!

Trip Start Nov 29, 2012
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What I did
Fraser Island

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

After escaping Crazy Bob's Jungle, I didn’t really have any idea where I was going or what I was doing. I mean, the whole time I've been travelling, I've been making it up as I go along but now I was really unsure of my next move. 

Initially, I was hoping to stay for a while in the rainforest to get a plan together on how I was going to reach Cairns. But then, all of a sudden, I realised I was heading to the tropics nearly two months before I’d actually thought I was going to be. So after making a last minute booking for the soonest possible bus out of the shitheap that was Gympie, I arrived in Rainbow Beach, home of famous coloured sands and a crossing point for the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Fraser Island. The world’s biggest sand island, it's 123km long and encompasses Seventy Five Mile beach which acts as the main highway on the island. The island has a mixture of beautiful beaches and rainforest, lakes and creeks, rockpools and of course, sand. And lots of it. Before I came out to Australia, I always planned to see Fraser Island, mostly for the opportunity to drive a 4WD jeep on the beach and see amazing places such as Eli Creek and Lake McKenzie, the world’s largest freshwater lake. 

But since leaving Brisbane, I had been in two minds as to whether to go at all.

Problem was, I was, and still am, pretty much broke. Various fellow backpackers told me that Fraser Island wasn’t worth the money. Also, I had been avoiding tours like the plague since coming to Australia. Mostly out of a matter of principal. Until now, I hadn’t been on a single one but knew if I was going to do Fraser Island, I would have to just go for it and do it. Fraser Island by yourself would be daunting to say the least. I had visions of me totalling a jeep around a palm tree so bit the bullet and decided to just to go ahead and book it.

It wasn’t cheap (in fact it near bankrupted me) but I managed to get a deal through a local travel agent to also encompass a trip to the Whitsundays which was pretty good. When I went in to pay, I was told in fact that the price I'd be quoted was actually TOO cheap. Luckily for me though, I told them that was what I was paying and that was it. 

There was only one problem with leaving for Fraser Island the following morning was that the forecast wasn’t fantastic for the next couple of days. This was an even bigger problem because although I would have the chance to drive a 4WD as part of a tag-along tour, it also meant I’d have to camp out. As many as you know, I’m no stranger to camping, having famously endured three terrible expeditions on Duke of Edinburgh. Over ten years later, I was still understandably traumatised and had absolutely no desire to go anywhere near a tent but figured that I’d survived four nights in the jungle. Nothing on this earth could be as bad as Crazy Bob’s Jungle, surely?

We were staying in Pippie's Beachhouse for a few nights before and after the Fraser Island trip. The hostel itself was nice, but basic but there was a free breakfast which is always a bonus! The night before we left, I spotted a cute looking guy sitting outside in the hostel. I sidled up across from him and got chatting. He seemed like a nice lad, he was a twenty two year old criminology graduate called Nathan who was also coming along on the Fraser Island trip! Hurrah! At least I would have some eye candy to keep me entertained on my trip! :D

The next morning, as I feared, the day dawned overcast and drizzly. But we were all in good spirits. There were twenty of us, and our group of eight had a fellow Scot from Clydebank, his Italian girlfriend, three very loud Irish girls and two German blokes. And me. As the only one in our jeep not part of a group or a couple, I volunteered to join the lead vehicle belonging to Brett, our tour guide. Brett was a local who also transpired to be a total legend who looked like a Viking warrior with long blonde/brown hair which was plaited down his back and was built like a rugby player and who I affectionately referred to as Swampy! Teehee! I sat up the front with him and had an awesome view whilst he chatted about the history of Fraser Island and its links with Aborigine tribes. Fraser Island’s name in Aborigine is K’Gari. According to Aborigine legend, when humans were created and needed a place to live, the god Beiral sent his messenger Yendingie with the goddess K’Gari down from heaven to create the land and the mountains, rivers and sea. K’Gari fell in love with the earth’s beauty and did not want to leave it. So became the island itself, her eyes are the lakes and the place teemed with wildlife so she wouldn’t be lonely. As we crossed the barge towards Fraser Island from the mainland, Brett encouraged us all to speak to our 'Gari spirit’ and pray for good weather, it was pretty darn chilly and the clouds looked foreboding.

The first day was spent mostly driving on Seventy Five Mile beach with Brett at the wheel. Even though it was overcast, it was really beautiful and completely surreal. All normal Australian road rules applied on the beach, there was a speed limit of 80kph (around 50mph) and there was even a police station on the island and we were told that cops regularly came out and staked out the beach to make sure nobody was speeding! The feeling I had when we drove down the beach with the waves lapping up was exactly the same as I felt when I drove The Great Ocean Road, one of just complete awe. Our first stop was Lake Waddy which was among massive sand dunes a little bit inland from the beach. The water was like glass and bloody freezing but I didn’t hesitate in leaping in and splashing around like a loony. After all, I figured I’d never get a chance to do it again, it was so much fun! In our group, there were a lot of French and Germans who were very quiet, some of the French lads barely spoke English and some of them didn’t even get into the water claiming it was too cold which I thought was a bit wimpy. The sky was still overcast and threatening rain when we had lunch on the beach was a tad chilly before we went to check out the campsite. Honestly, my first impressions were that it looked like a refugee camp. In saying that however, for camping, it was luxury! There were tents already set up and a covered area for cooking. However, there was a BBQ, hob stoves for cooking, running water and the toilets were only a short walk away. 

 We had been briefed before we left Rainbow Beach about one of Fraser Island’s most famous residents, dingoes. I’d read about them in the legendary book I’d been given in my first couple of weeks in Melbourne, ‘See Australia and Die’ about how young children had been mauled and killed by them. Brett the tour guide told us we had to walk in pairs in case they attacked and we were even armed with ‘dingo sticks’ to clobber them with if they tried any funny business. Scared much?! I was supposed to be sharing a tent with two other girls, Ella and Sarah but the last remaining big tent smelt terrible so they shacked up with cute Nathan. Muggins here had the choice to either sleep alone or share with the two German guys from our car. Fearing I would be savaged by dingoes, I chose the latter option.

That afternoon, we went sandboarding on the sand dunes about a thirty minute walk from the camp. There was a sledge but also a snowboard which was so much fun, even if I was too scared to go down the big hill! But again, a large number of the group didn’t even have a go at the activity which I thought was a shame. I mean, when was the next time you’d get an opportunity to snowboard down a sand dune? By this time, it was getting really drizzly and cold which was a shame so we headed back to camp to start cooking. 

My dinner, for camp food was actually pretty sophisticated. Pasta, pesto, tomatoes and cheese. Well, it was luxury in comparison to mealtimes at Crazy Bob’s that’s for sure. I was very jealous of the other groups having kangaroo burgers and the like though. I still hadn’t had any meat since leaving Crazy Bob’s but simply couldn’t afford it. The local supermarket in Rainbow Beach was cripplingly expensive, obviously exploiting the number of tourists passing through. I am determined to treat myself at some point but for the foreseeable future, I think I’m going to have to be a vegetarian! Sob. But not as obscenely frugal as Crazy Bob, I think I would die of starvation within a week if I stayed on a diet of lentils and mung beans! In saying that, I did invest in a bottle of decent wine (not goon though, I was adamant I wasn’t going to waste my money on that awful stuff) so that helped me forget about my desire to demolish a steak at least. 

After dinner, Brett introduced us to the legendary card game that was ‘Racehorses’ which got very messy and we all ended up completely ‘goosed’ as my old good friend Ross Naysmith used to say. We were all too drunk and scared to walk up to the toilets in the dark so us girls would go in groups to a little patch just outside the campsite. How civilised. It was still better than Duke of Edinburgh, at least we didn’t have to pitch the tents in the rain and get trampled on by sheep!

At the end of the night, I passed out in my tent, in someone else’s sleeping bag because my own one was buggered and wouldn’t zip up! The Germans weren’t too impressed when they came back and two of us ended up sharing the sleeping bag, which for the record, wasn’t as romantic as it sounds, especially when ze Germans began getting a little bit ‘touchy feely.’ Fail.

It rained all night. Literally. The sound of the raindrops on the tent drove me near demented. I lay there, wide awake, thinking, what on earth have I done?! I’ve spent all this bloody money to be in a tent with two very drunk Germans who snore like freight trains! Dooooooooooom!

Thankfully, the next two days more than made up for it. The following morning dawned much brighter than before, although still a bit cloudy. After a quick breakfast, we headed off to Champagne Pools. These are rockpools located at the most Northern point of Fraser Island, famous for the fact that the waves break over the top of them, the cascading water looking like champagne flowing into them. Even though the sky was a bit dull, the pools were still beautiful and we went for a swim. It was really stunning, the water was so clear you could see the sponge coral beneath and the sandy floor. We then went to Indian Head which offered amazing views across Seventy Five Mile beach and beyond onto the sand dunes. Indian Head is famous for it being the spot the Aborigines first sighted Captain Cooke when he landed in Australia.  We were able to spot schools of manta rays in the water below too which was really incredible. By this stage, the sun was definitely coming out and we enjoyed lunch in the forest. After seeing the coloured sands, we then went to see the famous shipwreck SS Maheno which is beached on Seventy Five Mile beach. Built in Dumbarton, it set sail in 1935 and was a hospital ship during World War I. When it was decommissioned in 1935, it was being towed from Sydney to a shipbreakers in Osaka, Japan when it was caught in a severe cyclone, causing the tow rope to snap and the ship to end up beached on Fraser Island where it has remained ever since. It was the first shipwreck I'd seen in Australia which was pretty exciting.

Then it was my turn to drive. Until this point, I’d been riding up front in the lead vehicle with Brett, having arguably the best views. I hadn’t even been in my group’s own 4WD. I was completely petrified but so excited. When I started the engine, it made the most incredibly noise. The fact that I could barely drive Felicity, a tiny little hatchback on a road made the prospect of driving an 8-seater 4WD across the beach and on the inland dirt tracks absolutely terrifying. Even though in my nervousness I forgot to take the handbrake off (oh dear) once I got going, it was actually so much fun! Driving on the beach was the best thing I’ve done so far in Australia, it was SO exciting! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life when I was gunning it with everyone in the car cheering me on and music blaring out the windows! I would have paid nearly $300 for that experience alone!

We then headed to Eli Creek, probably my favourite place we visited on Fraser Island. It was a creek that we walked along on boardwalks before grabbing bodyboards and floating all the way down to the bottom! We also went down on rubber rings. I had such fun that I think I did it about four or five times, it was AMAZING! By this time, the sun was shining and everyone was sunbaking, it was great! I then drove back to the campsite, the tide was coming in and I was petrified of driving through the water because we’d been warned if there was any saltwater damage to the bottom of the jeep, we would be liable to pay $200 for repairs! Oh dear! Thankfully, we all got back to camp in one piece, I think everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when we arrived back though, including me!

Dinner was slightly more exciting than my pasta of the night before. Brett brought in some fillets of fish that had been freshly caught by the fishermen that day on the island. Nobody else wanted to cook them and as I only had noodles (the failsafe meal for any broke backpacker) I decided I would cook them. As someone who was a bit of a hygiene freak when I left Scotland, I can honestly say after six months in Australia, I’ve honestly changed my whole way of thinking and have just started getting on with things. It’s been such a weight off my shoulders, not worrying about little, insignificant things all the time. The fish tasted amazing, I was a bit cheesed off when people who’d had their dinner started stealing some of it, considering I’d cooked it for me and a couple of other people. One of the Irish girls Gill gutted and cleaned a couple of fish some of the French boys had bought off a fisherman on the beach the day before and that tasted even better. It had literally been months since I’d eaten fresh fish and it was one of the nicest things I’ve eaten in Australia. That night, I only had one glass of goon, quite respectable for me and we played Racehorses again. Thankfully I chose not to take part in a particularly messy game of ‘Ring of Fire’ which ended in Becca, one of the girls in my group spewing. This was made worse when the dingoes came and ate it! Ewwwwwww! In general, I hadn’t seen that many dingoes, there were three in the camp and none of them aggressive, thankfully. I’d spoken to a guy who had gone a previous trip and they’d had to batter a dingo that was being threatening while they were cooking their dinner! By this stage, I wasn’t scared of the dingoes and chose to sleep alone which was a seriously good move. I slept SO much better, even if I was a tad chilly in my tent by myself!

After having a few words with my ‘Gari spirit’ the night before about the weather, she duly provided a beautiful morning on our last day on Fraser Island. This was one of the things I’d most been looking forward to, getting to see Lake McKenzie. It was a forty minute inland drive through the rainforest on dirt tracks. But first we drove along the beach under a huge rainbow and watched a seaplane take off from the beach was seriously awesome!

As you can imagine, I wasn’t up for off road driving through the rainforest, fearing there would be a strong possibility of ploughing down a dingo so I travelled in the back of our group car for our first leg. I cannot tell you how much fun it was, I was right in the back and bopping up and down with all the bumps and dips as we sped along at high speed through the rainforest. The scenery was amazing and we were all singing along to music at the top of our lungs. I couldn’t remember having so much fun! We arrived at Lake McKenzie to sunsplitting skies. The sand on the beach is so fine that you use it to exfoliate your skin, wash your hair and even brush your teeth! The water was a bit chilly but it was lovely. Even at Lake McKenzie, some of our group didn’t even get in the water. I was one of the first in, sprinting down the beach like a nutter in my excitement! It really was stunning, we did a group pyramid and photo which was fun! After a quick lunch, it was time to head home! I can honestly say I was really sad to leave, Fraser Island was by far one of the most exciting things I’ve done so far in Australia. I would have been gutted if I’d missed out, even if the weather was a bit iffy and ze Germans were a tad dodgy, it was definitely worth the money I think I was in the best group too, the mix of people we had was a really good laugh and we all hit it off straight away. But the thing that made the trip was Brett, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it so much with another guide. He was so knowledgeable and fun and took part in all our activities and even gave me a massive bear hug at the end! 

 What a legend, cheers Brett! :)
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