Fraser Island – day 300

That’s right… day 300!!! And what a day. I didn’t get up during the night for either the bathroom or to find a bucket. I was bouncing off the top bunk at 06:00 with loads of energy despite still not having a decent nights sleep in ages. The spread they laid out for breakfast buffet was immense, with cereals, breads, fruits and fried goods to satisfy several appetites. Before you know it, you’re waddling over to Myrtle to find Katherine had picked seats at the back of the bus to get the bumpiest ride possible for the day. Well, we still might be seeing the beer pong or breakfast before long with the way the roads are. 

First stop on day two of the tour was ‘The Pinnacles’ – a set of visible, coloured stratified layers of sand along the east coast. The explanation behind sand and the hues was quite interesting. Reddish sand is due to the complex mixture of 40 minerals, basically forming iron oxide, that are rusting now that they are oxidising. The sand that is yellow is older sand with less rust and the white quartz core of the sand grain is sand that has pretty much lost all mineral coatings. 

The island, K’gari as it named by Aboriginals, is according to our notes on this UNESCO site, home to two tribes, the Kabi Kabi and Badtjala. The Batchella as it is written in the information boards are the only tribe mentioned in the history of the island. Either way, The Pinnacles are important in the traditional culture and, because of some idiots, are now fenced off with no way of getting closer to the striking colours. Of course, these younger sand cliffs on the east of the island make up only a fraction of the story that provide a continuous record of climatic and sea level changes over the past 700,000 years. Where we were standing would have been 25km inland during the last Ice Age. So, we turn around, walk maybe 40m down the beach to our bus and everyone is just stood there like statues looking out to sea. They were a poor representation of the Terracotta Army but everyone was motionless. It was because in water that is within the cast of a fisherman, a humpback whale was saying hello. A spray followed by a roll on to the back where for a brief second you saw both fins and then one would stay up longer, do a little wave and then come slapping down. All in all, we must have put ourselves behind schedule by only 10mins, but Hayden had to drag the entire lot of us back on the bus to carry on up the beach. 75mile beach is not in fact 75miles long. It is 123km, which we are told equates to 76.4miles. We’re not going to split hairs over a few yards (as we don’t need the beach to finish in front of palace). Rather we sped up the ebbing coastline, dodging past some coffee rock, doing 80mph in a bright yellow truck. Coffee rock, even though called rock, is still in fact sand. Thus, the entire island is still made entirely of sand. This rock despite its name is the result of decomposing litter and vegetation forming a compost mixture with the sand. When the water passed through it before the last Ice Age, it went through a metamorphosis to solidify much like cement does when water is added. The result is a crumbly, coffee coloured rock that has a few beach huts built upon them for an amazing view of the Pacific. Up to the Champagne Pools, the small area is very picturesque. The waves crash over some more ‘rocks’ (although they looked and felt like real sandstone) to bubble over the rim and collect in depressions in the sand behind. They are large enough pools that people are able to paddle and play volleyball. But, after watching a whale breach in the not so distance for quite some time (managed to predict her patterns after a while) we went down to the pools and bypassed everyone to a beach untouched by another soul and the sand in pristine condition. The beach was lovely and we found a baby lobster and some juvenile fish scooting around in the eddies and stream of the water coming down from the Champagne Pools and plonked ourselves down for quiet reflections and just enjoying holding hands. Lunch was well planned out. Set up under the cargo hold of the bus in the shade, like a Myanmar bus station, there was a tuppaware container full of greens and chicken to accompany two wraps and a juice. Easily cleaned away we went up to Indian Head. Sceptical that a solitary headland like this can exist without being a on rocky substrate, we ascended the 68m up to the top of the hill to look out to sea and along the coastline. While everyone was fixated on trying to catch a glimpse of a whale, scorning us for not coming down to the Pools sooner and that there would be a better view and photos from up the hill, not a single whale made an appearance. With an edge of smugness (disguised very well) knowing that one could never predict nature, I glanced down the north side of Indian Head to see a shark swimming in the shallows. I called over Katherine and curiosity got the better of a few and it spread like Chinese whispers. I’m pretty sure that it was a Lemon Shark based on the shape, size and swimming style and that is was probably waiting to bite a chunk out of the juvenile manta ray further in to the shallows.  Zooming back down the Eastern Beach, driving past a solitary dingo, we were being told about the history of S.S. Maheno. Starting it’s life as a passenger cruise liner it later was used as a hospital vessel during WWI to transport wounded between France and Britain, in Gallipoli and Egypt and transporting sick and injured back to New Zealand. After the war it was given back to the liner company and the cruise ship resumed life as a luxury passenger service. However, the advent of diesel ships meant that faster, more efficient modes of transport were now available and the steam ship was impractical to run. This was the start of it’s demise. Being sold to a Japanese company, along with the Oonah , the Japanese used the smaller newly purchased 1700 tonne vessel to tow the larger 5500 tonne vessel. To add insult to injury, they had removed the propellers from the Maheno to reduce drag in the towed vessel. Hitting a cyclone up the coastline the tow cable snapped and they tried desperately for eight days to reattach the cable. Not wishing to be melted down in a scrap yard, the vessel wrecked itself on the coastline of Fraser Island. The freshwater pouring out under the sand with the prevailing winds and long shore drift meant she fixed herself upright in a nice little spot and refused to budge an inch. The result now being that a historic vessel, having transported nearly 27,000 ANZAC corps during the war was now back on Australian territory. The framework and hull is very slowly rusting away, but the wreck is incredibly stunning to walk around. The almost completely low tide meant we were able to walk around it, stick our cameras through port holes and walk to both the bow and stern to see in to the belly of the beast. A beautiful wreck, we could have easily spent longer around it. But, we had other plans. 

Being day 300, day 100 spent on a bus going between Kumbakonam  and Ooty and day 200 in Kharikola nursing a slipped disk, today we were going to splurge on our world travels. So, how does one treat oneself when already on such an amazing island in a beautiful country??? Why, you take to the air to view it. 

A horrible procedure of writing down our weight on a form before boarding, we had probably the briefest and least informative safety speeches of existence. “If we’re going to crash we’ll tell you to put on your life jacket and jump. Inflate your jacket on the way down. Any questions?” I don’t think we could honestly take them too seriously with their dainty uniforms, knee high socks and shorts and all of them looking like a rejected Aussie boy band group. 
So, with confidence boosted, we sped down the runway, the only other place in the world that a commercial flight such as this takes off and lands on a beach is somewhere in Scotland. The tyres bumped up and down on the potholes created by the freshwater streams coming on to the beach and the passing jeeps. And voom, we were up, shaking like a can of spray that you must ‘shake before use’. Banking east over the ocean, we were hopeful of seeing wildlife. Having now spotted whales, sharks, manta rays and turtles, we were expecting to see silhouettes of much the same, plus dugongs and mermaids. Heading inland we got to appreciate the size of the island. The average width is 15km, being 22km at it’s widest if memory serves and there are almost 200 lakes. Scientists argue amongst themselves (as they do) how many there actually are, as some dry up or dissipate seasonally under the water table out to sea. We did pass over Butterfly Lake and it was hidden from the rest of island, inaccessible by jeep or foot, the shape was a perfect butterfly. Not sure what one of the three types of lake it was, we saw a few more lakes before passing over the rainforest section of the island and the sandblow region. Progressing at 1m per year we’re unclear if the height is increasing/decreasing or if the eastern section is becoming narrower. It was amazing to see such a golden area among lush green forests.The GoPro died again. It must be that it’s being turned on in the camera bag without us knowing. But, there’s no video recording so that’s odd. Infuriatingly is that it meant the planned video of the flight was being captured on an iPhone. Katherine did an amazing job. Managing to point the lens in the right direction without missing the chance to watch the views herself we now have 16mins of footage of an epic flight over Fraser Island. I think it was around 11minutes as we were pulling some G coming in to land that she captured the breaching whale about 200m below us. Truly breathtaking to view it so close and from above, we’ll try and get the video on YouTube soon. 

Touching down outside Eli Creek and paying for the flight, we joined the rest of the group. Too late to change in to swim wear and tube down the river stream with the others we went for a walk. Somebody decided that she wasn’t going to miss out on the river so went in fully clothed. I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t me. The river spits out 4.2million litres of water an hour. Again being an incredibly clear and clean water source that you could drink from, it was also deceptively deeper in parts because of its clarity and someone may have gotten in further than planned. HahahahahaKatherine managed to get herself the seat at the front of the bus for the next stretch of the journey. A bit of flirting with the driver clearly does wonders. It was only a brief trip down the beach and we were heading inland to our next stop. But, the bus didn’t make it up the sand track. We reversed all the way down the shoreline until the back wheels were being lapped by the waves. A few revs of the engine for dramatic effect and we were bulleting up the sand bank over the loose track and in to the compact sand track of the forest. A short drive in we were at a lookout over the sandblow region. Massive expanse of desolate land, the remains of tree trunks sticking up out of the ground are the remaining testament to an area that was alive and thriving with water pouring through the forest floor. A bleak but beautiful view of another aspect of the island and how the ecosystem has changed over tens of thousands of years. Back at the Kingfisher Bay we opted to skip the free transport up the hill in favour of another sunset view. Walking to our new usual spot at the end of the jetty we bumped in to Emma en route and took her with us. The sunset was captivating and a turtle stuck his head up next to us at the pier to watch it for a bit too. Up the hill, not nearly as tough as it’s made out to be, we stopped and admired to sugar glider. The nocturnal relatives of squirrels, with the added superhero ability of flight (gliding) were a bit surprised that we noticed them so we carried on up for a roast dinner. We were only a teensie bit more sensible than last night. We played beer pong with cocktail mixtures and it was myself and Aifric against Katherine & Emma. The Irish vs. The Brits was a hard fought battle with Katherine managing to get the last cup. We did have them worried with our glorious come back and change of tactics, but the result wouldn’t have mattered. A fabulous evening, a perfect end to day 300 and so many memories in so few hours. Tuesday 2nd August 2016

Fraser Island – day 299

Woke up in our very strange dorm room that had the fire exit sign shining brightly like a lighthouse beacon all throughout the night. So much so, that on three occasions during the night I woke up in a panic thinking it was daylight outside and we were late for our bus transfer to the ferry port. Fortunately (or unfortunately, since I didn’t have a proper nights sleep) we were fine and got up just before our alarms went off to go shower and get dressed. Rather than disturbing our roommates, we packed up our bags outside on a picnic bench by the pond with ducks making a hell of a racket around us! With all our bags reorganised ready for our trip to Fraser Island, we headed to the kitchen to have some breakfast of left over chocolate cake and a coffee (so healthy!!). Checked out and, as I was waited for our bus to turn up, Jayne chatted away to Tiffany in the YHA reception and our travels. Jayne says it was nice to talk to a receptionist who was clearly interested in what we were doing rather than feigning an interest. Our transfer bus turned up and the driver, Jon, had to go on a walk about to try and find two other passengers who hadn’t turned up… Apparently they had done the same on Friday! Clearly a bit pissed off, he called head office to let them know and then we were on our way. As the only two on the massive bus, we could have spread out but Jayne decided to sit right next to me… Got us slightly hoping that we might be the only two on the tour of Fraser Island but no such luck – the others were being picked up in a different bus. We were just too far over the other end of town to make it feasible to pick us up with the others! Went for a little drive around town with Jon pointing out various things to us and driving past the town marina to see if there were any last minute passengers to collect (there weren’t!). Drove out of town to the Kingfisher main office where we were given our boarding passes for the ferry and had to store our luggage in a container that would be brought over later on a quieter mid-day ferry. Sat on a bench, admiring the absolutely stunning view of the bay whilst we chatted to other guests (who were going on a different tour) and drinking iced coffee.

We then all got on a different bus and headed down to the private marina to board the Kingfisher Bay Resort boat. It was at this point that a woman stepped in front of us carrying a baby to which Jayne said, in a hideous Aussie accent, ‘a dingo ate my baby’… Fortunately the woman was from New Zealand and thought it was funny, even saying that she wants to keep saying it herself but doesn’t want to tempt fate! Jayne still got a disapproving teachers look from me! We spent the 45 minute ferry crossing looking for wildlife. I was under strict instructions form Jayne to keep my eyes open for dugongs, humpbacks and dolphins that can all be spotted in this stretch of water. We did get to see a turtle that seemed to be flailing around in the water a bit. The skipper (Captain Warren) was confident enough to sail the boat extremely close to the shore so we got to get our first glimpses of our 49th UNESCO site.img_2066

Arriving at the Kingfisher Bay Resort dock we met out tour leader, Hayden, and were asked to wait in the jetty bar so he could double check numbers and dietary requirements before we headed out in the bright yellow 4×4 bus. As the largest sand island in the world, there are no paved roads outside of the resort. You are basically being driven around, up and down, sand dunes in a bus. It is essentially the worlds bumpiest theme park ride – which mean that seat belts are compulsory but they do jam up every time you hit a bump which effectively strangles you!! Coming out of the resort, the first road we encountered was called ‘Rollercoaster Road’. Imagine going down a water slide that is made out of sand in a bus and you’ll kind of understand what it was like… Don’t think I’ve ever simultaneously bumped every part of my body against bus seats, windows and Jayne before! As we descended the Rollercoaster road, Hayden played a song over the speaker system that basically announced that ‘we all have to die one day’… Great way to break the ice!!

Continued our bumpy drive across Fraser Island, along the well worn in tyre tracks that had been etched in to the ‘road’ that was surrounded by forest on either side, not wide enough for two vehicles so there was a lot of huffing and puffing when we came across a car coming in the other direction – especially since 9 times out of 10, it was us that had to reverse! It took us about 45 minutes to get to our first stop of the day – Lake McKenzie.

Lake McKenzie is probably the most visited natural site on the island. It is a ‘perched’ lake, which means it contains only rainwater, no groundwater, is not fed by streams and does not flow to the ocean. The sand and organic matter at the base of the lake form an impervious layer, preventing rainwater from draining away. The sand here is pure, white silica and is not only beautiful to look at but feels beautifully soft to walk on. The sand acts as a filter, giving the water its clarity and helping to make the water so pure it can support very little life. Deciding to test that theory, we went for a swim – the water was freezing!! But, in for a penny in for a pound, as we were already in our swimming costumes and ankle deep in the water, we decided to fully submerge ourselves. Jayne went for a snorkel, looking through the crystal clear waters at small fishes and the lake vegetation. Not wanting to get my head wet, I swam breaststroke to the island in the middle and waited for Jayne to come over. A slightly scary moment where the lake goes from clear blue to very dark where you can only hope that there are no biting creatures lurking beneath the waves! 

Deciding that we didn’t want to stay in the water much longer, we headed back to the shore and sat near the water getting dry and warm in the sun. Walked back up to the bus at 12.30 to have lunch. A help yourself buffet of make-your-own sandwiches where we had a constant stream of birds waiting for any bits that might get dropped, including a Kookaburra who stole a piece of cheese straight off a lady’s plate! It was the land monitor lizard that got most people’s attention as it inched further and further forward…Back on bus, we were headed into the forest to begin the first of our two walks of the day. As we were driving/bouncing along the road, Jayne spotted an echidna snuffling around in the trees – much to her delight as she has been desperate to see one. Our first walk was 2.6km through the forest stopping off at Basin Lake before we got started. 

Basin Lake is a window lake which is created by a natural depression or valley in the sand exposing the water table or aquifer below. These are as the name suggests – windows into the aquifer or water table. Although les famous than Lake McKenzie, it was incredibly beautiful and, shamefully, deserted.

The walk through the forest was lovely. We got to spend time looking at the different varieties of flora and keeping our eyes out for any animals. Chatted mostly to a couple called Dave and Em, who seem to be on a similar trip to ours – they have visited many of the same places! Whilst comparing notes, I was spending more time looking at my feet as I was worried about tripping up on one of the hundreds of tree roots that were littering the path. Arriving in Central Station, which originally was established as a forestry camp when there was logging on Fraser Island. Central Station’s rainforest area houses a display explaining the development of the island and its various flora and fauna with a wealth of information on display. Central Station has a short boardwalk around Wanggoolba Creek and through the Fraser Island rainforest, where we walked down another track to begin the 1.8km rainforest walk. Fraser Island is the only place in the world to have a subtropical rainforest growing in sand. Imagine towering pines, rainforest trees with three metre girths, rare and ancient giant ferns, eucalypt forests with their characteristic pendulous leaves, lemon-scented swamp vegetation and dwarfed heathland shrubs covered in a profusion of flowers. Now imagine them all growing on an island of sand. It was actually really interesting to see the contrast in the rainforest compared to the forest, which are meters apart. We were able to fill our water bottles straight from the creek as the water is so pure, having been filtered through layers upon layers of sand for almost 80 years before it surfaced in the creek. As the others in the group powered on ahead through the forest, we lagged behind being absolutely fascinated and taken aback by the subtropical vegetation growing so prevenetly in the sand. At the end of the walk, the bus had opened up its sides to give us homemade biscuits, tea and coffee. Jayne and I found a log away from the group just to enjoy being in the environment.

A bumpy drive back to the resort and we got some free time to either walk down the beach, go to the bar or walk to the end of the jetty. We chose the latter option, sitting at the end of the dock watching the ferry sail away, the fisherman trying to catch something and the sun set. Absolutely stunning and a beautiful end to the day!

Back on the bus to be driven up ‘Heart Attack Hill’ – the steep incline which houses the cheap backpacker accommodation at the top of the 1km hill. We had been assigned 4-bed dorm rooms in buildings with 5 rooms each yet no one on our tour was in our room… As I went to retrieve our bags, Jayne went to the room and met Emma – a teacher from Bristol who starts her tour tomorrow. We opened up the goon bag of white wine that we had bought with us and got to know each other better. Chatting to her, it was like I had found a carbon copy of myself… Except she has never read a Harry Potter book!! Finally being able to get over this and move on (😳), we headed over to ‘The Dingo bar’ where we had burgers, wedges and salad for dinner, chatting away to Emma about our respective adventures with a pitcher of cocktail. Not entirely sure how it happened but we ended up playing Beer Pong…
We played it with the roughest tasting beer ever – to the point that we kept having to swap people in as the drink kept making us feel gassy and sick. Unfortunately, after the game was won, it was Jayne who was chucking up her dinner in the bar toilets so we headed back to the lodge and went to bed! Monday 1st August 2016