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

Coffs Harbour – day 294

Alexander Graham Bell said, “before anything else, preparation is the key to success”. Mr. Bell was a Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with patenting the first practical telephone. It is kind of ironic that I type today’s blog on a modern telephone and the first thing we had prepared for the day was pack the bags the night before and thus we slipped quietly out of the room nice and early without waking anyone.

A 4km walk to Thrifty to collect our car, we were a bit out of sorts when the grumpy old man behind the desk said that we hadn’t booked a car but rather requested it. We were told basically to get lost for half an hour and hopefully the car they were collecting from the airport would be suitable. Oh and where are your passports? Having not needed them in Melbourne this chap was insistent that he wouldn’t accept just the driving licence and need more money from us as a deposit for international renters. Thus, wandered up and down the road to find a wifi signal to send photos of our passports to the office. Returned to a more amicable gentleman behind the counter and with a bit of cooperation and business sense we drove away with a cute little car heading to The Big Banana. Nothing more than a giant replica of a banana, it’s famous in Coffs Harbour and has made it in to the Big Things of Australia book. It’s probably the first banana that Katherine has liked in years.img_1743-1Dorrigo National Park is one of the fifty separate reserves that comprises of 366,500 hectares in the NSW and QLD states. They are the most extensive area of subtropical rainforests in the world and you guessed it, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being listed as a WHS for three criteria: Major stages of Earth’s history; Significant ecological and biological processes; Significant natural habitat for biodiversity, the anticipation was building as we drove higher and higher in to the mountains with signs along the Waterfall Way for lookouts and waterfalls every few kilometres. We stopped at only one waterfall en route to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and for a simple donation of $2 each we were in. The view from the Skywalk was breathtaking. An uninterrupted view of the mountains, covered in forests, rolling gently down to the valley and sea. We more interested in just the views than taking many photos, which should hopefully give some credence to how beautiful this place is. We wandered through the forest, sticking the pathway (as other tourists said they crossed paths with a large black and red-bellied snake) and just got lost in time. The waterfalls were incredible. The less visited, further away fall was captivating and we wished we could have it as a garden feature. It was totally different to the cascading fall in to the pool that had so many tourists and incredibly serene and peaceful.

img_1825-2The walk back, a circuit of 6.6km went through denser forest areas. We saw a number of mature tallow wood trees, some of them slowly being encapsulated by the strangler fig. The webbing of the fig roots across the trunk of the host tree was akin to a sugar nest desert or for the film buffs, the scene in spider-man where he’s trying to to rip the venom costume from his body. It was almost to the end of the trail when we finally spied the Eastern Whipbird – a small blackish teal bird with a white head, it can’t be confused for anything else because of its call. A long piercing whistle, the retired gent on the skywalk earlier said they are called the Star Wars bird because the sound is like a blaster cannon with the female response (not always after the male) sounding like two small blaster shots. I must have been a bit annoying towards the end of the walk with me doing the two blaster whistles after every male call. Still, it brought life to the timeless forest and the brush turkeys that wandered about were boring in comparison. We had lunch up at the Glade. Unable and unwilling to take the rental on the unsealed road up to Never Never picnic lookout, we had a spot of sunshine and tranquility before visiting Dangar Falls. A total wow moment, not expecting the sheer size or quality of this site, we could easily have missed this spectacle if we had driven out of our way for lunch. The lads down at the bottom of the creek swimming must have been bonkers, for up on the cliff looking down at the waterfall and pool it looked freezing cold. IMG_1838We stopped to feed some horses some apples on the way to another lookout and this stop would later come back to bite us in the ass. We went to Griffiths Lookout, again another jaw-dropping panoramic view of the rainforests. We sat in silence before we mutually agreed without saying anything that we needed to head off. This was also the start of the massive allergic reaction that Katherine was having. Tears streaming down the face, sniffles that would put one of the dwarves to shame and eyes swelling up to match a puffer fish. We stopped in Bellingen for antihistamine eye drops and chocolate. Apparently chocolate, in particular Mint Oreo, is very important in the healing process. We detoured to the same lookout we were taken to the night before. The sky was clear, the hills having a beautiful orange glow on their crest and the sea behind was casting calm waves upon the shore. The canoeists had no idea that just behind the breakwater of the harbour a humpback was swimming past. Too slow to drive down to a proper vantage point to find the whale a bit closer at least I got an image to prove that we had seen whales for a third day in a row. It was another fab day and when dinner was finished we passed out, some of us a bit louder than others in the dorm. IMG_1883IMG_1875IMG_1878IMG_1893IMG_1869
Wednesday 27th July 2016