Well after spending a nice relaxing week with family on the Gold Coast we decided it was time to get our butts off the couch and back out into the wild. Our destination – Fraser Island!
Isolated showers and morning drizzle with a chance of thunder in the evening and high winds. That basically summed up the weather forecast for the entire week but we were optimistic as we headed away from the city of Gold and its skies of blue, journeying north up the freeway towards the very appropriately named Rainbow Beach, in search of the infamous green Mantaray (aka Fraser Island Barge). The sun was shining as we stopped for a picnic lunch awaiting our turn to board (which we did and were underway in about 30 seconds flat! Talk about efficient service!). The trip across to Fraser takes around 10 minutes and costs $100 for vehicles under 2 tonne (extra for trailers).
To be quite honest, my first impression of the Island was not that crash hot. I mean, this place is legendary. It almost seems like every second German has some sort of amazing Fraser Island tale to tell. And yet at first glance, It’s just a bunch of skinny old trees and a trail of sand that seemingly goes on forever. There doesn’t appear to be anything exotic or fanciful about it at all. Well friends – Lesson # 1 – Don’t judge a book by its cover.
We spent most of our first afternoon slowly making our way up the eastern beach in search of suitable accommodations. We found these in a little area known as Cornwell’s Break. About 1/3 of the way to the tip, it was nice and sheltered, with an access road to many of the various hot spots 100 metres from our campsite, as well as some very promising looking gutters along the beach out front which Brendan was desperate to cast a line into. Not a dingo in sight either. I was only slightly disappointed on the last point as I had never seen a dingo in the wild and was half expecting them to just be chilling on the beach ready to welcome us when we arrived. On the other hand, I am about the height of a small teenager which the handy guide says to keep away from dingoes lest they confuse them for a wallaby (aka dinner)!
With camp set up, River and I opted for a lazy afternoon nap while Brendan took to the sand in search of pipis (a battle we would eventually win but alas, not today). Not an overly exciting day but there are plenty more where that came from!
Over the next 2 days we decided to get away from the beach and go exploring up through the middle, check out some lakes, do a bit of 4WDing etc. After only 5 mins of driving I realised my first impression was completely off the mark! We were no longer on an everyday sandy beach surrounded by spindly trees. We were in the middle of a lush green forest, canopies filled with birds calling to each other and tiny rays of light shining down through the gaps in the leaves to light up patches of beautiful native flowers and shrubbery. It was simply breathtaking. It could almost make you forget you were in a creaky old Nissan Patrol occasionally being bounced around like a rag doll. Another 5 minutes down the track and you unexpectedly break out into an open field of grass trees (aka ‘black boys’). The contrast is just amazing.
Our first visit was to Lake Mackenzie. A medium sized lake that was formed by the build up of leaf matter over a large depression in the sand. The depression gets filled by rain water and because of the built up leaf matter, the water cannot drain out, causing a lake to be formed. It has no connection to any other stream or ocean and is only refilled by the rain. Well there must have been a lot of that recently because the lake itself was practically overflowing! There was hardly room for the American tour group to sit let alone our little family of 3. Nevertheless, Brendan and River had a quick dip in the crystal clear water before we were surprised by some sneaky rain clouds and got washed out.
Despite the rain, we continued on to Lake Birrabeen for a spot of lunch and a bit of a walk. The lunch part was great, peanut butter and honey sandwiches all round! We were slightly inconvenienced in our walk by the fact that the lake was so overflowing the entire bank was covered in water. You couldn’t even make it to the end of the path without getting your feet wet. Amazing what a bit of wet weather can do!
Our next point of call was the slightly larger lake Boomanjin. After our last 2 stops we had come to expect the water levels to be slightly above average. What we weren’t expecting was by how much they would be this time. We could see signs signalling ‘no camping’ which would generally suggest a fair area of ground to tempt you to set up shop, however today the signs were neck deep in water! There were some pretty awesome tree clusters along the lakes edge. Most of them half fallen, just hanging out over the water as if they were all taking an unlimited smoko together. What a life.
Our second night at camp saw my very first dingo sighting. He appeared out of nowhere, just poking his head around the corner to check things out. Scared the living daylights out of me and from that moment on I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder every 2 minutes, more when Brendan wasn’t around! We came to no harm though and he left us alone, although Brendan stayed up late working that night and he did come back with a friend later and circle our camp for an hour or so. This was the most freaky of all our encounters however. In general if they came near camp it was because we were sitting or hidden by something and they couldn’t see us. As soon as one of us stood up they would make themselves scarce rather quickly.
We took advantage of a break in the clouds and made a short trip up to Eli Creek. This is the largest creek along the eastern beach and pours millions of litres of clear, fresh water into the ocean every hour. A stunning spot for a picnic and a swim. I’d almost go so far as to say this is where paradise is at. A nice leisurely stroll along the boardwalk and a little play in the shallows was all we got time for before the rain set in but we promised ourselves to come back for a proper swim, rain or shine, before we left the island.
Now so far Brendan’s daily fishing trips had proven rather fruitless. A few small Dart which had to be returned and a couple of big ones that spat the hook right in the shallows 🙁 We managed to speak to a couple of fellow fisherman and it seems no one has had much luck this season so we didn’t feel so bad. No matter what the predictions though, Brendan was determined to have us dining on some of Fraser’s finest before we were through.
With the weather still against us we hopped in the Patrol and went for a bit of a drive over to the West, get a bit of 4WDing in and see how the fish were biting on the other side (the grass is always greener over there isn’t it?). We ended up at Ungowa. A small little picnic area with a condemned jetty (perfect for fish to hide under) and a large colony of mossies which were very happy to make our acquaintance. I’m pretty sure Brendan had his line cast before River and I were even out of the car. We took the opportunity to get a few photos of the jetty and have a play in the sand. In the end the mossies (and the rain) got too much and we decided to head back to camp, once again, sans fish.
The forecast for the next few days looked promising. The sun was apparently due to make an appearance, and for more than an hour at a time, although the wind was meant to change direction and pick up some speed! With that in mind we packed up camp and decided to head further north, past Indian Head and Waddy Point where the beach is a bit more sheltered.
We had the whole day ahead of us as we set off again so we decided to make a few stops along the way. As the sun had so graciously decided to join us today we decided to keep our promise and stopped for a picnic lunch beside Eli Creek. We spent a good few hours relaxing under the Foxwing, enjoying the sun’s warmth and swimming in the crystal clear waters of the creek. The water was surprisingly warm despite its icy blue colour. We stopped past the great Maheno wreck, which lies on the beach about 2 mins north of Eli Creek. The Maheno served as a hospital ship during WWI. It was later sold for scrap to Japan but as it was being towed on July 9, 1935 it lost rudder control and came ashore during a mini cyclone. It was then used as target practice for aircraft during WWII. It is quite an amazing site to see. Hard to believe that something so colossal could be destroyed so completely.
It was getting late in the afternoon so we continued driving straight up the beach towards our destination, past Indian Head and Waddy Point, along Orchid Beach until we reached the Ocean Lake Camping Zone. We managed to get ourselves a great little spot, 100 metres from the beach, fairly sheltered (or it was until the wind changed!) and once again, close to a central track which could take us to the shops for much needed bread and milk supplies.
Pretty much every day from this day forward was spent looking for pipis in the morning, going on small road trips during the day and fishing all evening long (or as long as the pipis held out anyway). The sun had finally decided to stay so the days were warm, if not a bit windblown.
A memorable little road trip was our afternoon spent at Champagne Pools (aka ‘the aquarium’). The pools are a natural fish trap which were used by the Butchulla people for collecting their supper. They are now part of a registered Marine Park area and there is no fishing or crabbing allowed. That doesn’t stop the crowds from flocking across the boardwalk to witness the amazing foaming spectacular that gives the pools their name. The ‘champagne’ bubbles are created when waves crash over the rock wall and into the pool, almost like a natural spa. A beautiful spot for a pleasure walk or a quick paddle. It is surprisingly deep and we had a great time splashing around in the bubbles. Another little road trip we took was across to Wathumba Creek. The creek is surrounded by swamp land (a mosquito’s best friend!) In fact it is the largest area of swamp on the entire island. Just goes to show how diverse the place really is. We did a bit of exploring but the sign at the entrance notifying of an aggressive dingo had me very much on edge so I convinced Brendan the fish would be much more lively back on the eastern beach. He found an old crab pot lying around on the beach so that made up for leaving early I suppose.
Our second last day on the Island was possibly the most exciting by far. We started out early heading south to check out our fishing options. Although it looked quite pleasant, it was hard to find a gutter that wasn’t already packed out with fisherman. In the end we decided to head back up north past camp and see what we could find. As the tide was low and we had no other plans we ended up driving all the way past Ngkala Rocks (one of the hardest 4WD bypass tracks on the island and impassable at high tide, although a bit of a non-event when we passed through due to the sand build up over the rocks) all the way to Sandy Cape – the most northern point of the island.
Ngkala Rocks marks the point hire 4WDs and tour groups are restricted from passing and is one of the most remote parts of the island. You can almost feel the difference once you are on the northern most section of beach. The sand is softer, there is almost no one around and something about the area makes you feel like you are miles from anywhere (which you sort of are, I suppose). We made it to the Cape however, ticking off the northernmost and southernmost points of the island. Not wanting to stick around to be stuck by the high tide we cruised back down the beach to try for the last time, landing a couple of plateable fish.
Brendan spent a couple of hours looking for pipis (he actually spent so much time looking for them over our stay, his knees were sore by the end of it), and nearing sunset hiked a kilometre or so up the beach in search of a decent gutter to throw in a line. First cast and almost before he had flicked the bail arm over, a fish with decent fight in him had snapped up the pipi and was quickly landed. Half not expecting to actually catch anything decent, he wasn’t prepared to reel in the 25cm Dart, so he let him go. A few casts later though, his persistence was rewarded when he pulled in a slightly bigger Dart, which was kept, gutted, filleted and cooked in butter and garlic. Not a bad treat for the last night, especially compared to the canned tuna which was basically all we had left to eat otherwise.
It is easy to forget just how big Fraser really is. From Hook Point in the south, to Sandy Cape up north, there is some 130km of sand. Even from our camp to the barge, was just over 100km. Our last day we had planned to make another visit to Lake Mackenzie (this time without the sneaky rain clouds to follow us) but the trip from camp to the barge alone was going to take us close to 2 hours and unfortunately we couldn’t afford the stopover time. It was a little bit sad to leave. It felt like we were just starting to get to know the island (and where to get the fish!!) but forward we must go. And also, our supply of food, clean clothing, underwear, fuel and pipis was just about exhausted. We packed up camp slowly, not partly because our youngest companion was seemingly just as unimpressed about leaving as us (or just decided temper tantrums were her new thing), and made our way south. We didn’t get to see all the sights of Fraser, but that just means we have to come back.
Right now, we are holed up in a holiday apartment in Caloundra, with views over the Pacific and down to Bribie Island, kindly invited by my parents who are staying with us for the week. Not a bad way to spend a week if you ask us, even if we never imagined staying in a resort on the Sunshine Coast as part of our odyssey. We are not yet sure where we will be heading from here. Wesley (Brendan’s brother) is planning a whirlwind trip to Cairns over the long weekend, so we will meet up with him at some point, but further from that, who knows. While neither of us are missing home so much, we are all missing the fellowship we had with friends and family, and going to a church where we know people. Still, there is a long way to go yet and we wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
Until next time,
Brendan, Angela and River