Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world. It has around 40 freshwater lakes, extensive sand dunes, forest and even some pockets of rain forest. The roads on the island are unsealed, sand tracks and the only way to see the island is by 4WD.
I stayed at Beaches in Hervey Bay. I was most impressed with the hostel. It had a bar that stayed open until 3am in the morning, and it was heavily soundproofed so it didn't keep people awake at night. The food served during the day and at night was cheap, well presented and of good quality. The only drawback with the hostel was that almost all of their accommodation was in 8 or more share rooms.
Beaches, like most hostels in Hervey Bay, run self drive 4WD tours to Fraser Island. They hire out long wheel based Toyota Landcruisers, plus camping gear, to up to nine people. Fortunately, several people who had booked, didn't turn up, so we only had 6 people in our car. The other car had only 5 people in it. With 9 people, it would have been a bit of a squeeze.
The cost for a 3 day, 2 night trip was about A$125 including fuel. Someone from the group had to give a credit card for the A$500 bond. I didn't volunteer. One thing buried in the small print was that the insurance excess was a hefty A$5000. A couple of people I met at various places down the coast had an accident in their 4WD. They were driving back through Hervey Bay to take the car back to the garage when someone pulled out of a side road in front of them. The vehicles are very high sided and it rolled over. Fortunately the injuries weren't that serious, but the car hire company did try to get the excess from them. It probably resulted in a court case ultimately.
So after a briefing on what to expect on the island and a very rough one sheet itinerary, we set of for the ferry. After about half an hour wait, we boarded the ferry and made the short journey over to Fraser Island. It takes less than 30 minutes to get there. Then onto the island and onto the sand tracks. Driving in sand is great fun. The speed limit on the inland tracks is 35 km/h. I think you probably could do more than that reasonably safely, but you wouldn't be very popular with your passengers in the back. Anything over about 20 km/h can be very bumpy.
The plan was to head across the island and onto the beach on the east coast. The beach is actually a gazetted highway and the speed limit is 80 km/h. Parts of it are only passable a couple of hours either side of low tide, so it's a good idea to check the tides when planning your trip. You do have to be a bit careful of the water running down the beach and forming small streams. Sometimes there can be drops of a nearly a foot. Along the beach are a couple of attractions like Eli Creek and the Maheno shipwreck. Eli Creek is a nice place to cool off, although a lot of it is now closed to the public for rehabilitation. The shipwreck also looks quite impressive and is well worth stopping for a look. It was wrecked back near the beginning of the century and there are a couple of decks below the sand.
After this, the plan was to head north towards the Champagne pools and make camp. Finding somewhere to camp proved rather difficult. There are a number of campsites with facilities on the island. Part of the price of our tour included the permits to camp in these sites. However, they have a 9pm curfew, after which any noise is punished by fines from the rangers. This means that a lot of people like to camp along the beach. However, a lot of beach front dunes are now closed for rehabilitation. After consulting with a ranger, we ended up camping at a "camping ground" rather than a "camp site". The rather fine distinction meant that there are no facilities. The lack of toilets and the large number of people who camp there, means that the surrounding area resembled a cat litter tray. It was unhygienic and can't be good for the environment. If the Queensland government is prepared to take our money in the form of park permits, they could at least make some provision for basic facilities. Their current position of only providing facilities at family sites with the very early curfew is very unfair. Before making camp, we did visit an official campsite to get some firewood. Collecting firewood on the island is illegal and punished by fines.
After a night's sleep, we made for the Champagne Pools. These are a couple of rock pools big enough to swim in. Swimming in the open sea isn't advisable. If you believe the stories you are told in the pre-trip briefing, there are tiger sharks just waiting to feast on foreign backpackers if they so much as dip their big toe in. Rather more real are the dangerous currents and rip tides that could easily sweep even the most experienced swimmer away.
The Champagne Pools are so named because, at high tide, the waves crash over the rocks and fill them with bubbling water. If the tide is wrong, then they're a bit boring really. We were lucky and had a nice swim, which blew away a few cobwebs.
Next we set of for Indian Head. This is a rocky lookup and, from the top, you can often see whales and dolphins. The water is very clear and you can make out fish swimming below you. We saw a turtle and what was probably a whale. Humpbacked whales swim past this part of the coast around September on their migration south to the Antarctic.
Then we headed south down the beach towards Lake Wabby. On the way we were stopped by the police for a random breath test. Our driver did register a reading from the previous night, but was legal. The Australian limit is lower than the UK one, at 0.05, which is worth bearing in mind. I must say it did seem quite strange to get stopped on a beach, but given how many people were fishing with a rod in one hand and a can in the other, you can understand why they do tests even at 10am.
Lake Wabby is a short walk inland from the beach through the forests. It was formed when a large sand blow dammed up a small stream. Eventually the sand blow will engulf the whole lake, but I think it's safe for a few years yet. The lake is very deep in the middle, but quite shallow at the edge. Several people have damaged their necks and spines by diving in the shallow water. There is some life in the lake. Some big catfish are in there and the small fish aren't afraid to have a bit of a nibble on people. One guy in our party did try snorkelling, but the water is a murky green colour, and he couldn't see much.
That night we managed to find a camp site near the beach that was sheltered by the dunes. After dinner, we our first contact with the infamous Fraser Island dingoes. The dingo is a small, wild dog native to Australia. They're not very big and they're not very threatening. People have fed them in the past on Fraser, and they're no longer afraid of people. There was one case where a child was bitten by a dingo on Fraser. They were probably trying to feed it at the time. This dingo tried to get at our rubbish bag, but it was out of its reach. It then prowled around for the next couple of hours until one of our group, fortified with large amounts of Dutch courage, decided to chase it off. It did stand its ground for a minute and growl menacingly, but it soon backed down and ran away.
On our last day we went to Lake Mackenzie. The lake is best described as idyllic. The sand around the lake is white and the water is turquoise and clear. There's very little life in the lake because there are so few nutrients in the water. There are supposed to be some freshwater turtles in there, but I think you'd have to be very lucky to see one. It's a great place for a swim. Just beware of the trees that line the shore. They may look like they provide shade, but it's actually quite patchy, and you can get sunburnt if you're not careful.
After Lake Mackenzie we headed back to the ferry and back to Hervey Bay. Then it was back to Beaches for the first shower in three days. It really is amazing quite how much sand you can accumulate in the various orifices of your body. It was still coming out of my ears several days later. It was also a welcome relief to be able to have a meal that didn't contain sand that evening.
I did enquire about doing some diving in Hervey Bay. There are a couple of shops in the town. Although south of the Great Barrier Reef, there is an artificial reef, called the Curtins reef that can be dived. The shop I tried was all booked up, so I decided not to bother.
The next day I headed off for Byron Bay in New South Wales. I decided not to stop in Brisbane because I was returning there later to catch my flight.
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