Fraser Island: Doing the Hard Yakka.
From Brisbane, Brunyfire and Co, along with the TI Team, made their way up to Hervey Bay to pick up a 4WD landrover from Fraser Magic 4WD with all the necessary permits and camping gear for a two night stay on the world’s coolest sand dune – Fraser Island is in fact, the world’s largest sand island.
The Butchulla people are the indigenous people of Fraser Island and their traditional name for it is K’gari which means paradise – and paradise, we were to discover, is just what it was.
We’d done a power shop the day before as everything had to be taken with us – including drinking water.
Before we were able to board our trusty (as she proved to be) rover, we were subjected to an hour long video on what to expect – from how to drive in the deep soft, single lane tracks, to the high-speed highway rules of the 75 mile surf beach – to how to handle getting bogged, avoid collisions, deal with dingoes, avoid low flying aircraft, fishermen and small children.
All rather daunting and both seasoned campers and first timers alike were all looking a little pale by the time we were given hands on instructions on how to drive the vehicle.
Our point of departure was River Heads, where we waited patiently for the first batch of returning Fraser adventurers to offload…… ………and it was our turn to reverse onto the barge – not quite the same as Bruny’s Mirambeena.We landed at Moon Point on Fraser some 45 minutes later – the island stretches over 123 kilometres in length and 22 kilometres at its widest point. The single lane tracks that criss cross the island are quite an experience!! Like driving in yoghurt…………….constantly slewing sideways with dramatically spinning wheels and the smell of burning rubber. But thanks to our intrepid TI team leader we made safe headway and soon made good time.Jetset’s wayward teenage years spent hooning around Hobart town in his old Holden, much to the chagrin of his parents at the time, was actually excellent training for Fraser Island driving conditions – his aged parents have since changed their mind about jetset’s driving capabilities.
The first night was spent setting up camp at Central Station. A first for a certain girl from Rio……………who nevertheless soon sorted out her tent poles from her pegs and slept like a baby despite the hard ground. The actual baby in the group was an absolute angel, and coped with everything that camping had to throw at her with her usual sweet good humour. Our campsite for that first night was situated in the middle of the island at Central Station, a former logging camp that was in operation from the 1860s until 1991 when the island was nominated for World Heritage listing. What was once a thriving community during the early 1900s – up to 30 houses and a school were built at Central Station – is now a well appointed camp site with toilet and shower facilities – waste disposal units and discreet camp sites.
Fraser island has over a hundred freshwater lakes – some are tea-coloured from the peat-like base that makes up the lake’s foundation and others are clear and blue, ringed by white sandy beaches. We made our way to Lake Birrabeen, one of only two (out of the 100 on the island) that is a clear water lake. The surrounding beach is blindingly white…………and we pretty well had it to ourselves. The other clear water lake is Lake McKenzie that is hugely popular as we found out, with people lining the beaches like bikini clad sardines – the water itself had a lot more submerged tree branches and leaf mulch that squigged between your toes. Lake Birrabeen was by far the better choice.
Fraser Island is the only place in the world where tall rainforests are found growing on sand dunes at elevations of over 200 metres. We were always gratified when we entered forested regions, as the tracks provided a little more traction thus giving us a little respite from the constant pounding, particularly for the backseat passengers.
Further respite was also gained when we took to the beach – seventy-Five Mile Beach is is a gazetted Queensland highway running up the surf side of the island.The beach is the island’s main artery and driving its length from the township of Eurong to our second camp site at Dundubara was quite an experience. Whilst it was a relief to be able to pick up speed – 80km is the limit, but it seemed like we were doing a ‘ton’ (100 miles per hour – old Brit Rocker phrase from the ’50s) there were nevertheless numerous hazards. Disconcerting distractions where varied – like the light aircraft parked on the beach that would take off at a moments notice for scenic flights……..……….and as it was almost Christmas, there was always a cheery, beery wave from resting pilots!Then there were the dingoes whose nonchalance and lack of fear of humans and their machines was a little unnerving especially given the warnings about dingo danger in relation to small children. Amazing to hear stories from a friend that she and her daughter (then only a toddler) would feed these critters by hand as they wandered around the restaurants.Human interference with these beautiful and endangered animals has blighted their reputation, especially after a couple of occasions where children have been attacked (and killed) – the reaction was swift and sad – some 60 or so dingoes were destroyed. Now they are rightly a protected species and people risk high penalties for feeding them or encouraging contact.Along the beach’s busy highway, drivers not only have to contend with wandering dingoes with no traffic sense, but numerous anglers fishing in the surf.There are scenic stops along the way, but as we were keen to avoid the fast incoming tide on the way up to our campsite at the top end of the island, we delayed only long enough to check out the Maheno shipwreck.The SS Maheno was a Kiwi ocean liner that operated between New Zealand and Australia from 1095 to 1935. During its life, it was a hospital ship during WW1 carting hundreds of wounded ANZACs to safety. In 1935, after an illustrious career, it was sold as scrap to an Osaka shipbreaker. But the Maheno had other ideas, breaking her tow during a cyclone and beaching on Fraser where she resides to this day.
By the end of the day………………….we had made it up to Indian Head. The must see spot here is Champagne Pools – a series of natural rock pools fed by the sea, the waves crashing over the rocks causing the water to foam, hence the reference to champagne. Sadly, and with our best efforts, we didn’t make it. The entrance is a really difficult stretch of deep soft sand that one needs to rev like the clappers to get through, and it caught out several people, bogging them down, even as we watched. We tried and stalled, narrowly missing not getting bogged ourselves, and by that time, we all just wanted to get to our next campsite.
Dundubara, is another well appointed camp site where we caught up with the young English couple we’d exchanged nervous glances with at our introductory video. Now, however, we were all like old Fraser camper hands – exchanging stories and sharing driving tips. What a difference a couple of days makes! We also shared our camping spot with this fellow……..………….a timely reminder not to leave food scraps lying around and to ensure the Eskie had been secured inside the Land Rover for the night.
The following day was our last – we were due to catch the ferry back to the ‘mainland’ later that afternoon so we made sure we broke camp early to allow time to stop off at a couple of spots on the beach. First was Eli Creek – we’d spotted it earlier the previous day, and it was packed.On this occasion however, early in the morning, we had it to ourselves.Eli Creek is the island’s largest freshwater stream on the eastern coast, with over four million litres of water flowing from its mouth onto the beach and into the ocean every hour. This fast flowing creek provided Brunyfire, jetset and Miss Sassy Moon with a brisk, (as in speed and water temperature) ride from the end of the boardwalk to the beach.
The immense sand blows and cliffs of coloured sands that are evident along the beach are part of the longest and most complete age sequence of coastal dune systems in the world, and they are still evolving. They form a continuous record of climatic and sea level changes over the last 700 000 years. The highest dunes on the island reach up to 240 metres above sea level.
We walked through low coastal scrub and a sheltered cypress forest…….………..and found ourselves in a Fred Williams landscape!Having seen Williams’s work at GOMA in Brisbane, it was easy to imagine his abstracted landscapes amongst the dunes.Fred Williams (1927 – 1982) was an Australian born artist who redefined the idea during the 1960s of how the Australian landscape was perceived by doing away with the horizon line, the key to Western traditional landscape paintings.
His 1963 painting of the You Yangs (a series of granite ridges situated between Melbourne and Geelong, Victoria) exemplifies his use of a more spatially ambiguous rendition of the landscape………..…………that incorporates abstract and gestural marks that suggest the scattering of trees and rocks in an arid environment – a kind of shorthand or aerial view of his Australian world.
This particular painting, much like the shards of Hematite scattered through the dunes at Rainbow Gorge, evoke a strong sense of place – a theme Williams used in a formal way to imply the experience of place; his aesthetic of dots and dashes, and the colours of the Australian bush, act like a form of visual landscape mapping.
The sense of a unique landscape is indeed strong on Fraser Island – the uniqueness of its makeup is in one respect its greatest asset…….……….but like all delicate ecosytems, it is in danger of being loved to death – the visitors have reached 350,000 a year at the last count.Despite these numbers, we managed to avoid the masses and were sad to leave when the time came.