Having reached Noosa and spent most of the two days there in the rain it was, unfortunately, time for Natalie and Thomas to make their way homewards. So we had an early start and then doubled back to Brisbane to drop them at the airport from where we turned around and headed north again, this time for Fraser Island via the ferry from River Heads (near Hervey Bay).
It was a very hot day in contrast to the two previous ones, sadly for Nat and Tom, and it was almost too hot when we arrived at the ferry terminal after about 4 hours of driving. We hadn’t known what to expect from Fraser Island, it had been recommended by a friend but we hadn’t done more research than a cursory glance at the guidebook and we hadn’t even really studied the details of the AirBnB place that we’d rented for three nights. Our trip to River Heads was one of 4 detours we’d take off the A1, Bruce Highway, which otherwise we would stay on for all the 2500 Km from Manly to Cairns (one being for Noosa and the other two coming later on in our road trip). Our first impressions on arriving at River Heads, were of a sleepy town at the ferry crossing with lots of 4WDs around. There was also a somewhat disconcerting sign warning about crocodiles in the estuary and an electronic panel displaying rotating warnings about Dingos.
Fraser Island is the biggest of the many islands off the Queensland coast and, we believe, the biggest sand island in the world. The island has been formed over
millions of years by sand from the Pacific Ocean and is something like 123 kilometres long by 22 or so wide. It’s pretty much all covered in trees, including large areas of rain forest and, although it has a few settlements, it’s mainly populated by tourists. A shipwreck in 1863 was responsible for changing the fortunes of the island, not necessarily for the better, particularly as far as the indigenous population were concerned. The Stirling Castle, under the command of Captain James Fraser, foundered on the Great Barrier Reef, somewhere to the north and the crew and passengers took to the lifeboats which drifted along, eventually pitching up on Fraser Island. The good captain died, some say at the hands of the local Aboriginal people and his wife, Eliza, and family were then left to live among the locals. Eventually word got out about their situation and they were “rescued” by an escaped convict and ended up in Brisbane. When the authorities found out about this they sent a party to the Island to find out what had become of Captain Fraser and the other missing people. It’s not clear whether they succeeded in this task but they came back with a report identifying significant logging opportunities, triggering a new phase in the island’s life. The island is now, (since 1992), a World Heritage site but the paradox is the large number of red meat-eating Aussies driving their 4WDs all over the island. This was our first exposure to Aussie-style camping, with most of the vehicles laden down with roof racks and many with trailers hauling a huge range of camping gear, everything including the kitchen sink.
The ferry trip across the calm waters of the Great Sandy Strait to Kingfisher Eco Resort, where we were staying, took around 40 minutes under bright blue skies with some amazing cloud formations. On arrival we were pleasantly surprised by our rental accommodation – light and spacious with a large external decking area, even a jacuzzi bath and, thankfully, a/c. Although it was self-catering there unfortunately wasn’t much in the way of food to buy from the store in the resort so that part of our budget plan was foiled. Kingfisher Bay Resort itself, although quite large and spread out, is carefully hidden among the trees, and from the ferry, you would be hard-pushed to identify it. The roads within the resort are surfaced but, as soon as you pass through the Dingo fence surrounding it, you’re straight onto the network of sandy
trails which criss-cross the island (a legacy of the logging days) and which are only suitable for 4WD vehicles. Although we’d been unsure about whether our upgraded SUV was a 4WD, a quick check underneath whilst waiting for the ferry confirmed the absence of a drive shaft. This was a good check to have made as we’d have been in trouble within minutes of any attempt to drive out of the resort and the rescue truck costs $200 (Aussie) per hour!
Within a few hours of our arrival we realised that 3 nights was not going to be enough. Whilst checking in we filled up more than half of our time by booking ourselves on a Ranger-guided night walk, (the following evening) and then a whole-day tour of the island by guided 4WD coach. (Although there were 4WD vehicles for hire, Ian wasn’t brave enough to go for an introduction to off-road driving in such an unforgiving environment!) On the first night we watched a magnificent sunset from the ferry jetty whilst having a beer followed by some dodgy, pub-style food in the “cheap” restaurant. (The resort had three options – bar food, buffet and “fine dining”).
The first full day on the island started early for Ian and Faye with a 40 minute jog during which they discovered how hilly the island was; after a long pull up a steep
sandy track to the southern lookout point (with magnificent views to the west over the Great Sandy Strait), they plunged down the sides of a steep ravine to Dundonga Creek and the start of what should have been a straightforward jog back along the beach to the resort. Unfortunately the tide was in and what was left of the beach was covered for several hundred metres in fallen trees, providing a tough obstacle course on the way back. After breakfast the three of us went for a 10Km walk in the other direction, up through the trees to the Southern lookout, then onwards to eventually arrive at the beach at the dilapidated MacKenzie’s jetty, (another legacy of the logging days) where we tucked into our sandwiches. All the way we’d been
looking out in vain for any signs of the famous Fraser Island Dingoes but in fact, until we got to the beach, we saw precious little wildlife. (We learned later that most of it is nocturnal.) The beach provided us with our first encounters with the local fauna, first with a huge Ray flapping its wings in the shallow waters just off the beach and then with hundreds of tiny soldier crabs covering the sand.
The night-time torch-lit nature walk with the rangers was much more productive, and we didn’t even stray far from the resort. First off, in the tiny stream flowing right through the resort, she showed us two eels which lived there, an adult and a juvenile. Then, a few metres further on, and just inches from the path, she pointed
out a funnel-web spider, sitting there calmly looking out from its hole in the earth. Apart from that we saw a variety of other nocturnal life, rocket frogs, the hated cane toads, bats and finally fresh dingo tacks on the beach; the ranger explained that this particular Dingo family had their lair just by MacKenzie jetty at the exact spot where we’d unwrapped our sandwiches! (Whilst on the beach we also saw the international space station orbiting above our heads.)
The following day we had the tour of the island by 4WD coach – with our guide and driver, Peter, a very funny and informative man. During the hours we were being driven around the island he entertained us with an endless reel of funny stories interspersed with facts and info about Fraser Island and its flora and fauna. The tour highlighted just how much this is an Island of contrasts; on the east, Pacific-facing side there is one huge long beach, (75 mile beach) which forms the
main “highway” complete with 80 KM/hr speed limit and police patrols. This thoroughfare is shared by motorised traffic, surfers, fisherman, wild-campers, light aircraft and dingoes looking for dead stuff washed up on the beach.) This is in total contrast to the western side of the island, (where we were staying), which is sheltered from the Pacific surf and with no roads and consequently no traffic. We arrived at 75-mile beach having first crossed the interior of the island, spending time swimming in Lake MacKenzie, (following in Billy Connolly’s footsteps) and then walking in the rain forest at Central Station. Once on the beach we drove for several miles northwards, resisting offers of a “bargain” 15 minute flight over the sea but taking advantage of the to photograph the wreck of the Maheno and also of the opportunity to swim again, this time in Eli Creek, just where it arrives at the beach. So, although we’re normally more into self-guided tours, we came away from this one feeling like it had been the best way to see some of and learn about the island, given the limited time we had there.
That evening, after spending the rest of the afternoon lazing by the resorts swimming pool, we had an attempt at our own night-time walk by torchlight and were successful in finding one of the eels again, more cane toads and this time a bandicoot and an owl as well – but no spider!
Then day three arrived with an enforced leisurely start as our ferry back to the mainland wasn’t until 12 noon, which was just as well as Ian and Faye got lost on their “short jog”, turning it into the longest one of the holiday. On the return ferry trip, perhaps because we’d become more sensitised to or surroundings, we were fortunate enough to see a number of Turtles and a pod of dolphins.
So that was it, back to Hervey Bay and then out to the Bruce Highway and north towards Rockhampton and our next destination – the Capricorn Caves.