I was a little caught out with how cold it was. I had packed an overnight bag the day before and stored the bulk of my belongings at the hostel in Hervey Bay which I would return to after my two day excursion. After all the heat of the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast I hadn’t given any thought to my choice of clothing only to find myself waiting for the ferry to K’Gari, or Fraser Island as it is more commonly known, and feeling the goose bumps threaten. It was early morning and the low sun was failing to provide much warmth. I always endeavour to spend ferry crossings out on deck to view the passing scenery but with the biting cross wind as we sailed the channel from the Queensland mainland out to the island, I was forced to hunker down and shelter in the least draughty spot I could find.
There was a lot of back burning going on during my Queensland visit, a precautionary burn of dry vegetation to limit the fuel for wildfires during the hot dry summers, and it meant there was a permanent discoloured haze on the horizon. As we drew closer to Fraser Island it was clear that even it was burning to the south but we were heading to the pier at the main resort halfway up the western coast of the island. Disembarking onto the pier there was a mix of people going to work, day trippers and those of us staying a little longer. I had booked a 2 day/1 night tour and clambered aboard the large-wheeled bus that was to be my transport for my stay.
In New Zealand where I live there is a progressive move to recognise and reestablish Maori land ownership and culture. Whilst there are no indigenous people, the Polynesian explorers that settled there long pre-date the European explorers that followed and subsequently ousted and conquered. Now though, Maori names and words are in common usage and the language is ever present. In Australia, a land with indigenous people that have lived there for tens of thousands of years before European colonisation, the culture and languages have been suppressed and degraded over time. Like in New Zealand though, there are recent moves to repair the damage, and whilst there is a long road ahead, it was interesting to see that Fraser Island, one of Queensland’s popular tourist spots, had recently been officially recognised by its indigenous name K’Gari and our guide explained that like Ayers Rock returning to the name of Uluru, the island will now be referred to as K’Gari first and Fraser Island second. Judging by the amount of confused faces by both Australians and foreigners when I say Uluru, outside and inside recognition of the name changes will take some time. I guess the journey of a thousand miles is made up with single steps.
K’Gari is one part of Australia where dingo spotting can be successful, apart from the time of year when I was there. Our resort was fenced off to keep the dingoes out and we had to pass through a gate each time we entered or left an island settlement. I spent two days ever hopeful of seeing one, but never doing so. But each day on passing through the gate at the resort, we hit the sand that the island is so famous for and the drive itself was an adventure. The largest sand island in the world has no roads outside of the resorts, only sandy tracks through the trees that need a good set of wheels and an equally good driver. The buses we travelled in were converted especially for this island with giant dune wheels. It was bumpy but fun and I would not have wanted to be in some of the privately owned jeeps that people had brought over from the mainland. The first stretch outside the resort was known as the rollercoaster and at full pelt down the bumpy steep incline I wore a big grin on my face.
After innumerable turns with little signage for navigation, we stopped in the middle of the bush to go for a walk. Our guide pointed out all the trapdoor spider holes and I was the only person in jandals (flip flops) and again I silently cursed leaving most of my belongings behind. Nevertheless, I powered on through the bush till we came out at small Basin Lake, and after that we went deeper into the bush on a long and meandering nature walk. Our guide had left us to take the bus to the pick up spot so the group gradually spread out, not yet forging much conversation with each other yet and I admired the vegetation in silence, trying to spot any wildlife that might be about, but not seeing much. Eventually we caught up with our guide and made it out to a campsite where a delicious lunch was waiting for us. Finally, the group started to chat together, and I was sat next to two English lads who were on an extended overseas break. Without knowing it at the time, I would bump into them again later in my Queensland travels.
Another bumpy drive along the sand roads took us to Lake McKenzie, one of K’Gari’s famous sights. It is famous for its pure white silica beaches and on a sunny day both the sand and the water glistened. It was beautiful. Whilst most of my group hung out on the beach, I got out into the water which was strangely difficult to swim in but was the perfect temperature. We spent the rest of the afternoon here and I mulled around in the water and out, exploring the contours of the shore and spotting a bird of prey up above. I could see why this place was so popular, and indeed there were plenty of people there, but it was actually really easy to feel like you had your own little spot of paradise.
We returned to Kingfisher Bay resort to watch the sunset. On the west coast of K’Gari, we could see the sun lower over the Australian mainland, and it was a cool and still evening. A little cold, it didn’t detract from the vision of the golden colours dulling into the night. Our spot was next to the pier so the evening ferry was leaving for River Head. Queensland gets dark around 6pm year round give or take a slight variation, and it meant a long cool evening where I felt inadequately dressed. After all the heat of the trip so far, I had left the bulk of my clothes at Hervey Bay. Still, I was able to enjoy an outdoor banquet without getting too chilled, ahead of the second day of the K’Gari tour.
It was overcast on the second day as we trundled and bounced out of the resort, down the rollercoaster and across to the east coast of the island to drive 75-mile beach. Like a few days prior on the mainland, this was an awesome beach drive despite the cloud cover. Our first stop was the ship wreck of the SS Maheno. Built in my home country of Scotland, she was used as a cruise ship between Australia and New Zealand, before being converted to a hospital ship in WW1. After years of military service, she was returned to commercial service before beaching in 1935 at her final resting place whilst in tow on route to Japan. A photograph on the Wikipedia site from when she was freshly beached, shows a beautiful vessel that would have been interesting to see in this condition. Now, just a rusted hulk remains, but even this is beautiful in a haunting manner. I love old wrecks, but the tide was swirling around her hull, meaning any close inspection meant wet feet.
A further drive along the beach brought us to the Pinnacles, coloured sand cliffs produced by mineral leeching and erosion. Parked up nearby was one of a few planes who were using the same stretch of beach as a runway. Eventually, at the far end of the beach, we cut across a small headland to reach Champagne Pools, the only safe swimming spot on this side of the island. A boardwalk led down to them but unlike Lake McKenzie the day before, they did not entice me to get into the water. Instead I went exploring the rock pools, finding crabs and snails within the shallows.
I took my time heading to our lunch rendezvous, ever gazing out to sea in search of whales, and sure enough, out in the distance, I spotted a couple of humpback whales. After a delicious lunch, we took the walking track up Indian Head, a small outcrop of raised land. It was a beautiful lookout spot over the beaches either side, and from here we spotted 6 humpback whales in the far distance. Back down the beach, we popped in to Cathedral Beach Campsite as a facilities stop, but outside the toilet block was an impressive-sized Golden Orb spider, both the larger female and the smaller male. Australia has a phenomenal reputation for its venomous and deadly critters, and an impressive number of both spider and snake species. The general rule in the spider world, is that the bigger the spider, the less likely it is to be venomous, so these large spiders were no concern to get up close and personal with.
The afternoon was spent at Eli Creek, a softly flowing stream through the bush. We were provided with inflatable rubber rings which made for a very pleasant float downstream from the end of a walkway, out to the estuary where it curls round to meet the sea. I spend a lot of my holidays trying to pack as much in as possible, and don’t often stand still, but every now and again I allow myself that lazy chill time, and tubing downstream gave me that. I floated down the river 3 times before taking a brief wander around the nearby area. On route back to the resort, we stopped at a lookout over one of the island’s sandbars.
I was catching the night ferry back to the mainland, giving me time to sit by the pier and watch another beautiful sunset. I wandered along the waterfront as the sun lowered, looking out for dingoes, but still seeing none. After darkness fell, I wandered around the resort, heading first to the large impressive reception of the main resort centre, and the nearby shop before making use of the free resort shuttle to head up the steep hill to where my backpacker wing had been. After another outdoor dinner banquet, the time eventually came to catch the bus back down to the pier and board the ferry. Now in complete darkness, I hunkered down against the cold once more, and by the time I was dropped back at the hostel in Hervey Bay, it was late. I ended up in the same room I’d been in last time, and tried my hardest to be quiet so as not to wake the two other people. Unfortunately, hostels, and also their residents, can be a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve met some interesting and fun people in hostels, but I’ve also shared rooms with many anti-social or downright rude people over the years. At 1.30am, I was awoken by my two roommates having a communal trip to the bathroom followed by a conversation at full volume in German. I assumed they were checking out early, but after about 10 minutes of chatter, they then went back to bed. I did at least catch a bit more sleep, but I had an early rise at 5.30am for another day of adventuring…