Vlad’s Fraser Island Odyssey ( 2004 )

Prelude

At about 4:30 on Friday afternoon the clutch of the Defender began slipping badly. I was progressing at a rate under 20kph as a result and given I had planned to get away to Fraser Island from that weekend, I was slightly panicked and stressed. A quick trip (actually a very slow trip, but luckily it’s not far) to M.R. Automotive and they had me on the way again. Proved not to be the clutch but the hydraulics system, just needed bleeding properly. Disaster number 1 averted.

Day 1 – Sunday

Had the ute all packed up and ready to go. Waved goodbye to the folks (staying with us for a while) and turned the key. Nothing. Multimeter check of battery charge. No problems there. Panic seemed the appropriate response, Got onto the .pdf manuals on AULRO looking for the appropriate info on the starter motor (a guess) but to no avail. Meanwhile Mrs Vlad had called the RACQ and then made herself scarce. On their arrival I could see that “Oh no, a bloody Land Rover” look on the mechanics face. Anyway, isolated it to the starter solenoid. A turn of the key with a whack on the solenoid at the same time, got her running. It was decision time, Would I risk it not starting during the trip ? Bloody oath I would – no bastards taking this holiday from me !

Headed up to Gympie where we refuelled (Diesel – 103.9) and onto Rainbow Beach, where I topped up the tank again (Diesel – 115.9). Headed the short distance to Inskip Point where I drove onto the sand without letting the tyres down. Got bogged, sort of. Diff-Lock in, low range, drove out no problems and onto the “Manta Ray” barge. During the short trip across I dropped the tyres to 25psi.

On arrival. we skirted the fallen tress and driftwood which blocked most of the beach, at Hook Point. Other vehicles were driving through the surf to go around but I was more careful and timed the wave patterns so as to go when there was least risk and then we headed North along the eastern beach.

It was wonderful to drive along the sand for a distance with the rolling ocean on the right, dunes and tress on the left and the smell of salt in the air ! The vehicle was floating around a bit with a full load of gear onboard and I was wondering if I could have chosen better tyre pressures ?)

We saw 2 dingoes on the drive north, and on past Eli creek (not too many tourists there that day), a few aircraft on the beach, past the Maheno shipwreck and on to Dundubara campground. We passed several Land Rovers, ALL of whom returned my wave but only a few drivers of other vehicles did so. We set up camp, and checked out the amenities. Showers were a 50c coin for 3 minutes, and we had come prepared with a pocketful. (Note: The cost has now changed – see later in the story). The other two things we noted on the first day there? 1) March flies – these are big and when they bite it hurts like hell, and 2) At night thousands of little bugs swarm the gaslight and suicide into its flame.

Day 2 – Monday

Woke in the morning to a sound like someone walking around next to, and seemingly trying to enter our tent. I sat up and looked into the tent annexe to see a very large goanna. It took off when it saw me. When I got out of the tent I met an Israeli guy taking pictures of the lizard who had climbed a nearby tree.

Having unloaded the ute, I dropped the tyre pressures to 18psi (where they stayed for the rest of the trip, quite happily). About 11.30 we hit the beach and headed north , passing a skinny little dingo, to Indian head. It was just after high tide and the sand was soft, with many little washouts along the way. From Indian head we took an inland bypass track around the head and back onto the beach. Another 2km on, and off the beach again onto the inland track for Waddy Point. Passing the carpark for the Champagne Pools we continued along soft sandy inland tracks with occasional large ruts. We checked out the facilities at Waddy Point campground, for Ferno. (It’s a good one, mate – Ranger station, amenities, drinking water, phone, bbq’s, picnic tables, fenced from dingoes etc etc). Continuing down onto the beach, past the beach camping area (this is the only camping area on Fraser that allows generators) north past Orchid Beach and a further 5 1/2 kms to Ocean Lake exit. From here it’s a short drive into the shores of Ocean Lake.

At Ocean Lake there are toilets and a picnic area. We had a refreshing swim in the lake (fresh water, just the right temperature, the water is clear but is stained a brownish colour because of the ti trees, and there are many small fish to be seen). We had the place to ourselves. After our dip we had a round of sambos, and during this lunch a Troop-Carrier full of backpackers arrived, so it was time to go.

Back the way we had come, we met a Nissan Ute coming toward us (two way track but only a single lane). We tried to back up and onto a side “lay-by” but couldn’t due to the deep ruts which kept pulling our back wheels into them. The Nissan ended up getting onto the lay-by due to the combination of steering ability (going forward rather than backwards!) and a ton of revs. Continuing on our way, we came across a bag of rubbish someone had left on the track , so we did the right thing and took it with us to bin later.

Our next stop was the Champagne Pools. From the car-park it’s only a few hundred metres walk down to the bane of the modern tourist – a “boardwalk” for viewing the pools. (On the walk we had noticed some dung – evidence that there a still a few wild brumbies on the island despite the governments efforts to have them removed). Signs warn against standing on the rocks or swimming in the pools. At this time it was low tide and the pools were relatively full of sand (the sand content changes according to recent weather conditions and wave action). There were quite a few (bikini-clad) tourists down there paddling about so I figured I’d join them. Mrs Vlad (Michelle) didn’t fancy the walk/climb down the rocks so she didn’t come down.

Although shallow, especially at low tide, the pools were still well worth a visit. There were fish of various sizes schooling about the deeper pools, and some nice algal growth and rock formations. Every now and then a wave would break over the top and cascade water down into the pools.

If you camped at Waddy Point you could easily access the pools at high tide as its all inland track between the two. For us, staying at Dundubara, the beaches are impassable (I’m told) 1-2 hours either side of the high tide.

We then headed home to the campground, arriving at about 4.30, the drive south was very good being at low tide. At camp, a couple had arrived in a Defender 110 Tdi soft-top (full canvas roof). It looked great. I’m greedy. I want one ❗

The campsite had a fire-ring which was, luckily, stocked with firewood. Given the opportunity I stoked the fire up and, once I got some good coals, threw in a good supply of foil wrapped spuds. At this point (the sadists among you will enjoy this 🙄 ) I got some smoke in my eyes and was nearly burned by a flare up, so to avoid burning myself I stepped backwards – quickly – straight into an old tree stump. There was intense pain, a good flow of blood, and a bloody great splinter stuck into my calf (and not a Medic in sight). The so called “first aid kit” we had was bloody useless (mental note – buy a decent one) but eventually Mrs Vlad managed to extricate a 1-2cm chunk of wood from my leg, in time for me to put the pork chops onto the BBQ plate. I think she was hungry, or I’d still be carrying it. Anyway, it all made dinner taste that much better – and you can’t beat baked spuds with lashings of butter and salt. (The epicure’s way to an early grave)

 

Day 3 – Tuesday

Woke up late to an oppressively hot day. No sooner had I re-hydrated and opened the tent, than the ominous sound of thunder was heard. Soon this was followed by a few raindrops so I retreated inside the tent. We had a few hours of thunder and sporadic rain, affording the occasion for a bit more sleep. (I reckon you were all starting work at about this time…)

Once the “storm” had finished it was only slightly cooler. The ice in the esky was melting, it was time for a top up, so we drove south along the beach toward “Fraser’s at Cathedral” (Cathedral Beach settlement) where there is a shop. Just off the beach and onto the soft sand access track the road was blocked by a Toyota Troop-Carrier. I got out to see what the problem was – turned out it was waiting for another ‘Troopie’ in front, so that’s where I went. The troopie was full of backpackers (as most Troopies were!) and was bogged, while their efforts to extricate themselves had left that ‘burning clutch’ smell hovering in the air. The state of play: Troopie full of people, tyres at road pressures. “What gear are you in”, asks I. It was First High 🙄 I suggested they get the dead weight (pax) out, reverse 10 metres, and try low range 2nd or 3rd. This failed, mainly because the driver was riding the clutch. I said “Have another go – 3rd low – and give it heaps!” Success ❗ Back to the Troopie behind – he was also bogged now. Gave him the same advice. “Okay”, he says, “When I put the small lever in Low, what do I do with the big lever?” (For F^$% sake…) Don’t these rental places tell these people anything ❓ ❗ How hard would it be to sit them down in front of a 15 minute instructional video before giving them the keys?! Anyway, I soon had them on their way. When I returned to Mrs Vlad and Doris; Michelle was talking to the driver of another Troopie behind us (a local this time). She’d told him what was going on and his immediate response was: “Backpackers! Probably got 50psi in the tyres”. Anyway we got back in the ‘fender and casually cruised up the sandy track, past a ‘herd’ of walking backpackers. At the shop we stocked up on ice and some ice-creams. Fortunately I didn’t need diesel at the time, it was $1.54 per litre!

While enjoying our ice-creams we saw another privately owned Defender (Tdi wagon) roll up and park next to the ute. Naturally we struck up a conversation. These were two “diamond in the rough” blokes who had brought their wives along as well. They were on the island for the fishing, the bullbar had more rods than a tackle shop strapped to it. After the usual exchange of banter about backpacker girls with big tits (another story) we were talking about the effect that large numbers of tourists (specifically the backpacker invasion) was having on the island. One of the blokes noted they had been camping at the same spot for 20 years and had always maintained it well, digging proper pit toilets for their group stays. Now, he said, you couldn’t look in any direction there without seeing toilet paper littering the bush. The sad thing is that we all get lumped in as “tourists” and accused of doing the wrong thing by the “green” brigade. After an enjoyable chat we reluctantly went our separate ways.

We headed south again, down past the Maheno. The light was poor so I thought I’d take photos on the way back. On we went to Eli Creek. The place is crowded these days (and this is a weekday outside of school holidays!) with tour buses, other 4wd’s (even a few Landies), and the odd aeroplane. Bikini clad backpackers abounded but the handbrake was there to keep me in check ❗

Unlike last time I visited, Eli Creek is now surrounded by boardwalks and there’s nowhere in the accessible (I’ll come to that) part of the creek where you can’t see a boardwalk – a real shame that takes away from its natural beauty. We did the ‘compulsory’ walk up the creek until where the boardwalk crosses the creek upstream. Beyond this is overgrown but the creek continues quite a long way however a sign notes “Access Prohibited” due allegedly to previous cyclonic conditions. Oh well, at least the float back down the creek with the fast current is still as fun as ever ❗ Where the creek opens up on the beach, some enterprising ‘locals’ had arrived early. On shore they had a tarp set up over their gear. They themselves were sitting on folding chairs in (yes, in) the creek and shaded by a large similarly half submerged beach umbrella. After a while enjoying the cold, fresh water and watching a few aircraft movements, we ‘saddled up’ and headed back toward camp. As we approached the Maheno I knew I’d be taking no photos this day – it was absolutely swarming with tourists – backpackers the lot of them – and surrounded by Troop Carriers. The backpackers were all around and IN the wreck despite the warning and prohibition signs. Unfortunately it’s behaviour like this that means the bloody government will probably bulldoze the Maheno one day, like they did to the Cherry Venture at Rainbow Beach. If any of them had spoken English I would have told them so too, but I’d have been wasting my breath I’m sure. On reflection, I should have taken a picture to show you the crowd. Anyway, we continued north to ‘The Pinnacles’, a formation of coloured sands where we stopped briefly for a few photos before heading back to camp. On arrival we see 3 troopies of backpackers have also turned up – looks like we’re in for a noisy night!

Halfway through dinner Michelle asked me to get something from the picnic table. I walked off toward it and only when I got close did I realise there was a 6 foot long snake stretched out along the seat 😯 ❗ I beat a hasty retreat, but no sooner did I tell Michelle than she fled to the safety of the tent, closing me outside to my fate ❗ I got the torch to have a good look at him, and took a couple of photos. He slowly moved from the table toward a nearby tree, loitered there for about 30 minutes and slowly moved away into the bush. We resumed eating our dessert and retired to bed. During the night we were visited by some Melamys (kind of like big bush rat type critters, they are cute and make squeaky noises).

Day 4 – Wednesday

About 3am there was a commotion outside our tent, but I wasn’t wondering what it was for long. A voice came out of the darkness “Hello, sorry, Hello” (in a broad Irish accent) “Sorry I didn’t want to wake anyone up, but I’m very very lost and a quite frightened!” (An Irishman in a strange land). We leant him our torch so he could see where he was, and gave him directions to the amenities block, from where I hoped he’d find his way back to his tent. He knew that he was looking for a Troopie, and no doubt he’d find one, but maybe not the right one. He returned the torch, thanked us and went on his stumbling, frightened, alcohol-fuelled way. Who knows, they might find an Irishman wandering around the bush in a few months time.

We got up (again) at 6am with plans to get away early – the low tide was at 5 o’clock and this gave us a good few hours for the run down the beach to our planned destination. We headed south about 41 kilometres to Eurong, where we topped up with fuel ($1.54 per litre – diesel) and some souvenirs for the nephews and a bit of Christmas shopping. (Even when camping, a woman can smell out a place to go shopping). Anyway, Michelle got to spend some money so she was kept happy. After a brief detour to the bakehouse for some morning tea (average) we headed onto the inland tracks. Our first destination was Lake Birrabeen, travelling via sandy tracks which were sometimes soft, often quite ‘lumpy and bumpy’ and where 2nd high range and about 20kph was the usual going. We travelled 15kms to this first lake.

Lake Birrabeen is described in the guidebook as “An absolutely stunning blue lake with a dazzling white sandy beach along its western shore. It is not as popular as Lake McKenzie but is one of the island’s most beautiful. There is only a small parking area which means the lake is typically deserted”. This was almost entirely accurate. We arrived, however, there were several of the ubiquitous Troopies in the car park and when we got down to the lake there were a few dozen other people there. Typically deserted, my arse ❗ And it wasn’t even school holidays. The waters were beautiful – from the stunning turquoise near the shore to a deep blue where the bottom dropped away. The water temperature was perfect, not cold to get into and remaining refreshing. As we were relaxing enjoying the serenity, two giant busloads of tourists arrived and suddenly the beach was crowded. Yep, so much for “typically deserted”. It was time to make a move.

Diversion Rant: At this lake, like some of the other places we have visited, we noticed that the public carpark is often away from the lake etc requiring a (usually but not always short) walk, but there are special ‘tour buses only’ roads whereby they access virtually right to the lake shores ❗ I see no reason such tours should get preferential treatment like that. Someone with a cynical mind might say it’s just another example of the authorities trying to get us all on bloody buses and out of our own vehicles. Who the hell wants to be in an air-conditioned coach with non-opening windows, a running commentary in six languages and recordings of the outside noises rather than the sounds themselves ❓ 😕 Not me thanks. I like to enjoy the full sensory experience of a place, the smell of the ocean, the sea breeze, the birds in the trees, and so on.

And back to our regularly scheduled programming: The next lake on our journey was Lake Boomanjin. After a brief (1km each way) foray in the wrong direction (I blame the navigator) we returned back past Lake Birrabeen. Don’t be fooled by the lack of signposting – continue to carpark number 2 and keep following that road for about 11kms of bumpy, sandy but beautiful (I run out of superlatives easily on a holiday like this) track. This, like many of the island’s tracks, is single lane but two way traffic so you’ll often find yourself pulling off the road to let other vehicles pass. In many cases they should be the ones giving way, but it’s hardly worth an argument. I only got annoyed by the ones who we pulled aside for, and they didn’t even acknowledge with a wave. Bastards.

Lake Boomanjin is a brown lake, which is due to tannins leaching into the water from the ti trees. The water itself was temperate, very nice, and the lake quite shallow for a long way out – my calf height for over 20 metres from shore while even 50 metres out it was only my hip height. This would be a good lake for kids for this reason, if they aren’t put off by the colour. There weren’t many people at this lake (it is the blue ones that are popular) so we managed to keep ourselves to ourselves and enjoy the time we spent there. The return trip was the same way we had come in – back past Lake Birrabeen and onwards toward Lake McKenzie.

Driving on and skirting Central Station, we drove through Pile Valley, which is where the big Satinay trees were logged. Many of these trees ended up as piles (thus the name) in the construction of the Suez Canal and the new London docks constructed after WW2. Being a species of turpentine, the Satinay was much sought after due to their remarkable resistance to marine borers over a long period submerged. The Satinay grows to 60 metres at maturity, which is approximately 1,000 years. It boggles the mind ❗ , and to think it can all be undone with a saw so quickly. Pile Valley is a wonderful area of rainforest – Fraser Island being one of the few places in the world where rainforest grows out of sand. Continuing along sandy tracks, we notice that even in a short distance the type of bush surrounding the track can change markedly, whick keeps the trips interesting, there are surprises around almost every corner. The last few kms of track into Lake McKenzie was among the worst we’d travelled – very, very bumpy and rutted, causing the poor Landy to bounce all over the place like mad. Michelle said it gave here a “gut milkshake”

Shadows across the track made it difficult to spot holes and ruts, often until it was too late. Given the amount of traffic that uses this road I had expected it to be well maintained. We arrived at the carpark at about 1:00pm and were well and truly ready for lunch.

There was a sign saying “picnic area” so we took it at its’ word and followed the path on foot, lunch in hand. We did find some picnic tables – nestled among other parked vehicles – but were more hungry than disappointed do we sat down to eat. It soon became apparent whose picnic area this was – though we had encountered them several times before, this site was infested with March flies. Picture a house fly on steroids. Well a March fly is the one that comes and beats that fly up ❗ They are the size of bees. According to the book they have “two large bladelike mouthparts with which they slash the skin, this creates a large and painful puncture site that oozes blood which is then lapped up” 😯 . We can vouch for the fact that they bloody hurt, and despite swatting away they are not easily discouraged, returning again and again like an ‘Amway’ rep. Eventually it all became too much – we rushed lunch and retreated down to the lake.

Lake McKenzie is all it’s claimed to be. Stunning blue colours, deepening with the water. The lake is shallow at the edges (great for kids) with a breathtaking white sand beach. Heaven is a place like this – as long as the backpackers have been sent to hell first 😉 . For reasons of protecting the environment, users of the islands’ lakes are encouraged not to wear sunscreen but instead to cover up and/or limit sun exposure time. Unfortunately there are plenty of Europeans out to get a tan, lathering up with sunscreen before swimming. No amount of reasoning works with these people. (Another example of “tourists” giving all visitors a bad image – and more ammunition for the “green brigade”). The serenity was also not helped by several Yankee lads talking loudly (as they do) while playing footy and Frisbee. The experience, therefore, depends on who else happens to be there at the time. It was crowded but not insanely so, I suspect it would be packed during the school holidays! Having said that, DO NOT MISS IT ❗

After leaving Lake McKenzie we drove to Lake Wabby. From the carpark it’s around 500 metres or so walk to the lookout. From there its another kilometre steep downhill walk to the lake itself. Michelle wasn’t up for it this time, so we settled for the view. And what a view! Lake Wabby is a barrage lake – formed when the advancing Hammerstone sand blow blocked off a freshwater creek. The sand blow advances about 3 metres a year and will eventually swallow the lake. The water is a beautiful deep green colour and the overall effect is quite stunning. The emerald lake surrounded on one side by a high sand blow and on the other by verdant bush.

From Lake Wabby we drove down the track back out onto the eastern beach (pulling off the road a few times to let 3 massive Kingfisher Bay 4wd buses pass. I wasn’t going to win that argument – even in a Defender ❗ ) On the drive north we came across many other drivers coming the opposite way. Two of them particularly were complete turds – passing on the wrong side, not slowing for washouts, and so on. They both had fourbies with big lift kits and thought they were bulletproof, I’m sure. This time I stopped at the wreck of the Maheno to get some pictures. The wreck is still well worth a look – remains of the deck fittings and superstructure are clearly evident. (If anyone wants more details on this ship, let me know).

On returning to the campground I saw that other thing that grabs my immediate attention – another Land Rover. This particular one was a green panel van Defender with a ‘caution: left hand drive” sign. Intriguing. I decided I’d go down and chat as soon as I’d unpacked, but as it turned out there was no need. I soon had a visitor at my camp – the owner of the green Defender – Marcel, a Dutchman. He and his wife had driven their Landy from Holland, through Europe, Iran, Pakistan, India and SE Asia, had the car shipped to Perth from where they had been exploring this great land. First around Albany then up the west coast to Broome, back and up the Canning Stock Route, to the Kimberley, Darwin, Kakadu, across to Cape York, and now to Fraser Island. They will journey on around the coast and eventually back to Perth. What a trip – even just the Oz part, eh ❗ Marcel was interested in my ute as he wants a trayback style at home for one of those “Trayon” style camper units – but LR Holland sell only the HCPU 110 and there is no cab-chassis option. I think the panel van may be in for some surgery when it gets home, judging my the number of photos he took of old Doris ❗ I went down to have a look at his van and took a few pics. He had some nice home fabricated sill tanks – 70 litres per side, which in combination with a long range main tank gave him a range of 3000 kms between fills ❗ ❗ ❗ Marcel also said that he chose the panel van version of the Defender as in Holland it qualifies as a commercial vehicle (rather than the usual luxury vehicle that a Defender station wagon apparently is.
It is thereby an amazing 48% cheaper to buy!! You can’t argue with maths like that, it’s a deal too good to refuse. We parted with good wishes, a handshake, and that shared “comradeship through Landy ownership” warm fuzzy feeling.

Day 5 – Thursday

Headed out at 9:30am with a plan to visit Lake Allom. The Woralie track meets the beach just 11 or 12 kms south of our Dundubara campground. The track into Lake Allom is only about 9 kms – but quite soft sand in sections. A few km before the lake lookout we came across a Pajero full of backpackers stuck firmly on the track. The (main) problem was ground clearance, or rather, the lack of it. The centre of the track, between the ruts, was quite high sand and the Paj had bottomed out so to speak, What they didn’t realise is that not only were they trying to overcome the sand with their wheels, but the entire under-body was also in contact – diffs, fuel tank, sump guard and so on. They were going nowhere, despite revving the living **** out of the auto Paj. (They only gave it revs once stuck – we had been travelling behind them for a while and noted they were going too slow). Anyway, I explained the problem to them and handed them my long handled shovel from the back of the ute, with a friendly “OK, start digging!”. We had them mobile again shortly after. Continuing on the way to the lookout, we were jostling around on the track quite badly when the esky in the back of the ute leapt into the air and tried to make an escape. It landed across the dropside – half in and half out of the tray. I rescued it – cosmetic damage mostly, no leaks. Lucky that. I had beer in there. The lookout (Knifeblade lookout) affords a fantastic view of the huge Knifeblade sand-blow. It would make for a great place to sand toboggan – you’d get some real speed up – assuming you had a helicopter to pick you up at the bottom, either because it’s a long way back to the top, or to casevac you to the nearest hospital. The drive down the track to Lake Allom was very, very bumpy with erosion around tree roots and shadows confusing the ability to read the track ahead. The unladen ute probably amplified the bouncing effect (I could have put sandbags in the back, but wherever would I get the sand…

Mrs Vlad Tip: It is recommended that bustier ladies ensure they have “adequate support”.

Despite the jarring, the trip is well worthwhile. Lake Allom carpark is only a short stroll from the lake shore. (When Michelle and I each last visited the lake we recall direct access to a small beach from which you could swim and watch the turtles and small fish which inhabit the lake. What we found was that the vehicle track skirted the lake for some distance, past a chained off track which is probably the old access road. So, what greeted us at the end of the short walk from the carpark? It could only be described as a timber grandstand ❗ To say this was disappointing would be an understatement. The ‘beach’ in front of the ‘grandstand’ was just a few metres wide and flanked by tall reeds which extended far long the lakeshore. A tour bus had just delivered a load of scantily clad Europeans (the bus had parked across the car-park blocking access to most of it!). At least the turtles were obliging – I counted up to eight of them very close inshore – apparently curious – and great fun to watch. Having gazed at and photographed these lovely creatures for a while, a few people (myself included) got into the lake for a swim. I’d like to say that I was mobbed by the aforementioned scantily clad European girls, but what goes on tour stays on tour . Oh, and it’s not true

The water was refreshing, not cold by any means, it really ‘hit the spot’. As with all lakes on Fraser it’s best not to wear sunscreen (protect the environment and all that) so we swam only for a short while before deciding to move on. I took out with me an empty beer can some yobbo had left at the lake’s edge . Another example of some fool leaving rubbish around, which gives a bad impression of all visitors. At least we did our bit – Ian Kiernan would be proud.

Our original plan had been to make this a short day but because the tide was high (Eli creek would be impassable) we decided to continue along the inland tracks toward Lake Garawongera. We followed the route of the “Northern Forest Drive” (as noted on the HEMA map) for about 34 kms before reaching this destination. But as we all know it’s not just the destination, it’s the journey. The track alternated between soft sand and rough, rutted, tree root strangled crappier bits. At one point we came to an intersection which was unsignposted. Not sure which way we needed to proceed, we asked a “local” who was parked beside the track, eating lunch in his ute. Or at least he would have been a local, had we been in Bavaria at the time. At least he was able to point out exactly where we were on the map (but he cheated – he had a GPS). We continued on past a place marked on the map as “The Declivity” but signposted as “The Delclivity”. I suspect a SNAFU at the sign factory. We’re not even sure what this Declivity was supposed to be, (perhaps the steep valley?) but whatever it was we couldn’t see much of it for the thick bush to the side of the road. (I hope it wasn’t some backpacker strip club – that’d really **** me!). On the right hand side we caught glimpses of the Boomerang Lakes, and thought they would be a good place to stop for lunch, so when we saw a sign posting the Boomerang lakes track we followed it. We followed it for all of 100 metres where it was blocked “Access Prohibited”. Bugger! Chuck a U-turn and back onto the main track, we soon reached an area called the ‘Yidney Scrub’. This is a tall, closed canopy forest, almost a rainforest, bordering the track. In it were palms and other such plants, so it wasn’t what I’d call ‘scrub’ at all and it was magical in its way. I took some pictures but it really was a case of “you had to be there” to experience the sight, the sounds, the smell, the light – all for yourself. It was with some reluctance we went on, truning right onto Happy Valley road and 6km on to Lake Garawongera.

Here we had our picnic lunch, luckily only a few March flies – not a repeat of the picnic debacle we’d had at Lake McKenzie. The guide book states “this lake is off the main tourist trail and there’s a good chance you’ll have it all to yourself if visiting outside of holiday times”. The guide book is a liar. We visited outside of holiday times ( technically I suppose it was a holiday for us, so philosophically the guide book may be right after all) and there were 30-odd people there already when we arrived (and over 50 by the time we left). The lake is supposedly a ‘blue lake’ and indeed the water is very clear, but rather the sandy bottom is covered with brown “squishy stuff” (as called by Mrs Vlad). This was slowly rotting vegetation (you could pick out bits of stick and so on from among the brown squelch). There was no smell or anything, so despite the unusual sensation underfoot it was a great place for a swim.

Speaking of unusual sensations, we saw one ‘backpacker’ girl change into (and later, out of) her bikini with just her towel wrapped around her. It was a small towel, and only barely wrapped around her at the top, leaving a large gap in the side and consequently leaving nothing to the imagination. It got me thinking – what the hell was I doing at that age? Oh yeah, ****ing away my life at Uni when I could have been doing plenty of backpackers… umm, backpacking.

There was an older woman going on about “Ooh, it’s warm. I’ve never swum in a lake before!” Given that she was obviously from the north of England, I suppose it’s not unusual but does show what we take for granted.

Retracing the track for 6kms we turned back onto the Happy Valley road and the short drive to Happy Valley itself, and back onto the beach for home. Despite being about 1 1/2 hours before low tide the Eli Creek crossing was still quite deep. I walked the crossing to check it – the sand wasn’t too soft. I figured out the shallower route but the current was running very strong. Definitely not a place to stop or you’d get swallowed. Diff lock and 3rd low saw me through no problems. We saw another (female) dingo on the beach or our way back to camp.

Day 6 – Friday

Official “Laze around doing bugger all Day” proclaimed “resounding success” ❗ ❗ ❗

Day 7 – Saturday

We opted for a return trip to Lake Birrabeen. On the track in, there was a road crew re-spiking down the rubber road mats that keep sand in place on the steep hill and make traffic possible. Looked like bloody hot, hard work too. We had heard that Lake McKenzie is packed on a weekend and figured Birrabeen would be the same. To our surprise there were only a few others around – including one woman who apparently thought she WAS alone and took the opportunity for a topless dip.

Fortunately we hadn’t planned to eat lunch there, because of 14 picnic tables in the area, 12 were (according to posted signs) set aside for the exclusive use of tour bus groups between the ours of 11 and 1. So basically, you could have a picnic there as long as it wasn’t at lunchtime ❗ Another example of stiffing the self-reliant traveller like us.

Next, out of curiosity rather than any desire for 5-star service, we decided to pay a visit to “Kingfisher Bay” resort on the west coast of the island (and opposite Hervey Bay on the mainland). The last stretch of track into the resort was in an absolutely terrible condition – perhaps they were trying to deter us ? Their big 4wd buses would have no problems with it, I’m sure. We went to the “Day visitor pavilion” which is located near the main jetty. We at lunch at the bistro/café thingy and it was nice without being overly great. There are two swimming pools (one shallow, one deeper) but both are fairly small, a few video games and not much else – unless you count the group of chain-smoking Japanese fellas at the next table. We got the distinct impression that Kingfisher Bay isn’t all that interested in day visitors. We wandered over to the main resort ‘central complex’ for a look – much, much nicer ❗ High ceiling pavilion style area, nice décor, lounges named after ships of local historic significance, and a large pool outside. The huge pool (in the shape of Lake McKenzie, no less ❗ ) served as the focal point for cocktail sipping folk reclined in deck chairs and taking in the sun. What a bunch of softies! And they were paying a LOT more than we were. Look out for the “Maheno Lounge” for a model of the ship and an interesting page of the Daily Telegraph from the day the ship went ashore in 1935. We went and had a look at the ‘shopping centre’ but it was the usual collection of over-priced souvenirs and pay phones that steal your money and don’t work. I picked up a stubby cooler for the collection. Of more interest was the 4wd rental shop “Aussie Trax” which rents out, among other things, Land Rovers. (A Defender wagon will set you back $160/half day, $240/day or $200 per day if hired by the week). They had a Td5 110 wagon and a Tdi 130 crew cab in the car-park at the time. (Let me know if you want contact details for the rental place).

We came back across the island and back onto the beach at Eurong and headed north for home. The tide was on the ebb, but as we got to Yidney Rocks the surf was lapping them making the beach impassable at that point. Luckily there is a bypass track and we resolved to take it. At the same place there was a 130 crew cab (a rental), packed with foreigners of some extraction, who (knowing that rental cars can do anything) drove straight over the top of the rocks and charged on. We took the bypass track and continued at a more leisurely pace, catching up with the 130 again at Eli Creek. I walked the crossing and it was quite deep and fast flowing, and the surf was still washing a fair way up the beach so that part of the creek would be as much salt as fresh water at the time. It was definitely a case of wait a while, but a Troopie charged right in from the opposite direction without even checking the depth, and (barely) back out the other side, amid much cheers and yahooing. This, it seemed, gave the 130 crew a sense of bravado and they reversed about 100 metres up the beach. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure what would happen next. They floored it and charged through the creek with a massive thump of the suspension and a surge of spray that went well above the roofline of the Landie, and drenching one poor woman walking nearby in the process. They made it through but, had they bogged, the current would have scoured the sand out from around the wheels and they’d have been there forever. We crossed some time later when the tide was lower. On returning to the campground we saw that the 130 was there along with several other troopies of backpackers, more than any other night so far. They proceeded to create general annoyance to other campers and broke almost every rule in the book 😡 . Despite clear warnings not to, they raided the surrounding bush for firewood and found plenty of eucalypt branches, with which they built a few huge fires that naturally emitted copious volumes of white smoke for some time. The fire-rings are designed for small cooking fires and not the huge conflagrations they created. Definitely an example of the blokes trying to impress the girls with the “beat chest and make fire” routine [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/laugh.gif[/img] . Although on previous nights the backpackers had respected the 9:00 noise curfew, this night they were drinking, shouting and singing until well into the morning despite requests for quiet from other campers .

Day 8 – Sunday

Decided to take it fairly easy, so after a pancake breakfast we returned to Eli Creek for another swim. I never grow tired of the fast flowing cool refreshing waters of Eli and could spend days there, but we faced an incoming tide so we spent only an hour or so swimming and drifting in the cool waters. This time we ventured past the boardwalk bridge further upstream and it felt much more like the wilderness experience we all want. There was one point where the channel narrowed, speeding up the current even faster and making it near impossible to pass. Great fun. A tip for visitors to Eli Creek: Those with kids might like to bring one of those little inflatable air mattresses so they can float down the current on it – makes it easier for the littlies. Returned to camp for an easy afternoon.

That night it started to rain, so during a brief break in the rain we put up the tarp, so that we’d have somewhere to cook dinner. Worked a treat too and the tuna curry was excellent. After dinner, however, the rain came down with a vengeance – a real torrential downpour. The tarp couldn’t take the weight of the water suddenly dumped on it and it collapsed, knocking over the gas lantern which burned (or rather melted) a bloody big hole in the tarp (and they’re not cheap!) Amid the continuing torrent we moved what we could back into the tent, dried what little we could (almost everything was drenched) and hit the sack. Tip: To remove melted polyethylene tarp from a gas lantern, allow to cool and peel off.

Day 9 – Monday

Awoke to continuing, but light, rain. Decided to venture out anyway so made a return trip up to Ocean Lake (definitely the best of the ‘brown’ lakes I reckon). The rain stopped and the swim was great. We met Scott and Tash who had borrowed a friends 40 series cruiser swb, complete with leaking auxiliary petrol tank. They are looking to buy a fourby of their own and were pleasantly surprised when I told them how much they could pick up a Defender for. And Scott is angling for a ute! Maybe we have a few more Land Rover fanatics in the making ❓ ❗ [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif[/img]

On our return to camp, there was a ranger in the amenities block changing the showers from 50c coins to $1 coins (doubling the cost of a shower – now it takes $1 to buy 3mins of hot water). Waddy Point is next on the agenda and will certainly be done by the time you get there Ferno, Henry. Tip: Make sure you have plenty of the right coins or you’ll be having cold showers.

Back at the tent I noticed that the bucket in which I had my containers of spare oils and brake fluid had liquid at the bottom. First I assumed it was water from the rain, but it proved to be a pungent cocktail of gear oil and brake fluid. Closer inspection showed the containers had been holed in similar places – on ‘corners’ of the plastic moulded containers and we think the Melamys (those bush rat type thingies) gnawed through them ❗ Bastards ❗ They’ll only make that mistake once I’m sure.

I will also mention that in the last few days we’ve seen another 3 Discoveries and a Rangie [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif[/img] . It warms the cockles of your heart – even reaches right down there into the sub-cockle region…

Day 10 – Tuesday

Intermittent rain overnight, with persistent winds. Today we planned to go to Central Station and to look for Lake Jennings. The wind on the beach was intense and the sea was very choppy, the beach had been made very lumpy which kept speeds down. There was a lot of salt foam on the beach and the sand whipped across it in the wind. About 3/4 of the way to Eurong we came up behind a SWB Cruiser we recognised – it was Scott and Tash, and we met up with them again when we stopped in Eurong. The wind had got the best of them so they had decided to give away the beach camping and move to the campground at Central Station. Tash had said that Lake Jennings was near Central Station, and Neil (the shop/servo guy) said there was a sign there pointing it out. He also said that when there’s a LOT of rain, Lake Jennings and Lake Birrabeen join up. So off we went in pursuit of the lake – but try as we might, we could find no sign pointing to the lake, nor of course the lake itself. If anyone else manages to find it, let me know how ❗ I suspect it may be on the road to Lake Birrabeen but we’ve been there twice and didn’t see it then either 😕 . Having given that up as a bad joke, we went on to Central Station.

Central Station was once (as the name implies) the centre of the old timber-getting (forestry) industry. Besides the usual tourist information boards there was an old bathtub from the Maheno, and a Caterpillar Diesel 35 Tractor (one of only 2 in Australia). Diesel power ❗

We took the short (20 minute) relaxed walk down along Wanggoolba Creek. This is a very shallow creek with a white sandy bottom, and nearly invisible crystal clear water – set amid the cool green forest. The clear waters make it easy to spot the occasional eel and eel-tailed catfish swimming along. These days (due, no doubt, to visitor numbers) tourists are confined to a boardwalk skirting the creek. I can recall, with pleasure, the last time I visited when it was possible (even encouraged) to walk (wade?) in the creek for some distance, the tranquillity interrupted by the occasional scream from my sister as an eel brushed past. Anyway, despite the boardwalk it remains an absolutely ‘must visit’ place on Fraser Island. Damn, I wish I were back there right now ❗ At one stage on the boardwalk there are 3 totem-pole style sculpture thingies, which had something printed across the top in Braille. I have no idea what it said, but it’s a great idea, and a reminder that this is a place that can be experienced with all the sense and not merely sight.

Our return trip along the beach was similarly slow. We saw a troopie with a flat tyre (how do you manage that on a beach?) but they were above the high tide mark, and there were plenty of people there so we drove on. We stopped ar Eli Creek, intent on another swim, but the chop on the top of the creek from the wind seemed as strong as the creek outflow itself. Salt foam extended upstream for a while – a most uninviting situation. The busload of tourists there at the time must have been quite unimpressed by the allegedly wonderful Eli Creek. Returning to camp, 2 new vehicles had appeared – a red two door Rangie and an ‘Aussie Trax’ rental series 3 bearing a disturbing resemblance to Phoenix’s “Grover” ❗ Tip of the day: BYO chocolate. A small block of Cadbury ‘Snack’ costs $5.00 at Eurong ❗

Day 11 – Wednesday

Not looking forward to today – packing up day . The previous night was fine and I envisaged just shaking the tent out to remove the sand and dust and packing everything away, BUT it rained in the morning and turned it all to mud. I hate packing in the rain ❗ Finally we were ready to go so we did a last check of the camp (I hate leaving things behind, too) and off we went. Again, the weather was so ordinary it ruled out a last (for this trip at least) swim in Eli Creek.

Conditions were difficult on the trip south along the beach. The inclement weather of the last few days had left massive ‘hummocks’ (is that real word? I hope so.) across the beach with large drop-offs on the lee slope. This restricted travel to either high on the beach in the soft sand (but avoiding the gutters and steep drop offs at the top of creeks) or right down low on the beach almost in the surf. All the while we had to watch out for psychopathic tour bus drivers that didn’t keep left, didn’t give right of way as they were supposed to, didn’t have any problems driving through the surf and showering our car with salt water as they passed, and apparently didn’t care if they were likely to kill anyone ❗ Bastards ❗ Added to this were the moving shadows of the clouds, the sand blowing diagonally across the beach in front of us, and occasional patterns in the sand from black sand mingled with the white. All these combined to make it very difficult to read the terrain and limited speed to a maximum of about 60kph on the beach.

By the time we got to Dilli Village the beach conditions had improved considerably with good wide stretches of flat sand. However, rather than travel that way we decided to check out the “High tide Access Road”. Although not needed at that time of day (it was nearly low tide!) we wanted to check it out for future trips – and of course for the benefit of fellow AULRO’ians. (The things I do for you people… 🙄 ) The entrance to the track is just south of the main Dilli village cutting. The road itself parallels the beach through straggly bush. Although there is some sand, the surface is mostly rocky and (though we were lucky) would be the most likely place we’d seen on the island to risk a tyre puncture. As you move south there are broken traces of the original bitumen road that this once was, and several cuttings back onto the eastern beach. Having tired of this terrible “road” we decided we’d head back onto the beach – but not without helping another troopie full of backpackers who’d already become “geographically confused” within half an hour of arriving on the island ❗ [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/laugh.gif[/img]

When we got back on the beach at the next cutting, we soon noticed a horrible smell – like something had crawled into the car somewhere, died, and begun to rot [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/sad.gif[/img] . No, to be fair, the smell was actually worse than that ❗ It got no better as we drove on, so I got out to check the vehicle – wondering if something had been flung up from the beach. No, nothing, but the smell continued. Eventually we figured that the smell must have been coming east on the breeze from the Jabiru Swamp. I tell you, it’s a smell you’ll only forget with difficulty.

On arrival at Hook point, the tide as slightly too high to get around the point so we waited a while, then went around carefully timing our run between the wash from incoming waves. (Tip: At anything other than low tide I’d recommend using the portion of the High Tide Access Road between Hook Point and the first available cutting back onto the beach). We proceeded to the “waiting area” for the Manta Ray barge, where we found (another) Troopie full of backpackers – particularly half witted ones this time – parked at and fishing at the landing point for the barge ❗ 🙄 They were forced to move when the barge arrived (they weren’t even waiting for it 😕 ❗ ) and we all rolled aboard for the short return trip across to Inskip Point.

A brief stop at Inskip to reinflate the tyres (those Bushranger compressors are good ones) and we drove back into Rainbow Beach – first diverting to the “underbody wash” to get some of the sand and salt off, until I had a chance to clean her down properly and thoroughly. (You sickos are now picturing me giving Doris her sponge bath aren’t you ❓ ❗ 😯 ) In Rainbow Beach we had lunch at the “Groovy Grape” café which I’d highly recommend as having well priced meals and large portions. I used the last of my film taking a pic of the propellor of the “Cherry Venture” – the prop has been restored and installed in a park outside the surf club. Then it was time to say goodbye and head south back to Brissie. So ended out ”Fraser Island Odyssey”.

 

Vlad’s Recommendations and Tips for travellers to Fraser Island:

Buy the HEMA Fraser Island Map.

Buy “Fraser Island – The Essential Visitors Guide” by Brad McCarthy (a small ring bound book – available at bookshops and some 4wd stores)

Take a good range of insect repellents. If the kids get too badly effected by March flies they might get put off camping for life, so look after them. By the way – tropical strength aerogard isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Wear sun protection. And since you can’t (shouldn’t) use sunscreen in the lakes, those sunsafe shirts they have these days would be ideal for the kids.

Bring an air mattress for the kids to float down Eli Creek.

Ensure you have secure storage for foodstuffs (and brake fluid!)

Take plenty of $1.00 coins for the showers at the National Parks campgrounds.

Get yourself a plastic “egg-keeper”. They do stop eggs from getting crushed, even when bouncing around in an esky in the back of a ute for 10 days!

Bring the Recovery Gear (especially a long handled shovel) – just in case!

Stay Hydrated! ‘Powerade’ is good stuff. Beer doesn’t work. (Trust me I’ve done heaps of research…)

Do make the most of sunny days, in the rare event the weather goes bad later on.

Consider taking a snorkel and mask. Will help you see the fish in some lakes and the champagne pools.

Consider buying one of those disposable waterproof cameras – there are good opportunities for some underwater shots in the lakes, creeks and pools.

Oh, and two other things:

Bikini-clad backpackers and ‘The Handbrake’ are incompatible.

You will be extremely surprised when, after returning from Fraser Island, you first see a Toyota Troop Carrier that’s NOT full of backpackers !

Now, don’t be with envy – just start planning your own Fraser Island trip ❗ Do it now.

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