After leaving Port Douglas we put in some solid driving days and stopped overnight at Bowen and Bundaberg, where we enjoyed plenty of the amber liquid that famously flows from the region. We then had a relatively short drive to make the 12:30 ferry to Fraser Island. Earlier on when we were discussing various options for the return leg back to Sydney, Fraser came up as a definite favourite. Out of our entourage, Mark was only one who had been before and was more than happy to head back a second time. Known as the largest sand island in the world and the one of the largest collection of concentrated freshwater lakes in the world, this unique gem of Australia’s coast is also home to the purest population of Dingoes in Australia.
As we drove off the ferry onto the Island, we shifted into low range with the wheels aired down and began to navigate through the dips and turns of the soft sandy tracks. I’d heard about the huge rainforests in the centre of the island and giant trees with trunks nearly the size of a car. I thought this was a bit exaggerated, but sure enough as the forest canopy started to close over and the temperature dropped, the most amazing old forest began to surround us. Giant trees, assorted ferns, leafy plants and thick vines weaving and choking their way around everything. Soon we came to Lake McKenzie which is known for it’s crystal clear water. As it was the middle of winter, noone was too keen for a dip but I can imagine how inviting it would be in the warmer months. Unfortunately heavy rainfall had put a lot of silt into the lake and many others were well over capacity with various signs and guides partly submerged, but you could see the potential beauty. After what seemed to take forever, forgetting how large an island it is, we emerged from the forests and out onto the beach. Wow! With the winds lashing the coastline and the variety of terrain it felt awesome to cruise along as we headed north to our accommodation. We decided against camping as we were all kind of over it by then and were happy to continue with cheap and cheerful roofs over our head. It took a fair while on the sand to reach Happy Valley – which yes, does sound like it should be a hippy commune of some sort. We drove over a cattle proof grid, with low electric wires as we entered – these are pretty common around all of the various townships and garbage disposal areas etc. for the simple reason of keeping Dingoes out. As time went on it was pretty clear that they can cause all sorts of problems depending on aggression, time of year, weather etc. Happy Valley was a chilled out area with nice clean cabins, a pub and restaurant and everything else you could need.
The next day Mark, Rita and Kat took off fairly early and headed north to the ship wreck. Our plan was to meet them there once we got out of the morning coma and hit the road. We made out way to the Maheno shipwreck, a very well known Fraser landmark who ran aground while on the way to Japan in 1935. We couldn’t find the others so decided to keep driving along the beach. I’d heard that the tide patterns have to be followed as well as some stories of cars getting stuck in the surf etc. As I hadn’t yet found out any info and we were on our own, I pulled over to chat to some fisherman who advised me that high tide was just an hour and a half away and I had to be careful. They said I might have troubles getting through if I continued north. A group of cars shot past us so I decided to chance it and we continued on. Soon we were on our own again and the tide was coming up fast as the very soft sand, higher up the beach was becoming harder to drive through. Powering through, it was a little intense as some of the areas we came to, you had to wait until the shore wash retreated before you could drive through and even then there was wash flying all over the place. There was nowhere to seek safety from the tides during a long stretch as the shoreline was a small cliff face that has suffered due to some bad weather earlier in the year. Finally after an intense drive and maybe a four letter word or two, we came to the headland which also had a sand bypass off the beach front. We made it! Phew.
To pass the time between high tide and the safe zone – at least one hour after, we decided to walk up the Indian Head headland to take in the views. Wow. We could see why this place was a must see on Fraser. Located in the most Easterly point of the island, it was named by Captain Cook when he passed it on the evening of 19 May 1770, for the aboriginal people he saw assembled there. The term “Indian” was used at that time for the native people of many lands. We’d heard from Mark that you can see giant bull sharks trolling up and down the gutters of the beach from the views of the headland. Sure enough, after a while these 4 huge shapes came drifting through the channel, just 20 metres or so from the shoreline where fisherman had lines out. What a sight. We sat in the sunshine watching this amazing procession as they circled around again and again hunting for prey. After a while we drove the FJ down to the other side of the headland which had a much bigger sand bank area. We parked the car, pulled out the camp chairs, found a couple of beers in the fridge and cranked the Reggae tunes. Lucky we were out of sight of the other cars on the beach as we must have looked retarded, dancing around half naked in the sand like some crazy natives.
After a few hours we headed back North and found Mark and Rita who had been on an adventure of their own. After also seeking refuge from the tides, they had ventured inland and made their way to the western side of the island. After visiting a lake or two and driving forever on some dodgy sand tracks, they came across the most amazing, pure white beaches with not a soul in sight. After hanging around and busting out some cheesy yet awesome postcard snapshots, they decided this was the spot they had to come back to next time which is already in the plans. During the time they had been exploring, they saw a solo Dingo which were were yet to see but soon enough we had an awesome encounter of our own as we followed a pair who were trolling the beach looking for food. We were pretty lucky as sightings are pretty rare with just 120-150 estimated on the island.
The Fraser visit came and went much too fast as we made out way back to the ferry the next day via the Southern Lakes scenic drive. Unfortunately, much of the drive was detoured due to road closures due to degradation of the tracks (which we would love to have explored and conquer with our beasts). What an amazing place and absolute must return in the future, preferably when it’s warm when the swimming in freshwater lakes is perfect.