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Camping & 4WDing : Fraser Island

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Heritage listed since 1992, Fraser Island is about 120km long and 24km wide.  It’s the largest sand island in the world, and the largest island on the east coast of Australia.  The island was made over the last 750,000 years by sand accumulating on a volcanic bedrock that acted as a catchment for the sediment.  The island is covered in various landscapes, from bare dunes and coastal grassland to eucalyptus woods and rainforests.  The reason why so many plants can grow in sand is because of a naturally occurring fungus in the sand that releases nutrients which are absorbed by the plants.

 

The island was named after Eliza Fraser, wife of Captain James Fraser who was sailing the Queensland Coast in 1836.  When their ship struck a reef, they made for the great sand island and Eliza was captured by aborigines.  She was rescued six weeks later.  The traditional name is K’Gari, which means paradise.

 

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You will most likely see dingoes lingering on the beach.  These dingoes have the reputation of being the last pure dingoes in Australia.  They used to be quite common but their numbers decreased considerably after a tragedy in 2001 when a boy wandered away from his family’s camp and was attacked and killed by a pack of dingoes.  Over 120 dingoes were killed in retaliation for this and since then, the dingo population on the island has been strictly managed.

 

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Other than dingoes, you will see plenty of tour buses and tag along 4WD groups.  While the 4WD groups aren’t that bad, try to steer clear of the big tour buses because the drivers are jerks.

 

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Day 1

Our day started slowly as we had spent the night with a hospitable legend from the Troopcarriers of Australia facebook page.  Not only was it great to meet Rodney, but he introduced us to two of his friends, Rob and Leith, who had just embarked on a year long trip around Australia.  We swapped stories all night and during breakfast, and it was great to see another couple excited about what was ahead.

 

We finally got our shit together at around 10am and booked our barge ride from River Heads over to the island ($95 one way off peak), as well as our camping permits ($11.50 per night) and vehicle permit ($45).  By the time we were sorted, we had 50 minutes to have a quick whiz around Hervey Bay, stop in at the supermarket for some supplies and get down to River Heads for the barge.

 

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The 50 minute ride over the strait to the island was pleasant.  There was a bar on board and a viewing deck just in case some dolphins wanted to come out to play.  We disembarked the barge and rolled along a jetty to Kingfisher Bay, a resort village.

 

As soon as the sandy tracks began, we put the Troopy into 4WD and plodded along towards Lake Mackenzie.  The track weaves through forests of varying density, some with ferns, palms and vines, and oscillates between relatively smooth to so bumpy it was as if the Troopy was bouncing on gangster hydraulics.

 

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Lake Mackenzie is one of the most popular places on the island and is a lake full of clear and beautifully blue fresh water, with shores of white fine sand of near pure silica.  We had a quick dip before realising we had a long way to go before dark.

 

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We made it to 75 Mile Beach on the east coast of Fraser Island just before the beginning of sunset.  75 Mile Beach is a national highway and there are several sections that are reserved for planes.  The tide was up and the sand was soft so we dropped our tyre pressure down to 22psi.

 

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Because we were racing the sun to get to camp, we cruised past the Maheno Wreck and managed to get to Dundabara just as it got dark.  The whole camp ground was fenced off and the entrance was an electrified grid to keep the dingoes out.

 

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Day 2

We got up nice and early to cover as much of the island as we could.  The condition of 75 Mile Beach was a big improvement from the night before.  The low tide meant we had more wet sand to drive on and we even got up to 80kph.

 

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Our first stop was the Champagne Pools – if it wasn’t so cold and windy, we could have stayed here all day.  The rock pools were a striking turquoise colour, but the shallow parts were coloured peach by the sand.  Every time a big wave crashed over the rock, foam would cover the water.  It was beautiful.  Make sure you bring your snorkel so you can see the colourful little fish in the pools, and don’t miss the brilliant view of the beach and Indian Head from the lookout on the cliffs above.

 

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It was time to start heading south and the wind was blowing hard by the time we got to the Pinnacles – a haze on the sand was swirling around our feet.  We had a quick look at the colourful sand cliffs and kept moving.

 

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The most anticipated stop on our journey south was the Maheno Wreck.  This is one of the best landmarks on Fraser Island, and is the rusty skeleton of the SS Maheno, which got beached on Fraser Island in 1935 because of a strong cyclone.

 

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Before heading back to the lakes, we did a quick walk through the Kirra Sandblow and marvelled at the massive dunes and different coloured sands.

 

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Before going back to Lake Makenzie for another dip, we stopped by the Lake Wabby lookout.  Lake Wabby is the deepest lake on the island, and the least acidic, making it home to the largest range of fish species on the island.

 

We stopped in at Central Station and did a quick walk along Wanggoolba Creek.  It’s amazing how different the plants are in this section of the island.  Massive pine trees stand around the old settlement, adorned with huge epiphytes that look like giant heads of lettuce.  Down by the crystal clear creek, the rainforest is super green – everything that isn’t already green is covered in green moss and lichen.

 

Further south, we stopped by Lake Birrabeen but it was late in the day and the lake was cast in shadow, making it grey and drab, with foam lapping on the shore.  With the sun setting, we arrived at Lake Boomanjin and quickly decided to spend the night here instead of back on the beach.  We simply didn’t want to set up in the dark again.  We went down to the lake at both sunrise and sunset and were treated with gorgeous smears of colours on the water.

 

 

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Day 3

Our departure from Fraser Island would be from the south via the Mantaray Barge.  We heard a rumour that the beach to the barge was impassable at high tide and by the time we got there, it was on its way down.  We waited by the mouth of a small creek for the tide to come down, and watched the stained water from the creek mix with the salt water on the beach.

 

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Soon enough, we were able to get to the barge waiting area, boarded the barge and paid the $75 one way ticket back to the mainland. The barge runs on demand and there were plenty of cars on the other side who wanted to get across to the island and start their Fraser Island adventure.

 

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City Profile : Bundaberg

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Our first thought when we entered Bundaberg was, “for the love of pizza and ice cream, where can we get a shower around here?”  After a quick visit to the Information Centre, we had two options – hot showers down the road at $5 a pop or free cold showers by the beach at Bargara.  With the sun shining and the anticipation of a free hot shower in the days to come, we made our way to Bargara…

 

Once we were refreshed, we did a quick drive around town.  We ducked into a Lifeline Superstore and were delighted to find a book Dave had been looking for since Christmas – the sixth instalment of Jean M Auel’s Earth’s Children series for only $1.  His day was made even more with all the Aussie and American muscle cars cruising around town – there were lots of vintage cars and hot rods to drool over.

 

The traditional owners of the region are the Kalki people, and the first white man they ever saw was actually a convict who had escaped from the Moreton Bay penal settlement in 1830.  It wasn’t established as a settlement until 1867, and the first industries were timber and sugar.  The settlement steadily grew and eventually became a town in 1902, and a city by 1913.  As you drive around town, it’s hard to miss all the beautiful buildings, many with arches and columns and colourful art deco façades.

 

Things to See and Do

Bundaberg Distillery Company

Ever since Juz tried spiced rum in Darwin, she’s been hooked so a visit to the Bundaberg Distillery was compulsory.  It was great to see where the Aussie icon is made, and the tour was a really insightful way to learn about how rum is made.

 

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The Bundaberg Barrel

Both a ‘Big Thing’ and an educational experience about the origins of ginger beer, the Bundaberg Barrel is the home of Bundaberg brewed soft drinks, which are a brazilian times better than regular crappy soft drinks.

 

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Schmeider’s Cooperage

Named after Dave Schmieder, who had just left school when he was offered a coopering apprenticeship at the Bundaberg Distillery in the 1970s.  He started the business in 1982 just as the demand for coopers was declining, but he is still on call with the Distillery to maintain their massive timber vats.

 

You can visit the Cooperage for free, browse the gift shop, watch barrels being made and even try your skill at putting a barrel together yourself in the interactive video room.

 

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Alexandra Park & Zoo

This is a great place to have a picnic or BBQ before checking out the free zoo – complete with playful monkeys, chilled out dingoes, kooky quolls and emus that omit a sound that sounds like a beating drum or a hollow PVC pipe being hit by a stick.

 

 

Bundaberg Waterworks Water Tower

Considered to be a structure of technical and aesthetic bricklaying excellence, construction of this water tower commenced in 1902 and was completed in 1905. It holds 40,000 gallons of water in a tank that is just over 32 metres high, and it is still in service today.

 

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Childers

This old-fashioned town is adorned with ornate buildings, heritage pubs and the Old Pharmacy, a brilliantly preserved display of what an olden day apothecary would have looked liked.  Well worth a drop in.

 

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Sharon Nature Park and Gorge

This is a free rest area about 15 km west of Bundaberg.  There’s a picnic area that precedes a short walk through Sharon Gorge to a lookout over Burnett River.  We ventured out shortly after sunrise and marvelled at the calls of the whip birds before being somewhat disappointed by the lack of view at the end of the path.

 

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A dingo

Wildlife : The Dingo

Name: Dingo

Scientific Classification: canis lupis dingo

Alternative Names: bush dog

Location: they are found all over Australia and in parts of Asia.  Their habitat ranges from desert to grasslands and the edge of forests

 

A curious dingo on the Nullarbor

 

Fast Facts:

  • Dingoes are related to wolves and might possibly be the oldest breed of dog in the world.
  • An apex preditor of Australia, they are opportunistic hunters and either search for food alone or hunt in packs.
  • Dingoes are seen as a pest by sheep farmers because they sometimes kill sheep.  Their usual diet consists of lizards, birds, kangaroos and rodents.
  • They rarely bark and communicate using long howls.
  • There are three kinds of dingo – island, alpine and desert dingoes.  Their colours can vary from sandy cream to deep red.
  • It is believed that dingoes were introduced to Australia but legally they are considered native because they’ve been here for so long.
  • It’s hard to find a purebred dingo because they tend to interbreed with domestic dogs.  The purest dingoes live on Fraser Island, but they are under threat from overculling.
  • Dingoes have special wrists that allow them to rotate their paws.

 

Cuteness Rating: If you like dogs, then you’ll think dingoes are pretty cute.

Danger Rating:  They have teeth like a dog and may attack if they feel threatened.

 

Our Encounter:

Our first encounter with a dingo was on the Nullarbor.  We were heading back to the highway after spending the night at Murrawidginee Caves and the dingo was hanging about by the track.  A really curious fella, he just stopped and looked at us as we stopped and looked at him.

 

We saw dingoes again at Greenough Wildlife & Bird Park and learnt about the efforts to save the dingo from extinction.

 

A dingo crossed our path again in the Kimberley on the way up to Mitchell River.  He was hanging about by the road to get a drink from a puddle.

 

Thirsty dingo