Trips to Fraser Island in '92 and '95

Tuesday, May 02, 1995 at 00:00

Member - John and Val

Fraser Island in 1992 and 95

We have had two trips to Fraser Island, in 92 and again in 95. Maybe that means that it’s past time for another visit.

These visits were both done before we got into the habit of keeping trip diaries, something that we have got better at with experience. It is surprising how useful these trip records have become, allowing us to check details of places and events, prices, vehicle performance and distances.

These trips were also in the pre digital camera era, when each photo cost real money and one had to wait days or weeks to know how well (or not) any given shot turned out. Working with these old photos brings an appreciation of the value of modern digital cameras, and the vast improvement in picture quality that they have brought – or is it that we have just gained experience!

So, with only a few photos and a hand drawn map of our journeys on the island, many of the details of how we actually got to and from Fraser have vanished into the mist of time. We approached from the southern end at Inskip Point. We also recall doing last minute shopping at Rainbow Beach and packing in some haste as we hurried to catch the last ferry for the day. Half the eggs were broken as we bounced our way up to the point along a very potholed and corrugated track. And as we arrived the last ferry was pulling away from the shore.

So we camped overnight at Inskip Point and caught the ferry across the short stretch of deep water the following morning. Excitement mounted as the ferry pulled in and it was our turn to drive onto the deeply churned sand – the first time that we had driven on a beach. Please don’t let us make total fools of ourselves by getting bogged! Presumably we knew about letting our tyres down, so without too much drama we were off up the beach.

There is not a great deal of scenery in this southern section, but the big rollers coming in, the huge beds of pipis and the small trickles of water running across the beach kept us occupied. The next lesson in beach driving was to learn to identify these little gutters as hitting one at any speed caused a severe jolt. Val called them boob bangers.

Eventually we reached Eurong and the turn off to Central Forest Station where we were keen to see what was left from the logging that occurred on the island until about a decade earlier. There was a display about logging, some huts and old machinery, and some plantations of pines.

Not far away was delightful Wanggoolba Creek with crystal clear water running over white sand, all surrounded by rainforest, palms and huge eucalypts. Growing right in the water were some giant King ferns, kept upright by the pressure of water in their stems. These are very primitive plants and Val’s botanical soul was thrilled to see them. There were more botanical marvels including Kauri pines as we explored some of the rainforest areas where the giant Satinay trees still grew. These trees that are closely related to eucalypts, had been extensively logged for their tough timber that was used to build among other things parts of the London Docks and the Suez Canal. It was amazing to see such massive trees growing on what looked like pure sand.

We drove on some of the tracks in this area, watching out for the big 4wd tour buses, especially on single lane sections of track.

We camped at the very popular Lake Mckenzie where the campground was packed full. Our tent was so close to our neighbours that we were kept awake by a loud conversation that would have been better kept private. Swimming in the clear lake waters was a relief from the warmth of the day. Somewhere there we tried to brew a cuppa using our new water jacket kettle – it was very hard to light and ended up making huge clouds of smoke.

We decided to find a quieter campsite, which we did along the beachfront, in behind the foredunes somewhere south of Eli Creek. It was permissible to camp along the beach, although often areas were closed off to allow grass to regenerate. There were quite a few camps in among the dunes but reasonably spaced out to allow privacy. The beach was the main access road – road rules applied – and here and there planes also used the beach as a landing strip.

Venturing further north we came to beautiful Eli Creek and watched others cross with some trepidation before we ventured in. The water was deeper than we had ever been in before but soon we were through and feeling elated at our success. Then on to the wreck of the Maheno, the coloured sands at the Pinnacles and the big sand blows.

One day we decided to explore the northern lakes including Lake Bowarrady where there were said to be turtles that would come in to be fed. We explored some inland tracks on the way up, found the lakes and dodging between some sharp showers explored some of the walking tracks around the lakes. There were some turtles to be seen, and some more giant trees, although wind had broken the tops out of the biggest ones. Driving along a track a short distance from the lake we suddenly came across a turtle immobile in the centre of the track. Not wanting to drive over it we got out to see what it was doing, and watched fascinated as it laid eggs into a hole in the sand.

It clearly wasn’t going anywhere so with some difficulty we turned around and as it was getting late headed back to the beach.

But there was no beach! In our enthusiasm for exploration we had completely forgotten about the tide that had come right in so that driving back to camp anytime soon was out of the question. Not knowing how much further the tide would come in we found the highest point on the beach that we could drive to and prepared to sit out the next few hours. We were damp from walking in the rain, and all our food and dry clothes were back at camp. And the tape player managed to chew up one of the few tapes we had with us.

Eventually the water started to go out but we were reluctant to proceed alone until the tide was further out. We decided that the first vehicle that came along heading south we would follow. Before long we saw lights – but they must have been several kilometres away because they took ages to reach us. Eventually they reached us and we set off in the wake (almost literally) of this vehicle, with the water still well up the beach. After what seemed like a very long drive we thought that we recognised some landmarks near our camp. But our camp was on the southern side of Eli Creek – in the dark we had driven straight through the creek without realising it. So our camp must be about here somewhere – but where?

Suddenly we understood why fishermen marked the turn-off to their camp with individual markers – old plastic drums, thongs and the like. Not being fishermen, and in daylight, we had not realised the importance of these markers. Eventually after driving into a few other camps we did find our camp only to be greeted by the final shock for the day. There had been some heavy showers and water had pooled in the roof of our tent that had collapsed under the weight. So there was all our gear, clothes bedding and food floating around in the pool that had collected in the tub floor of the tent. And our low-tech storage system – cardboard boxes – had disintegrated in the water! And of course some dingoes had been in to help themselves.

Looking back we can laugh at it now, but that experience emphasised the need to get storage in Troopy a bit better organised. Plastic bins were not so common then, so it was perhaps fate that delivered up a barnacle encrusted heavy plastic fish tub as we drove along the beach a few days later.

Our final adventure occurred as we drove back to Inskip Point via some inland tracks. The persistent showers had left various sized lakes and ponds covering sections of the track. Coming to a particularly wide stretch of water that looked as though it could be deep we thought that we might have to turn back. Just then we saw a vehicle exiting the water on the far side. Oh well, if he can then we can do that too, so in we plunged. Val was driving as the water got deeper, and John exhorted her to keep going to keep the bow wave up…somehow we did keep going and emerged shaken but relieved on the far side. When we got onto the ferry the vehicle that we had seen ahead of us was also on board. Chatting to the driver we commented that that stretch of water had been a bit deep for comfort. Oh, he said, I came in from the southern side; decided it was too deep and turned around! So we learned another 4WD lesson about crossing stretches of water.

Off the island, we meandered north through Gladstone and Rockhampton then inland for the journey home. At Carnarvon Gorge we were lucky to get the last campsite available in the National Park. We set out early the following very cold morning with a couple of Mars Bars in our pockets, intending to explore the nearer gorges and return to camp for lunch. But the fascinations of the gorge got the better of us and we just kept going. We saw the only other King ferns in the whole of the country, some amazing rock art sites, and crossed the little creek many times via stepping stones. We came at last to the end of the track at Cathedral Cave, an amazing place where it would have been great to spend the night. But with no provisions and our Mars Bars long gone, we retraced our steps and almost crawled into camp just on sunset. What a day - we probably walked about 25km that day, though we don’t usually walk more than a few kilometres at a time.

The other highlights of our trip home included visiting Lightning Ridge where we took a tour with a delightful Swedish lady who had come there as a visitor many years before, and, as many do, just stayed on as an opal miner. At the end of that day we found the artesian baths and had a memorable soak in the hot sulphurous water. What an asset for any place to have, we certainly loved it.

Our second trip to Fraser Island was 3 years later in 1995. Our track north this time took us through the Bunya Mountains National Park. Although we were keen to do some of the walks there it was very cold – well it was August – and very windy. So after one uncomfortable night we got up early, pulled jumpers over our pyjamas and drove down off the mountains and out of the freezing wind for breakfast.

We went onto Fraser this time via Hervey Bay, on the ferry from North Head to Kingfisher Bay. Our aim this time was to explore the northern end of the island as well as return to some spots that we had previously visited. We explored Indian Head and Waddy Point with its stands of coconut palms and sea turtles swimming in the clear water close inshore.

The trip further north was not difficult although there were a few patches of deeply churned sand to negotiate. At Sandy Cape we marvelled at the extent of the sand spit covered with little choppy waves that seemed to reach the horizon. The dunes along the beach running west from Sandy Cape meet the beach at right angles and have very steep faces of loose sand. That meant there would be no chance to get off the beach if we misjudged the tide, so we were very careful about reading our tide chart.

We climbed up to the Sandy Cape Lighthouse and dreamed of being light-keepers. Further along the beach we found a spot that was suitable for a camp and we spent a wonderful couple of days in this beautiful but remote area. Being inside the sand spit the water was very calm and warm enough for a swim. One morning when John was walking along the beach just in the edge of the water a pod of dolphins came right in close to check him out. Eat your heart out Monkey Mia! Driving further west than this was not an option as we found that heaps of weed had washed onto the beach and then been covered with sand – very treacherous. Even walking in the stuff was difficult. But we did manage to walk to Rooney point and have a look down towards what was then a fairly inaccessible part of the island.

We saw no whales in Hervey Bay but did see quite a few humpbacks off the eastern beach. There were still a few wild horses to be seen at Indian Head where there were also a lot of rainbow bee-eaters. And a few dingoes here and there. Our final stops were to explore a couple of the big sand blows, and at Lake Wabby, slowly disappearing under a big shifting dune, where lots of people were enjoying a swim.

That was in 1995, now (2010) Fraser Island, by most accounts is rather crowded and perhaps some parts of the island are now off-limits. Maybe one day we will go back and have another look at this beautiful place.

By this stage we were getting quite experienced at living out of Troopy. We had a comfortable bed in the back, a tent that was sometimes collapsible, directors chairs that were comfortable but bulky, a folding toilet seat and a shovel. We still used a gas lantern for lighting our camp and also had a portable gas stove for cooking. Cardboard boxes to hold our gear were being partially replaced by plastic tubs. A couple of 20 litre plastic drums held water. We had a very small air compressor, a basic tool kit and the big winch if we got stuck somewhere.

What more could we possibly want?
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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