(Posted by Xavier)
We flew into Brisbane anxious to meet our new friends, Michael and Annette, introduced to us via email by my long time friend Joanne. Joanne had also set up introductions for us with Sammie in Hawaii. Michael and Annette were waiting for us at Brisbane airport. After picking up our rental car we quickly followed them to their home so that we could watch the 2nd half of the Super Bowl.
Everyone was expecting some kind of fierce competition between Kristin and me (Kristin being from Baltimore and a faithful Ravens fan, and I a long time 49er’s fan) but we were both just very happy both our teams made it to the final game. Personally I was glad it was a close game and came down to the last few plays in the game, but Kristin was not feeling the same rush of excitement until the game was over and victory was in hand. Michael and Annette were very gracious to host us while the game was going on but I think they especially took joy in seeing me try Vegemite for the first time. Humm, not quite a yum reaction, but not bad. I definitely have eaten things much worse than that.
We spent a few hours relaxing with them and meeting two of their sons, and talking about all sorts of Aussie things. They sent us off, well stocked with maps and tidbits of information for our Fraser Island expedition. We drove up to Hervey Bay and decided to make the Colonial Village YHA hostel the home-base hostel for our Fraser Island expedition. A big thumbs up to the couple, Jeff and Karen, who run this resort-type hostel. They gave us loads of good information about the area and other places we were planning to visit.
The next morning (at 6:15am!) we rented a 4-wheel drive Suzuki jeep, went through an hour-plus briefing about driving on Fraser Island, where the beaches are official roads with official road rules, and set off for the ferry ride over to the island. We were the last car on board, which meant we would be the first ones off.
(That’s us, number 31!)
Okay, time out here so I can set the situation up a little better. First of all it was Kristin’s idea to do this adventure the way we did. Any one who knows Kristin knows that she isn’t crazy about driving in poor conditions, especially in cars that may be acting up. Next, she does not like sand and she’s not really crazy about going to the beach. And to make things worse, I wasn’t planning to drive because of my nerve damage in my left hand, making shifting with my left hand almost impossible (remember the steering wheel is on the right side). Oh! And did I mention Fraser Island is the world’s largest sandbar island. Okay, got the picture? Here we go.
Say what?! The ferry person shouted, “turn on your engine and get ready to drive off the ferry.” WHAT!? The first beads of sweat started to appear on Kristin’s face and I started to wonder, “and we’re doing this because…?” The car was now on, Kristin’s foot was firmly on the brake and the hand brake was also on. And we were still looking at open water in front of us. We landed, and we had to go right away because we were at the head of the line. So off we went!
The first part of the road was really bumpy and our jeep was jerking all over the place. But we couldn’t stop because there was no place to pull over, and now there was a whole line of 4-wheel drive vehicles following us. Now comes the good part, we hit sand. Okay, it was not firmly packed down sand, it was kinda loose sand. We hit it and our wheels spun a little to get traction. In our briefing earlier we were told not to stop and to aggressively drive through the sand, and so we did.
Now it really got interesting, the sand was getting deeper and looser and we were bouncing around the cab like pinballs. Let me just say, I’ve never seen Kristin this nervous and I kept saying, “We’ve got to power through this and whatever you do, Don’t Stop!” It got better. The road was now narrow, winding through various kinds of wooded/jungle/rainforest and now we were going uphill in foot-deep soft sand. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” shouted Kristin. I shouted back, “DON’T STOP, POWER THROUGH IT!” Kristin then shouted back “OH MY GOD! IS THIS A TWO WAY ROAD?” I shouted, “DON’T THINK ABOUT THAT, KEEP GOING! Needless to say, at the first available turn-off (about half way across the island there’s a rest/camping area) we pulled off and let the larger, and obviously more experienced, Fraser Island 4-wheel drivers pass us up. Take this any way you want to, but as soon as we pulled off and parked the jeep in the rest area, I had to visit the restroom.
The rest of the drive across the island wasn’t any easier, but we made it to the other side. Crashing through to the east coast beach we were greeted by angry, non-stop rip-current waves, shark- and jelly fish- infested beaches. Okay, I guess we’ll just look and not go in the water. We drove about half way up the island on the beach to the place we were spending the night, Happy Valley. After stopping to unload stuff in our room we quickly found out we couldn’t do the rest of our planned drive up the beach because the tide was ahead of schedule and there was no longer enough beach to drive on. That was just fine with us. Kristin probably lost a few pounds in just sweating bullets on the drive in, and we probably had a few bruises from all the tossing around. I mean, if we hadn’t been wearing our seat belts we would probably have had concussions from hitting our heads on the ceiling of the car and lost a tooth or two from some face plants on the dash board.
With that we called it a day but decided to go down to the beach for a walk. There were some pretty cool sand formations.
No sooner were we down there I noticed a little stinging sensation on my toes. Looking down I saw a little tentacle from the small quarter size jelly fish lying across my foot. Dang! Those little guys do sting. Only for about 15 minutes, but enough to make you look out for them from then on. Kristin and I called them popper jellies, because there were so many of them washed up on the beach, that as you drove over them with your jeep you would hear them pop.
We slept well that night with the windows open, enjoying the sound of the strong winds blowing through trees and the calls of my new-found friends, the colorful and cute-looking geckos. Plus it did help that we were the only ones staying in the small accommodating hostel. And I do mean the only ones, we had the run of the place.
The next morning Kristin no longer had any trust in our jeep. It had herked and jerked, and shifted so badly the previous day, she had serious doubts and a bad feeling. And as soon as we drove onto the beach that morning, the engine turned off. Luckily I had cell service and called the company for help. It would take them 90 minutes for their mechanic to bring us a new car. Yikes! I suggested we try turning on the car again, and if it turns on, we continue with our Fraser Island expedition and then meet the mechanic back here in 90 minutes. It did, and we did exactly that. After exploring the colorful cliffs of the Pinnacles, the Maheno ship wreck, and Eli Creek we returned just in time for the jeep exchange, trading in an automatic for a manual shift. . The Pinnacles:
The Maheno Wreck:
Once we got our new jeep we noticed a big improvement in driving performance.
We set off to finish our Fraser Island expedition, visiting and hiking up tall the sand dunes of Kirrar sandblow (a hike I would later regret for not putting on enough sunscreen) before heading for Lake McKenzie.
Lake McKenzie was breathtaking in beauty and surroundings. Here is a lake that is 100% rainwater, and in the middle of the world’s largest sandbar island. The shore and lake bottom is sand and it is the cleanest and clearest lake we have ever been in. I mean crystal clear — you could drink this water (that is until you see all the busloads of tourists swimming in it.)
When we arrived at the lake, the first spot was packed with young backpacker types with coolers so we made our way further down the shore to a tranquil spot where there was just one other couple. We puttered around in the lake for a bit and then lay out on the sand to dry off before our final drive to the ferry. Just minutes later, we heard voices and looked up to see a vast horde of people descending on our beach and next thing you know, towels and beach blankets were being laid down to our left and right and with the sound of people splashing into the water, that was the end of our beach paradise — and it was therefore time to go.
Finally, on our way back to catch our returning ferry we were a bit disappointed in not having seen a dingo, which are famously purebred and wild on the island. We had been warned and had seen many signs warning us about the dingos and what we should do when we come across one, usually on the beach.
But there were none in sight our whole time on the island (although we did see footprints). But arriving early at the ferry landing we got out to stretch our legs and bingo! I mean dingo! Right there, about 20 yards away.
We took many pictures and at the same time spotted a second dingo further away in dire straights. Apparently, it somehow got a plastic milk bottle stuck over its head and could no longer take it off. We reported it to a ranger, told him where the dingo was walking slowly around, and hopefully he was able to do something to help out.
We got safely back across on the ferry, feeling somewhat complete in our expedition. Would we do the same thing again? Kristin says No — definitely a guided tour with a professional driver next time! I kind of like letting someone else do all the work. Like those big beach touring buses (yes, you heard me right, touring buses) we saw flying up and down the beach. Yup! Sitting back and letting someone else do all the driving and worrying sounds just fine with us, but wow, what a ride.