“If it wriggles, it’s not a stick” — Ranger Dave’s words to us as he sent us into the rainforest for our first bush walk on Fraser Island.
We had arrived by boat that morning and were met by crazy Dave, the ranger who would be leading our Cool Dingo tour. In a group of about 20, we drove around for 3 days in a huge 4 wheel drive van over sand and through water and rainforest. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island, made up entirely of sand and with no paved roads, and no way to keep clean.
The weather gods looked favourably on us, which was a pleasant surprise after hearing about how it had rained on the island for months, even having to be evacuated a few weeks earlier due to flooding. As luck had it, the first day of sunshine in weeks was the day we started our tour.
Our first stop was at Basin Lake, an emerald green lake in a basin-like valley in the forest. We swam in the lake, which was cold but refreshing. The 40 or so lakes on the island are perched on sand, rock and dead leaves, and are filled by clear, fresh rainwater.
After our swim we embarked on an hour and a half long hike through the Pile Valley, an area of thick, ancient rainforest with towering trees, still wet from the recent rain. The hike involved exhausting, steep ascents and descents, but the forest scenery was lush and rich.
Afterward, we were rewarded with an enormous lunch in the woods followed by tea and some fantastic homemade cookies, and then walked down the hill to Lake Mckenzie.
Lake Mckenzie is Fraser Island’s most famous feature, and has often been referred to as the jewel in the middle of the island. In the middle of the rainforest, the sand around it and beneath it is pure white, and the water is pale, translucent, bright blue.
We stayed over two hours to swim and sunbathe. There was an island a little way out so a group of us swam out to it and found that the shallow water at its edge was warm.
This lake was most spectacular natural scenery I had ever experienced up to this point, and I was awestruck. As we returned toward the van afterwards, a 3 foot long lizard watched us from the trunk of a nearby tree.
After our swim in the beautiful Lake Mckenzie, everyone was exhausted. We retired to Kingfisher Bay Resort, where we would be staying in lodges in the woods. It was at this point that Amanda and I decided that we wanted to extend our stay. We were on a tour that could be taken over two or three days, and we had only booked it for two, but now decided to extend that to three. We walked for 15 minutes uphill in the heat to the resort reception, paid the extra cost and then watched the sun sinking into the sea from the hilltop.
Dinner that night was at the resort’s Dingo Bar, very close to the lodges. After dinner in the barn-like structure we met some of the others from our tour group – the madcap 6 foot 5 Scottish brothers, a pair of equally mad Danes and two quiet ladies from Sweden. That first night, many of us made the mistake of getting more than a little bit intoxicated and staying up until 1am, ignoring the fact that we would be awoken at 6.30 the following morning. When I shut my eyes in bed and the room started to spin, I knew I was in trouble.
The next morning at 7, at breakfast with a killer hangover that even my then-22 year old body struggled through, I heard stories of how the others ended the night, with one of the Danes even waking up on the steps of the bar at 6am. Energy was low for the first half of the day.
Our first stop that morning was at a lookout point over Stone Tool Sandblow, a huge sand dune on a hill in the middle of the forest where aboriginal stone tools were found years earlier. Next we drove along the beach and through the low crashing waves in the van, and stopped at the wrecked Maheno – a rusty old shipwreck, run aground there in the 1930s. This was a wild and impressive sight, although its effect was somewhat tamed by the sign nailed to its side, warning visitors not to climb on it.
Leaving the Maheno behind, we headed next for the huge rock pools known as the champagne pools. These pools are are cut off from the sea but filled by the waves, with the water seeming to bubble like champagne.
It’s not possible to swim in the sea elsewhere on Fraser Island due to shark infestation, but these pools are safe – the only safe place on the island for saltwater swimming. We lounged in the freezing water for some time, being thrown around by the huge waves, the hangovers washing away.
As we played in the swell, rain began to fall, and we all laughed that we were getting soaked while already soaked anyway. When a large, pink jellyfish appeared, we decided that it was time to get out.
Most of our hangovers gone, we ate lunch by the sea. The brief shower had cleared up quickly, and we sat on the sand while munching on sandwiches. Refuelled, we then climbed to the top of Indian Head, the island’s highest rocky point.
The half hour climb was torturous in the sun, but the view was more than worth it. We were directly above the sea and could see the waves crashing and sharks below. Turning around, I realised that I could see green rainforest, enormous golden sand dune, and blue ocean all at the same time.
To finish off the afternoon we visited Eli Creek, a creek running down to the sea that doesn’t seem to get much more than thigh-deep in most places. We waded up it against the freezing current, through the lush green forest. At the top of the hill, we turned around and floated back down to the beach, thinking nothing of the snakes that were likely in our midst.
That evening we ate dinner at the Dingo Bar again, and then stayed up slightly less late than the previous night – I wasnt making that mistake twice. After a quiet drink, Amanda and I retired to bed shortly after 11. I was woken at 2.30am by the sound of the Scotts and the Danes walking home singing!
The following morning at 7.30, our first stop was at the sparkling, green Lake Wabby. After an arduous walk uphill through the bush to the lake, we rolled down the steep sand dune and into the lukewarm water.
Swimming and watching catfish from the sandbanks was the perfect rest after the uphill hike, if only to prepare us for the next one: after relaxing there for an hour, we trekked for over half an hour across the enormous, desert-like sand dune in the blazing sun. Its light reflected blindingly off the pale sand, and I quickly realised that my flip flops were not appropriate footwear. I draped my wet towel over my shoulders when I felt them burning.
Eventually coming to the end of the sand dune, we joined the woods and walked uphill through them and back to the van, which was waiting at the beach. Before leaving the beach we encountered another, smaller van that had gotten stuck in the sand, and some of our group helped to pull it out.
After another delicious lunch, we realised that it had begun to rain again, and we moved on toward our last stop – the huge Lake Birabeen. The sand around the lake was so white and wet with rain that it looked like snow, and the water was clear pale turquoise. The sky was pale grey and the rain bouncing up off it looked like a mist. A group of six of us ran into the water, where we stayed in the pouring rain for over an hour. It was eerie and beautiful. When we returned to the van we realised that the rest of the group had waited there, not having wanted to get out in the heavy rain.
Our clothes and towels were soaked through and covered in sand, so we got back into the van dripping wet for our final journey back to the jetty. There we said goodbye to Dave, who had so expertly shown us round the island for the past three days, and boarded the boat back to civilisation.
We arrived back in the small coastal Queensland town of Hervey Bay covered in cuts, bruises and insect bites, with aches in every muscle, sunburnt limbs and blistered feet, in awe of the best three days we had had in Australia. After showering and washing our clothes, we met group members for dinner at an Irish bar, and then trudged back to our motel room to fall into a deep, exhausted sleep, and dream of dingoes, sand dunes, lakes and forest.