48. OFF-ROAD FRASER ISLAND EXPEDITION. PART 1...
We landed on Fraser Island’s southern most point and rolled off the barge as the operators sole customers. Our assumed reason for the absence of others was that we were entering onto the island outside of the advised beach driving window, this window being within two hours either side of a low tide. After much contemplation regarding which of the two routes to take to get us further North and to our first camping spot, we remembered that the lady at the ticket office advised we take the inland track, rather than risk driving on the beach and getting caught out by the tide. The drive up the beach would have been easier, quicker and was rather appealing because it’d be our first time driving on sand but the inland track, longer and bumpier, guaranteed us no high tide beach stranding. Not wanting to loose the van to the waves on the first day, we took ticket lady’s advice.
The track wasn’t particularly interesting nor challenging, but it was our first exposure to corrugations in the road. A number of people we’d met on our journey had already shared horror stories of breakdowns caused through vibrations as a result of driving mile after mile of corrugated, outback roads. Where a vehicle has literally shaken itself to pieces. When discussing the topic one evening with Alister (back at our Armidale farm Workaway) he’d shared with us his conclusion: Drive fast and hit only every other corrugation… or drive slow, lower your tyres and roll over them all. With the crampervan being 'no speed machine’ but instead a fuel thirsty hog (we mainly cruised at 80km/ 50mph on open road for this reason), it seemed our choice for tackling corrugated roads was already predetermined. The track eventually shook us out onto the beach, the tide thankfully at a point which made driving still possible on this particular small stretch, and it wasn’t long before we were once again joining the inland track to our first camping area.
Lake Boomanjin was our camp area for our first night and promised beautiful blue waters and paper white sand. It didn’t disappoint. The track we had driven from the small stretch of beach to the lake camping area, wound us through beautiful wooded areas, over deeply rutted sand sections with tons of knobbly tree roots, all which had to be traversed. L did most of the driving and thoroughly enjoyed making use of the crampervan’s low box.
Other than a group of teenagers on an “outward bound” type of walking expedition camping in the dingo fenced tent area, we were to be the only vehicle at Lake Boomanjin that evening. Unfortunately for the ‘tenters’ the heavens opened during the middle of the night and I can’t imagine any of them got much sleep before their bright and early morning briefing given by their leader.
We took a walk along the waters edge of the lake, the morning sun bringing to life all the colours of the water, the greens of the reeds and reflecting off of the white sand. Actually so much so, we could barely see where we were going and so had to turn back for the van in desperate search of our sun glasses! Fail.
Central station picnic area turned out to be a nice open space and so we spent a bit of time there, had lunch and relaxed. We found Central Station camping area, with it’s dense tree canopy offers little direct sunlight, and coupled with the heavy rain from the previous night everything remained wet and humid. This all felt a little too much like a dull autumn evening back in the UK, sadly we’d pre booked 2 nights here, but never mind.
The next day we were checking out Lake McKenzie. We’d read a lot about this lake, it appears in just about every write up or promotional that there is about Fraser and after getting there it wasn’t difficult to see why. McKenzie is filled entirely from rain water, no rivers or streams feed into it, it is essentially a big puddle. It’s probably the best puddle that L and I have ever seen: white sand and inviting clear waters. We lazed on the sand and in the water for most of the day, until the sky clouded over and we made our way back to Central Station Camp area.
The mornings there were just as dim from the absence of light as the afternoons. We packed up as quick as we could, bundling up our washing (still damp from two days previous), and headed east towards the beach. The track from Central Station took us around 40 minutes and terminated at Eurong: a small settlement by the beach, where we’d been told we should be able to pick up phone signal. This turned out to be true and conveniently right outside, what I can only assume is Fraser’s only bakery. This was a good excuse for L and I to re-live last years France cycling memories, where bakeries were a stopping point on a daily basis, and so we headed inside for a treat.
Naturally the phones went mental after having not had any signal or data for a few days so we waited for this to all calm down before going through the process of booking a further 3 nights of camping with the Queensland National Parks Authority. Annoyingly you can’t just book X amount of nights camping on Fraser and turn up each night to a camping area that takes your fancy. Instead you have to specify at the time of booking which nights you you’ll be staying at which sites. Given that we’d never visited Fraser before, we found this really awkward simply because we didn’t 100% know where we wanted to camp. It’s a big island and we certainly didn’t want to feel rushed when exploring areas because of having to get to a particular camp area. So in the end, rather than trying to create a step by step itinerary for the whole duration of our stay, taking into consideration beach driving windows; the unknown time to get from a to b via the (unknown condition) inland tracks; and time spent exploring key areas, we broke our stay down instead booking 3 nights at a time. Slightly more manageable when it comes to working out an itinerary.
The booking service over the phone was not dissimilar to when you call up to buy car insurance and the person on the phone has to read the disclaimer script and then ask if you still want to go ahead! We did, and we had a laugh afterwards about how long the whole process took, hopefully we’d get a different person the next two times we needed to call up to make more bookings.
We joined the amazing beach highway and headed north to our beach front camping area (zone 4). With uninterrupted views of the ocean, this spot was by far better than the previous. The re-washed washing dried in no time at all, helped by a warm sea breeze. It was here too where we got to see our first Dingos, two of them wandering along the beach.
The morning sun filled the van with light, coffee was pressed and breakfast was fried then eaten. We headed north again up the beach highway. We made a stop off at Eli Creek, a genuine, real life lazy river! I’ve always been a big fan of the lazy rivers you find in water parks, so this being a natural one, had me super excited. After enthusiastically getting out of the van I was majorly gutted to discover that the creek was only knee high at best, so our plans of floating on our body boards just wasn’t going to happen. Absent of any tractor inner tubes but not wanting to miss an opportunity, we got creative. L inflated our camping matts which we doubled over and coupled with our body boards, thus giving us just enough buoyancy to conquer such shallow water. A board walk took us as far as anyone is permitted to go upstream and a set of steps fed us into the creek. At a good but relaxing pace, the water took us on our Heath Robinson rigs and we meandered down stream back to the beach.
CHECK OUT OUR LAZY RIVER GOPRO FOOTAGE! Enjoy> https://youtu.be/sXsw9PR8h80
After a quick selfie with a couple of planes which touched down onto the beach just in front of us, we pressed on north up the beach to Waddy point although not before stopping at the Meheno shipwreck, something L had been eager to see. The Maheno was washed ashore on the 9th of July 1935 while on it’s way to Japan to be broken for scrap, and was a lot bigger than we imagined, despite it’s crumbling shell mostly buried beneath the sand. Deep rusty reds gave an amazing contrast to the golden sand and the blue sky and water. To get to waddy point there were a few detours off the beach and onto short inland tracks to get around the jutting cliff tops and rocks. This made good offloading fun in the crampervan, plowing up steep uneven inclines and down equally undulating descents, once again the vans low box was proving invaluable.
Waddy point would turn out to be yet another incredible place to watch the sun set and our first experience of sand dune climbing on the mighty Binngih sand blow. Hear about it in the second part of our Fraser Island expedition, where it goes without saying that there’s also plenty more off road tracks and beachy fun...