Fraser Island

February 25, 2010 - Fraser Island, Australia

So to Fraser Island.

We've arranged tae meet Geoffrey Berry at the Brisbane Central train station at 9.15 on the Thursday morning so we head on in and sure enough, there he is. One quick train ticket purchase later and we are chugging along the track bound for some out of town station where the Apollo Car Hire people have their pick up office. We find the place without incident and begin the process of renting a 4x4 Nissan Patrol. This is where oor problems begin. For some inexplicable reason, the lassie we spoke tae yesterday over the phone hasny made a note of the fact that we intend tae take the aforementioned vehicle over tae Fraser Island. This is important because Fraser Island is a sand island wi nae paved roads tae speak off and so the insurance etc is a bit more comprehensive. Many drivers come tae grief on Fraser for a variety of reasons. Ye can mistime a sand dune and roll the vehicle. Ye can misjudge the tides and get caught on the beach and get salt-water in the engine. There are a number of hazards. It's tricky. Hence the complication caused by the omission of this info in our application. So the straight-forward process o renting a vehicle is held-up and we end up having tae spend at least an hour in the office while the appropriate paperwork is completed. We dinny get oot o the there until aboot 11am and we figured we'd be oot by 10. Fraser Island is a fair distance away and we are booked intae accommodation half way up the East Coast and have told the people we will be there for half 6. This delay has now put a bit o added pressure on us.

Onyway so we now have the motor, and a cracker it surely is, so make oor way back intae Brisbane tae pick up oor bags which we do hastily and are soon on the road North heading for the Sunshine Coast and Rainbow Beach near where we will catch a ferry owr tae the island. We fairly bomb it up the road.Geoff is the only named driver on the rental agreement and so he is, effectively, our captain for the duration. Captain Berry makes guid time and manages tae get us tae Rainbow for the back o 3. Ye dae yer first bit o sand driving at Rainbow at a place called Inskip Point. A dirt road comes tae an end and ye have tae drive across a beach tae get tae where the ferries pick up. And so it begins. Off-roading baby!

So a quick note aboot Fraser Island while we're waiting for the ferry. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the World. 85 miles long and 16 miles across. The aborigine name for it is K'Gali which means 'Paradise'. It's European name derives from a story about one Elizabeth Fraser, a Scottish lassie, who was shipwrecked on the brig 'Stirling Castle' and made it to the island where she was captured by aborigines then rescued by an escaped convict who had been living with them (or so the story goes). The aborigines were kicked aff Fraser Island in the early 20th century so it could be exploited by big business. It's populated wi, among other things, a special and particularly robust kind o tree called a Satinay which was used in the building o the Suez Canal. It became a World Heritage listed site in 1992 and is now a major Queensland tourist destination.


The ferry journey takes aboot 10 mins and so we make it there for aboot half 3. We're thinking at this point that we are gonny be alright time-wise for getting tae oor destination, Cathedral Beach, a good 50k roond the coast. That's the thing on Fraser drive on the beach. Hence the 4x4. Ye have tae time the driving right so ye dinny get stuck on the beach at high tide as it then becomes too narrow in places tae avoid the waves. And ye dinny wanty be driving through salt-water in a $40,000 vehicle that isny yours. We skip roond the Southern tip o the Island but then we hit some scrub bush that seems tae come right doon tae the shore and figure we arny gonny make it roond this bit. Tide must be too high. Backing up a bit we plump for an inland road that on the map comes back oot on the beach aboot 20k further up. Jingso - What a road! It is bumpy as hell and we are getting shoogled aboot like ye widny believe which is deeply uncomfortable and not conducive tae getting any kind o speed up. After aboot an hour o this we are pretty much desperate tae get back ontae the beach and spot on the map what looks like a road that leads through a campsite and back ontae the beach - so we plump for this. Big mistake. We go through some fairly thick trees, up an embankment and - thud - land in a ditch. When Geoff tries tae get us started again - we dinny budge. We are stuck fast in the sand and oor wheels are just spinning. Nightmare. So we aw get oot and have a guid look. Man are we in trouble. Oor wheels are fairly deeply embedded in some very soft sand and we cannot get traction at all. We frantically try and dig oorsels oot with oor hands and Geoff gies it some welly while Jacs and I push. Nae joy. Infact we're digging oorsels further in. We find a couple o signs with 'No Cars' symbols on which, alas, none o us spotted before we bounced over the hill intae oblivion and try jamming these under the wheels tae gie us some traction. Disny work. We cannae quite get the wheels tae roll owr ontae the wood. It is starting tae get dark and we are being attacked by rather large moth-like insects called March flies which give very nasty bites. March flies 'have

two large blade-like mouthparts, which are used to pierce and slash skin' apparently. We are aware that Fraser also crawls with all manner of other nasty beasties eg wild dingoes. Hmmm....quite a pickle. Also, let me repeat that this is a $40,000 vehicle that isny ours. Geoff is just getting the faintest o signals on his mobile so puts a call in to the Fraser Island RAC or whatever they are called. The Fraser Island RAC more or less tell us to go fuck ourselves (sorry excuse the language but I'm angry thinking about it). We are starting tae think we may need tae sleep in the car and deal with this in the morning. The nearest resort, Eurong, is probably a good 10-15k away. Not a distance ye'd want tae walk in the dark. We have nae water or food though. Our entire provisions consist of a case of Corona, 6 bottles of Coopers Pale Ale and two bottles o red wine which we procured in Rainbow. What to do?

While Geoff and I have been attempting tae get the car oot - Jacs has taken a walk over a sand-dune ontae the beach in the faint hope that another car will pass and be able to lend us a hand. I wander over tae see how this is going. A good hour has passed and not a single other vehicle has been spotted. Suddenly in the distance we see a truck approaching and start waving and signalling tae the driver who spots us and pulls over. Man - what luck. It's only a Fraser Island Wildlife Ranger (with a huge unsightly port-wine birthmark across his face, poor chap). We explain oor predicament to this fella and he grabs a spade from the back o his truck and meanders over for a look. This fella is truly an angel. He gets busy with his spade and digs all around the 4 wheels and clears the sand out from under the car. He then explains that tyre pressure is extremely important when driving over sand and puts us to work letting down the tyres slightly. He then directs us to collect tree branches and jam these under the wheels that we might gain some traction. Thus done, he tells Geoff tae get behind the wheel and gie it some welly in low gear and gets roond the back wi me and Jacs and helps push. Bingo. We are out first-time. Geoff spins round and then we have tae push again to get us back over the hill we bounced over initially. And then that is that. Saved. We profusely thank this fella (whose name none of us caught) who, with only the merest hint of reprimand, makes us put back the 'No Cars' signs we didn't see then ripped up. And with this he departs leaving us to cringe over our stupidity and dwell on our eventual good fortune. Ironically, and quite annoyingly, the actual turn-off the inland road back onto the beach is about half a kilometer further on from where we got stuck. Doh!

So we're back on the beach and it's a real race against time now as It's well after 5 o'clock, probably nearer 6 and very nearly high-tide on the beach. A short drive and some near misses with huge dips in the sand in the failing light, and with our already frayed nerves, convinces us that we just ought to stop at Eurong and get accommodation there if possible, or sleep in the car even. Driving further tonight would just be lunacy. We get to Eurong and are delighted to find that it is a reasonably civilised wee place with a shop (which is closed), a hotel, a pub and a restaurant (which are open). First off we get some coca-cola from a vending machine and glug these down gratefully. We then head into the hotel and call Cathedral Beach and explain that we ain't coming tonight then procure a double room for the night in Eurong. We then hit the restaurant, get some cold beers and three buffet passes and settle down to refresh ourselves and regain our composure. We are covered in sand and a little strung-out but, man, there ain't a trauma in the world that lasagne and beer can't dull the memory of. Soon we head up to the hotel room and Geoff and I sit and enjoy a pleasant view out over the hotel's swimming pool and skull one of the bottles of wine while debriefing ourselves on our unnerving recent events. The stars are out in their billions and ye can clearly see the milky way. We see the most amazing shooting star. It's like a firework. Calm again, we each shower then retire to our beds and write it off as a bad day.

Next day all is right again with the world. We get ready and oot the hotel by 10am and enjoy a leisurely drive up the beach to Cathedral. The sun is shining and it is hot, hot, hot. Driving up the beach on Fraser Island is a fantastic experience. Ocean on one side (well, technically it's the Coral Sea), trees on the other and miles and miles of beautiful sandy beach ahead and behind ye. We pass plenty of other drivers and there are even planes landing here and there! Just down from Cathedral lies the wreck of the Moheno, a luxury cruise liner (built in Scotland incidentally) that ran aground in a cyclone in 1936 and has been slowly rusting and sinking intae the sand ever since. We get oot for a look at this and take some photaes. The wreck of the Moheno is very cool indeed. Soon we are at Cathedral and get checked in and intae oor apartment which is basic but alright. We just chill oot today. Get some scran in from Cathedral's wee shop (where we are hideously ripped off) and then spend the rest of the day drinking beer.

Saturday we take a bumpy drive inland through Fraser's ancient forests tae Lake Mackenzie. Wow what a spot. White sand and beautiful clear water tae swim in. Ye cannae swim in the sea ye see on account of the dangerous currents and the odd shark. We spend a couple o hours at Mackenzie jumping in and oot o the water and catching some rays before bumping back along the road tae Cathedral where we spend the night drinking, listening tae tunes, chewing the fat, watching a few episodes o 'The Mighty Boosh' on Geoff's laptop and trying tae avoid being killed or horribly maimed by Fraser Island's rather fearsome wildlife. I'm no joking man there are some huge freaking insects flying aroond this place. When yer indoors it's like something oot o Stephen King's 'The Mist' with all these giant things trying tae get in at ye. Only withoot the mist. At one point, ootside, while I'm sitting across fae Geoff relaying some exotic story I notice his expression change suddenly and his focus shift to some point directly behind my head. Chuck calmy says 'McP. Ye might want tae stand up slowly, walk towards me and then turn around'. I do this and discover there is an enormous spider bouncing up and down on it's web directly behind where my head was. Jings this thing was aboot the size o yer hand wi a huge, bulbous body. I'm sure it was harmless but, by Christ, it sure didny look harmless. In fact it looked like it would happily eat yer face and spit yer eyeballs at yer twitching corpse. Uy!

We actually see a bigger spider than this the following day while we are wading through a freshwater creek called 'Eli Creek'. We see this guy and his wide-eyed girlfriend setting up tae take a photae o something and as we get closer he whispers 'Look!' and points out this thing about the size o an LP just sitting in the middle o a huge web strung between two bushes. Cool. Unfortunately, my camera batteries ran out and so I dinny get a photae o the spider or, indeed, the creek. Shame. We go tae another freshwater lake on Sunday for more swimming. Isny so nice a day, in fact it rains lightly a couple o times, which works oot ok as we actually get the whole place tae ooselves. Hours of tranquility. Drive back is wild as tree roots across the track are almost like steps. We get fairly jostled about but Geoff seems tae be enjoying the driving. Back up the beach past wandering wild dingoes and we again spend the night drinking, talking and chuckling. Geoff introduces me to the second series of 'The Mighty Boosh' - jesus what is going on there? Fair to say these boys have ramped up the surreal aspect in the second series. It's good. I must see more.

And that was pretty much it. Fraser Island done. Monday we ship out and head back down the road stopping at Rainbow tae wash the sand aff the car, hoover it oot and pump the tyres back up before we drive back down to Brissy, taking a detour through Noosa (where Geoff used tae bide) for some fish and chips. Nice place the Noosa. Nothing remotely interesting happens on the way home. Geoff returns the car on Tuesday and is relieved to find that there is no damage to the vehicle which we had been a bit worried aboot as we took some almighty dunts here and there. Not least of which the one when we careered over the embankment and into the ditch. harm done then. Phew.

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