Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fraser Island Adventures

I arrived at Dingos Backpackers (after an overnight bus ride) around 7:30am on Tuesday morning.  I couldn’t check into my room until 11am, so I had some breakfast and took a nap in a hammock until check-in time. We had a safety briefing at 4pm and I have to admit I was wondering to myself why in the world I was even doing this 4WD tour.  I honestly think it was only included because it was going to be part of the first East Coast package I’d looked at so Georgie (my travel agent) added it to the one she created for me...but I consoled myself with the memory of everyone on my sailing trip telling me that Fraser Island was one of their favorite things in all of the East Coast.  Anyway, at the briefing we got divided into our groups so I got to meet my “team” for the next three days: a Swedish guy named John, a British couple Paige & George, and 4 Mexicans: Regina, Ximena, Jenny, & Mariana.  I could not have been happier with my group.  John is 32 and was not into the whole party scene and being older than the rest of our group we sort of bonded over the whole non-drinking/up all night partying thing.  The 4 girls from Mexico City were delightful and I loved hearing them chatter in Spanish all the time; they're here studying (in Melbourne).  There were a lot of people on the tour, but everyone got broken up into groups of 8 and then there were 4 groups of 8 per guide/lead driver.  Our guide was Cristos (half Australian, half Greek) and he was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had, and I’ve been on a few tours.  He drove one of the cars, and then there was our car and two others in our convoy.  Fraser Island is known for its dingos, which, although they look adorable, are quite vicious.  We were warned many times to never walk around by ourselves, especially at night.

On Wednesday morning we were all up bright an early, basically to hurry up and wait.  We were late getting going, but after gathering all our sleeping bags, packing our food and coolers into the trailer and packing our bags into the trunk we were off to catch the ferry over to Fraser Island.  Our first day of the tour was interesting – George drove first and from the videos and talks during the safety briefing it seemed as if the rules for driving in snow are the same for driving in sand.  Since I can’t drive a manual I didn’t do any driving on the trip, but that was fine by me – I enjoy being a passenger.  Paige drove after George, but it ended up being team driving because he sat in the passenger seat and did all the shifting for her.  Ximena drove next, with George sitting up front for moral support – she did really well and was the only girl that did any significant amount of driving on the trip.  Our first stop of the day was the beautiful Lake McKenzie (my photos don’t do it justice, just search Gogle for pictures of the lake and you’ll see what I mean).
 The sands around the lake are composed of pure, white silica and the water in the lake is so pure it is unsuitable for many species!  Cristos had us all posing for group photos and making crazy videos (all of which he added to a FB group so we could all have them).  Lake McKenzie was one of the few places we could actually swim on the tour (the rip tides are too strong on the beaches and there were way too many jellyfish – the beaches were dotted with them).  The camp we stayed at was on Aboriginal land, so we weren’t allowed to whistle, they believe it attracts evil spirits; and we weren’t allowed to spit in the fire (not sure why you would do that anyway) because it was disrespectful.   The guys cooked our dinner the first night – Asian stir-fry and it was pretty good for camp food.  After dinner we chatted for a bit, but then they all started playing drinking games, which I have never understood; they're usually dumb.  Anyway, I headed to bed early, but of course couldn’t really sleep because of all the loud music.

After a fitful night of sleep I was up early, as was John, so we started on breakfast (scrambled eggs & toast) while everyone else was working on getting up.  Our first stop of the day was Eli Creek, a.k.a. Hangover Creek.  It’s apparently the perfect cure for a hangover, as many of my tour mates would attest later in the day.  The water in the creek is incredibly clear and we filled up all our water jugs there.  After playing in the creek, and Cristos making a few more videos and taking some group photos, we headed to the “mouth of the creek (I think that's the right term), and played some sports. It's a popular spot on the island, as you can see:

 Football, soccer, frisbee, and kite flying were the sports of the day, but it was so hot and the sun was so strong I didn’t last too long.  After a stop for some lunch we headed to a spot called Champagne Pools which was pretty neat.  It was ocean water, but because they area was protected by some rocks (the water crashing over the rocks creates the champagne-like bubbles) we were safe from sharks, rip-tides, and jellyfish.  As with every stop, there were group photos and videos to be taken, and I must admit Cristos has an eye for creating great photos.  Our last stop of the day was Indian Head which offers a panoramic vista of the surrounding beaches.
 Apparently on clear days you can see Manta Rays, Sharks, Dolphins and Turtles swimming and hunting in the water below, but we didn’t see any.  We headed back to camp to prepare our dinner and it was definitely one of our better meals: steak, potato salad, and a lovely garden salad as well.  Somehow I ended up in charge of the potato salad and was complimented on how tasty it was, which is a bit ironic because I never eat potato salad, and usually don’t like it!  We sat around the fire again after dinner, but I ended up chatting with some guys in our group (in one of the other cars), mostly about sports because they’re both Pittsburgh Penguins fans.   A bunch of us decided to head to the beach to view the stars (you have to go in big groups due to the dingos).  At this point in the trip we’d only seen one while driving down the beach. I have NEVER, in my entire life seen stars like that – it was as if you could see the entire Milky Way!  It’s impossible to capture in a photo, but I so wish I could have, just to share it with you all.

On Friday morning my alarm went off and as I was about to sit up in my tent I heard a guitar playing.  My first thought was as to whether it was a real guitar, and then Cristos started singing!  He was serenading us awake with a song he’d written, quite possibly on the spot, and he was actually pretty good!  Our first, and only, stop of the day was Lake Wabby.  To get there you have to hike maybe 45 minutes and cross some crazy sand dunes to get there – it’s such a random lake.  There are actually fish in the lake that will nibble the dead skin off your feet if you sit still long enough.  Because the sand dunes literally drop right into the lake, Cristos had us all lying on the side of the sand dunes spelling out FRASER while he swam to the middle of the lake to take a photo of us.  He then, of course, had to video people rolling down the sand dunes into the lake.  Before starting the drive home we had some lunch and then John convinced Cristos to get out his guitar and sing us another song or two.  He sang us a song he’d written in Greek, but did a rough translation into English.  Then he sang a few other made up songs about Fraser Island and 4WD trips before we finally had to head back.  The ride back to Rainbow Beach was rather uneventful, but at the end, shortly before arriving at the ferry landing we did see another dingo and this time I actually was able to get a photo of it!

In the end I’m really glad I did the tour, although if I’d have had a different group I might have felt differently.  Cristos was phenomenal and I can’t wait to see all the cool photos he took of us all.  Mis chicas Mexicanas were on my bus this morning, leaving Rainbow Beach, but sadly their next stop is Byron Bay, and I got off in Noosa.  They were tons of fun though and maybe I’ll visit them in Mexico some day….

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