Saturday, 25 July 2015

Fraser Island

As my time in Australia was limited, and with no time to hang around I hot footed it down the coast to Rainbow Beach, which was to the base point for my Fraser Island trip. Inhabited by the indigenous Butchulla people, Fraser Island was first sighted by Captain Cook in 1770; after the inevitable arrival of Europeans, relations with the natives turned sour with the introduction of logging in 1863. This lasted until 1991 when the island achieved UNESCO World Heritage status. 

We first visited Central Station in Wanggoolba Creek named after the log-carrying train lines which used to divide the island. Now a picnic area and display botanical garden it is home to some of the worlds oldest plants including the primeval-looking Giant Fern which once featured in a David Attenborough documentary. Whilst we were inland, we next visited the famous Lake McKenzie, a 'perched' lake meaning it was formed on top of a impenetrable layer of decaying twigs and leaves. Because of this the water is transparent and the sand clean enough to exfoliate skin and clean hair and jewellery with. More like a ocean beach vista, Lake McKenzie is a top attraction on Fraser Island and is an exquisite place to relax, swim and generally enjoy the beauty of life. We self drove 4x4's along the islands highway, the beach, from place to place and our final spot of the day was the half submerged World War One hospital ship S.S Maheno shipwreck. Having been there for 80 years, visiting at sunset made the browny palette of the rusting metal take on an orangey glow which reflected eerily off of the damp sand. 

We spent our first night in an electric fence-protected camp; dingoes, the islands wild dog, have been known to be aggressive in the past as a result of scavenging food left by visitors and some fatalities have occurred. Of all the dangers made aware to us, dingo attacks were the most serious. 
The following day we drove to the Champagne Pools, a collection of pools formed by volcanic rocks which are topped up by waves crashing and 'fizzing' in from the ocean, hence the champagne reference. With the waves come fish who once in cannot leave, forming a micro-habitat which was once a major contribution to the Butchulla people's diet. Flanked by beaches and with rocks banking up behind, the Champagne Pools are ideal to while away a few hours in the only spot on the island where saltwater swimming is allowed - the sea is too unpredictable and sightings of sharks and crocodiles are frequent. 

Close by is Indian Head, a rocky outcrop and one of only three sections of rock on the island; Fraser is the worlds largest sand island. Indian Head is a sacred place for the Butchullas as many women, children and elders were pushed to their deaths by explorers on the island making it a cemetery and a place of remembrance. Whilst the views are absolutely breathtaking - 75 Mile Beach to the right and waves crashing into the rocks below - it is a special place to feel the history and its spirit. There are even talks of closing Indian Head off from tourists as a way of marking its importance. 

In the afternoon we were given a once in a lifetime experience to take a plane ride over the island for only around £25! I was lucky enough to take the front seat (apparently that does not make me a co-pilot) in the eight person propeller aircraft. Within minutes we were in the air after a take-off from the beach and whizzing over the island. Although around 70 people live permanently on the island,  there are some parts which are completely inaccessible such as Butterfly Lake, cleverly named because it looks like a butterfly...! Sandblows are a large part of Fraser Island formation. From the easterly winds sand is blown inland to create massive dunes that encroach further and further each year, consuming everything in its wake. From above we could see the extent of this coverage making it easy to understand why it is the worlds largest sand island. As we were flying over the ocean I spotted a Humpback whale making its way north to feed in warmer waters away from the Antartica winter! What a special moment! All around us were sublime examples of how beautiful Fraser Island is and the plane ride was worth every penny! 

After we'd landed and the euphoria had subsided, we took a walk to Eli Creek coined as a 'natural lazy river' and one that pours four million litres of fresh, clear water into the ocean every hour. Floating down the swiftly flowing shallow river was a really invigorating experience before you slow to a halt in the emptying pool of water on the beach. We frolicked here until sunset before it was time to head back to camp. It was a truly magical day! 

On our last morning we had just enough time to walk 40 minutes to Lake Wabby, once a large expanse of water which has now decreased in size due to the impending sandblow towering above it which will eventually consume the lake completely. Unlike the other lakes on the island which are too acidic, Wabby is the perfect habitat for a range of fish with whom we swam with in the not-so-warm waters! Whilst we were enjoying ourselves on the sandblow, watching local children whizz down on bodyboards, there was an element of finality in the air as we were all too aware that we had to get back in time to catch the car ferry back to the mainland. I drove the final distance home on the sand which was a first for me. It requires more concentration than normal driving and is certainly more dangerous but with the sparkling waters to my left and the sun casting its orange glow over the island, it was impossible not to have a 'I can't believe I'm here' moment! Without a doubt, Fraser Island is a gem in the host of natural beauty spots on the east coast that cannot be missed.