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Terra Australis Incognita

Fraser Island, Brisbane and around - last days in Australia

AUSTRALIA | Friday, 21 November 2008 | Views [1309] | Comments [1]

Today is my last full day in Australia. It's a beautiful country, and except for a certain few fellow travellers, is filled with really great, hospitable people. But next time, I'm getting a four wheel drive, which you really need to experience Australia at it's most. Nowhere was this more apparent than Fraser Island.

When I got to Brisbane the Saturday before last, my friend Carlie who I've been staying with was one week away from turning in her Honors thesis, and I don't think she had written half of it yet, so it was a good time to do some more stuff on my own, and Fraser Island was the only thing on my Australia "must do" list besides the Great Barrier Reef. I had planned on going up there and getting together with a group, but I found a tour operator that ran out of Brisbane, and that was just too convenient. 

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. It's 70 some odd miles long, with dunes the size of mountain foothills. It's a barrier island much like the one I grew up on, but with a unique and complex ecosystem all it's own, and for that it's a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It was discouraging at first - we left at about 7am, and the tour guy seemed hungover and unmotivated, and though it only takes a few hours to get to Fraser from Brisbane, we didn't actually get there until after 1pm because of a ridiculous number of long stops along the way. 

It had been raining off and on the whole way there, and that looked to continue as the ferry approached Fraser, as rain was visible on one half of the island while the other looked clearer, giving it an ominous, otherworldly look. The ferry dumped our 4WD vehicle right on the beach, and we gunned it as the gate dropped, reminding me of D-Day or something. Only 4WDs are allowed on Fraser to limit development, and the beach acts as a main highway, with sand tracks throughout the interior.

It's really windy on Fraser Island all the time, or at least it was when we were there. Clouds of sand snaked across the beach as we drove, and the surf was a cauldron of foam. When we got to the campsite, many of the permanently set up tents were blown apart. Further confusion resulted when our guide didn't know what to do about the tides, which at this particular time of year can get high enough to cover the entire beach. That meant we couldn't go to a famous shipwreck that afternoon, and had to go to a closer feature, Lake Wabby. Lake Wabby is on the edge of a sandblow - a gigantic moving sand dune that is made up of excess, unsettled sand. It can envelope entire forests, and indeed, tree tops are sometimes visible through the sand. In this case, it's in the process of covering a lake. Even though this was the first place we went, it may have been the most impressive. The sandblow was a dune desert, like a small Sahara surrounded by rainforest, with a green crescent of a lake at the bottom edge. Of course, I had to barrel roll down the side of a steep dune straight into the lake. 

That night our tour guide got us greatly discounted cabins at the campsite, and good thing, too - the winds were gale force and there was occasional bursts of pouring rain.

The next morning we went inland and visited some more lakes, among them Lake Birrabeen and McKenzie, which are famous for being crystal clear and surrounded by that same powdery white silica sand that's on Whitehaven beach. There was a tinge of green in the lakes because of all the rain, but it was still perhaps the clearest water I've ever seen. The lakes are so clear because they are slightly acidic, and you can feel this on your eyes. But it sure does make them pretty. 

We also took a rainforest hike in the very center of the island, where there is a species of tree that is among the tallest in Australia, and found only on Fraser Island and nowhere else in the world. It could've been the most beautiful rainforest I've seen yet, and so unique - like a redwood forest with palm trees, vines, and giant ferns (supposedly 2,000 years old) with a crystal clear stream running in the middle.

But regrettably, that was all we had time to see on Fraser Island, and we left after only about 24 hours on the island. We saw perhaps the best features, albeit briefly, but this is why I say the best way to see this country is your own 4WD - to see the best parts, which are invariably remote and hard to access, at your own pace.

The tour wasn't over, though. Next we drove along a stretch of beach on the mainland just south of Fraser. It's called Rainbow Beach because of giant sand cliffs made up of colored compacted sand being eroded away by the sea. We really zoomed through here to beat the tide again, but ended up at a headland with tropical blue water and great surf. There's good surfing all along that coast, so I got off the tour on the way back to stay in Maroochydore and surf the next morning. It was a total bust, with rain at first and then winds that just churned up the water to a froth. It was weather I'd have to get used to.

Soon after I got back to Brisbane, Carlie was finishing up her thesis, which I helped her print and turn in no more than five minutes before the absolute final due time. We and another friend went camping that weekend in the mountainous hinterland, where we camped one night before virtually nonstop rain began the next day. The mist gave the mountains and forest a cool looking atmosphere, but made us cold and wet, so we left early.

Bad weather continued most of this week in Brisbane, and last night we got caught in the worst thunderstorm I may have ever experienced. The sky looked ominous with huge darkening thunderheads and occasional lightning while scores of those flying foxes flew across because it was dusk. Then in seconds came a flood of rain and the strongest winds I've ever been exposed to - well over tropical storm force. We were just walking across the city back home, and the rain was blowing so hard it was hard to even look ahead. We took shelter under an entryway, while gusts knocked the trees around like you see on the worst hurricane videos. Then the top of a drain pipe above us exploded with water, and we had to look elsewhere for shelter. The winds calmed after that and the rain was only on and off, but the lightning was visible, I'd estimate, at least five times a second. Most of it was in the distance, though, creating a near constant rumble. I got a great shot of the city with the clouds lit up behind it.

All this and nothing about Brisbane itself. Well, it's a fairly unremarkable city about the size of Tampa. Carlie may live in the coolest part of it though - in walking distance to the museum complex, close to downtown, and with a ton of cheap but delicious ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood. There's also got a really cool speedboat ferry that runs along and across the river. I can't think of much else substantial to say about it, or maybe I'm just tired of writing.

Anyway, New Zealand's North Island is next. I fly to Auckland early tommorrow morning.



Blake, you approaching this trip with a level of lassiez faire that I find both admirable and enviable - I could not do what you are doing. I hope the Southern Hemisphere continues to treat you well/you are able to continue enjoying yourself. Stay in one piece man!

  Cody Nov 23, 2008 3:50 AM



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