The Swedish sisters remind us of their presence with dangerously high-pitched screams as the truck hurtles down the sandy track towards a tree. I swerve to the left just in time and glance at the rear-view mirror, nervously expecting recriminations, only to find a bunch of demonic grins.
Fraser Island seems to have a habit of doing that. If there’s one name that backpackers tend to single out as the best place they went to in Oz, more often than not it seems to be Fraser.
I always approach such places with caution – there’s nothing worse than hype – but I could tell very quickly that there was no need to worry. I was going to love this place.
But when a place comes with such a reputation, it means it’s worth doing it properly, and that means doing it yourself, not chilling at the back of some comfy air-conditioned day
So meeting my unlikely collection of companions shortly after dawn, we are soon briefed and sent on our three-day self-drive adventure.
Not long after and we’re reversing the 4WD off the ferry and onto the world’s largest sand island, a place packed with some of the most stunning lakes and beaches you could hope to find, plus a seriously cool shipwreck, and surrounded by seas so perilous and packed with things just gagging to sting, drown, eat or perhaps just chew on you, that it feels dangerous just dipping your toes in.
So after a brief stop at Central Station, we head straight for a swim. The truck parked up, we trek over the huge sandblow that forms one side of Lake Wabby and race down the dunes into the refreshing water.
This is what it’s all about. These are the sort of places that everyone dreams about but are so hard to find, especially amongst the hordes that race up and down the east coast.
If you time it right and avoid the tour groups – pretty easy to do when you’ve got your own wheels – you can basically have a world class beach to yourself, except perhaps for a few catfish and turtles.
After basking in the sun and keeping cool under the cover of the eucalypt forest, we finally begin to feel awake and soon we’re traipsing back to the motor, eager to hit 75 Mile Beach, which is not only a beach but also Fraser’s main highway… Oh, and a landing strip for planes.
The Swede in the driving seat puts her foot down as we hit the hard sand, and one of our slightly crazed Czech companions barks instructions.
With the images of mangled jeeps still clear in our minds thanks to the cheery safety video we’d been shown earlier, we carefully avoid all of the craftily hidden washouts that carve across the beach until the slightly surreal sight of the Maheno shipwreck comes into view.
The retired World War I hospital ship had been on its way to Japan, where it was to be sold for scrap, in 1935, when a cyclone dragged it ashore. Since then it has become a permanent, slightly eerie, fixture on the beach.
Obligatory pictures snapped, we head on to our campsite to set up the tents for the night, unaware that at some point a spider as big as my hand would set up home under the Swedes’ tent, only to be discovered, with more screams, when packing up two days later.
We are up at the crack of dawn again.
An impressive feat considering an insistence by the Czech couple, who have now adopted bizarre Soviet era-style parent roles within our group, that we consume a whole bottle of whisky – or medicine as they would call it – much to their own amusement.
But there’s a pretty simple reason why we are all up and about, well two I suppose. We want to see dingoes and we want to see tiger sharks.
Undoubtedly Fraser’s most famous inhabitants are the wild dingoes, sleek dogs that love nothing more than a stroll along the beach first thing in the morning.
But seeing nothing more than tracks, we drive straight up to Indian Head, the island’s best spot for looking out to sea.
We immediately see a migrating whale making its way past in the distance.
Knowing the sharks that call this breeding ground home love nothing more than chasing down a whale, we squint harder. At one point I even let out a demented cry of “Shark!” before realising it was a dolphin.
Managing to resist using fellow travellers as bait, we give up on the tiger sharks and walk up to the Champagne Pools, ancient volcanic rock formations which get swamped by the waves, and throw you around in the process.
But as the small beach fills up we make a break for it, our misfit Eurotrash team increasingly happy to head off again and find another of the idyllic watering holes that seem to be hidden behind every corner of Fraser.
So we turn inland through the soft sand one more time for another bone-crunchingly fun and Scandinavian scream-inducing drive to the centre of the island, before a final dip at the deserted Lake Allom.
Waking on our last day, we make our way by several more lakes, even sharing a swim with some turtles at Lake Boomanjin.
But the only thing on our minds is our final stop before heading to the ferry – Lake McKenzie. Every world-class tourist spot has some “must-see” site. Some are a waste of time, many are over-hyped, but McKenzie fills its boots with style.
Pure white silica sand descends into perfectly clear turquoise waters which gradually darken as they deepen.
Although the island’s busiest spot, and always visited by the tour buses, the lake is still big enough to easily escape the crowds.
Which means time for one more swim in our own tropical paradise before taking the boat back to civilisation…
Dangerous animals are not exactly what you would call a novelty in Australia. Which makes it all the more impressive that Fraser has grabbed headlines across the world courtesy some of the creatures that call the island home.
Everyone takes big man-eating sharks seriously, especially when there are huge packs of them hunting together, like off Fraser where they have even been known to cause whales to beach themselves out of desperation.
But despite “Staying Dingo Smart” being every park ranger’s favourite catchphrase, in reality people don’t take them all that seriously.
Basically they’re not big, they don’t look dangerous, they look like, well, skinny dogs… but then so do African wild dogs, which are the most efficient killers south of the Sahara.
It still seems hard to believe that as recently as 2001 a horrific tragedy left a nine-year-old boy dead on Fraser Island after a dingo attack.
For many it finally settled the dingo argument that had been raging since the case of Lindy Chamberlain.
The New Zealand-born woman was jailed in 1982 for the murder of her two-month-old daughter, Azaria.
She claimed a dingo had snatched her baby from her tent during a family trip to Uluru. But she got little support and was locked up, the accepted theory being she had murdered her child and dumped the body… that is until some of the baby’s clothes were found in a dingo lair on Uluru four years later. Lindy Chamberlain was released within five days.
But scaremongering aside, the same old story goes with dingoes as it does with most animals – leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.
Just think of them as being like gremlins, mainly cute but best you don’t feed them. Apart from anything else, it could cost you a $3,000 fine.
The damage: Three-day two-night self-drive tour, plus two nights accommodation in Hervey Bay, costs $165 (plus $50 for fuel and insurance).
The details: Beaches Fraser Safari, Freephone: 1800 655 501.