She is beautiful, a bit rough around the edges and looking older than her 21 hard years, but Debbie is more than happy to have five grown men bouncing around in her. Over the course of a weekend, and with no sign of letting up, we’ll all take turns in the hot seat, and though she’ll occasionally choke and cough while she is warming up, once she is hot there is just no stopping her – even when we go up the odd muddy trail…
No, Debbie is not a hooker – but she most definitely is pimpin’. She’s an old Toyota Landcruiser; fading orange with bench seats in the back, painted-on extractors for added toughness, a vintage dashboard and the enthusiasm for a good workout. But first things first – Car Tetris, which, like the video game, involves trying to load your equipment into the back without gaps or spaces.
It gets difficult when my mates, fancy themselves as fine bushmen and feel the need to bring every modern convenience known to man. I, of course, arrive armed solely with a sleeping bag, a toothbrush and a thirst for adventure. Fortunately the boys have both a spare camping chair and a hand of poker for me to take their money with.
It’s here that I should advise you: your trip to Fraser Island may differ slightly from mine, and I must stress the benefits of having fully equipped, seasoned campers for friends. However, the self-drive adventure offered by a number of companies is by far the best way for you to see Fraser Island. On signing up, you’re thrown in with like-minded folk, the necessary equipment, the rules and advice for seeing the sights… And away you go, onward to conquer the largest sand island in the world with all the misadventures that go along with 4wding in sand and camping in the wild; getting bogged and bounced around while dodging dingoes and goannas – more on them later.
A FLAPPING NOISE
Making the cross from Rainbow Beach to the southern tip of Fraser, we are, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers once said, “(off)road trippin” with my favourite allies, fully loaded, we got snacks and supplies’. With our hubs locked to 4WD mode, this is one of the initial tests of driving as we plough through the soft sands. The first stretch is very loose. Driving on sand isn’t like cruising the M25.
When driving in the soft, don’t be tense or firm on the steering wheel, keep relaxed and let some movement go in the wheels – like a white guy in an R’n’B club, they’ll find their own groove. As you round the bend of Inskip Point and Hook Point, aiming north, the beach is great for driving. At low tide the sand is firm and you can belt along with the windows down, the salt air pouring in and a feeling of absolute freedom. But don’t get carried away.
We had lowered the pressure in our tires accidentally past the recommended PSI rating for sand. As I was sending a cheeky text to friends back in Sydney about the fun I was having, karma struck like a bolt of lightning. A flapping noise shutters the truck just after hitting a bump and I immediately knew what had happened. A flat tyre only 30 minutes into a weekend trip is not good. As we struggled to winch the old girl off her wounded leg with a rusty and extremely slow jack, a flash-looking modern truck whipped around with a contraption that hoisted the car up, zapped the tyres on and off like a Formula 1 car, and we were away again. That’s the great thing about Fraser Island, there are loads of experienced drivers here, so should you get into trouble, it doesn’t take long to get out. Alas, now there was no spare tyre, so no room for error in the hot pursuit of rugged fun.
A HUGE ERECTION
We made it to our campsite alive. Often recommended by companies as your first port of call, Dundubara is set just off the beach with amenities and a dingo fence to ease you into the wild. Equipment spewed from our cars and slowly the site was erected. Time for dinner and a few cans of Queensland’s finest XXXX. When in Rome and all that.
Camping always forces you to rise earlier than desired. But at Dundubara, it’s recommended because just north is Indian Head. At sunrise, by climbing to the top of the headland, you can see all manner of sealife. Dolphins, sharks and turtles call the rocks and reef below home. Sometimes you’ll spot ‘em, sometimes they’ll be hiding. As for whales, these big celebrities of the sea are everywhere around the Fraser Coast and Hervey Bay – and it’s like their Cannes Film Festival this time of year. Seeing one is as easy as shooting a fish-lipped Hilton sister at a film premiere.
MY MIGHTY ROD
It is here we should mention that swimming in the open ocean is completely off-limits, as inviting as it may be. Undertows can drag you down, and so can the abundance of gnarly-toothed sharks that patrol these waters. Troughs close to shore make it easy for them to sneak up on you. However, while you’re in the area of Indian Head, take the walk (as most tour companies won’t let your trucks beyond this point) to Champagne Pools, a rock formation barricading natural baths from the ocean. With a small beach below the cliffs, this is a perfect place to kick back with a good book. A few of us stayed here for a couple of hours chatting with fellow travellers, while another group went further down the beach to fish. If you enjoy wetting a line, Fraser is the place to do it. It’s easy to find a cheap rod to buy or hire before coming across – some fresh prawns or pilchards for bait and away you go.
We caught up to the troupe and they already had a decent feed. Now, I’m no Captain Ahab or Jesus. I don’t even own wellies. But within two minutes of casting out, I hooked the biggest flathead of my limited career. And that was me done, retiring with a 100 per cent kill-rate. I had my dinner sorted – not the prettiest fish as their name ‘flathead’ might suggest – but delicious with some lemon and pepper. Time to relax in the sun again.
Fraser has a pretty simple routine to it. Get to the destination, then relax. One of the nicest places to do just this is Lake McKenzie. With a sandy bottom acting like a filter, this freshwater lake is spectacularly clear. You’ll think you died and went to a Heaven ice-cream commercial. Give yourself a couple of hours here but remember, don’t wear sunscreen in the water because it leaves an oily film on the surface. Either on the way to, or from, Lake McKenzie you could stop off at Central Station for any necessary supplies – but be warned, anything there is twice the price of the mainland. And let’s be honest, you’re roughing it. Leave Hotmail alone for a few days.
A DINGO ATE MY STINGRAY!
After dinner we started a campfire and quickly the varied groups of travellers began to intermingle. We knocked out a group rendition of “Ring Of Fire”, before some guy from Essex thought he was Jack Johnson and took the guitar hostage. The campground has a curfew of 9pm, so we ventured down to the beach. The Milky Way looked like a freeway overhead – the stars shine so brightly here that there is no need for a torch and everyone was laughing and carrying on. Of course, with the privilege of a few drinks in such an amazing and pristine wilderness, comes the responsibility of having to clean up after yourself. Please don’t leave it to the ranger.
A bump close to the water’s edge turns out to be a beached stingray, more washed-up than Patrick Swayze’s career. We all gathered around to investigate for a moment but left him alone. In the morning as we drove onto the beach, a sandy brown dingo had hit pay-dirt, diving jaws-deep into the stingray, ripping it apart fillet by fillet. The dingoes are very used to human contact. Unintimidated by us, we drove closer but didn’t get out of the truck for a photo shoot, and Dingo Zoolander fired us “Blue Steel”. They’ve been known to attack, and with a precious dinner, why wouldn’t he? Also, resist the temptation to feed these guys – they do okay by themselves – as the minimum fee for feeding them is the price of that skydive you planned in Cairns.
Fraser Island dingoes are the purest breed in the country, as there are no tame dogs allowed in the national park. Another introduced (yet rare animal) to Fraser Island are the brumbies – wild horses that feed off the grasses and plants. Unbroken and their manes ragged, they aren’t pampered by 14 year-old girls, and live in their original way of life. Of course, they have changed slightly, so be wary of their poison fangs (lie).
A 100 metres off shore was a catamaran – that’s the life, I thought to myself – and along the shore, someone strolled down the water’s edge. But hang on, a second glance revealed they seem to be starkers. As anyone would, we see it as our duty to drive by, heckling comments like “Oh, it’s not that cold out”, and, “careful the eagle doesn’t swoop it”. Boys will be boys.
We finished our trip driving past the Maheno – a rusted-out shipwreck worthy of a photo – and came to Eli Creek. This thin, crystal clear freshwater creek is the perfect place for a last splash before getting back in the hot truck for the mainland. Walking up to the bridge, we fell into the glorious water and floated all the way back towards the beach on the current.
Fraser is ultimately one of Australia’s best travelling experiences. Whether you self-drive, take one of the many tours available, or walk it, you’ll soon feel immersed in nature. My mates and I may have had a few more toys than you, but surely a fishing rod, football or guitar isn’t too much to pack, and you and your group will bond in no time.
Respect the rules and Mother Nature, and you’ll end up with a happy ending, just like Debbie gave us… er?