4WD Adventures on Fraser Island

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May 21st 2007
Published: August 6th 2007
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4WD Adventures on Fraser Island

Picking Up Our Pick-Up

From the start, we knew our next leg of the trip was going to be an adventure! Fraser Island off the east coast of Australia is one of the largest sand islands in the whole world. While the island has full forests and inland lakes, it is totally made of sand. Fraser is most known for its beautiful lakes and its fishing . . . but the really fun part is driving!

In order to drive on Fraser Island you must acquire a permit and have a four wheel drive vehicle, hopefully a pretty serious one. We decided that experiencing the island with the freedom of driving anywhere we wanted was the way to go, no tours for us! Kel had reserved for us a 4WD vehicle which we picked up in Rainbow Beach.

When we arrived in Rainbow Beach we pulled into the Adventure 4WD parking lot and saw the shiny red Jeep Wrangler that we had rented. Unfortunately when we checked in the Jeep wasn’t ready for us because it needed to have new springs installed, so instead we got a brand new 2006 Toyota Hilux (the Aussie name for a Toyota Tundra). This sweet pickup truck had been outfitted with larger shocks and bigger tires in order to handle the crazy off roading on the Island.

In order to get the vehicle you have to sit through a pretty explicit instructional session. First they give you a thorough understanding that any damage to the vehicle will be paid for by you, the driver. They show you a few pictures of people who have done stupid things and totaled the truck to the tune of $40k. Ouch! So with a healthy dose of fear they then take you for a drive and show you how to switch from 2WD to 4WD and if you get stuck, how to get out using 4WD Low. Then they send you on your way.

The people who rent these cars are really nice. Not only did they give us our Toyota for the price of a Jeep, they let us borrow a cooler so we could take some food with us for lunches on the trail. So, after checking in and getting our car, we grabbed some groceries, got some lunch and then set off for the ferry.

For our first challenge we had to get to the ferry. The ferry lands on the beach on Islet Point which is a large sandy beach which is only ten minutes from Fraser Island. At this point I was a little nervous about driving on the loose sand. Having driven on a beach once before I had memories of loose sand and how easy it was to get stuck. Thankfully the boat arrived and I drove on with no problems. We had the ferry to ourselves so we sat tight until we arrived on Fraser Island.

Full Time 4WD

Our first reality check occurred getting off the ferry. We had been told by the rental place that you never use 4WD on a paved surface, and they included the ferry as a paved surface. So as we started off the ferry, in 2WD, we moved about two car lengths and came to a screeching halt and the tires dug into the sand. Suddenly a god-like voice boomed overhead and said, “Back it up mate, put it in 4WD and try again!” Turned out the ferry had a loudspeaker system and the boat captain was telling us to try again. Thankfully we had no problem backing up onto the boat. Once we returned to the deck of the boat, the captain again came on the overhead, “Ok, start in 4WD and use all your horses, mate! Give it a good rev and shoot into the sand!” Worried I was going to get the car stuck in the first ten minutes on the island, I listened and shot off the deck and made it through the soft sand, up the small hill, and onto the compacted beach! Whew! Glad to have that one behind me, we set off for our resort which was 60kms away.

The main thoroughfare on the island is the east coast beach which is wide and mostly hardened due to the effect of the tides. When leaving the mainland they give you times when you can drive on the beach based on the tides. One can drive on the beach two hours before and after low tide. Otherwise the beach is impassable due to the waves. This makes you plan your day pretty strictly so that you can be off the beach before you are washed away.

As we drove up the beach I stuck to about 60kph which is about 20kph under the speed limit. Yup, that’s right, there’s a speed limit on the island beaches. The three major rules of driving on Fraser Island are drive under the speed limit (80kph on the beach and 40kph on inland tracks), don’t drive in salt water if you can help it (it destroys the engine), and don’t hit anything! With that said, the beach is pretty easy to drive on but with my recent scare getting off the ferry, I was going to play it safe and drive slower than the limit and well out of the sea.

About an hour later we pulled off the beach for our 25km trip to the west coast where our resort was. While the hardened beach is easy to drive on, the inland tracks are not! These single car wide sand tracks are rutted and full of holes which can swallow a wheel. For this first time, I took it really slow. The track that was supposed to take 45 minutes ended up taking a grueling hour and a half of teeth jarring, car bouncing driving.

King Fisher Bay Sunset

We arrived a few hours before sunset, checked in and rested in the room until sunset. It had been cloudy most of the day but we really lucked out and got a beautiful sunset. We stepped out onto the beach and watched the sun set for the next 30 minutes. While I was staring at the sky Kel noticed that all around us the sand crabs had come out to play. Right in front of us hundreds of the small to medium sized crabs scurried around the beach. It was wild!

After sunset we headed to one of the three restaurants at the resort and had a pretty decent dinner before heading back to our room to read before bed and watch a little TV. There isn’t much to do on the island after dark, there are only two or three hotels on the whole island and they are all 20kms or more apart. By 9pm the island was pitch black with the sounds of wildlife everywhere.

Exploring the Island
We took a leisurely morning getting some breakfast and doing some reading before settling out just before noon. We couldn’t get out onto the beach until close to 2pm because of the tides which I mentioned earlier. So we started by heading to Lake Mackenzie which is very near our resort. This huge inland lake is one of the most famous lakes on the island because of its size, its sandy bottom with no algae or plants and its clear blue water. Unfortunately it is also one of the areas that is most trafficked by tours and backpackers.

When we arrived we were surrounded by kids who were traveling in Land Cruisers packed with 12 people in each one. These kids (college age) were decked out in skimpy bathing suits, drinking beer, and having fun. This isn’t really our scene but we stuck around to make some sandwiches and fill our stomachs before heading on for more sights.

Our next stop was Lake Wabby which is very close to the eastern beaches. The trip to Lake Wabby, via an inland track, was quite an experience. We thought we had seen some tricky roads but this one was a whole new level of tricky. Some of the pot holes here were big enough to drop one quarter of the car at least two feet. More than once Kel hit her head on the roof or door of the car as we bounced in and out of successive holes. After 30 minutes of this we finally arrived and got a chance to take pics from the Lake’s lookout.

As we arrived we stopped and talked to a German couple in the parking lot whose rental car battery had died. We had tried to convince them that we could give them a ride but they decided to check out some other options. When we returned to the car they were waiting back at our car. Being good people who couldn’t leave someone stranded 20 kilometers from the nearest phone we moved some stuff around in the car and set off with a new passenger, Julie from Germany. Julie left her friend behind with the car to watch over it while she got some help. It was a pretty quick 20 minute drive back to their resort, the Eurong hotel on the eastern beach. We left Julie behind and wished her luck as we set off for our major destination for the day, Indian Head.

Indian Head and a Ship Wreck

By time we turned around at Eurong and set off for the far northern end of the island we were behind schedule by about an hour. The plan had been to hit the beach as soon as possible and drive north to Indian Head, the only rock formation on the island, and then drive around to the Champagne Pools which are supposed to be full of fish and other marine creatures. The likelihood that we were going to see everything we wanted to was getting lower by the minute - the curse of high tide was impending.

On the way to the north end of the island we came up to one of the more famous landmarks on the island. After WWI a New Zealand ship that had been used for troop transport was sold to the Japanese for scrap metal. As the ship was being towed north it managed to break free in a storm and eventually settled on the beach on Fraser Island. The rusted hulk, which has laid on the beach since the 1930s makes for some very cool pictures. Of course I couldn’t help myself and stopped for a photography moment which turned out to be a little longer than a moment.

Just as we pulled up to the wreck, a tour bus full or people pulled up as well. I decided to wait out the crowd so I could get some good pics without a ton of tourists in them. While I waited I talked to the bus driver and got some off roading tips. I figured anyone who drives a jacked up bus with big tires would have to know the right way to drive off road. With a bit more information at my disposal and a tour bus of people gone, I took a bunch of pictures before heading for the last destination of the day.

Unfortunately by the time we made it all the way Indian Head we were pretty much out of time for further exploring. It had taken an hour and 15 minutes of driving from Eurong to Indian Head and it was already past 4 o’clock. The sun sets on Fraser Island at 5:30 and the tide quickly makes it impossible to drive on the beach. In order to ensure our safe return, we had to cut our northern excursion short and head home.

With the sun rapidly setting we rushed to make it back home. Thankfully with all of the driving we had become more experienced and therefore could pick up the pace a bit. Strangely it turns out that faster is better in some cases. The ride on the inland tracks was actually much smoother thanks to some speed. The speed actually keeps you on top of the ruts and allows you to glide over them more smoothly - not smooth but more smoothly.

We made it back to Kingfisher Bay in about an hour and a half which is much faster than we have traveled thus far. The sun had just set when we got “home” which meant that our last twenty minutes or so had been in pretty much darkness. The only thing scarier than worrying about ruining someone else’s car because of a pot hole is doing so in the dark. Thankfully it all ended well and we made it home safe and the car was undamaged.

Later that night we grabbed some dinner and then played a few games of ping-pong. I always love a good chance to play ping-pong with Kel. It’s amazing how much better she has gotten in recent years because of us playing together. As usual, I think she’s awesome!

Hope you are all well back home!


30th May 2007

Your sunset pictures are AMAZING!

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