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Published: November 21st 2015
Linda taking the scenic route to the beach at Eli Creek
Waking at six o'clock in the morning for the start of our three-day guided tour to Fraser Island (Monday 16th
November), we had just enough time to pack our bags and eat a quick breakfast before we were picked up and taken to the ferry terminal at River Heads (just outside Hervey Bay), from where the car ferry took us over to Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island.
With my only previous Fraser Island experience having been a three-day self-drive 4WD camping trip run by Dingo's Backpackers Hostel in Rainbow Beach nine years ago, I had originally thought this would be the way to go again. That was until a little online research in Melbourne uncovered the fact that the rules for visiting Fraser Island had changed, meaning that it was no longer possible to do a fully self-guided tour (unless you are prepared to hire a 4WD yourself and visit the island independently) as any such tours run by the backpacker hostels in either Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay now take the form of tag-along tours - whereby a guide sets the itinerary and drives one vehicle, while the rest of the 4WD's simply follow their lead.
The Beautiful Blue
Linda's first visit to Lake McKenzie
only recently led to the realization that if you have to follow a guide anyway, why not take a fully guided tour where you all sit in the back of a 4WD bus and let the tour guide do all the driving? Having then discovered the Cool Dingo's tours which include hostel-style accommodation in self-contained 'wilderness lodges' at Kingfisher Bay Resort for both nights of the tour (with all meals included) as opposed to camping in a tent which you have to put up and take down yourself each day, and we became convinced that this was the way to go.
So having gone ahead and booked this option, as soon as we disembarked the ferry we were greeted by our tour guide for the full three days - a likeable, lifelong Hervey Bay resident named Scott - who then immediately loaded us onto a 40-seat 4WD bus and headed out of the resort into the heavily forested interior of the island. And despite our departure from the resort coming by way of the 'roller coaster' - which was considerably steeper and bumpier than anything we had encountered on our recent Noosa Everglades tour - the somewhat rough ride
was actually more entertaining than uncomfortable!
Heading first to Lake McKenzie, we had just enough time for a quick look at the lake and some morning tea in the nearby eating enclosure - which is fenced off to avoid dingo encounters - whilst picking up another nine guests who had come from Rainbow Beach, bringing the total number of guests on the tour to 34. With everyone on board we then headed to Basin Lake, which unlike Lake McKenzie was entirely deserted when we arrived - though our arrival did also coincide with a sudden downpour of rain!
From Basin Lake we then took the option to walk the 2.8km to Central Station, passing through differing types of forest (mixed woodland, rainforest etc) as we went. Nearing Central Station - which is nothing more than the remnants of the original logging settlement on the island - we followed a crystal clear freshwater stream (Wanggoolba Creek) which flowed steadily but silently through the forest, and was so transparent that if not for the ripples on the surface of the water you would have simply thought it was another sandy track winding through the trees.
Stopping at Central Station
Passing a couple of giant kauri trees on the trail to Pile Valley
for a tasty and filling lunch of cold meat and salad wraps, we then continued alongside Wanggoolba Creek for a further 1.8km through beautiful lush rainforest - featuring some massive Kauri Pines and Satinay trees - before arriving at Pile Valley, where Scott was waiting with the bus to take us back to Lake McKenzie.
Surrounded by forest and sporting some impressive white sand beaches, the beautiful blue Lake McKenzie (known as Boorangoora to the original indigenous inhabitants) is easily the number one tourist attraction on Fraser Island - and with good reason, as it was the undisputed highlight of my only previous visit to the island nine years ago. And though the weather wasn't particularly favourable when we arrived, at least most of the crowds from earlier in the day had left - so that we were able to indulge in some good old-fashioned frolicking without having to deal with the crowds of people that no doubt gather at the lake for most of the day.
Arriving back at Kingfisher Bay late in the afternoon, we were shown to our respective wilderness lodges, where Linda and I received a pleasant surprise upon discovering that despite having opted
View of 75-Mile Beach from Indian Head
to save $120 by only booking quad-share accommodation rather our own private room, we had been upgraded to a double room for both nights anyway! I guess sometimes fortune favours not only the brave, but also the frugal!
The second day of our tour saw us out of bed at 6:30am to hit the breakfast buffet in advance of our 7:45am start. This time we headed straight across to the other side of the island (which despite being over 100kms long is only 15kms wide) to the older resort of Eurong, before heading out onto 75-Mile Beach which serves as the main road up the eastern side of the island, as well as acting as an airstrip for light planes offering scenic flights over the island.
After dropping some of our guests off to indulge in a 10-minute joyflight, we pressed on to The Pinnacles, where the coloured sands in the coastal cliffs are reminiscent of those at Rainbow Beach. From there we continued to follow the beach highway all the way up to the northern end of 75-Mile Beach, where we veered inland around Indian Head and then back onto Taylors Beach for the short drive to
Middle Rocks, where a short walk led us to the Champagne Pools.
Unfortunately our arrival coincided with high tide, meaning that there were large volumes of water flowing into and out of the rock pools and making it quite dangerous to venture too far from the sand - unlike my previous visit to Champagne Pools nine years ago when the tide had been much lower and we had therefore been able to sit on the outer rock wall of the pools as breaking waves sent clouds of spray over our heads, subsequently turning the pools into a giant natural bubble bath!
From Champagne Pools we back-tracked to Indian Head, which along with Middle Rocks and nearby Waddy Point are the three rocky outcrops that initially provided the glue that enabled the passing sands to stick together and form Fraser Island, rather than simply continuing to drift north in the sweeping ocean currents.
After enjoying the views from the top of Indian Head (which extend both northward along the coast towards Waddy point and southward down 75-Mile Beach) we then headed back down to Taylors Beach to enjoy another lunch spread sheltered from the prevailing south-easterly winds by
Tyre Tube Tranquility
Linda floating down Eli Creek
the rocky bulk of Indian Head. From there we headed back down 75-Mile Beach, first stopping off at the Maheno Shipwreck for some photographs and then the nearby (and incredibly scenic) Eli Creek, which had been another of the highlights from my first trip to Fraser Island.
Every bit as pure and clear as Wanggoolba Creek on the other side of the island, Eli Creek is a shallow but fast-flowing freshwater stream that flows out of the bush and into the sea about halfway along 75-Mile Beach. It also has a raised boardwalk built alongside it for the first few hundred metres, allowing people to walk upstream beside the tree-fringed creek before hopping in the water and floating back down towards the beach! And with Scott having packed four fully inflated tyre tubes for the guests to share, we had the perfect means with which to soak up our scenic surroundings, both literally and figuratively!
The third and final day of our tour started with another bouncy ride through the forested interior of the island to Lake Birrabeen, which despite looking very similar to Lake McKenzie (ie crystal clear water with a deep blue appearance and stunningly beautiful)
The beach at Lake Birrabeen
was completely deserted when we got there, and with the bonus of blue skies to match the blue water this might have been my favourite stop of the whole trip. With a couple of hours to kill and some stand-up paddle boards to share, there was plenty of opportunity for relaxation and recreation.
Eventually though we managed to tear ourselves away from our scenic surroundings to complete the crossing of the island in time for our buffet lunch at the Eurong Beach Resort, before we headed a short way up 75-Mile Beach and left the bus to tackle the 4.6km return hike to Lake Wabby. As if walking on sand through the coastal woodlands wasn't challenging enough, we then emerged onto the open expanse of the Hammerstone Sandblow - similar to the Cooloola Sandpatch that Linda and I hiked to on our Noosa Everglades tour - at which point the heat and lack of shade made things most uncomfortable.
But if we were starting to question whether or not the effort would be worth the reward (and having been there before, I was certainly not) then our doubts were erased upon first sight of the emerald-green Lake Wabby
Green and Gold
Lake Wabby, at the base of Hammerstone Sandblow
glistening in the sunlight far below us, with forest fringing the lake on three sides and the steep slope of the sandblow on the other side. With the constantly-advancing sandblow having created the lake after damming a creek that formerly flowed out to the sea - thus creating Fraser Island's one-and-only barrage lake - it is now busily destroying it's own creation, advancing by three metres per year so that current estimates predict the lake will have disappeared altogether in as little as thirty years!
Though I resisted the temptation to roll down the steep sand embankment into the lake as I had done nine years earlier (paying heed to the warning signs and horror stories of broken necks and other serious injuries that have resulted from such tomfoolery!) it was with great relief that I was able to soothe tired muscles with an invigorating swim around the lake, while Linda amused herself by sitting at the water's edge and allowing small gudgeon fish to pick away at her feet!
Of course after an hour of rest and relaxation the hike back out to the beach wasn't particularly enjoyable, but at least we had made up for our
Sailing toward the Sunset
Heading home on the ferry to River Heads
earlier lakeside lethargy at Lake Birrabeen! And once we were back in the air-conditioned comfort of the van we were able to cool down and relax, as our tour guide Scott drove us back down the beach to Eurong before expertly negotiating the sandy forest tracks back across to Kingfisher Bay for the final time. And as Linda and I sat beside the jetty, looking out over the vast blue expanse of the Great Sandy Strait as we awaited our return ferry ride to the mainland, we couldn't help but reflect on what had been an immensely rewarding experience over the past three days.
The traditional owners of Fraser Island - the indigenous Butchula people - refer to the island as K'gari, which is believed to mean 'paradise'. They certainly chose an appropriate name.
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