Week 19-21- Australia's Finest- Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, The Whitsunday's, The Great Barrier Reef and Cairns.

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May 10th 2013
Published: June 30th 2013
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On the evening of Tuesday 23rd, we arrived at Hervey Bay, a small town on the coast and a late night stopover for our ferry crossing over to Fraser Island the following day. While it was brief, I must still give Mango Tourist Hostela warm recommendation for the friendly service and advice they offered us. A big thank you also to the possum we caught delving into our dry pasta in the middle of the night.

Australia is a country I would recommend wholeheartedly that you visit but for us girls coming from South East Asia, I definitely found that it was less easily accessible. While money shouldn't become an issue in creating an unrepeatable trip of a lifetime, its sadly not something that can be ignored and when a daytrip increases from around £10 to £100, you certainly have to be a little more picky about which ones you will choose to spend your precious funds on. We saved three incredible trips for these final two weeks and the first of these began on the morning of Wednesday 24th April as we sat in the Aussie Trax centre, watching warning videos about the 'vicious' dingos we may encounter and waiting to drive away in the Land Cruiser that would become our home for the next few days.

At 10am we caught the ferry and drove onto Fraser Island (the largest sand island in the world), turned up the music and bumped along to the beat as Sammy, learning very much on the job, got to grips with four-wheel drive. We revelled in having our own transport, taking things in the order that we wanted for the first time in four months and slowly made our way to Lake Birrabeen, meandering along a rough sand track and winding through the dense, uninhabited forest that surrounded us as far as the eye could see. At Eurong, on the eastern coast of the island, we drove out onto the flat, golden sands, the sun beating down through blue skies, the crystal clear water lapping steadily onto the shore and not another soul in sight. A smooth terrain of sand stretched before and behind us, begging to be dented with fresh tyre tracks from our beloved new wagon and we hummed along the endless runway, windows wound down, arms splayed out trying to catch the breeze. Stopping only for a dingo to cross our path, I lay back in my seat feeling blissfully lucky to be there and almost too soon, we found ourselves at Eli Creek where the first signs of human life made themselves known, families relaxing by the water in the afternoon sun as we pulled up beside them to enjoy a quick paddle.

Making our way further up the beach towards the northern end of the island, the sea rapidly edged its way up the shore and after a quick stop off at the famous Maheno shipwreck, a skeletal, rusting memory embedded within the sand, we headed to Dundabarra to get to grips with the rather daunting looking tents we had borrowed and set up a grand camp that all the other camper would be envious of. It seems that camping is no longer simply a tent and a cold tin of beans for breakfast, as we realised when night time descended. While we sat in complete darkness, trying to ignore the ominous rustling in the bushes and armed only with a box of goon and a rather unpredictable gas stove on which we burnt our soup and our hair, the other campers turned on their floodlights, laid out tablecloths and sliverware, popped the corks on their champagne and tucked into their gourmet, three course suppers. I'm fairly certain they couldn't even see our camp, let alone be envious of it but as we sat around drinking, giggling and chatting, I was reminded of how much fun plain, old-style camping really is.

We woke once again the next morning to clear, blue skies and after another delicious breakfast of burnt soup, we left our camp where it was and continued north along the beach. In the scorching, morning sunshine, we reached Indian head, an incredible clifftop lookout with stunning views up and down Fraser Island's East Coast and an unrivalled, birds-eye view into the ocean below where turtles, sharks and huge rays visibly glide through crystal waters, blissfully unaware of their onlooking audience. Next on our list was slightly further still to The Champagne Pools, a series of large rockpools which re-emerge as the tide returns out, retaining the water to create bathing pools minus the hungry sharks. With very few signposted directions across the whole of the island however, we found ourselves engulfed in a few moments of almost certain doom halfway up a hill, the wheels spinning over and over in the sand and refusing to shift us. Praise for Sam, without whose incredible skills behind the wheel, we may still be there today. We cooled down in the pools for the afternoon before returning to camp and embarking on another evening of family camping fun. The following morning, we packed up our beloved camp, ignoring all the strong warning signs not to leave any food or washing up lying around due to the 'Goanna's' that may be attracted. Our initial uncertainty surrounding what a 'Goanna' actually was, soon became clear as we returned to a dragon-like beast licking out our soup cans and at hissing violently at our attempts to deter it. Just when we felt all hope of survival was lost, the genius we call Rook saved the day donning her best Meredith Blake (The Parent Trap) impression and clacking together two bats, at which it retreated, terrified back to the lair from which it came.

Our first stop on the way back down to the south of the island was Lake Wabby, a spectacular, deep green lake at the base of a immense sandblow formed of untouched, powdery dunes, far too tempting not to take a run down barefoot. We made a final stop in the afternoon at one of Fraser Island's notorious spectacles, Lake McKenzie; a huge, clearwater lake glistening with a layered spectrum of colour as the afternoon rays of sunlight pierced through it to the floor. Escaping the Goannas, we sweet talked our way into Central Station campsite for our final night on the island before catching a ferry the next afternoon, returning our beloved Fraser-wagon and jumping straight onto an overnight bus to Airlie Beach.

As with Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach was not a place in which we spent a great deal of time except for its use as the port from which we would take a trip to the Whitsunday Islands. It had been fairly tricky to find the right trip but from the pictures of perfect, white sand, impossibly clear water and exotic reef life combined wth a full-throttle, high-speed boat ride out there, 'Ocean Rafting' was without doubt the one for us. The Whitsunday Islands were beyond beautiful; the purest, finest powder of sand felt like wet velvet beneath your feet, the astounding views from the hill inlet stopped you speechless and the rainbow of sealife obscured themselves just beneath a shield of waves but the most thrilling part of the day was the ocean rafting itself. Not for the faint-hearted, the boats (once used as high-speed lifeboats) hurtle you through the water, skimming and plummeting at an incredible pace and while you may pray for calm seas a low winds on a sailing trip, on this one you most definitely pray for the opposite. We were lucky enough to go out on one of their roughest days to date and sitting along the edge of this boat, all gripping on for dear life as entire waves slapped into our faces, silencing the screams, I can can say without doubt, that I have never been so simultaneously thrilled and terrified in my entire life. One of the best, if not my favourite trip of the whole six months.

Sadly, Australia was coming to an end and our final destination, Cairns, at the top of the East Coast would be where we took our final trip and where we also said goodbye to our honourary galpal, Sam. We settled into Globetrotters Hostel, checked out the lovely views from Cairns harbour front and on Friday morning, we made our way onto the 'Ocean Freedom' boat that would be taking us out to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. It's very possible that before this trip, I wasn't completely aware of quite how awful my sea-legs are and while I welcomed the waves at the Whitsundays, as we left the harbour in Cairns and became unable to stand upright, I turned a sickly shade of green and a foreboding panic set in. Two sea-sickness tablets down, I had returned to a slightly rosier complexion which could not be said for all the unfortunate souls hanging off the back end of the boat.

An hour and a half later we came to a halt and jumped into the water ready to snorkel one of the greatest reefs in the world. We were certainly not left disappointed as we explored the ocean bed, delicate reefs of impossibly intricate detail providing the most elaborate playground on earth for the sea creatures lucky enough to live there. Metre-long sea turtles casually streamed through the water below us and shoals of fish shimmered in between the giant clams, locked down as a permanent feature of this luxuriously furnished sea bed. Before we knew it, it was our turn to don the scuba-diving gear and get a closer look at this astonishing marine world. One of the memories I will treasure most fondly from the entire trip, I felt truly lucky to be losing my diving virginity on Australia's Great Barrier Reef and as we descended, all the fear left me, we entered another world of nemos, sharks, clams, turtles and barracudas and thirty minutes flew by in what felt like thirty seconds.

With just a few days left in Cairns, we took full advantage of the nightlife in P J O'Briens and Mulligan's and early on Monday morning, waved a tearful goodbye to Sam, whose time was up. I had seen things in Australia that I didn't know existed and most importantly, I had got to share it not only with the girls, but also with Sam. To commence our final month, we left Cairns on Wednesday 8th May, ready for something new and carrying those precious memories of a lifetime with us.

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