One of the things I was told was a must see on any trip to Australia was Fraser Island. Fraser is the worlds largest sand island at 175kms long, up to 25kms wide and it is a World Heritage site. Despite being a sand island there is actually quite a diverse range of plant and animal life on the island as well as enough fresh water reserves to solve the drought in Queensland for a few years though draining the water would destroy the island.
The most popular way to "see" the island is to rent a 4WD self-drive van with 10 other people, load up with beer and wine, a tent, some food and head to the island for 3 day long party. Personally I didn't really want to spend 3 days pissed, driving around a world heritage site and sleeping in sand. My way of looking at it is I'd be more than a little annoyed if a bunch of Australians showed at Newgrange and proceeded to play a cricket game on the tomb roof while tossing beer cans down the burial shaft so why should I do the same on one of their world heritage sites. Therefore I opted for the slightly more expensive guided Cool Dingo tour. I say slightly more expensive because all food and transport costs were included and we were staying in lodges at a resort so the difference was actually smaller than it looked on paper. Some people said the guided tours are for older people but the Cool Dingo tour was full of backpackers with the exception of one Irish couple who were a little older.
The morning of the trip to Fraser was, to be honest, a miserable one. It was cold, wet and generally a standard Irish winters morning. The ferry trip to the island lasted 35 minutes and by the time we got there it was, if anything, raining even heavier. So much for the drought. Still since we were going to be sleeping indoors and driven around by a guide this actually brought a little light humour to the proceeding as people thought of the campers with smug pity.
Our guide called Mitch met us at the jetty and put us on the bus. This was a 4WD truck with the trailer converted into a cabin. It looked a little big and unwieldy for the task ahead of it but in the hands of Mitch it proved to be far more suited to the terrain than the 4WD vans we spent the next 3 days seeing bogged in the sand and surrounded by backpackers wielding shovels.
The first place we went to was a fresh water lake called Basin Lake. The itinerary for the next 3 days included chances to swim in 4 lakes and I was determined to swim in all of them so despite being a little chilly, though it had now stopped raining, I went for a swim. The water was lovely and warm so getting out was actually more of a chore than getting in. After the swim Mitch sent us on a walk through the rain forest to a place called Central Station where we had a buffet lunch, effectively all you can eat since there was loads of left overs. Mitch now explained that much of the island had been logged at least 5 times in its European history and Central Station had been where the loggers lived. The loggers replanted the island as they went and they left in place many trees that were unsuitable for their needs so the island still maintains a lot of old trees and thick rainforest. We then headed to Lake McKenzie for another swim. This is a beautiful fresh water lake and is one of the highlights of Fraser. After this there was tea and muffins, food it turned out would be a feature of the Cool Dingo tour. After this we headed to the Kingfisher resort where we got our lodges and dorms. Since they were not very busy I had a 4 person dorm all to myself which after 3 weeks of living in dorms with other people was like having a hotel room. One of the others actually had a whole lodge to himself.
The next day we were up at 6:30am and after breakfast headed to Indian Head and Champagne Pools. The views from Indian Head were great but with high winds the position was a little precarious. Champagne Pools were a little disappointing with waves crashing over the rocks making them too much trouble to swim in. We then went to see the wreck of the Maheno which was a cruise liner that got beached on Fraser in the 1930s and after being stripped of anything movable by the locals was abandoned to the elements. Now only the top deck is visible but it still makes for an interesting sight and hopefully some cool photographs, though at one stage I nearly got swept off my feet by a wave that washed around my waist as I tried to photograph the wreck with my digital camera in my hands. Fortunately no damage was done. At some stage during the day driving along the beach I saw my one and only Fraser Island wild dingo strolling calmly down the beach as cars zipped by. The campers had much closer dingo experiences as the dogs come sniffing around camp sites at night looking for scraps or it would appear the odd drunk backpacker that no one will miss. The beach also serves as an airstrip of sorts so at one stage as we drove down the beach at speed Mitch told us to look out the rear window where a cesna was landing right behind us.
Day 3 brought 2 more lakes. Lake Wabby, a lake surrounded by sand dunes that make it appear like an oasis in the desert when you walk for 20 minutes through the sun and sand to get there. While swimming in the lake several large catfish came over to inspect us but they were always careful to stay just out of reach. The second lake was Lake Birrabeen where we played frisbee in the water. For lunch we went to Eurong resort where we met up with the pilots of somr tour cesnas and for $60 they brought people on a flight around the island. Of course I had to give it a go and it was great fun. It is only from the air that you can truly appreciate how long the island is and how much rainforest there is, plus there are around 100 fresh water lakes scattered around so the views are amazing.
The trip ended at 4pm when we returned to the resort and boarded the ferry back to Hervey Bay. Everyone was tired but I think we all had a good time and most of us were glad we did the guided tour instead of the self-drive. From next year on the self-drive option is being limited to convoys of 3 cars with an experienced guide in the lead car so I imagine backpackers that view Fraser Island as just a big party and piss-up will start to skip the island. That will be a shame for them, but for those who want to do the guided tour it will make the island even better.