Fraser Island

Now is the moment you have been waiting for! Here is my post about Fraser Island.

My time on Fraser Island was bitter-sweet. I had some amazingly great times, and I had some not-so-great times. The island itself (which I was told was one of the natural wonders) was everything I had been promised. I also met some terrific people on this trip. It was only towards the end when I had a couple of misfortunes that prevented this from being a perfect trip. Even the luck of the Irish couldn’t help me. That will make more sense as you read on. But let me start from the beginning…

Fraser Island is an incredible place for many reasons. First of all, it is the largest all-sand island in the world. The ‘all sand’ part is what makes it so incredible. Most islands have something underneath the sand, like rock or dirt. This island truly is just sand. If you were to dig straight down, the sand would go down to 600 meters below sea level. All the vegetation on the island (including the rainforests) are just growing on the sand. This island is the only place in the world where a rainforest grows on sand dunes.

The plants and trees get all of their nutrition from the dead plant matter or leaf litter that falls to the ground. At one time, this island was used for logging, but when it was discovered how scientifically important it was they halted the logging – and timber now has not been collected from the island since 1991. In 1992 it was listed as a World Heritage site, and now the only money the island brings in is from tourism.

Fraser Island has over 50 freshwater lakes and close to 80 streams and creaks that run throughout. We were able to swim in a few of them, but I’ll talk about that and the bad luck attributed to that later in this post. (Ooooh, is that foreshadowing?)

Now on to my actual trip. The bus picked me up at about 7:40 am this morning. It was nice to sleep in for once! After everyone had been collected we headed towards the ferry that would take us to the island. There were about 16 of us on this trip, and most people came in groups. It was just myself and one other girl who were traveling alone.

The bus boarded the ferry and we settled in for a 50 minute boat ride to the island. You will all be very happy to know that I did not get seasick on the ferry. It may be that big boats are OK, but the little ones, not so good.

When we arrived to the island the bus headed straight into the rainforest. As we drove along, our tour guide (Peter) told us a bit about the vegetation, the rainforest, and the island itself. I was extremely amused with the way he spoke. He had a real “pilot” quality to his voice and the say he talked – “We plan to be flying at approximately 20,000 feet. We are expecting a bit of rain and turbulence so be sure you buckle up!” He certainly knew his stuff though.

After a short drive, we were able to get off the bus and go for a walk through the rainforest so we could see the flora up close and personal. This also gave us a chance to get to know each other outside of the bus. We all introduced ourselves and told each other where we were from. As was the norm for these tours, we were a pretty varied group. There were a couple of other people from America  this time (NYC) and a whole group of girls from Norway. There were also a couple of Dutch girls, a Swiss German family (their child was adorable and couldn’t have been much older than two or three), a German couple, one English girl and two Irish carpenter brothers. I ended up spending most of my time with the English girl – who was the other single traveler – and the Irish brothers. They were all so much fun, and hilarious! I love the Irish and English sense of humor –  despite the fact that they made it clear to me that they don’t think American jokes are very funny.

After a short walk through the rainforest and many run-ins with spiders (I think I saw more spiders in the two days on Fraser Island than I did in my entire time in Australia) we got back into the bus and set off for our next stop – Eli Creek. Along the way we met up with a small airplane pilot who offered to take us for a flight over the island for a small fee. He promised us that it would be an incredible experience – we would be able to take off from the beach and we’d see parts of the island that you’d only see from the air. He also said that we’d be very likely to see sharks or large fish in the water. I don’t normally do things like this because I never feel like it is worth the money – but this time I was convinced. I figured that since I didn’t do the helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles I should do something like it, and I also really wanted the chance to see the sharks and other sea life from the air.

We got on board (it was myself, the captain, my Irish and English friends, and two other people) and we took off, as promised, from the beach. That was a neat experience – watching the ocean get smaller and smaller as we got further and further into the sky.

Our Captain:

Our shadow in the water:

I really enjoyed the tour from the ocean. We did see a lot from the sky that we never would have seen on land.

   

The below picture was my favorite, it was a lake appropriately named ‘butterfly lake’:

The beach:

And a shipwreck from the sky. We’ll be seeing this one up close later on.

The ride lasted about 10-15 minutes before we descended. I enjoyed the flight, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed that we didn’t see any sharks or large fish from the sky. That was the selling point for me, so I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated.

Here is one more picture of the captain and I!

After saying goodbye to the captain and the plane, the six of us walked to Eli Creek. This stream had perhaps the clearest water I have ever seen in a creek. The water in the stream was running swiftly, but it was completely silent because it was moving through sand instead of rocks.

We waded through the creek – which was very shallow at the beginning but as you can see from the picture, it got deeper as we moved on. And me without a swimsuit on! The shallow:

And the deep! It did get up to my thighs but I didn’t get that picture:

Wading through the creek in the rainforest made me feel a bit like Indiana Jones wading through the Amazon river.

Next we had lunch at a resort-kitchen. It was buffet-style eating – chicken, salad, lunch meats, etc – low-key, but delicious. We stayed for about an hour before we were back on the bus to our next stop, the Maheno shipwreck (which was the same ship we saw from the air).

The ship was at one time a ‘luxury cruiser’ built in 1905. In 1935, it was sold to Japan for scrap metal but ended up being caught in up in a cyclone on the way, and washed ashore at Fraser Island. Now, it is just one of the many interesting things that people come to look at on their trip to the island.

Our next destination was to a lookout over the ocean called Indian Head, named that because when Captain Cook first discovered it he saw Aboriginals there – and he thought they were a lot like the American Indians. At Indian Head we were hoping to be lucky enough to see sharks, large fish, turtles… etc. It was a beautiful view, but we were not lucky enough to see anything other than schools of small fish and the marine birds that were eating them.

There was still a chance that we might at least see some turtles when we visited Lake Mackenzie, a lake known for being an extremely clear and beautiful. I asked Peter if that was a possibility. “Oh, we aren’t going to Lake Mackenzie, we don’t have a license for that. We’re going to another, similar lake, Lake Birrabeen.” Whaaaa? I was again slightly disappointed. I had thought (and I seem to remember that my travel agent telling me) that we would be seeing Lake Mackenzie. After all, it was the most famous lake in Fraser Island! I was said that we were missing it – but Peter told us that because of how popular it is, not everyone can have a license to visit it or the lake would end up being destroyed by so many tourists. He assured us that the one we would be going to was just as nice, just not quite as popular.

We were at the lookout for a while, and when it seemed that everyone was leaving I headed back down to the bus as well. About 15 minutes later a couple of people came back down from the lookout point, excited because they had seen a whale. This was the second time I missed something because I left too early! First the penguins on the Great Ocean Road tour, and now this!

We headed towards our camp for the night, with one more quick stop to an area called the ‘Coloured Sands’. They were beautiful and reminded me a little of the Ochre pits from my Heading Bush tour. There was one major difference though – these sands weren’t used by the Aboriginals to create body paint. How do I know? I asked!

I also found this: look familiar?

If you have ever had a pet bird it would! It’s a cuttle bone, which is put into bird cages so they can chew on them and trim their beaks or get their daily calcium. I never really thought about where they came from, but apparently they come from the sea!

We reached camp at about 4:30, and dinner wasn’t until 6. My Irish and English friends and I entertained ourselves by building domino tracks and card houses. For dinner, we had the choice of steak or fish (I had the fish) and we had baked potatoes with sour cream, salad, and garlic bread. The best part was, after we had finished we didn’t have to do any of our own dishes. The place was equipped with a dishwasher! Pure luxury.  We were in good spirits after dinner and were talking and joking around when we were offered the chance to go on a night walk with one of the other tour groups to see if we could see some dingos or other night roaming creatures. In the first five minutes we did see one creature. Just mentioning the name of this little guy will send shivers down many Australian’s backs. It was a large cane toad.

For those who don’t know, cane toads were introduced into Australia back in 1935 to take care of a native species which was a problem, the cane beetle. However, these toads decided they didn’t want to eat the beetles, they wanted to eat other things instead.  Since then, they have multiplied and damaged a lot of the eco-system in Australia. Plus, they’re ugly.

We kept walking along the beach looking for creatures and looking at the stars. However, the only other creatures we saw on the walk were a few clams and another smaller toad. I can’t blame the wildlife for not showing themselves though – we were a large and loud group, so I assume anything out there just ran off when they heard us coming.

When we got back from the walk, my friends and I stayed up talking a little longer and the Irish brothers tried scaring those who went to bed earlier with dingo noises (it didn’t work, no one knew what a dingo sounded like) until we finally went to bed in our nice big tents with warm cozy cots. A few of us resolved to wake up early to watch the sun rise over the beach, and I was determined to be one of them.

The next morning, I almost didn’t wake up to see the sunrise. My alarm had gone off but I pushed snooze and fell back asleep where I had a dream that I missed the sunrise by five minutes. I woke up again to a rooster crowing (it was actually one of the Irish brothers who wanted to wake me up) and we walked the 15 minute hike down to the beach together. During the walk, I off-handedly mentioned my dream about missing the sunrise by five minutes, and I guess I must look like a psychic because they got nervous and made me run! Of course, being my klutzy self in flip-flops, I fell a few times while running – but it was nice, soft sand, which was good cushioning! We made it to the beach before the sun had showed it’s bright shiny head.

We waited with anticipation… and waited… and waited. The sky got brighter and brighter, but no sun. We were trying to decide if maybe the sun had already risen and was behind one of the many clouds in the sky when it finally started to appear on the horizon. So we ran to the sunrise but ended up waiting for half an hour before it even rose. I fell for nothing! I did get some great shots though.

      

After the sun became too bright to stare at any more we walked back to our campsite to have breakfast – cereal, toast, and fresh fruit. Once again I marveled at the wonderful dishwasher that was sparing me from the torture of washing my own dishes. After we all had enough to eat we once again headed off on the road, eager for another day of fun.

Today we had just a few places to visit before we were going to meet our ferry at 4:30 to return to Hevey Bay. The first stop was a lake called Lake Wabby. This lake formed because of a depression in the sand deep enough to expose the water below the island. Because of the remote location of the lake we couldn’t drive right up to it. Instead, we had to park and walk 1.5 km over sand dunes to get there. Let’s just say that by the time we finished crossing what felt like the Sahara Desert:

We didn’t care how cold the water was, we all jumped right in! The water was deep in the center but it wasn’t very large.  You could see the other side of the lake, so some of us (myself included) decided to swim to the opposite end of it.

I had my Casio camera with me (in it’s waterproof case) so it wasn’t very easy for me to swim the normal way while holding my camera. I backstroked and doggy-paddled for most of it. It was actually farther than it had seemed. I made it to the other side but I was exhausted by the time I got onto shore. Check out the view from the other end! I swam this entire way:

We stayed on the opposite side for about 20 minutes before it was time for us to get back on the bus for our next stop, so we swam back. Getting back seemed much easier than getting there. I can only assume that my arm muscles were getting more developed by the minute! We were at the other side in no time at all, congratulating ourselves on a job well done.

This, dear friends, is when the first tragic event of my Fraser Island trip took place. When I looked at my wrist to see how much time it took me to swim back, I saw… a naked wrist. My watch, which had been with me since day one in Australia, a gift from mom, my way of telling in an instant what time it was in both the US and Australia… it was gone forever. Lost somewhere on the bottom of Lake Wabby. This was very upsetting to me. I had really become attached to this watch and had really grown to depend on it. I wore it all the time! But now it was gone without a trace, just like that! I’m still trying come to terms with this loss. Maybe this is actually a good thing. For my last couple of weeks in Australia I wouldn’t be forced to live by the clock anymore. I still find myself looking at my wrist every now and then and feeling a twinge of sadness. My arm looks so empty now. But I guess now Fraser Island will always have something to remember me by.

We left the lake and went to the area we’d be eating our picnic lunch. Nothing spectacular happened here, but we were forced to eat in cages.

These were actually dingo lockers – places where you would run to hide if a dingo attacked the campsite. Ok, not really. They were the place to put your food and other items so the dingos wouldn’t be able to get at them.

Lunch was sandwich wraps (fajita type things again! What is it with Australia and Mexican food?) which I didn’t enjoy as much as I could have because I was still mourning my lost watch. I did get a little bit happier when I saw that we had shortbread cookies for dessert though.

After lunch, we went for another rainforest walk. We saw some eels swimming around in the crystal clear water of a creek, which were awesome to see, and we also saw a few large lizards climbing up the trees. It’s actually a wonder that the people in the back were able to see anything! A few of the girls up front would spot a lizard and they’d start screaming and jumping around and making a huge racket – not because they were afraid, but because they were excited to see it – and I would have thought the lizard would have ran away in terror before the people towards the end of the line saw it. Luckily it didn’t, so I have some video to show you:

Our final stop was at another lake, crystal clear Lake Birrabeen – our substitute for Lake Mackenzie. This lake was completely filled with only rainwater. There were no streams leading in or out of it. I wondered silently to myself if it was filled with leeches, as I had always heard that leeches are known to be found in places with standing water, but I forgot about that thought as soon as I saw how clear and beautiful the water was. It really was as clear as glass, and the sand was white and soft, and had the consistency of baby powder. We spent about an hour and a half swimming and playing in the lake before heading back to the ferry.

   

Because the water was so clear, I thought it might look cool to get an underwater picture of myself, but it was harder to get the right shot. I did, however, get a nice underwater video!

We were playing around, swimming, splashing, picture-taking, when suddenly we heard loud screams coming from the shallow end of the lake. Instinctively I looked around for sharks, crocs, barracudas or otherwise scary fish, but saw nothing. I looked back in the direction of the screaming and saw one of the Norwegian girls yelling and jumping up and down in the water. I heard the word ‘leech’. Uh oh! We went  over to where she was to inspect what she had found. She indeed have a leech on her. She pulled it off, but was bleeding. We saw the offending leech on the bottom of the crystal clear lake – and it was a big sucker (no pun intended). When we saw the leech, most of us lost our taste for swimming so we got out and lay in the sun for a while.

I took my camera out of the waterproof case to take some more pictures of the lake (the waterproof lens was a little smudged so I wanted to get a clearer picture of the water) and this is about when terrible thing number two happened. I dropped my camera right into that beautiful soft, fluffy, powdery white sand. Uh oh! I quickly brushed off all the sand I saw and blew in the creases and cracks of the camera. I figured it would probably be ok. I didn’t see any sand remaining on the camera, so I pushed the button to turn it on. The lens started to come out… then it stopped. The LCD screen flashed angrily “Lens Error!” Great. I found a piece of grass to try to get every last bit of sand out of the lens area and blew into the cracks as hard as I could. I did eventually get the lens to open and close again, but it made a funny sound as it was doing it. “no matter”, I thought, “I can deal with funny sounds. I’ve lived with my sister Stacy for years and I got used to her funny sounds!”

I didn’t have time to take any more pictures as everyone was rushing for the bus. I carefully put my camera into it’s case and told myself that I’d take some pictures later to test it out. We headed to the ferry, all of us a bit sad that our time would soon be coming to an end. I went to the sundeck of the boat and decided to take a picture of the island as we were leaving. I aimed the camera to take a shot when I realized that something was wrong. The camera turned on, the lens opened and extended as it should (with the addition of a funny noise) but it wouldn’t focus. Noooooooo! I tried in vain to focus on multiple different spots in the boat but it just would’t work. It made more funny noises. Fraser Island has now taken my watch and my camera! I raised my fist and shook it at the island as it grew smaller and smaller. I shouted “damn you, Frasier Island! You have not yet taken my spirit!” I was consoled by my Irish and English friends and we back down to the middle deck to sit down and share a good cry.

So that was my horrible news. I lost my watch and my camera on one trip. Although my personal bad luck on the island doesn’t even compare to the bad luck of it’s namesake, Captain Fraser. Captain Fraser, his wife Eliza, and his crew were sailing around Australia when they shipwrecked a few hundred kilometers from the island. Most of the crew went on the lifeboat to try to find land but they left the Captain, his wife, and his first and second mate with the ship. The ship and everyone on it soon washed up onto Fraser Island. When they did, they were captured by the Aboriginals living there and forced to work. Captain Fraser was old and frail and was not a very good worker, so he was soon after speared in the back by the Aboriginals and he died. The first and second mate also died on the island, but Eliza was saved and she returned to England. About 20 years later she was killed when she was hit by a horse-drawn tram. The island was eventually named after the Frasers. I suppose when an island brings you that much bad luck, it’s only fair. Maybe they should change Lake Wabby to be named after me: “Karen Lake”. And the sand at Lake Birrabeen could be named “Karen Sands”. It’s only fair, right?

Anyway, I guess the fact that I broke my camera is no big surprise. I am actually shocked that it took so long for me to break it. I am way too clumsy with my things. It already had quite a few dents and chips in it, but it was just no match for a couple of itty, bitty grains of sand. I wasn’t as upset about the camera as I was about the watch, I was just glad that my photo cards were OK.

And now our Fraser trip was over, so we all said our sad goodbyes, with promises to keep in touch. Despite the fact that this was one of the shortest trips I had been on yet, I got on very well with the people on it. We got to know each other better than I got to know the people on the three or four day trips I took. I did have fun and learned a lot about that fascinating Island, and I wouldn’t go back in time and not go just to save the watch and the camera. Though I would fasten the watch a little bit tighter and I’d have not taken the camera out of the protective waterproof case until after I left the beach.

This morning I woke up very early to go to the electronics store and see about getting another camera. Some electronics in Australia seem to be better priced than they are in the US, so I figured I should see what I could get. Plus I was going to the Australia zoo next and I knew I’d want to be able to take pictures there. I researched a few cameras on Amazon, and checked out the reviews. I decided to go with the one camera that I thought would be perfect for me. It’s shockproof for a distance of 5 meters, freeze-proof, waterproof, and crushproof. Basically, it is a Karen-proof camera. I took note of the Amazon price before I went to the store, and I was happy to see that it was about 30 dollars cheaper in the store than it was on the American Amazon site.  The only downfall to this camera was the fact that it used XD cards instead of SD cards, and I already had a nice supply of SD cards that would now go to waste. Well, at least I can still use them as disks for my mini-computer.

So I am now in Noosa in my hostel (which I will talk about in another post) and tomorrow I am off to the Australia zoo.