This summer, I made my long awaited (by me, at least) return to Queensland, Australia. It has been 21 years since I backpacked along the East coast and I was looking forward to visiting some old spots and experiencing some new adventures.
It would also be interesting to see how some things had changed.
Noosa, the quaint little slice of paradise, for instance had matured into a full blown holiday resort, complete with more roundabouts than Scotland’s roundabout capital, East Kilbride.
Another difference on this trip was my travelling companions. 21 years ago, I had the company of fellow backpackers Kath and Ollie from London and a trio of Canadian girls, while this trip saw me accompanied by two young boys and my partner, Teresa.
This meant that my 2016 Queensland adventures would need to be tamer than my summer of 1995 adventures.
No explanations are required for backpackers of any generation.
However, one must repeat activity would be a Fraser Island tour. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1995, I had the luxury of time (my only luxury) and we opted for three days of self driving and camping on the island. It was relatively inexpensive and we were able to collect wood from Central Station and build fires on the beach ; stop to fish for Taylor and even managed to pull over on 75 mile beach and watch Humpback whales and Tiger sharks from the relative safety of the beach.
I say relative safety, as on one occasion a Tiger shark decided to momentarily join on us the beach, as we fished.
No, I am not kidding. Fraser Island’s waters are awash with sharks and they obviously don’t take too kindly with humans attempting to steal their food.
I spent 6 months travelling from Sydney to Cairns and those 3 days were among my most memorable (I should, at this point, admit that due to the effects of XXXX , my memory of many days are hazy). They would be hard to beat.
Fast forward to 2016 and we were attempting to drive from Brisbane to Cairns in 14 days. There is too much to see and do in Queensland, so sacrifices had to be made. One of those sacrifices was to limit Fraser Island to one day and to go with an organised tour rather than hire a 4WD.
Time wasn’t the only deciding factor. I can’t drive (active traveller by choice and design) and Teresa wasn’t sure about navigating Fraser Island ‘s unforgiving terrain, especially with two helpless city kids in tow. Oh and cost in 2016 of hiring a 4wd seems to have risen above the rate of inflation, so going with an organised tour seemed to be the most sensible, time sensitive and cost effective decision.
My only fear was what attractions would be omitted from a one day tour and we scoured the internet (well, Tripadviser) for a tour that met our requirements.
After days of deliberation (I am the King of Procrastination), we opted for Fraser Explorer Tours. They came with a good reputation and based on my memories, they visited most of island’s popular sites.
They also offer hotel/motel/bus terminal pick up and drop-off and after a long, but memorable day, being dropped off at our accommodation was a welcome service.
As for the tour, a lot rests on the quality of the tour guide/driver and your fellow passengers. Our group of 31 included a tour group of 21 from Germany and another family from our Emeraldene Inn in Hervey Bay (fabulous accommodation, if a little away from the Esplanade and harbour). All were pleasant and there were no difficult prima donnas.
We were dropped off at the ferry and the crossing was slow, but pleasant. There are toilets and a small kiosk, which wasn’t too exorbitant given it had a monopoly on a captive audience.
So, it all came down to the tour guide and quite frankly, he was amazing. Dave was like a driving version of Steve Irwin. He revelled in excitement as we hit each bump on a bumpy drive through the heart of Fraser Island and provided an entertaining and educational history of the island’s fauna and flora, although he did warn us that he might respond to difficult questions with fabricated, but feasible answers. He drove expertly along the sands of 75 Mile Beach, which was, at times, as busy as Sauchiehall Street and seemed to have a trained eye for spotting elusive wildlife. Only a dingo escaped his gaze and he alerted us to humpback whales, birds of prey and even a small catfish eel in one of the creeks.
The creeks are one of the wonders of Fraser Island and a must see of any Fraser Island tour. It takes 75 to 100 years for rainfall to emerge from the island’s water table, having poured its way through the island’s mineral rich sands and down towards the Pacific Ocean.
Dave told us that the water of Eli Creek was pure, save for a few microorganisms and that was the only invitation I needed. I had been on a ferry or bus for the best part of 3 hours and any opportunity to jump into freshwater is rarely missed by me. It was cold, but nowhere near Scottish loch “Baltic” cold levels or even Swiss Alpine cold levels. Compared to them, it was lukewarm.
I even managed to convince the boys to join me, although they didn’t share my enthusiasm for submerging into the cool creek.
I still had work to do.
Anyone who follows my travels on social media will note that I have a penchant (or weird obsession) with water fountains. It started off as a whim and now it is a thing. Everywhere I go, I take picture of me drinking out of water fountains. Some are architectural marvels and others, like in Mumbai, India, fall under my extreme water fountain drinking category.
Drinking directly from an Australian creek on Fraser Island is not on the same level as Mumbai, but my microbiologist and infection control doctor partner might have questioned my sanity…not for the first time.
After my Eli Creek taste test, our Fraser Island tour group set off for lunch and as we drove back along 75 mile beach, via the the Pinnacles sand formation and the shipwreck Maheno, we watched in awe as humpback whales broke the surface along our route. Davy advised us to look for their water spouts and we stared intentently at the ocean, almost willing them to appear. And then the first spouts were spotted and these majestic creatures briefly emerged into the sunlight, before once again submerging. One of my main regrets of this holiday was not being able to arrive a month later. A day out from Hervey Bay during whale season should be another must do trip. However, being able to see them as part of our Fraser Island tour was a welcome bonus and surprise.
At this point, we were given the opportunity to indulge in a 15 minute flight over the island and the two minute promotional sales pitch from the pilot wasn’t too forced and in hindsight, I wished we had taken the opportunity to view the island and shark infested waters. Compared to other island flights, the cost was relatively inexpensive and I know our boys would have loved the beach landing.
It was then onto lunch and I wasn’t expecting too much. Tour companies often advertise a full lunch and then supply few bits of fruit and a few slices of meat and cheese. A full mix of carbs, protein and fats, but seldom does it provide a good feed. On this occasion, however, Fraser Explorer Tours had arranged a full buffet of food at Eurong Resort. It wouldn’t win any Michelin stars, but even the two normally fussy boys filled their plates, with the pea and ham soup deserving of some praise.
Once fed, we then set off for the highlight (other than the soup) of the trip.The stunning Lake McKenzie.
Words and pictures (especially mine) do not do it justice. It’s crystal clear waters and blindingly white sands make it my favourite swimming spot in Australia. High praise, indeed, but not only is it a refreshing dip, it also has some cleansing properties due to its acidity levels, while its white silica sands can supposedly polish everything from jewellery to teeth……and yes, I just had to test the latter claim. I really hope that this was not one of Dave’s feasible but completely fabricated tour “facts”.
Lake McKenzie was a touch colder than Eli Creek, but that didn’t prevent me from diving in and going for a swim and I must have successfully concealed how cold it actually was, as wee Jack decided to join me and he too gave it the thumbs up.
The tour gave us roughly an hour to spend at Lake McKenzie, which seemed sufficient time for a swim, skin exfoliation and some teeth brushing . In addition to our tour group, there was one other Fraser Explorer Tour group and a few other private groups and I never felt that the beach area was too congested. In fact, the lake itself had only a few other people swimming in it and certainly no one else dared to brush their teeth.
The last stop of our Fraser Island Tour was at Central Station, named in honour of central train stations all over the world and located close to the crystal clear waters of Creek. Fraser Island’s Central Station was the heart of the logging community that transported Fraser Island timber all over the world and where these communities lived and even schooled. The logging company only recruited family men as loggers, as they believed that they were more dependable and more dependant on an income.
Today, Central Station makes for a beautiful walk along the creek and through the rainforest. The variety of trees, both indigenous and introduced by the European loggers, are stunning and Dave provided an interesting commentary on their history, uses and their inhabitants.
One such inhabitant is the funnel web spider, which strangely enough forms a funnel from its webbing, which resembles a small hole in the base of the tree. The temptation to poke a stick into said hole was strong, but as a responsible adult, I managed to control my urges. Just.
Even when dead, the trees provide homes and this was as close to this potential snake den that I dared to peer. I certainly wasn’t going to my had in it.
Once sufficiently frightened, we boarded the bus and made our final bumpy ride across the island to meet the ferry, just as day was about to meet night. We had spent about eight brilliant hours on Fraser Island and now we about to return to the mainland where Fraser Explorer Tours would drop us off at our accommodation, fittingly by Davy who had expertly guided us all day.
It might have lacked the adventure of my three day self drive and camp, but the one day Fraser Island tour, from Fraser Explorer Tours was a great family day out. The pace, delivery and itinerary was perfect and we will treasure our Fraser Island memories.