Day 19: Rainbow Beach to Fraser Island
In order to get the most out of time on Fraser Island, we woke up at 5:45am and packed our bags. I didn’t even need coffee to feel awake with the adrenaline rushing for the upcoming adventure. We all hustled to get through breakfast and hopped into the Group Four off road Toyota Land Cruisers by 8am after another safety briefing. Our tour guide introduced himself as Peter, or Stumpy, and was a man in his sixties with long curly hair and skin that had seen years of sun. He was an old surfer dude and had a story for every stop along the trip–some amazing tales of wildlife and some horrifying examples of backpackers doing stupid things.
Byron was the first to drive our group and the rest of us piled in as we pulled away from the island and navigated the sandy tracks onto the barge at Inskip Point. Our group consisted of Byron and me, Gabby from England, Anne from Finland, Emma from Sweden, Thijs (pronounced Taish) from Holland, and Nicolas from Germany. We lined the edge of the barge as we moved across the water to the beaches of Fraser Island and spotted dolphins swimming next to us. The gate lowered and we were off cruising along the beach avoiding waves and deep sand tracks. Stumpy egged on Group 3 to keep up over the CB radio and soon we were hauling along the seemingly never ending 75-mile Beach.
Eventually we switched drivers and pulled inland along crazy off-road tracks that had three-foot-deep ruts, slippery sand pits, and boulders the size of my head. The Land Cruiser handled it wonderfully as we slammed into each other side to side and hunching forward with every bump. This wild road took us to Lake McKenzie, filled with pure aqua colored rainwater and white silica sand. We dipped into the lake and it felt incredibly tranquil, despite the numerous selfie sticks and hovering drone. The sun was shining and the water left our skin feeling clean, not sticky like the ocean.
Feeling refreshed, we packed back into the cars and I took a turn behind the wheel. It felt like driving a tank, with the hood several meters in front and little visibility behind, but it was fun. I navigated the rutted track and tried to maintain control in the sand until we got to our lunch spot at the wooded picnic area of Central Station. After devouring a few ham wraps, Stumpy guided us through the rain forest boardwalk and pointed out massive king ferns, turpentine trees, and the lasting evidence of timber farmers cutting into the trees. The stream following the path was so clear you could barely tell there was water covering the pure white sand.
We drove back out along the same crazy roads to the beach and cruised past the waves and dunes on the lookout for dingoes.The small dog-like animals are one of the main reasons people come to Fraser Island. The packs run wild and are a protected species here in order to maintain the ecological balance of the island. We didn’t see any, but carried on over the rocks and gullies. At one point, the petrol truck came heaving down the ridiculously steep hill toward the line of cars, so we all had to back down the gully for the massive machine to pass.
We passed by the Maheno Shipwreck and the general store for ice on our way to the campsite. It was a basic set up with a fire pit, a tarp-covered area with picnic tables and gas burners for the kitchen and two rows of tents for sleeping in. The “toasters” were these bizarre metal contraptions that you lit with a flame like a high school chem class and waited for the metal to heat the toast. Luckily, there were hot showers and flushing toilets, but they were a five minute walk away through a maze of public campers and tents, which was sure to pose a problem once people were a few beverages deep.
After showing us around, Stumpy sent us off on a hike through the woods out to the dunes and desert. We all sat along the ridge of the dune appreciating the warmth of the glowing afternoon sunlight. We acted like kids–climbing the dunes, rolling down them, throwing sand at each other. The other Pippies tour group showed up with goon, music and sand boards. We recognized some of them from other hostels we’d stayed at, so we joined in and had a crack surfing down the mountains of sand. By the time the sun set, we had pockets full of sand, sand in our hair, and sand in between our toes.
Back at the campsite, one group was tasked with cooking up a BBQ dinner while the rest of us drank goon, sang along to music from the speakers, and learned card games from each other. Emma was hilarious with her English words and was a good sport when we told her it wasn’t “Cheers to the Government” or that we don’t normally “rise” during the game, but it made it all the more memorable. After dinner, one of the guys pulled out their guitar and started a jam sesh of Oasis and Ed Sheeran songs around the fire.
The other tour group was circled around their campsite playing a rowdy game of bite the box as we walked through to the beach. The dark path led us past the protection of the Dingo Fence, leaving us with just a stick for protection. Down at the beach, the moon reflected on the watery sand and the Milky Way sparkled above. The Southern Cross constellation was prominent, which made the moment feel especially Australian. We tucked into our cozy little tents back at the campsite and fell asleep to the sounds of nature.
Tour price: $370
Sleeping bag hire: $13
Breakfast: Toast, peanut butter, jam
Lunch: Ham wrap
Dinner: Camp-side BBQ