Monday, September 24, 2012

Fraser Island Day 3 with Lauren and Fiona

GUEST BLOG: After two action-packed days on the world's largest sand island - British Backpackers Lauren and Fiona spend their third and final day with Cool Dingo on Fraser Island before heading back to Hervey Bay to continue their east coast itinerary.  Is it any wonder the traditional owners of Fraser Island called it K'Gari - which means paradise.


DAY 3: Another early start. Another breakfast served hot, and with a smile from a very enthusiastic man who told us how much he loved his job. Then, we were back onto the bumpy bus, with our numbers down from 21 to 10.

Our first stop was Lake Birrabeen, which was a clear fresh-water lake, and just as beautiful as Lake Mackenzie, but even better, as we had it all to ourselves! We had a paddle and a good chat with Mark in the lake.. the conversation ranging from Kerry Katona's drug habits, to what goes through the minds of serial killers...

Fraser's fabulous eastern beach highway!
After the lake, we then went to Eurong Beach Resort for our free restaurant all-you-can-eat lunch. Yet more delicious food!! Once we were completely stuffed, we then went back on the bus to Lake Wabby.

The bus had to stop about a 45 minute walk away, so we had a good old trek through the sandy forest to get there, but it was worth it!

Lake Wabby is an oasis in the sand.
We came out over the massive Hammerston Sandblow, which was like we had stepped out into the desert. There was a very steep incline down to the lake, which we were told not to run down as it had actually been made illegal as so many had done it and had fallen and broken various bones!

We heeded the advice, and took a leisurely stroll down the sandy slope instead. Team GB beat Team Italia and Team Deutschland to the lake. Hurrah! We had another paddle, and a chillax on the sand, before the long walk back to the bus.

It was then back to Kingfisher Bay Resort and down to the jetty to catch the ferry back to River Heads, and then a coach to take us back to Hervey Bay. Laura got dropped back at the Friendly Hostel to stay there for a night before, sensibly, taking a flight to Cairns. We, on the other hand got dropped back at the coach terminal to take our last Greyhound bus of the trip - departing 8:55pm. Arriving in Cairns the next day at 8pm!!! Epic.

Fiona & Lauren   xoxo
Read Lauren and Fiona's original Travelpod blog.

Have you travelled with Cool Dingo tours and loved it? We'd love you to write about it on Trip Advisor!

Fraser Island Day 2 with Lauren and Fiona

GUEST BLOG: And so we continue the great sandy adventures of Lauren and Fiona aboard Cool Dingo Tours on Fraser Island. It's Day 2 in paradise... what's in store!  (August 2012).


Day 2: We woke up the next morning, early (again.. common theme to the trip?), got ready and had a good, hearty traditional big breakfast.

Look at that DIN-GO!
We clambered aboard our 4WD bus, ready for a bumpy journey through the forest (literally, like being on a rollercoaster), before reaching the smooth sands of the 75-mile beach (which is actually nearer to 65 miles..).

When we were on the beach, we spotted a DINGO!! We were really happy to see him as he looked sooo cute, but we had had many a warning about them, so it was nice to see him from the safety of the bus, where we didn't have to worry about having our faces eaten off!!

After stopping to watch the dingo for a little bit, we continued along the beach, going past a dead whale that had been washed ashore and unfortunately hadn't been able to be rescued, so had been left to rot.. we had the option to walk up to it to see it up close. We declined.

Eli Creek is always popular on a sunnday.
We then stopped at Eli Creek: a really picturesque creek running into the sea. Again, it was pretty cold, but we waded in waist-deep to walk all the way along, which was lovely! After our wander along the creek, we then had some time on the beach to just chillax and soak up some more of the sunshine!

Next stop was to see the Maheno Shipwreck, which is one of the biggest and oldest ships that has been wrecked on the island. Very rusty! And it was here that we also saw a whale out in the ocean, which was incredible, as it wasn't that far out to sea so we got a good glimpse of him. However, when we tried to take photos, he just looked like a black speck amongst the waves :(. After watching the whale for a bit, we then headed to tThe Pinnacles to see the different coloured sands there.

After The Pinnacles, we carried on quite a way on the beach until we reached The Champagne Pools - so-called because the waves crashing up on the rocks around the pools are meant to look like bubbling champagne. Unfortunately, no free glass of champagne was involved! They were very pretty though, and we waded in, despite the water being freezing yet again!

Bubbles of fun in The Champagne Pools
From the Champagne Pools, we drove to another part of the beach to have a picnic lunch, before climbing up Indian Head for stunning views. Stunning views combined with somebody's giant writing in the sand: "Get your tits out!"... there's always one!! We also had a great view of the ocean, and managed to spot manta-rays and dolphins. A very good day for animal-spotting.

After a long day, we headed back down the beach (spotting another 2 dingos!) and back into the forest and to our lodges. A few of us hit the resort's jacuzzi (sooo nice) before dinner - Asian night! After dinner, we said our fond farewells to most of the group who were only doing 2 days on the island, and then had an early night as we were knackered from our busy day along with our 'hardcore' partying the night before...

Lauren & Fiona xoxo
Read Lauren and Fiona's original Travelpod blog. Their adventures on day 3 is coming soon!

Fraser Island Day 1 with Lauren and Fiona

GUEST BLOG: Lauren and Fiona are two British backpackers who are blogging about their time 'down under' on the Travelpod website. We stumbled across their entries on their time with Cool Dingo on Queensland's gorgeous Fraser Island and wanted to share their experience with you. (August 2012).

Day 1: We woke up very bright and early to be picked up by Cool Dingo tours at 7:20am, and were taken via coach to the marina at River Heads to catch the ferry over to Fraser Island! Fiona, of course, had her travel sickness pills, and we luckily made it over to the island without any sick involved! Hurrah!

Wild times on the world's largest sand island.
When on dry land, we met the rest of our tour group (21 of us in total) and our guide for the next few days - Damien. We got right on our way to our first stop - Lake Mckenzie. We had tea and cookies (well, most people, Lauren & Laura included, had cookies.. Fiona wasn't allowed.. dam nut allergy), and then headed down to the lake. It was GORGEOUS. We stripped down to our bikinis and sunned ourselves on the lovely soft white sand, and had a little bit of a splash (not a full swim though, the water was far too cold!). We were there for a good hour or so before then being treated to a big buffet lunch, in a special "dingo-safe zone".

Check Cool Dingo out on Facebook!

From Lake Mckenzie, we then went to another lake (Basin Lake) which was equally as stunning, but we weren't allowed to go in the water there. So it was just a quick 'photo op' stop before then moving on to Pile Valley, where we did two 45-minute walks through the forrest, which was a great time to start to get to know other people on our tour. We also all stopped to hug 'Big Jim', one of the biggest Satinay trees in that area, which would apparently give us good luck!

Lake McKenzie is pretty special all year round!
After our walks, it was then time to head back to our resort to claim our luggage and settle into our wood-cabin style lodges, which would be our home for the next couple of days. We all got freshened up and then gathered in the lounge, where we played Ring of Fire.. yes, before we even had dinner. Hardcore! Ha. It was a fairly relaxed game though (apart for one guy, Mark, who somehow managed to drink a good amount of goon..), as we then did head down for food.. and it was Mexican night. Fajitas and chilli con carne, absolute feast

8pm signalled the start of happy hour, so we got a couple of jugs of cocktails to share, and enjoyed a good dance! Fiona also took part in the karaoke.. most people doing the karaoke sounded..hmm.. 'interesting', to put it nicely!! So we were glad when it stopped and we could dance again! The DJ also pandered to our needs, and played a LOT of Skrillex. The crazy moves came out.

We boogied the night away until about 10pm (yep, really hardcore) before heading to bed, excited about what the next day on Fraser Island would hold!

Read Lauren and Fiona's original blog.  More adventures to come soon!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Freak Of Nature


GUEST BLOG: Journalist Ian Neubauer  refers to travel as the ‘university of life’. This is a university campus that has taken him from exotic Cambodia to the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island.  Ian recounts his adventures on his website and Balinese-based FRV Travel recently published his Fraser Island story, which we’d like to share with you in this forum. Buckle up, it’s one heck of a ride.

Fraser Island's famous 75-Mile Beach.
 In 1991, my father took the family to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world.

Twenty years later I’m heading to Fraser again, this time with my eight-year-old nephew on his very first visit to the 123km-long stretch of land sculptured by wind, waves and rain into what scientists describe as an ecological freak of nature.

It’s a 300km drive to Hervey Bay, where a motorised catamaran takes us across the Great Sandy Strait, a nursing ground for dugong, dolphins and humpback whales, and a resting place for an estimated 40,000 trans-equatorial shorebirds that migrate up and down the coastline every year.

Half an hour later we arrive at Kingfisher Bay Resort, an eco-property nestled behind a maze of salt-water ponds with three pools and all the trappings of a four-star resort, an ideal place to unwind after a long day on the road, and after checking into our room, we make a beeline for the beach.

“There is a natural gravitation that brings people back,” says Kingfisher Bay Resort’s General Manger. “And the delightful thing is that the island hasn’t changed. We get 400,000 visitors a year, more than Kakadu but less than the Great Barrier Reef. I don’t mean to belittle it, but you can see coral reefs in many parts of the world. There’s no other island in the world like this.”

Fraser is a mecca for 4WD enthusiasts.
There are virtually no paved roads on Fraser Island, so a four-wheel drive vehicle is the only way to get around and for those on limited budgets or averse to difficult driving conditions, organised tours (or check out the Cool Dingo tours for 18-35s) present a suitable alternative. We set out from Kingfisher in an all-terrain minibus with a crew of 24 Australian and European holidaymakers and in a minute we’re crawling up a steep sandy track, immersed in sunlit woodlands spotted with bristling banksia pods.

Our driver and guide, Hervey Bay resident Allan Souter, explains how Fraser Island’s rich vegetation came to be. “There is no soil on this island, it’s 100% sand, so none of these plants should be able to grow here. Mother Nature is very kind to these plants,” he says, revealing a deep-seated environmental consciousness that is omnipresent on the island. “But when we try to change her, things tend to go pear-shaped.”

Our first stop is Lake McKenzie, the jewel of Fraser’s network of 100-plus freshwater lakes. Fed by a massive underground water table, Fraser’s lakes are amongst the cleanest in the world. Some are honey- and tea-coloured, others emerald green or red-brown, all of them ringed by sandy white beaches. The water coalesces into a dozen shades of blue and is warm enough to swim in all year around.

Wading in the clean waters. A 1,000-year-old satinay tree: 4W Driving at Eurong Beach.

The tour continues and our guide regales us again, this time with the history of logging on the island. Trees were felled on Fraser until 1991 — the year it was nominated for World Heritage listing. The most sought-after species was the satinay tree, prized for its striped bark that’s resistant to corrosion. Satinay was used to rebuild the London Docks after the Blitz and 20,000 were shipped to Egypt to prop up the Suez Canal.

“Mother nature is very kind to these plants, but when we try to change her, things tend to go pear-shaped.”

Welcome to Fraser Island International Airport.
Our next stop is Central Station, a former logging camp now occupied by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. A walking track leads into a gully called Wanggoolba Creek, home to some of the oldest rainforests on the face of the planet. We see prehistoric ten-metre-wide king ferns and a 1,000-year-old satinay that reaches 60 metres into the sky. Broccoli-like epiphytes cling to towering hoop pines next to brush box trees being strangled by parasitic fig vines. The next leg of the trip takes us along Seventy-Five Mile Beach, identified on state maps as a bona fide highway. Police have been known to lay speed traps here and subject drivers to random breath tests during peak periods. Vehicles must also give way to small aeroplanes that land on the beach, like the propeller-powered eight-seater that takes us on a short joyflight.

Fraser’s freakish geography is best appreciated from the air — a patchwork of jungle, shifting sand dunes and multi-coloured lakes that would have left Charles Darwin scratching his head. But the highlight of the day is yet to come, when we career over the ocean to spot some whales. In no time we catch sight of a majestic humpback that looks up curiously as we swoop overhead. “This job never gets boring because the shape of the beach is constantly changing,” says our pilot. “Last week I took a group up and we didn’t see any whales, but on the way back we flew over the biggest hammerhead shark you’ve ever seen.”

By the time we return to Kingfisher Bay Resort I’m feeling wrecked, head buzzing from sensory overload. Our guide bids us a cheery farewell, though not before leaving us with this little pearl. “When Fraser began opening to tourism, we asked the descendents of the Butchalla people, the Aboriginals who once lived here, what they called the island. They said it was called K’gari, paradise.”

It’s our last day at Fraser and we’ve been invited to sail the Great Sandy Strait on a 10-metre catamaran. The Shayla is a purpose-built whale-watching boat that can drift within an arm’s length of frolicking humpbacks. Skipper Brent Milne guarantees whale sightings between August and November, when humpbacks stop for a break on the way back to Antarctica. It’s unlikely we’ll see the mammals today, though conditions are perfect for a leisurely sail. It’s the middle of winter but a pleasant 22 degrees, the sun is shining and there’s but a touch of wind. There is nothing to do but sit back and chill as the vessel cuts along water still as a lagoon.

We bypass Little Woody Island, where a quarantine station and little-known leper colony once stood. White-bellied sea eagles kite around tiny Duck Island as a pelican lands on its stony beach. Fraser and surrounds boast 354 species of birds, including honeyeaters, osprey and noisy cockatoos.

We drop anchor at Big Woody Island, where Brent sets out morning tea. He talks about what it’s like growing up in the area, and what a great place it is to bring up his kids. “When I was young I was always keen to travel and see the world. But take a look around,” he says, casting his eyes seaward. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather live.”

This story was originally published by RFV Travel.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hervey Bay - It's Humpback HQ


HERVEY BAY:  New mums normally are obsessed with routines – nurturing, resting, managing feeds and visitors… but in our neck of the woods our 30-tonne new mums think nothing about leaving swimming 900-odd kilometres, from the Great Barrier Reef to the sheltered waters of Fraser Island, with their 1.5-tonne newborns in tow.
See the giants of the deep in the calm waters off Fraser Island
Nor do they bat their enormous eyes at the 60,000 visitors that flock to Hervey Bay, between August and November, each whale watching season to photograph their newborns.  You could say whale watching is a bit of a family affair off Fraser Island!

Each year the Southern Humpbacks leave the rich feeding grounds of Antarctica in May and make the annual 5,000 kilometre journey to the breeding grounds in the warm waters of the Whitsunday.  They spend a short time here where some of the females give birth and others mate.

Like human mums, the Humpbacks are warm blooded, air breathing and they give birth to live young.  In sharp contrast to their human counterparts, Humpback mum’s milk has a fat content of 35% - compared to 2% for human milk.  The 1.5m long humpback calves suckle at a rate of 400 to 500 litres a day, which allows them to put on a good fat layer in preparation for the long swim back to Antarctica.

When that time comes, the lifecycle of these giants brings them into Hervey Bay on Queensland’s Fraser Coast.  This region of Queensland coastline is the undisputed whale watching capital of Australia and one of only two places in the world where the Humpback Whales take time out of their migration south to socialise, rest, nurture and perform in the calm waters on Fraser Island – the other is Hawaii.

All aboard the Quick Cat II for a great day's watching!
Ranger Colin Anderson said that each season sees between 4000 and 5000 humpbacks will venture into Hervey Bay with numbers increasing every year – and with 60,000 whale watchers it can sometimes be a case of who is watching who.

“During the first part of the season you can expect to see pods of mainly adults and sub-adults,” he said.  “Mothers and calves arrive towards the tail end of the season – but all offer spectacular viewing in our calm waters.”

“And on the whale watching boats we’ve got all sorts of families – singles, couples, mothers and children, grandparents – and all get a kick out of being so close to these magnificent animals.”

During the Whale Watch season Kingfisher Bay Resort, on World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, offers half-day whale watching cruises (aboard the Quick Cat II with the pioneers of whale watching in Hervey Bay, Jill and Brian Perry) from 1 August to 31 October and great deals for longer stays.

Follow us on Twitter @fraserwhales or on Facebook: Fraser Island Whale Watch.

More About The Resort
Kingfisher Bay Resort - on World Heritage Listed Fraser Island – includes 109 self-contained two and three-bedroomed villas; Kingfisher holiday houses for bigger groups; the 152-room Mercure Kingfisher Bay Resort – Fraser Island hotel; as well as touring and marine businesses.