Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One Eyebrow Raised On Fraser Island

GUEST BLOG: We're constantly amazed at the diversity of the peeps that travel with us and love to hear about their interesting back stories. It's pretty cool too when they flick us an email, Facebook post or tweet to tell us they've loved Cool Dingo and Fraser Island and can't wait to tell the world!  

So we'd like to introduce you to another of our Cool Dingo travelling alumni -  22-year-old Deborah - world traveller, graduate student, crazy funster and prolific blogger.  In her own words, Deborah "amuses myself by over analysing news, gossip, music, films, and insignificant goings on in the form of sarcastic blog posts." There's no b/s here - just some cool stuff about about her time on the world's largest sand island with Cool Dingo's  pocket rocket, Ranger Kirstey (and Kirstey's pics).  Enjoy!

Travelling is all about decisions, and important ones too. Where to go? If you’ve only got a few days somewhere, you don’t want to waste them all in a crummy town that you once read had a cheap bar but turns out to have nothing else. Where to stay? Budget youth hostels and sharing bunk beds with any number of weird strangers, or expensive hotel, and be out of pocket, comfortable and bored? Who to go with? You don’t want to go with someone you kind of know from one of your modules at uni, only to find out they have weird habits like chewing mints instead of brushing their teeth or not wearing shoes and saying stuff like ‘I like the feel of the soil under my feet’.

Thankfully, although people always warned me it was a bad idea to travel in groups of three, it has worked out for us so far, and we’ve found it kind of useful. Two night or three nights in a place? Pizza or pasta for dinner? Remove the spider from the room or pretend it isn’t there? All our decisions have been made swiftly and easily – majority rules, and if the odd person doesn’t like it, they can do what they want on their own (which is why I’ve ended up in Subway so many times while my two thinner companions eat salad).

Fraser Island's a must see on any east coast itin
How to see Fraser Island, the world’s biggest sand island and a must-visit for anyone, backpacker or not, visiting Australia, was the first big decision the three of us struggled to make harmoniously. Everyone we’d ever spoken to (or stalked on Facebook) who had visited Australia had done Fraser Island in the typical backpacker way: paying around $350 for two days, two nights of camping, getting around by driving their own 4X4 cars on the beach, pitching their own tents, making their own food and generally having a blast.

One of my travelling buds was dubious about camping. ‘I don’t want an ant to crawl into my bum,’ she explained to the travel agent, who tried to contain himself. (‘Himself’ is Graham, by the way, from the Ultimate Party company in Cairns – if you are ever there, book everything through him. He takes hours out of his time to explain everything patiently, and even gave us some sweet discounts.)

He explained that for even cheaper, with a company called Cool Dingo, we could get three nights on Fraser Island in lodge accommodation (with toilets! and showers!), including all our food and a guided tour every day on a big 4X4 bus.

‘I just don’t understand why it’s the same price,’ I kept saying. And I really didn’t. How could we get our own beds, cooked meals and a guided tour for less money than sleeping on the soil moments away from snakes and Huntsman spiders? It turns out that the company that lets you drive the 4X4s yourself has to pay a huge amount for insurance as so many idiots think it’s funny to drive into the sea or simply can’t control the cars on the roads, which are sandy and basically run as smoothly as Katie Price’s average relationship.

After hours debating whether we’d rather have the ‘proper’ Fraser experience of sleeping in tents and driving the cars ourselves, we agreed to do the tour with Cool Dingo. It was one of those awkward moments where I had to make the decision, because both of my friends wanted to do one tour in particular, and I could have been swayed either way. Yet having camped in a tent every summer in England for a couple of weeks, I had ‘experience’ enough of being damp and stinking and uncomfortable for days on end. Hygiene is hygiene, no matter how much fun you’re having. I can still smell the Portaloos years later.

‘We’re only going to be on Fraser Island once,’ I reasoned. ‘Let’s do it in flashpacker style.’

WOMAN power on Fraser Island (that's Kirstey on the left)
No regrets. The Cool Dingo tour was fantastic (we even saw an actual dingo). Our guide Kirstey never stopped smiling (even when we burst a tyre in the middle of the beach) as she drove us down ridiculously bumpy roads, hiked through forests with us and took us to freshwater creeks. She even supplied us with apples, homemade cookies and cereal bars, and there’s no quicker way to my heart than with food (except perhaps an uncanny resemblance to Sawyer from Lost).

Our first port of call was Lake McKenzie, beautiful and filled entirely with rain. After going in there, I’m never paying for hair treatments again – the water made our hair incredibly soft. If I hadn’t been squinting because of the strong midday sun, I definitely would have tried to pull off the Cheryl Cole L’oreal advert and swung my hair around, which would almost certainly have been a huge fail.

We also trekked through a forest and took a much needed dip in Basin Lake. Excitingly, we unexpectedly saw a goanna on the ground – which looks like a tiny crocodile – peering at us with suspicious eyes. That wasn’t as terrifying as Laura’s experience with a goanna – she went to throw her food in the bin only to have a goanna appear out of the bin bag. When she shrieked, the cook advised her to lie down on the floor, because the goanna might think she was a tree and climb up her. Creepy.

As backpackers wanting to ease some of the pain of carrying all that weight on our shoulders (literally painful shoulders, not in some ‘cry me a river I’m having so much fun’ metaphorical way), the best news was yet to come – as part of Cool Dingo, we were allowed to swim and hang out in the jacuzzi at the nearby swanky Kingfisher Bay Resort. A true gap yah experience.

The rusted hulk of The Maheno rises out of 75-Mile Beach
The next day, we drove along the 75 Mile Beach, all the while Kirstey telling us of Aboriginal stories from the 19th century about how Fraser Island came to be called so. We stopped to gaze, dumbfounded, at the surreal Maheno shipwreck, a luxury cruise ship built in 1905 which, after a series of unfortunate encounters, came to be washed up on the Fraser Island shore.

Driving along the beach was fun and surreal in itself – apart from the occasional spritz of water spurting up at me from the bottom of my seat, making me feel like I’d been peed on by the ocean.  We also climbed to the top of Indian Head and gazed out at the turtles and jellyfish swimming below, swum in Eli Creek and The Champagne Pools (unfortunately not actually filled with champagne) and visited the coloured rocks along the shore.

Our last stop before a final delicious (and all you can eat…mmm) Mexican dinner was the jetty to watch the sun go down on the beautiful Fraser Island.

Another thing I did this week was read Alice in Wonderland on my Kindle. In it, the Duchess finds ridiculously convoluted morals in every situation. If I had to find one for my incredible trip to Fraser Island, it would be this: make sure you ask your travel agents hundreds of questions. They all made fun of us, whether in Melbourne, Cairns or Airlie Beach: ‘Oh, you girls are really giving me a tough time today!’

They are taking hundreds of dollars off you, and getting a huge commission, so don’t be scared to ask for every answer you want. I’ve no doubt the people going on the standard 4X4 Fraser Island trip had a great time too, but if we hadn’t been pushy and ant-phobic, we probably wouldn’t have found out about the Cool Dingo tour, which exceeded all our expectations, from the spotless accommodation to delicious food to perfect tour guide – and all for a reasonable price.

This blog was originally published on http://oneeyebrowraised.com/ and was reproduced with the author's permission.  Photos used in this blog post are from Kirstey's personal collection and are (c) Cool Dingo Tour.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Eat Your Heart Out, Bond! Adrenaline-charged Fun On Fraser Island

GUEST BLOG: Journalist Rob McFarland is an accomplished travel writer who divides his time between Sydney, New York, the UK and pretty much everywhere in between.  He, and his brother Luke, visited Fraser Island about 12 months ago on a boy’s adventure weekend and their adrenaline-pumping experiences were recently published in The Malaysian Star.  It’s not quite James Bond… but it’s still pretty world class!

FRASER ISLAND: THIS isn’t quite the James Bond moment I’d imagined. If Daniel Craig had jet-skied from Hervey Bay to Fraser Island, he’d have worn a white tuxedo and been accompanied by a stunning brunette.  I, on the other hand, am wearing swimming goggles and am clinging onto my brother.

When we met Larry from Aquavue Watersports at 6am, the sea was mirror flat and the sun was just poking over the horizon. Now we’re in the middle of the Great Sandy Strait between the mainland and Fraser Island, the wind has picked up and it’s seriously choppy.
A Not-Quite-Bond-Moment enroute to Fraser Island
Up until I donned my swimming goggles, this meant a rather uncomfortable ride while being relentlessly splashed in the face. Now that I’m suitably attired, it’s some of the best fun I’ve ever had sitting down.

I’m on Queensland’s Fraser Coast for an action-packed long weekend with my brother.  The aim is to experience as much adrenaline and adventure as we can in three days. Yesterday, we kicked it all off with a stand-up paddle-boarding lesson from Enzo, owner of Enzo’s On The Beach.

After wading out into the warm water of the bay, we paddled over clusters of coral looking for fish and other marine life.  I was just thinking how well we were doing when I realised we’d been paddling downwind. It turns out that paddling into the wind is another matter.  Lie-down paddle-boarding doesn’t have the same glamorous following as its stand-up sibling, but I’d recommend it if you ever have to get back to shore in a strong headwind.

Next up was wakeboarding at Susan River Homestead, a 30-minute drive from Hervey Bay.  I’d never tried it before but owner Paul “Call me Cookey” Cooke reassured me that he’d “never had someone not get up yet”.  Kitted out with helmet and lifejacket, I lay in the water with the board out in front and let the cable pull me along.  And blow me if Cookey wasn’t right – I was up the first time.  Making the turn at the end of the course to come back took a little longer to master.

It ends up taking us two hours to jet-ski to Fraser Island, and there waiting for us is Shayla*, a stunning 10m catamaran that offers sightseeing cruises around the bay.  While skipper Brett hoists the sail, we lie in the sun and enjoy a leisurely cruise along Fraser’s coastline.

As we pass Duck Island – one of the other islands in the bay – Brett points out ospreys, herons and two rare Beach Stone-curlews bobbing along the beach. They often see dolphins as well as humpback whales during their annual migration.

After a swim and some morning tea, it’s time to ramp up the action again. Brett unfurls the boom net from the back of the boat and we all jump in and hang on as we’re dragged through the water.  There are only four of us onboard today but Brett reckons he’s had 15 on it in the past.

As we pull into the wharf at Kingfisher Bay Resort, I’m reminded of the last time I visited Fraser Island.  I was backpacking and eight of us hired a 4WD from the mainland, stocked up on supermarket food and camped on the beach each night.

It was good fun, but now being older and wiser, I’m much happier checking into the welcoming arms of the Kingfisher Bay Resort.  This low-rise, eco-friendly property has won a bevy of ecotourism awards for its seamless integration with the natural habitat. Boasting four pools, three restaurants and a nightclub, it manages to provide the full resort experience without really feeling like a resort.

It also has a sensational on-site spa – after taking a pounding on the jet ski, I’m very content to let therapist Robin ease my aching muscles with a coma-inducing hot-stone massage and facial.  After a sensational dinner in Seabelle, Kingfisher’s award-winning restaurant, followed by a sound night’s sleep, we are ready to explore the largest sand island in the world.

And while there are several excellent guided tours available, there’s nothing quite like jumping in a 4WD and doing it yourself.  All day we bound along winding sandy tracks, weave our way through lush, towering rainforest, swim in crystal-clear lakes and speed along the hard, flat sand of Fraser’s wild eastern beach.

Take to the tracks on the world's largest sand island.
Ideally, you’d want to spend at least two days here but even though we have only a day, we manage to see the rusted wreck of the Maheno, take in the panoramic views from Indian Head and marvel at the incomparable colour of Lake McKenzie.

It’s a privilege to be able to explore this World Heritage-listed icon, and careering around it in a 4WD seems a fitting finale to our action-packed weekend.  There are still plenty of adrenaline-charged activities we haven’t got around to trying – microlighting, skydiving and kite surfing to name a few, so we’ll just have to come back.

And while my chances of persuading a stunning brunette to accompany me are slim, I can at least pack a white tuxedo.

*Shayla Sailing Cruises no longer operate from Kingfisher Bay Resort.  The resort has just introduced several new cruising products with Captain Keith and the team from Freedom III.

 The writer was a guest of Kingfisher Bay Resort and Tourism Queensland.