Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fraser Island's Wild Side


GUEST BLOG: In this digital age, TRAVELDUDES is just one of a number of travel websites that allow travellers to become travel writers - share trips and their personal travel diaries with the world. Here's a fab piece on Fraser Island that we stumbled across recently, by a traveller named Melvin, and wanted to share in this forum.

As we arrived at Fraser Island from the River Heads terminal on the Kingfisher Bay Ferry I was struck by the difference between it and other islands we’d visited on this trip.  The noticeable difference was the wild aspect!  It was as if nature had the last say and the humans were merely visitors, and I loved this rawness.

Kingfisher Bay Resort's famous Jetty Hut
The Kingfisher Bay Resort was a five minute walk from the jetty, although we hopped on the complimentary shuttle. The resort complimented its natural surroundings. Everything from the sweeping waves of the roof, to the eco interior settings, and sounds of nature played out from the hotel’s sound-system, reflected its position within the natural habitat.

Our rooms were modest, but comfortable. Admirably, throughout the *four-star resort there were educational signs reminding us, that it was an eco resort and that commodities such as electricity and water were luxuries not to be abused.  We had a beautiful balcony view overlooking the rainforest vegetation which raced to the shoreline. And we could watch the ferry coming and going bringing in excited holidaymakers and taking reluctant ones away.

That evening we boarded a sunset cruise, the Freedom III luxury yacht. Having already enjoyed so many water-based tours and cruises I wasn’t expecting anything different from this trip. What I got was a totally different and unique interpretation of a sunset cruise, and one I highly recommend.

Yes, it had the standard complimentary glass of bubbly or beer, but it was the experience in general which set it apart. Firstly, the Skipper was very knowledgeable and provided a fascinating running commentary. I learnt that Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and is home to the largest number of wild and pure dingoes in the world – pure meaning not interbred with other dogs. I was delighted when we saw one walking along the beach! Actually, dingoes aren’t dogs, but Asian Wolves, which howl not bark, but are often referred to as dogs.

Next, we cruised past Maheno, a former luxury cruise liner, now a shipwreck. It was washed up on the (eastern) beach here in 1935 while on route to Japan, where it was due to be broken up. A large portion of the ship is underwater and it's believed it will only be visible for another 15 years before being completely immersed.

The sun sets over the Great Sandy Strait
Fraser Island and this cruise gave me the best sunset view I have ever witnessed, and I found myself quite choked. A picture-postcard view was made even more spectacular, when just as the sun went down, a fishing boat sailed directly past the sun which glowed in the distance. Its silhouette against the burning yellows and oranges of the sunset was truly magnificent.

The next day we were up and out by 7.50am as we had enrolled in a Beauty Spots Tour. Our driver-come-tour guide, Bryan, was a lovely elderly gentleman who knew so much about the island. He was so passionate with his talks, that it seemed like it was the first time he had delivered them. However, Bryan told me he had been doing the tours for years.

I was fascinated by the island, due to its outstanding natural beauty and because it was so different to what I had seen before. For starters, Fraser Island’s long coastal beach is a designated highway, and 4x4s speed up and down the beach, twisting and turning with the waves. Apparently, there is only one other designated highway on a beach in the world. Secondly, the roads in and around the island were, how can I put it, 'interesting', and by 'interesting' I mean dirt tracks.

The journey around was somewhat rough and I was relieved that I hadn’t had too much for breakfast that day! The children on the coach loved it, but my fragile stomach viewed it less favourably. Please don’t let this put you off, Bryan tells me the roads are so bad at the moment, because there’s been no rain to soften them, just my luck. Although I admit to feeling silently pleased that the heavens hadn’t opened up, no one books a trip to Australia and hopes there’s grey skies and rain.

We stopped off throughout the day at various points, including the old Logging Central Station, which was used years ago as the central point for the island’s huge logging industry. Thankfully when the island was given UNESCO World Heritage status, the logging ended, but not without leaving the scars and painful reminders of its presence.

Thousands of ancient trees had been cut down and their stumps are everywhere. It’s such a shame, but as Bryan tells me, in some ways the logging was a blessing in disguise. For it was the logging that led to the UNESCO status, thus protecting it forever more. Even the roads, he tells me, will never be revamped because it’s a kind of deterrent used to prevent too much traffic and too many people on the island. Clever.

Lake McKenzie - simply stunning!
Before we headed for home we stopped off at one of the most magnificence lakes I’ve ever seen – Lake McKenzie.  ^The water and sand is so beautifully clean and pure that it’s considered to be ‘nature’s spa’ and I enjoyed having a mud-pack, eco style.

The next day it was time to check out, but not before we spent a few hours relaxing in the pool, soaking up the sun and generally chilling out at the Kingfisher Bay Resort.

Due to our jam-packed schedule, our time on the island went so quickly, but I’m glad we had time to just unwind for a few hours within the resort. It really is a place to just take stock of the surroundings.

Having breakfast out on the balcony overlooking the resort’s outdoor pool, which was filled with laughing children and families, I really did feel at-home. And it's a place I’d come to in the future, perhaps when I have children, whenever that maybe.

Images in this blog are (c) to Kingfisher Bay Resort.  Click here to read this story in its original format or to contact the author.

*Note we have corrected a mistake by the author - the resort is four star.
^Incorrect information about Lake McKenzie's formation has been edited out.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

6 Awesome Things About Fraser Island According to Simon's Jamjar...

GUEST BLOG: Fraser Island has mass appeal for a multitude of reasons. In this guest blog, Simon from Simon's Jamjar - A Scottish-based digital marketer who's currently on a five-month odyssey travelling the world - fills us in on his recent Cool Dingo Tour and the six things on Fraser Island that left an indelible impression on him. We hope you enjoy!
First things first. Fraser Island, located off the Queensland coast in Australia, is the largest sand island in the world.

"See that steep fall down to your left? And the steep hill to your right? That's because we're essentially driving on the side of a sand dune". This was the voice of Tony, our tour guide from Cool Dingo. He's one of my favourite tour guides ever, and not just because he likes a bevvy. Hopefully you'll see why by the end of this post.

The Cool Dingo MAN bus on 75-Mile Beach
We stepped off the ferry, and into a tough, rugged, German built, former military 4x4 machine. I'd heard Fraser Island was only possible to navigate by 4x4, but this beast was something else. "Ok guys, you're going to want to put your seat belts on for the whole journey, and I'm going to pester you to put them on after every stop. This island is damn bumpy, and I wouldn't want you hitting your heads on the roof and damaging my vehicle. Except you four. You can do what you want." We were only only minute into the trip and Tony (let's call him Mr. T) was laying down the law, targeting four young English girls sat on the back row. It brought a smirk to my face :).

With seat belts on (the girls decided it was best to join everyone else), we were underway. Two minutes later, we leave tarmac for sand, and Mr.T engages four-wheel drive in the German tank.

It's not called the world's largest sand island for nothing.
Awesome Thing Number 1 - Fraser Island is a 4x4 playground. All the tracks are sand only, and you can drive all the way up and down the beach. Some vehicles get stuck, then somebody else comes along with a tow rope and pulls them out. Such boyish fun.

Our first stop after bouncing around the tank was Lake McKenzie. Many people have said you enter the lake and come out 10 years younger.

Awesome Thing Number 2 - Lake McKenzie is a 'perched' lake, which means it is naturally formed by rainwater. Others have described it as having 'awe-inspiring beauty'. The water is crystal clear, and the sand is all silica. I liked Mr.T's description of the lake:

Lake McKenzie is simply stunning!
"Enjoy your swim guys, the pH level of the water is almost identical to that of the human body. So that means nothing grows in the water, so you won't get nibbled by fish, it also means you go into the water and come out feeling like you've had a shower and your hair has been shampoo'd". Sold. I swam for AGES.

Back in the tank, Mr. T told us that he'd grown up with an Aboriginal tribe, and that gave him license to tell some awesome stories (only after we'd put our seat belts on).

Awesome Thing Number 3 - Fraser Island has a significant Aboriginal heritage. The traditional owners of the island were the 'Butchulla' people. For various reasons however, Aboriginal numbers were down to 230 by 1880. But they continue to live on the island, and their stories are their history. Mr. T was only to happy to regale a story which had me in stitches.

Aborigines made use of various different types of plants and trees, for both medicinal use, and for making everyday items such as baskets, weapons and rafts. Many of the plants are poisonous though, so how did aboriginal tribes figure out which plant concoctions would be poisonous, and which ones wouldn't be?

"Trial and error", answered Mr. T. "Essentially they would feed them to grandma. Their history is stories. Once those stories are passed on to the next generation, grandmas job in the community is done. So they use her for testing toxic potions. Grandma would also be the first to be made to cross crocodile infested waters, to see if she actually made it across."

Poor old grandma!

Being a sand island means only certain plants and wildlife can survive on the island. But it turns out there are many important trees and plants on Fraser Island.

 Awesome Thing Number 4 - Nature. In 1925, the Satinay tree became the major timber logged on the island after it was found to be resistant to marine borer. This meant the wood was highly resistant to salt water, and thus became popular for use in marine conditions around the world. For instance, this timber from Fraser Island was used rebuild the London Docks after World War II.

Fraser's famous Satinay trees - just like a giant Cadbury Crunchie!
There are over 300 types of eucalyptus trees across Australia. The Aborigines would use eucalyptus trees for medicinal purposes - for example they would use the sap from the tree to numb their mouth if they had a toothache.

"Blackboys are also useful", started Mr. T, catching everyone's attention...many with mouths aghast at his comment. "Well, we can't call them blackboys any more because of political correctness, but grass trees (mouths finally close) are a useful plant too. They grow small fruit seeds. Aborigines would heat these fruit seeds up and they turn into a substance similar to plasticine. They would then use this to fix arrow heads and knives onto the end of wooden sticks to made weapons. Once the plasticine cools, it becomes rock solid. Perfect."

Fascinating.

On the second day of the tour, we ploughed ahead to the beach. The tank was flying through the sand tracks, and occasionally met another vehicle coming the other way. Mr. T wasn't budging, to the slight annoyance of a few non-touring 4x4 drivers. "I love being bigger". No messing with Mr. T!

Awesome Thing Number 5 - The Maheno shipwreck. Half way down the 85km stretch of beach on the east side of the island, you will find The Maheno shipwreck. Currently 60% beneath the sand, Mr. T told us the history of the shipwreck.

A must-do photo opp on Fraser Island
"It was made in Dumbarton, Scotland, and was once of the fastest ships made around that period. It was built with a huge steam engine, and did 18 knots, more than most ships around that time. It was used as a medical ship in World War I, and was eventually sold to a Japanese company in 1935.

To save themselves some money, the Japanese decided to tow the ship from Australia to Japan, but ran into a cyclone, the tow rope broke, and it ended up being beached here, at Fraser Island.

The Australian Air Force used it as target practice for World War II....and hit it once, which says a lot about our Air Force. A special Aussie commando unit also use it to try out their new toys on, which always blows a few more holes in it, which is another reason its 60% under the sand. The rest will probably be devoured by the beach in the next 10 years."

By this point I was hanging on every word.  We carried on driving. Earlier in the say, Mr. T had mentioned that we could catch a flight to see the island from above, so I assumed there was some sort of flat grassy strip with a little orange wind sock further along the coast. How wrong I was.

Awesome Thing Number 6 - Fraser Island is only the second place in the world where you can catch a flight that takes off and lands on the beach. The main stretch of beach was also given speed restrictions a few years ago, which technically classifies it as a state highway. So in effect, this is the only place where a plane lands on a certified road.

Welcome to Fraser Island international airport.
Awesome.

'How many times are you going to take a flight from a beach?', I said to myself. Ten minutes later I was sat behind the pilot, with the iPhone camera video rolling.  Only in the air can you really understand the true size of the island. It is massive. To give a UK comparison, the length of the island is almost the same distance between Cambridge and Brighton, or Edinburgh to Aberdeen.

We had to time the landing well, as it was almost high tide with not much beach remaining!  We landed safely, and headed back to the tank. We made it to Indian Head, swan in the champagne pools, sprinted back along the beach at low tide, and before we knew it, we were having final beers in the infamous Dingo Bar.

I didn't really know what to expect from Fraser Island before I arrived. I just knew it was a 'must' if I was travelling down the East coast. Well, thanks to the soundbites and stories of Mr. T, I can say it is well worth a visit, and certainly a highlight of my Australia trip.

Click here to read Simon's original post or follow his Jamjar blogs and life observations (Blog and images were reproduced with the author's permission on 05/02/2013) and why not follow the adventures of our Cool Dingo friends on our Facebook page?  Like what you see? The albums on our website are REAL guests enjoying REAL adventures on the world's largest sand island!