GREEN AND CLEAN

Susan Gough Henly en­joys the si­lence, the scenery and the ethe­real at­mos­phere on the Fraser Is­land Great Walk

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

IPAUSE for a mo­ment amid the si­lence of the rain­for­est to ad­mire a soar­ing straight­trunked Queens­land kauri pine, a tim­ber prized in the log­ging days for sail­ing ship masts. Look­ing down, I gasp, hav­ing mo­men­tar­ily forgotten th­ese mas­sive trees grow in fine sand.

The creamy sil­ica of the for­est floor not only light­ens a canopied world of an­cient ferns and del­i­cate or­chids hid­den among green mosses but makes for a cloud-like soft­ness un­der­foot.

Stran­gler figs are draped in vines and bright orange fungi sprout from rot­ting tree trunks, their fine threads slowly de­com­pos­ing the wood, all of which adds nu­tri­ents to an en­tire ecosys­tem that ex­ists with­out soil.

Walk­ing is the best way to savour Fraser Is­land, the largest sand is­land on earth, lush with pris­tine fresh­wa­ter lakes, vi­brant coloured-sand cliffs tow­er­ing over rugged ocean beaches and dense forests grow­ing in dunes up to 200m high.

Fraser Is­land is the rem­nant of a sand mass that once stretched 30km east into the Pa­cific Ocean. As sea lev­els rose and fell, episodic dune build­ing formed a se­quence of at least eight over­lap­ping dune sys­tems of dif­fer­ent ages, some more than 700,000 years old, the most an­cient recorded se­quence. A suc­ces­sion of plants and trees sourced nu­tri­ents that col­lected in the sand un­til they grew to the size of gi­ants.

One of the ab­sur­di­ties of ex­plor­ing this World Her­itage Wilder­ness Area by four-wheel-drive is that the essence is lost in the noise of the mod­ern world. In con­trast, ev­ery­thing we see at our hum­ble walker’s pace is a tiny clue to a re­mark­able land­scape that was formed through mil­len­ni­ums with the shift­ing of mil­lions of grains of sand.

The 90km Fraser Is­land Great Walk is a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ini­tia­tive of the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment and is set to re­dress the nat­u­ral bal­ance in one of the world’s most re­mark­able set­tings. Bet­ter yet, since it is largely at sea level, the walk is mod­er­ate and easy.

With our tents, stove and food in back­packs, we board the King­fisher Bay ferry at Uran­gan Har­bour and re­lax on the hour-long trip to King­fisher Bay Re­sort. To our de­light, sev­eral hump­back whales breach in front of us and a cou­ple even come along­side the boat. We could spend up to eight days do­ing the com­plete walk from Dilli Vil­lage to Happy Val­ley but, since we only have four, we de­cide to book­end our walk­ing and camp­ing ad­ven­ture with nights at the award-win­ning King­fisher Bay Re­sort, which of­fers for­ays in the en­vi­ron­ment with cham­pagne trim­mings. It makes for a good mix.

King­fisher Bay is large, with 152 rooms and 110 vil­las built up the hill over­look­ing the bush and Her­vey Bay. It nes­tles gen­tly into the heath, wal­lum for­est and me­laleuca wet­lands. With sev­eral swim­ming pools, ten­nis courts and restau­rants as well as a range of wa­ter­sports ac­tiv­i­ties on the bay, there is no short­age of re­lax­ing op­tions. Even more sig­nif­i­cantly, given its lo­ca­tion, there is an im­pres­sive ranger pro­gram and we have trou­ble mak­ing a choice about what to see and do.

We de­cide on a guided ca­noe trip to ex­plore the Great Sandy Strait (de­clared a wet­land of in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance un­der the 1971 Ram­sar Agree­ment) and the man­grove creek colonies, and are lucky to see a dugong in the sea grasses as well as a pod of bot­tlenose dol­phins break­ing the still wa­ters of the strait.

Be­fore din­ner we go on a guided bush tucker walk where we spot many of the in­gre­di­ents that will later fea­ture in our meal at Se­abelle restau­rant in the dra­matic main build­ing, its curv­ing tim­ber walls de­signed to re­flect the rolling sand dunes.

Next morn­ing we are dropped off by taxi to start our walk at Lake Booman­jin. We set off along the well-marked track, fi­nally free of the noise of car en­gines. The si­lence is pal­pa­ble, pricked from time to time with the call of a tiny bird high in the tree­tops.

We stop to marvel at this re­mark­able perched lake, the largest of its kind in the world, in its shim­mer­ing, peace­ful splen­dour. A perched lake is formed in sand dunes above the wa­ter ta­ble when sed­i­ment col­lects at the bot­tom of the dune and acts as catch­ment for rain wa­ter. In­deed, Fraser is home to half of the world’s perched lakes. Some, such as Booman­jin, are stained a golden brown by the tan­nins of the sur­round­ing melaleu­cas while oth­ers are so clear you can im­merse your hand and see it as clearly as if no wa­ter were there at all.

We leap across honey-coloured streams flow­ing across the sand be­fore fol­low­ing the track past scrib­bly gums, the curious scrib­bles on the bark made by the scrib­bly moth cater­pil­lar. Part of the ap­peal of the walk is to catch glimpses of the is­land’s past, such as carved-out ca­noe trees from the ear­li­est Abo­rig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants and mark­ers from the log­ging days. Up the sandy slope, the veg­e­ta­tion changes to thicker rain­for­est of kauri pine, vines, staghorns, palm lilies and mosses. Fraser is home to masked owls, yel­low­tail black cock­a­toos, swamp wal­la­bies and eight kinds of well-cam­ou­flaged tree frogs. Only the cock­a­toos make their pres­ence known, screech­ing in the sun­shine above the canopy.

We reach the walk­ers’ camp set back from the clear wa­ters of Lake Be­na­roon as an early win­ter dusk falls. The per­fect time to walk on Fraser is from June to Oc­to­ber, dur­ing the balmy sub­trop­i­cal Queens­land win­ter and spring, not only be­cause there is no hu­mid­ity or bugs but this is hump­back sea­son in Her­vey Bay.

The camp­site has a pit toi­let and nu­mer­ous tent spa­ces. Two tent sites share a low pic­nic ta­ble and large metal dingo-proof box in which to store all food. The dingo is­sue came to a head a few years ago when a young boy was mauled to death on Fraser. To­day, a huge amount of ef­fort in terms of ed­u­ca­tion and pre­ven­tion has been put into prac­tice. All the hik­ers’ camps have metal food stor­age boxes and some camp­sites, such as at Lake McKen­zie, have been com­pletely fenced to keep the din­goes at bay.

Dur­ing our stay on Fraser the only time we see a dingo is when one strolls through the out­door pool area at dusk at King­fisher Bay Re­sort. At all times it is es­sen­tial to have no con­tact with th­ese wild dogs. They are nat­u­rally scrawny and should never be fed.

Af­ter a hik­ers’ feast cooked on our camp stove (no open fires are al­lowed at any of the six hik­ers’ camps), we stroll along the shores of Lake Be­na­roon, where the still wa­ters glis­ten un­der a full moon. The next morn­ing we pass fox­tail sedges lin­ing the ad­join­ing Lake Birrabeen and con­tinue along an old log­ging road over­hung with banksias.

As we climb, we en­ter the tall forests of the cen­tral high dunes in­clud­ing the enor­mous sati­nay hard­wood trees; their not-so-for­tu­nate rel­a­tives line the Lon­don docks and Suez Canal.

A cou­ple of hours later we de­scend into his­toric Cen­tral Sta­tion, a pop­u­lar walk­ing hub with a small mu­seum, pic­nic fa­cil­i­ties and a board­walk over Wang­goolba Creek, where crys­tal clear wa­ter flows over pure white sand. On ei­ther side of the creek, sati­nay and brush box trees and airy pic­cabeen palms are fes­tooned with crow’s nest ferns and staghorns and the hefty an­giopteris ferns, which have the largest fronds in the world.

They all lend an ethe­real at­mos­phere to what was once the cen­tre of the tim­ber in­dus­try on Fraser. Se­lec­tive log­ging re­sulted in some of the tallest trees now be­ing found near Cen­tral Sta­tion. With the ban­ning of log­ging and sand­min­ing, th­ese trees have been saved and have the nu­tri­ents to thrive.

Af­ter lunch we stop at fresh­wa­ter Basin Lake for a swim. We see sev­eral small tur­tles in the clear wa­ter as white-bel­lied sea ea­gles soar over­head. It is mar­vel­lous to lie out on the pow­dery white sand with no sticky salt on our skin. Re­freshed, we walk the fi­nal kilo­me­tres through open wood­land and lush me­laleuca wet­land, filled with lime-green reeds that catch the sun’s slant­ing rays.

Lake McKen­zie, aptly nick­named the Blue Lake for its bril­liant aqua­ma­rine tint, is ours alone at dusk. In the mid­dle of the day it could be on the Gold Coast, with hun­dreds of daytrip­pers sun­ning them­selves as tour op­er­a­tors pre­pare their lunch. As walk­ers in a dif­fer­ent time frame, we have ex­pe­ri­enced Fraser as it was meant to be en­joyed.

Check­list

Qan­tasLink flies from Bris­bane to Her­vey Bay; phone 131 313. Take a ferry from Uran­gan Har­bour to King­fisher Bay; Aussie Trax four­wheel drive rents camp­ing gear in Her­vey Bay. More: (07) 4124 4433. Camp­sites are $5 a per­son a night and must be pre-booked on­line at www.qld.gov.au/ camp­ing or phone 131 304. It is ad­vis­able to buy a Great Walks topo­graph­i­cal map. More: (07) 3227 8185. Or if you would like some­one else to take care of the trip plan­ning and sup­ply of camp­ing equip­ment as well as the car­ry­ing of gear and cook­ing of meals, Bill Henderson of Foot­prints on Fraser of­fers fab­u­lous guided walks. More: www.foot­printson­fraser.com.au. www.epa.qld.gov.au www.queens­land­hol­i­days. com.au www.king­fisherbay.com

Na­ture’s bounty: Clock­wise from main, Lake McKen­zie, nick­named the Blue Lake; Cen­tral Sta­tion; King­fisher Bay Re­sort; cross­ing the board­walk by Eli Creek

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