Sand and de­liver

Queens­land’s Fraser Is­land has a pris­tine and pow­er­ful beauty

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - HE­LEN McKEN­ZIE

It is a great day for fly­ing, just a smat­ter­ing of cloud and a light breeze. We take off from Red­cliffe air­port, 28km from the cen­tre of Brisbane, head­ing north in a twin-en­gine, eight-seat plane, track­ing along the Sun­shine Coast. From the air, Caloun­dra, Ma­roochy­dore and Mooloolaba seem to float, thanks to the meet­ing of in­land wa­ter­ways and the ocean. The Glass House Moun­tains look even more in­con­gru­ous from the sky and then Noosa, the glam­orous jewel of the Queens­land Sun­shine Coast, comes into view.

Track­ing the Great Beach Drive — a sandy “high­way” from Noosa North Shore to Rain­bow Beach — we see Fraser Is­land. Over the next three days we will ex­plore the world’s largest sand is­land with Ad­ven­ture Aus­tralia Treks and Tours, spe­cial­ists in small-group, four-wheeldrive tours to some of the na­tion’s most in­ac­ces­si­ble spots. On Fraser Is­land, the com­pany has ex­clu­sive tour­ing ac­cess to Sandy Cape, its north­ern­most sec­tion.

Pi­lot Gerry warns that the land­ing on Orchid Beach, the is­land’s long­est strip of grass, might be a bit rough. It’s not. A step off the land­ing strip and our feet sink into sand. We are greeted by AATT owner Martin and his off­sider, Paul. Two sparkling-clean and equipped-for-any­thing 4WD ve­hi­cles whisk us to a nearby beach-house. We will have a night here, then Eurong Beach Re­sort and on to King­fisher Bay Re­sort. We de­posit our lug­gage and get the show on the road. I am a new­bie to the off-road ex­pe­ri­ence; there’s a chance I’m the only one on the is­land. Like moths to a can­dle, 4WD en­thu­si­asts flock to Fraser.

The sand is a lit­tle sludgy as we head north. Peo­ple out fish­ing and pel­i­cans line up along a “gut­ter” that for­tu­itously (for the fish­er­folk) traps tai­lor. It is near­ing high tide when we reach Ngkala Rocks. A nar­row pass with sand up to half a me­tre deep in places makes nav­i­gat­ing through the rocks lots of fun for ac­com­plished 4WD-ers and their pas­sen­gers, but of­fers high-level em­bar­rass­ment for those who don’t know what they are do­ing.

First les­son for four-wheel driv­ing: drop­ping tyre air pres­sure down from 40 to 16psi in­creases grip on the sandy sur­face. A driver pulling a trailer ahead of us has missed this tip and is bogged in the sand. The AATT guys at­tach a snatch strap from one of our ve­hi­cles to the ma­rooned ve­hi­cle and “pop” it out. It is not like tow­ing; I am told the science has some­thing to do with in­er­tia.

It’s our turn to cut through the pass. Martin “throws” the ve­hi­cle into low sec­ond gear and we groan and sashay through the rocky open­ing. It’s like rid­ing rapids on land. On the other side the tyres are re-in­flated by an on­board com­pres­sor and we start to see why each of the LandCruis­ers has a fit­ted-out price tag of $147,000. At lunchtime, in­te­grated awnings are ex­tended, offering shade. The mak­ings of salad wraps are fetched from the re­frig­er­a­tor and spread out on pic­nic ta­bles.

Paul takes the op­por­tu­nity to give us a few his­toric facts. In 1770, Cap­tain Cook spot­ted Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple on the is­land from the deck of En­deav­our and dubbed the spot In­dian Head. In 1837 the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion, pre­dom­i­nantly the Butchulla peo­ple, was about 3000 and best es­ti­mates were they’d been here for 5000 years. The is­land is named af­ter El­iza Fraser, who sur­vived the 1836 sink­ing of The Stir­ling Cas­tle, cap­tained by her hus­band, James.

The tide is too high to ven­ture on to Sandy Cape so we make for Cham­pagne Pools for a dip. Rocks pro­tect the pools from the ocean and the wa­ter seems to bub­ble with each new wave. Cham­pagne corks are ac­tu­ally pop­ping as a wed­ding is tak­ing place in this pretty place. The bride re­veals that the groom pro­posed to her at a se­cluded spot on the is­land a year ago.

It’s back to the beach-house for a bar­be­cue and an early night; we want to make tracks at sun-up. Next day we have the beach to our­selves, ex­cept for a few pied oys­ter­catch­ers, as we thun­der along do­ing the 80km/h speed limit to Sandy Cape, where we will see the rook­ery for log­ger­head and green tur­tles. From Novem­ber to De­cem­ber, tur­tles lay about 10,000 eggs and the area be­comes a no-go zone. The walk to the light­house is a pleas­ant half-hour up­hill stroll that re­wards us with ter­rific views.

Back to Ngkala Rocks, there is a line-up of 4WDs try­ing to get through. In the queue is a guy with a trailer. Based on my full 24 hours of 4WD ex­pe­ri­ence I ad­vise him that it is un­likely he will get through. He as­sures me, “Don’t worry love, I’ll just fang it.” Min­utes later it is his turn; he man­ages to block the pass for more than an hour. An­other 4WD les­son: don’t give ad­vice, no­body lis­tens.

On the way to Eurong Beach Re­sort we check out the wreck of The Ma­heno, washed ashore by a cy­clone in 1935, and na­ture’s Water­world ride, Eli Creek. Tour­ing back­pack­ers and fam­ily groups ef­fort­lessly float down the wind­ing creek. There’s lots of laugh­ter. On a flat, firm stretch of sand, I have my chance be­hind the wheel and drive like an old granny. There are no chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions that de­mand I em­ploy the next 4WD les­son: some­times you need to drive it like you stole it.

Day three starts serenely with an early walk to Lake Wabby, which is pris­tine, picturesque and just ours. It’s a great place for re­flec­tion and I mentally mark this as the high­light of the trip. That is un­til later that day when we visit Wang­goolba Creek, in the cen­tre of the is­land. No won­der the in­dige­nous women chose this place to give birth. It is an earthly par­adise; in fil­tered light, fresh wa­ter runs along a white sandy creek bed, un­der the pro­tec­tion of huge sati­nay trees.

Close to King­fisher Bay Re­sort and just me­tres off the only stretch of sealed road on the is­land, we meet a young fam­ily in a ve­hi­cle that is 4WD in name only. They are so bogged. Our ever-help­ful driv­ers swing into ac­tion, putting shoul­ders to the bumper and at­tempt­ing to push them out man­u­ally. The driver mean­while seems to have gone AWOL and here comes the last 4WD les­son: if some­one is push­ing your ve­hi­cle out of a sand bog, don’t stand there film­ing.

He­len McKen­zie was a guest of Tourism and Events Queens­land. • queens­ • • • king­

Cham­pagne Pools on Fraser Is­land, top; King­fisher Bay Re­sort, above; a 4WD on the beach, top right

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