Back to civilization after our detour into the red desert of Uluru, we start again from Brisbane and take the road up north towards the Great Barrier Reef, where I always said I would not dive, but that my youngest wants to explore anxiously. We are now in Queensland.
I am a beach person, lucky to have lived near several after 20 years in Miami, but I am not a bottom-of-the-ocean aficionado - I don't want to come face to face with any eels, sharks, strange fish, and other sea creatures out to scare me. I do not belong there. I would rather go into space than under water.
We have a few stops before we reach our final destination on this side of the continent; one of them is Fraser Island, off the coast of Australia, in the South Pacific Ocean. We took a ferry from Hervey Bay (the "Whale Watching Capital of the World") to Moon point, where a few passengers were going trekking on the island for the day. Schools of dolphins were following the boat, seemingly joyous to see us, we certainly were.
Texas-size high clearance four-wheel drive trucks are required on Fraser Island, as it is entirely made of sand. Regular cars would get stuck right off the boat, and caravans would sink into the powder. There is no transportation offered on the island, so if you don't rent a vehicle with high off-the-ground monster tires, you're out of luck. This is not the Sahara desert where tracks of hard sand allow normal cars to run, this is moving deep sand, this is a giant dune.
You can take a safari, like we did, and I was very thankful we did not try to do this on our own, since as soon as our old neon green army truck literally jumped off the barge across the strait, the sand was immediately at mid tire, about three feet deep. There was not even a dock to land on. In fact, walking on the giant dune is hardly feasible at all, as the sand is too deep and no trails are apparent. We only got out of the truck at the various flat beaches, and at our campground for the night.
The World Heritage sanctuary is the largest sand island in the world, covered in parts by rainforest and some 100 clear blue lakes, wild sand formation of gold color, and home to an incredible wildlife and some very strange fauna. The ride north to the largest flat beach arrives at Eli Creek, a cold water fresh spring running into the sea, pouring over one million gallons of extra clear water from its mouth over the beach and into the ocean every hour.
It's a wonderful place to swim, since the Pacific here is quite dangerous, and totally off-limits, as both very strong currents and great white sharks come close to the shoreline. And while there is nobody here to tell you not to swim, most visitors do not dare. The Pacific here is furious all the time and does not look like it would allow frail humans to enter it.
Dingoes are watching us in the distance. They are very orange, and look a little mean. They drink from the creek. The 75 Mile Beach here is hard-packed sand, and trucks can easily drive on it. The wild dingoes of Fraser Island are apparently more aggressive here than anywhere else, because they are the purest strain of dingo in Australia, as they have never crossbred with domestic or feral dogs like elsewhere on the mainland - and their preservation is part of the Sanctuary laws of the island. "Do not touch, do not feed" we were told before the beginning of our journey.
The 75 by 15 mile island is made of rainforest, eucalyptus woodland, mangroves, wallum (an Australian type of ecosystem), and peat swamps. The sand has been piling up on top of hard volcanic bedrock for about 750,000 years. It is home to the large humpback whales that cruise by in the winter, the Australian winter that is, from May to October, so we missed out on that. It's too hot here now for them.
Fraser Island has been inhabited for some 5,000 years, and James Cook sailed by its shore in 1770. The island was named after Eliza Fraser who survived a shipwreck on the island in 1836. The Scottish woman and her husband Captain James Fraser ended up there when their ship, with 18 people aboard and a load of spirits, struck a part of the reef north of Fraser Island. After launching two smaller boats, they landed at a spot now known as Waddy Point. It was here that she claimed to have been captured by Aborigines, and where her husband died.
Further down the immense beach, the metal skeleton of the SS Maheno ship lays on its side like a giant wounded seabird. The rusted remains have been declared contaminated and its access is now prohibited. But the little of her that still stands remains strangely heartbreaking. She was a classy ocean liner of the New Zealand Union Company and used to cross the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia from 1905 until 1935.
On July 1935 the Maheno was being towed from Sydney to voyage to Japan, where she had been sold to a ship breaker. The wire rope between the two vessels broke during a severe cyclone, and in heavy seas the Maheno and eight men drifted off and disappeared. The men were all rescued a few days later when the storm had passed. But the ship was beyond repair and was left where she had been tossed, on Fraser Island. She is slowly vanishing and we were lucky to take pictures before she totally leaves the landscape. It is said that a few sea creatures haunt her.
We then climbed on the top of a high cliff called Indian Head where the best view offers panoramic of the length of the island. The amazing orange-colored sand cliffs at this end of the island are ancient formations called the Pinnacles. They have 72 variants of reds and yellows and look as if a crazy artist on hallucinogen remedies had painted them for a psychedelic show.
While you may not swim in the ocean here, the Champagne pools allow for the only saltwater swimming on that side of the island. The collection of recreational pools was formed by volcanic rocks, like everything on Fraser. The holes are fun when the waves crash and go over the stones, creating the bubbly "Champagne" effect.
Finally our first day comes to an end and we head to our base camp in the pine trees. Our rustic but comfortable army canvas tent has two cots and an oil lamp. Outside, Alex, our guide, starts cooking for our entire party of six, mashed potatoes and some sort of dark brow meat, pre-cooked I suppose. We sit at long benches under the trees, under scintillating stars, and by 8:30 p.m. we are ready for bed after our exhausting day. I feel like Robinson, or maybe Tom Hanks in Castaway.
We are told to go "in nature" for our toilet business, but never to go alone and always bring a flashlight and stomp the ground, as dingoes and other wildlife (raccoons, skunks, opossums) will come nearby after smelling the food we just cooked. We will leave no garbage says Alex, we'll pack it all back in the truck. But these animals know everything about tourists' affairs, and they are certain to find a few crumbs, or maybe a naked behind to chew on. We will leave only footprints.