Off road: Fraser for a day
The prospect of returning to Fraser was an exciting one. The largest sand island in the world, Fraser is World Heritage Listed (since 1992) for its outstanding beauty and ecological significance. It was at least ten years since I'd been and my memory was hazy. I don't even recall how I got there, except being driven from Noosa on a guided 4WD tour. Since living in Queensland, I may have become slightly blasé about driving along fabulous beaches, but back then it was a truly awe-inspiring experience.
Visiting this time under our own steam, we had to research tide times, estimate journey times on beach and inland tracks, and work out what it was feasible to see in a limited amount of time. We were staying at Rainbow Beach over Labour Day long weekend and crossed on the barge ferry from Inskip Point to the southernmost part of Fraser, Hook Point. It was futile making an early start: you can only drive on the beach for two hours either side of low tide, which, on the day we'd chosen, was at about 13.30. But we could take the 20 kilometres of inland track running parallel to Seventy Five Mile Beach* which extends up the eastern side of the 120-km-long island **. Then we'd have to continue north along the beach, but it would be possible, tidally, by late morning.
There was a bit of a 4WD rush as the barge landed; but we all had to wait in places for waves to recede as the tide was still quite high. We hung back a bit, uncertain like newbies. We observed that no one continued along the beach round Hook Point: they all turned on to the inland track. We followed when they were out of the way. A narrow sandy track through coastal woodland soon gave way to a wide gravel road. We passed through a variety of vegetation zones between the Point and the beach: wallum woodland includes Paperbarks, Scribbly Gums and She-oaks, with an understorey of grasses, sedges and shrubs such as Banksias; there was coastal heath, swamp, and pioneer vegetation that colonises and stabilises sand dunes, is more tolerant of salt- and sand-laden winds and helps establish soil development.
Half a million people visit Fraser each year. This was technically out of season, but it was a holiday weekend. I'd expected many more 4x4s hurtling along the beach, but we were surprisingly and joyously alone for the most part. We took the creeks cautiously, but the sand was hard and the driving easy. As we neared civilisation – Eurong Beach Resort, 32km from Hook Point – there were increasing amounts of rubbish at the top of the beach, including sizeable metal canisters and plastic containers as well as multicoloured plastic remnants. Just how much of this is washed up by the ocean or left behind by empty-headed idiots I have no idea, but it made me angry, and then a little depressed. I was reminded of a visit to Cape Tribulation a couple of years ago, a place I'd wanted to visit for decades. As I walked along supremely beautiful beaches in Queensland's far north and came across plastic bottle after plastic bottle, even tyres, discarded among the bleached broken coral pieces on the pale sand, I was perplexed; distraught even.
At Eurong, we turned inland heading for Lake McKenzie. Now we were on sandy one-way tracks through dense rainforest. Fraser is the only place on earth where rainforest grows on sand dunes at elevations of more than 200 metres. The trees are magnificent despite the detrimental affects of nearly 130 years of logging: species include Hoop Pine, Brush Box, Tallowood, Kauri Pine and Blackbutt. At Pile Valley – so named because the Satinay pines were logged for wharf piles, some of them destined for London's docks – we had to stop and admire. There were Piccabeen Palms amidst 40-metre-high Satinay and Brush Box.
Fraser has more than a hundred lakes, some of them in depressions perched on top of hardened sand known as coffee rock which prevents fresh water draining away. Lake McKenzie is reputed to be the most beautiful. Its stunning white sands and indescribably coloured waters are breathtaking. I knew the lake was popular and included on most if not all guided tour itineraries. Unfortunately, because of the tides, we had no choice but to arrive around about lunchtime. You have to consume food in fenced, dingo-proof areas. The idea of dingos watching us in our cage appealed to me. I was aware of a loud hubbub but still wasn't prepared for the numbers of people on the sand and in the water. It was noisier than Lang Park, but you'd never know it looking at these.
We weren't on Fraser Island for long enough to see many animals, and our chances would have probably been greater if we'd walked the Great Walk rather than sitting in a 4WD for hours. We saw only one dingo: it was thin and skulking around the car park at Lake McKenzie rather than roaming the dunes. The birds we saw were old acquaintances, with the exception of a smart Bar-Shouldered Dove, who shared our cage as we ate our lunch.
From Lake McKenzie, we completed a circuit round to Central Station and back to Eurong. We were determined to return to Hook Point along the beach rather than the inland track. The shadows were long and we were beyond the two-hour low-tide window. As we neared the Point, the firm sand was suddenly pitted with water-filled hollows. We had been hurrying a little, but avoiding this new phenomenon and the incoming waves meant we had to reduce speed, which only added to the will-we-won't-we-make-it excitement! It was nice to relax in the sun while waiting for the barge to take us back over the water.
I enjoyed my day on Fraser enormously, but I had to conclude that human activity should be severely restrictedª and the wildlife left alone. This is based principally on what I learned about dingoes, Fraser's population being the purest strain in Eastern Australia. The DERM office at Rainbow Beach told me that there are about 200 dingoes on Fraser, a sustainable number. There are tracking cameras all over the island and the animals are tagged: females in their right ear, males in their left. A dingo would only be destroyed if it was top-of-the-scale dangerous; that is, it had attacked someone. I return to a familiar argument (see Croc or dog, May 2012). Dingoes are naturally fearful of humans and will only approach if there are food possibilities, which they equate with numbskulls picnicking where they shouldn't and campers. Dingoes may have learned to open eskies, but that doesn't make them culpable for crimes resulting from human stupidity. Attracting a dingo's attention so you can see it better is daft, in anybody's book.
Talking of which,Vanishing Icon: the Fraser Island Dingo, by wildlife artist and photographer Jennifer Parkhurstªª, has some wonderful images of this iconic creature. There are those who argue that there are fewer dingoes left on Fraser than claimed by DERM, who are accused of heavy-handedness when it comes to 'protecting' these animals – by keeping them away from their natural food sources near beaches, for example. If this extraordinary place wasn't under such great pressure from tourism, neither animal nor human behaviour would be an issue.
*contrary to Australian naming norms, the beach is only 58 miles/92 kilometres long
**and 22 kilometres across at its widest point
ªFraser Island is protected as part of the Great Sandy National Park. You need a current RAM (Recreation Areas Management) vehicle permit to take you car to the Island. If you want to camp, you'll need a booking number for the nights you plan to stay. See here.
ªª see here.