A Nightmare on Fraser Island - Part 2

…and promptly got us stuck.


Unsurprisingly, this was not doing anything wonderful to the nerves of either my passengers (or co-drivers as I like to think of them) or I. However, with the words of the wise sage ringing in my head, and with a little pushing from my co-drivers, I got moving again and reversed gratefully onto the harder sand of the beach once more.

At this point, a rental 4WD vehicle containing a family on their holidays from England stopped to have a chat. They had been on the island for three days and had found the going tough, even managing to get their beast of a jeep stuck on a couple of occasions. My recently acquired confidence was shot to pieces.

“Are the roads inland any better?” I asked hopefully.

“Oh no – they’re much worse – it’s really tough going inland.” The father of the family somewhat apologetically informed me. “I think you’re going to struggle in that – for you see Honda CRV’s are…”

“All wheel drive,” I finished for him. “Yes we’ve just found that out the hard way” and I proceeded to give him a brief run down of the recent events.

The look of disappointment on my face obviously affecting him, he quickly suggested, “It looks a bit better going inland at the next town, Eurong.”

“Yes it did - perhaps you could try there?” his wife offered enthusiastically.

Saying our goodbyes and receiving good luck messages from the family, we headed a bit further north until the exit road for Eurong.

True to the English family’s advice, the exit road did look a little better than that at Dilli Village but I think this was more because of the state of the previous exit road rather than anything that was good about the one that we were about to attempt passing through.

Making an elaborate approach from the edge of the sea, I turned the car and lined it up for a direct approach onto the exit road. With the inhabitants of the car taking a deep breath, I gunned the engine into gear and we approached the exit road at speed, bouncing and skipping through the soft sand.

Despite being thrown about the cabin of the car with quite some force, I grimly held the steering wheel and kept my foot on the accelerator, determined to keep a straight line as well as our momentum.

Just as it seemed that we might actually become stuck again, we saw that there was a sprinkler system wetting the sand at the top of the short rise into the town and there were some wooden tracks laid down to assist with grip.

A combination of all this ensured that, not without duress, we made it into the sleepy backwater of Eurong and even better than that, we drove onto some tarmac. All inhabitants of the car felt the relief and as a celebration of feeling the strong, solid surface beneath our tyres; I promptly jumped out of the car and kissed the ground, like some excitable, hairy, Billabong shorts-wearing version of the Pope.

It seemed we had arrived into the centre of Eurong, for what it was. There were a few holiday homes, a convenience store, a bakery, a holiday resort and even other people. After the experiences of the previous hour, it was a good feeling to see some semblance of life about the place.

With the time approaching three thirty in the afternoon, we spied a signpost informing us that we were 17km away from Lake McKenzie, the biggest and most popular lake in the island and with spirits suitably raised by this minor achievement, we took the decision to drive to there, and to set up camp for the night.

After a couple of minutes, this already seemed a rather rash decision.

Our time spent on the glorious security of the bitumen road was very short lived – about 400 metres to be exact, before we were experiencing for the first time, the network of inland “roads” that Fraser Island offers the intrepid traveller.

Little more than a car wide, and with sand as soft as that which had troubled us before, if perhaps a little less deep, we gingerly made our way out of Eurong. Almost immediately as we were going uphill out of town, we met two huge 4WD Jeeps coming in the opposite direction. There was barely room enough for two vehicles to pass, without either driver taking evasive action and as I was not keen to lose momentum, I continued to drive uphill, as the other two drivers moved out of the way, climbing up the side of the track.

It certainly was not the most courteous piece of driving that I have ever displayed (my years of driving in Belgium probably helping me) but thankfully, we got past them without incident and continued our bumpy way inland.

I can quite honestly say that those 17km was the most exhausting drive of my life – and this remember, after a two and a half hour drive to get to the barge, promptly getting it stuck, getting it towed, nervously driving on the beach of Fraser Island, getting it stuck at Dilli Village, getting it unstuck again, making it into Eurong, feeling the elation of tarmac roads only to have it ripped from me almost immediately and then the close call with the two 4WD vehicles.

It was really the most difficult driving I have ever experienced and all this in my friend’s father’s car – his little baby. I was a nervous wreck and an emotional basket case, so Lord knows what it was like for my passengers.

Actually, I do know what it was like for them as their gasps of horror, exclamations of fear and pearls of wisdom all provided me with unwelcome insights into their heads and, it has to be said, not serving to encourage me too much into the bargain.

We teeth-rattlingly jolted, juddered, bounced, lurched, crawled and limped, our way deeper into Fraser Island at little more than a snail’s pace. Up and down hill, round tight corner after another and thankfully without meeting too many other cars along the way, the drive to Lake McKenzie took us about an hour and it was some time just after four thirty when we rolled into the car park with another audible, collective sigh of relief.

I was, however, dismayed at the collection of cars that I enviously surveyed around us, each one immeasurably more suited to the conditions to our own mode of transport.

On the approach to Lake McKenzie we had noticed a couple of signs informing us that there were no camping facilities, even though the information that we had gleaned from the internet had told us otherwise. This was a most unwelcome turn of events but with the tracks so narrow and not wanting to try and negotiate a 3-point turn in these most difficult of conditions, we had reluctantly continued on our way. At least the beauty of Lake McKenzie would prove a welcome respite from the stress of the afternoon.

Asking another English family of tourists how far it was to the lake, we found out it was less than 10 minutes walk. However, with spirits understandably crushed and with daylight probably lasting no more than two hours, thanks to the dense tropical rainforest that makes up most of the inland part of the island; it was decided that we would leave the spectacular views at Lake McKenzie until the following day.

Fraser Island has over 100 dune lakes, as well as the second highest concentration of lakes in Australia after Tasmania. The freshwater lakes on Fraser Island are some of the cleanest lakes in the world. It is a "perched" lake sitting on top of compact sand and vegetable matter 100 metres above sea level. Lake McKenzie has an area of 150 hectares and is just over five metres in depth. The beach sand of Lake McKenzie is nearly pure silica and it is possible to wash hair, teeth, jewellery, and exfoliate one's skin.

Obviously, this was something that we had to come back to.

None too keen to be driving again so soon after having stopped but certainly a lot less keen to be stuck in the middle of a tropical rainforest in the dead of night with no campsite set-up, I reluctantly agreed and off we set again.

Having chatted with another English couple (was there any other nationality on Fraser Island?) we heard that the drive out of Lake McKenzie was better in the direction we were heading – a campsite known as Central Station, located 11 km from Lake McKenzie.

Gradually getting to grips with the driving, I was becoming more comfortable with the poisoned chalice of designated driver and although I was certainly nowhere near being able to convince myself that I was actually enjoying the experience, I nonetheless managed to get somewhat used to the driving and 35 minutes later, we were rolling into Central Station.

According to the information we had, Central Station is the largest campsite on the island boasting such facilities as water, showers and toilets – the kind of facilities that you would expect any campsite to have but this being Fraser Island is not the case, as we were to find out – but once again, I’m getting way ahead of myself.

Central Station was once the centre of the forestry industry when there was logging on Fraser Island, these days this amazing rainforest area houses a display explaining the development of Fraser Island and its various flora and fauna, information centre and picnic area.

Central Station provides a scenic boardwalk through the rain forest along the banks of the Wanggoolba Creek, as well as the aforementioned camping facilities.

Located around Central Station is superb open rain forest and the home to the massive Angiopteris ferns, this species has the largest fern fronds in the world.

Central Station has plantations of a variety of pine tress to which give the camping ground much of its appeal and makes the ideal camping site during the holiday season.

The trees are regarded as one of Fraser Island's biological marvels as the sand they grow in has almost no natural mineral fertility.

The campsite was pretty well laid out, each individual campsite offering a parking space for the car and a raised platform for the tent to be pitched on – and all this in the middle of a tropical rainforest. A large wooden picnic table completed the scene.

Without too much hassle, we had our camp set up and started to prepare dinner. Because the most of Fraser Island is a Nature Reserve, it is prohibited to make campfires. Considering all the dry wood around as well, it certainly wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do either. Thankfully, we were prepared for this, having brought along a rather splendid twin hob gas stove and it wasn’t long before we were dining on a feast of beans, tinned spaghetti and bread, followed up by a tasty Australian biscuit known as Tim Tams.

During dinner and with light fading fast, we were treated to a cacophony of noise, the like of which I have never experienced before, the birds in the trees above us joining together to make their roosting noises before calling it a night. Lasting about 20 minutes, this noise was quite deafening and made conversation practically impossible, such was the volume.

Dinner completed, and the birds finally, quite literally, giving it a rest, we attached the next wondrous piece of kit to our gas bottle, a powerful gas filament lamp that gave us enough light to continue our night – which basically revolved around a deck of cards and a drinking game known as “King of Beers.” Well, when you are in pitch black darkness on the world’s largest sand based island surrounded by all manner of beasties you’ve gotta get your rocks off somehow.

Ah yes, the beasties.

Apart from the noisy birds in the trees, we were treated to the bizarre laughing call of the kookaburra, saw various lizards, spiders, beetles, a couple of rats, and I for one, was woken up during the night by dingoes prowling around our campsite searching for scraps of food.

Fraser Island is known as a haven for these native Australian wild dogs and the local authorities are quite understandably a little nervous about them co-habiting with tourists on the island, thanks to the horrifying incident of a few years ago when a dingo actually attacked and ate the baby of a family holidaying on the island.

All tourists are advised before setting off to Fraser Island on how to treat dingoes. This advice includes not feeding them and indeed locking all food away, not to go to the toilet individually, as well as what to do if confronted by one or more of them.

Scavengers, the dogs will eat anything and as we were there at a time when their pups were being born, we were told to be especially vigilant, as the mothers would be bringing her pups out on feeding missions. Not the sort of thing you have to worry about when snogging a kebab on the way home after a night out back in Northern Ireland

Having made a large dent in the drinks supply, we called it a night because, well, there’s not much else to do in the dead of night in the middle of a rainforest. Signs in the campsite informed people that no noise would be tolerated after 21:00 and the campsite seemed to be full of families, along with our elderly German neighbours who didn’t speak much English and who had a fully professional set up of 4WD camper van with all the required amenities at their disposal.

However, with darkness falling around seven in the evening, we were quite happily (although quietly) drunk and ready for bed by about 22:30. Sitting there around the picnic table, with our sense of humours returned having a few drinks and smokes, we happily relived the moments of the day and talked excitedly about the events planned for the next couple of days on Fraser Island.

Little did we know, however, as we talked animatedly of our upcoming adventures, just how eventful the next few days would become, because at that stage, our Nightmare on Fraser Island was only just beginning…


Chris said…
Oi, where's part 3
Chris said…
Oi, where's part 3
hilde said…
Not very nice to leave us waiting so long... Some of us actually read your stories!
Hope all is going well. See you some time soon?! Or not?!