July 14, 2008

Off-Roading in Fraser Island

A belated happy Canada Day, 4th of July, 9 de Julio, and Bastille Day to everyone! Jared and I celebrated every single holiday. For Canada Day, we were in Rainbow Beach surrounded by Canucks, so we had a proper celebration with lots of beer. I was feeling surprisingly patriotic on the Fourth, but we were on a tour with a bunch of European kids who couldn't quite understand why I wanted to track down fireworks. We grilled steaks and drank red wine for Argentina's 9 de Julio, and we rang in France's Bastille Day with baguette and brie. It's just a shame we're seven months early for Australia Day.

The Fourth of July fell during our three-day tour of Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island and a World Heritage Site. We left from the port of Hervey Bay, four weeks early to see Humpback Whales migrating through the bay. Unlike other tours we've done, this one was self-guided. After about 12 briefings from our tour operator, eleven of us crammed into a 4-wheel-drive van, with Jared and 3 others sharing the driving. All of the "roads" on Fraser Island are only navigable by 4WD vehicle. Either we were driving on the beach, or on extremely bumpy roads in the rainforest.

We were incredibly lucky to have an amazing group of people in the van with us. There were six mellow Swedes, an awesome Irish couple, and a cool Dutch girl. As other groups bickered or left food out for the dingos, we all got along like fish and chips. It's a good thing too, because we had to dig 2 vans out of the sand, and nearly got stuck ourselves!

Tiger sharks breed in the ocean off Fraser Island, so swimming at the beach is a no-go. Fortunately, the freshwater lakes on the island are safe and inviting, if not a bit chilly. After a bumpy drive through the rainforest, our first stop was the beautiful Lake McKenzie. Doesn't it look like something in the Caribbean? After a stop at another, not as pretty lake, we made camp for the night. On the second day, we started driving on the beach. We stopped at the 73-year-old shipwreck of the S.S. Maheno, just as the tide was flooding through the rusted hull. Next up were the Pinnacles, colored sand formations that looked like cliffs.

Fraser Island is covered in dingos, Australia's dangerous native dog. We were given umpteen warnings about the dingos, but only saw one on our trip. They have a reputation for harassing tourists, and I was standing in the back of our truck with a ham sandwich in my hand. It turns out that this dingo was quite well fed since another group left out $80 worth of beef the night before, and their campsite was raided by 100 dingoes. This guy (or girl) seemed like an ordinary stray dog, but we knew better than to approach him. There is something amazing about seeing a wild animal and in their native environment, and we've been lucky to see a few in Australia.

The rain came out at lunch on our second day (the 4th of July!) and barely stopped for the rest of our trip. Because of the weather, we nearly missed Lake Wabby, but on the last day, we got up early to see it. The sun came out just for the hour we spent at the lake. Bordered by a giant sand dune on one side, Lake Wabby was one of the coolest things we saw on the island. Jared and two of our Swedish friends took turns rolling down the dune into the lake. The sand is slowly filling in Lake Wabby, and park rangers estimate it will be gone in 40 years. Maybe rolling into the lake wasn't the best idea...

All in all, we had an amazing time on Fraser Island and would highly recommend it to anyone who is planning a trip to Australia. Hopefully you'll luck out and get a group as amazing as ours! Check out our photos from Canada Day and Fraser Island.

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