Gold Under the Rainbow: Visiting Fraser Island

Next up on the East Coast run was Fraser Island via Rainbow Beach. After the calm, easy going humid lands of Noosa, the next port was a coast beach perched on the edge of Fraser Island – basically a giant lump of sand that stood off Australia’s East Coast.

The purpose? A three day voyage across it’s sandy shores in a banged up old 4×4 with a bunch of strangers, checking out the sights and crashing in a campsite. Said 4×4 offered the opportunity to drive over rough, sandy terrain alongside the longest stretch of beach I’ve ever seen, while crammed in with 7 others, all of whom were invested primarily in the stereo’s output.

So, Good times!

It was here that my travels elevated from whirlwind tour to true escapism.

Rainbow beach itself was a small tourist town (more village to be honest), with it’s stretch of golden sand and gentle surf rocking up on it. It’s a pleasant enough place, small and quaint, like a lot of coastal Oz. It’s very much a tourist spot, and as I would find, so are most places on the East Coast.

What it exists for is primarily serving the people visiting Fraser Island.

Fraser is a surreal place, somewhat alien and distant from the mainland you were just on. It’s a place of fenced off resorts and camp sites, interspersed with dense greenery and that endless coastline.

It’s a sand bank essentially, one massive load of washed up, broken down rocks that somehow managed to grow life and support an ecosystem.

One ferry trip across and our convoy of 4x4s were ready to take on the sands. Which immediately begged the question – what should be playing on the stereo?

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Now, the car I was in was divided in two battle lines on this – one, a trio of Irish ladies with a particular taste for pop music, the other a Canadian/German bromance with a penchant for Deep house and rap (please imagine the combination in a play list – it’s a sound to behold).

Unfortunately, I somehow ended up in the unenviable position of being the middle ground between the two (good thing I didn’t mention the endless ambient/drum and bass mixes stacked on my phone). There was also two very quiet Germans who didn’t seem to mind. Or say much. Perfectly pleasant but somewhat distant.

So that was where the battle lines were drawn in the vehicle – the euro beats vs. the distinct sounds of Beiber, all blaring out of a 4×4 that had seen better days, being driven by a bunch of twenty somethings over very loose sand.

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It was awesome.

For the first time, I felt that sense of adventure, of going off into the world and just doing cool shit. It helped that everyone, in both our and the other vehicles, were pretty chill, cool people, from a fair amount of countries.

Of course, I was the only damn Welshman there. Typical.

The hours of driving were broken up by visits to the various attractions on the island. These were in the form of inland lakes or the occasional creek, all of which required some form of rough driving or hiking to get to. Basically, the southeastern edge of the island was our playground, whereupon we’d return to a basic campsite to cook, drink, play never have I never” around a campfire and wake up with a hangover from the godawful goon you were drinking.

In short, good times!

Each little spot was broken up by a couple of hours of rough driving, which is a stark difference from the quiet, flat roads I was used to. Sand is a curious thing to drive on – low gear, high revs over the soft stuff (which I hated – never like revving the nuts out of an engine in first) and driving through deep tracks carved out by previous cars.

This was along a stretch of golden white sand that did not end. Fraser is a place where a beach just goes on…and on….and on. Much like a Leonard Cohen song, it never seemed to end.

If you continue driving towards the beach’s horizon, you’ll reach Indian Head if you do – a place that has a story according to the local aboriginals (whose camp was where we were staying for two nights). The story is that a group of aboriginals spotted one of captain Cook’s ships off the coast from that point…whereupon they were shot. Mostly women and children too.

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View from Indian Head – the climb up
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Other side – you can see the island’s true foundation in the shot – which is mostly sand.

I don’t know the validity of this – but its said that no aboriginals have been there since that time. Some in our group who heard the tale refused to climb it out of respect for its history. The rest, well, wanted to see the island and the sea from the cliffs.

Not that made the rest of us disrespectful – I stand by that one can be respectful of history without following ritual. The locals didn’t mind us outsiders from wandering up there, though there was a clear sense of mourning whenever they discussed the place.

In any case, there were some fantastic views from the spot, which basically consisted of a cliff hanging over the ocean. While most of us there were content with dangling our feet over the edge, there were some Aussies more than keen to climb over to the very far edge, which amounted to basically rock hopping between staggered cliffs that dropped straight into some very spikey, painful looking rocks right next to the ocean. Brave people, those.

We managed to view Humpback whales passing by, very close to the cliff edge. It was a pretty majestic sight and definitely worth the climb. It was the closest I managed to get to the migrating mammals so far. It was also another moment in life I totally missed with a camera, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Around the corner was a section called “Champagne Pools”, which were salt water pools that sat at the water’s edge, made of battered rocks (that can cut you without you noticing) and filled with pretty Australian fish. This is somewhat ruined by the unfit asshole (me) diving in badly. How badly?

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That badly.

Inland of the island lies inland lakes – one consisting entirely of rainwater called Lake Mackenzie. This unbelievably clear lake had to be reached through dirt/sand tracks punching through the jungle – like island interior, at which point one of the drivers of our poor old 4×4 was faced with a hillstart and a vety shitty handbrake. Cue lots of rolling back, a traffic jam (on a desert island) and eventual success, we made it there mostly in one piece.

Aside from my back, which showed it’s origins as an office monkey when it let out a crack that sounded more like an arm snapping in two. Also my head, which wanted to get intimate with the rear rooftop interior after every bump.

After being assaulted by the car’s suspension, we arrived to this:

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After so long stuck in hostels and bouncing from coast to coast, getting to a clean, still body of water with absolutely no civilisation around was bliss.

The water was a crystal oasis, sparkling under the afternoon Australian sun. the convoy of travellers got out volleyballs, go pros and frisbees and a good time was had by all.

Something to bear in mind when out in the sun or being boiled in the back of a truck – jumping into what seems like perfectly normal water is a shock….much like getting hit in the chest with an ice block. But holy shit, was it a worth while moment, even if the only words in my mind were “FUCK THIS IS COLD”.

The cover image shows the boat that’s sat washed up on Fraser. It’s an old steam liner from the early 20th Century, washed up when the Japanese tried to tow it and it was caught in a storm, washing up here.

Naturally, the Australians left it there, and blew it up a bit for target practice during The War. Now it’s a rusting tourist attraction. It’s a nice bit of history, and does inspire a “What the fuck is that?” when you just see a rusting wreck pop up on a sandy, dusty horizon.

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You can get a sense of the scale of the beach from these shots – its still goes on for another hour to reach Indian head after this.

Another Lake (one called Wabby) sits inland, requiring a 45 minute hike through dingo country (not that we saw any) sits at the bottom of a massive sand dune, and is filled with catfish, crayfish and backpackers:

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Not much to say about this apart from “holy fuck I’m on a desert tropical island and now I’m swimming in a lake”. Because the entire time I was there I was pretty much just lost in the surreal thought of where I was vs. where I had just come from. Was quite the thought to have, believe me.

One thing to note- that Sand bank leading to it is a lot steeper and a lot softer than you may think. The temptation to run full pelt into the water was strong, but the desire to not snap our necks was a touch more important.

A couple of months before I’d probably be sat in an office and then driven through traffic, to then sit in my (admittedly comfy) chair and just…chill. And then here I was with some strangers (lovely folks mind), chilling on a giant sandbank, by some lake, while also realising how long ago it was I had a proper shower.

Which was the 2nd most prominent thought on my mind. And I don’t think I was the only one. It was just a feeling in the air, really.

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Overall? Fraser was an experience. It was the first time I had that sense of adventure truly kick in on my travels, and met some wonderful people in the process – people I’d continue to run into for a couple more weeks yet.

Special shout out to the three Irish guys who consumed an ungodly amount of alcohol in the span of three days, the three very polite, friendly Irish ladies from Cork who wanted to dominate the stereo, the canadian and German bromance with the sick music (apologies for almost driving off while you were still mid entry to the back seat…) and to the other fine folk who made a great adventure fantastic.

It was a pleasure.

So this is about six weeks old – I’ve been rather busy since arriving in Port Douglas, with some serious thoughts as to far I want to take this. I’m still catching up on other adventures (there’s not too many after this).

Spoiler alert – not that far. At all. It’s at this point when I got on a bus from Rainbow to Airlie beach I realised that I was starting to miss home. And at that point, the feeling of that hit HARD, and continued to get worse and worse as I headed north.

I’ll write up my thoughts on a decision to cut this adventure short – but it comes to answering a question I had when I decided to try this – what makes me happy? What makes my soul sing? (as I elegantly put it in my post behind doing this a couple months ago).

But I’m getting ahead of myself there…

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