Swagman #19- Fraser Island – Fraser Island, Australia

Swagman #19 – Fraser Island
Fraser Island, Australia

After stepping back on to solid land following our Whitsunday trip, Nikki
and I quickly drove the hundreds of kilometers down to Rainbow Beach for the
second part of our ‘Adventure Package’ – Fraser Island. We arrived in time
for the group meeting, during which we were made to watch a ten minute video
on how to avoid driving like an idiot, which in turn would help avoid
flipping the car five times in soft sand. Of course, being young and dumb,
very few people actually paid attention. And of course, being money hungry,
the company that made the video did so with the understanding that we would
be departing from Hervey Bay up north. So that when it finally ended, to a
round of applause from the backpackers, the instructor told us to disregard
half of what we had just seen.

“The most important thing,” he said, “is that you drive slow. I can’t tell
you how many people have caused accidents just by driving like wankers.”

He then rattled off a list of horrific accidents and permanent bodily harm,
and finally culminated in an example of a group who had just returned that
day. They had backed their 4X4 into a tree – cost of damage $1700. This
caused quite a murmur in the crowd, as most of us are unbelievably more
concerned about having to fork over a large sum of money than spending a few
months in a cast. He then broke us up into groups of 10, left us to make our
own introductions, and then rounded up the drivers for a more personal sit
down to further strike the fear of hazardous driving into them.

That night everyone seemed to converge in the main room to watch the England
vs. Wales quarter-final
and to take advantage of the $2 burrito dinner deal
that Dingo’s Hostel was offering. This, I was later made to think, was a
cruel joke the hostel played – lure us with a cheap meal that was virtually
guaranteed to cause discomfort in the stomach and intestines, and then set
us loose for three days on an island with no almost no flush toilets.

The next day we were up early and given three days worth of food, tents,
sleeping bags, a gas stove, maps, compass, shovel, esky, pots, pans, dishes,
bowls and silverware. This was piled up onto the roof of the 4X4, which was
about ten feet tall, furthering our chances of flipping through stupid
driving. And then we were off, down the road, up to the beach and onto the
barge for the ride over to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the
world.

We hit the beach and immediately drove the wrong way down the beach for
about ten minutes, with each person having a go at the map and offering
differing opinions on where we were supposed to go. Eventually we found
our way to the right path and bounced around in sand that was easily a foot
deep for about fifteen minutes before coming out onto the main beach, which
stretches for some amazing distance, like 70 miles. Dingo’s had given us an
itinerary for the three days that featured everything we should see during
our stay. So we bounced along, and I mean seriously bounced. The 4X4 was
military style – a driver, passenger, and then two benches along the sides
that faced each other. So four of us sat on each side looking at each other
with a hint of nervousness, all swaying back and forth onto each other like
a bunch of drunks. Some of us laughed nervously when we took turns and, this
might just be my imagination, lifted up ever so slightly on two wheels.

But we stayed grounded and stopped a few hours later for lunch on, where
else, the beach. We gathered around the esky and made ham and cheese
sandwiches, finishing with an apple and some water. The food over the three
days was, I must say, quite good. It was the rationing of portions that was
difficult. Which brought me to this conclusion: Fraser Island is like living
out the first episode of the show Survivor. You are thrown into a group, in
this case an American, Australian, British, two Dutch and five Germans,
given food and tents, and thrown into a wilderness full of dangerous driving
and wild animals. Somehow we managed to get lost that night when looking for
our camp site and came upon another site which was definitely in the
non-shaded area of our map, which basically meant we weren’t supposed to be
there. It was the ‘non insured’ zone.

But I tracked down the ranger overlooking the camp site, a young guy in his
early thirties, who said that he didn’t mind if we stayed there as long as
we cleaned up after ourselves. So (cue the Survivor theme song) we went
about setting up the tents. Ten people holding tent pegs and poles, jamming
things in the the fabric, occasionally muttering “what the hell’s this
for?”. It was getting dark, the flies were absolute torture, and Dingo’s
had added to excitement by including a hatchet to our supplies. I don’t know
about everyone else, but as tensions began to run a bit high I made sure to
always keep my eye on whoever had the hatchet.

But soon the tents were up and we were faced with cooking dinner, which was
already going to be exciting due to the dingo situation. The dingo is a
scavenger that looks remarkably like a household dog. The difference is that
the dingo is interested in nothing but food, and has been known to attack
humans. The reason for this, naturally, is because of humans. Tourists think
they’re cute animals and try to lure them out for pictures with food.
Tourists think the little buggers look starving (their body resembles a
greyhound) and feed them. Dingoes began to associate humans with food, and
become rather angry if there’s none available. When I first saw a dingo,
from the free side of a cage at the zoo, I could see why people would be
confused. The animal really is cute, a cross between a fox and a deer,
roughly the size of a golden retriever. When I approached the cage, however,
the dingo let out a loud yelp and leapt up onto the sides of the cage,
sinking his claws in and gripping it firmly enough to hang there. This was
not an animal I wanted to encounter in the wild. Well, that’s not totally
true. I wanted to see one, but I wanted it to be from a safe distance and
location, like from our 4X4 cruising past.

The park ranger came by our campsite after dinner and sat with us for a few
drinks. There he gave us the speech on wild animals, which I think went
something like:

“Remove all food, even the slightest crumb, from your tent and lock it in
the car. Otherwise a dingo or a goanna lizard will try to rip its way into
your tent and get to it. If you go to the bathroom, go in a group and take a
flashlight. Don’t lift any branches and if you’re walking at night make sure
to take a flashlight because we have red belly black snakes (extremely
poisonous, of course). Don’t swim in the ocean, as there are sharks that will
tear you to shreds. And if you leave your shoes out at night make sure to
shake them out in the morning before dropping your foot in because we have
black funnel web spiders.”

I almost expected him to top off the list of life threatening creatures with
“oh and then there’s Larry, the island serial killer who likes to hunt
backpackers.” And this isn’t so crazy of an idea. People actually disappear
on the island, and have never been heard from. Some believe they were killed
and buried in the sand, some believe they simply wanted to disappear, I
believe I was quite scared regardless.

Luckily we slept without any casualties, and were up and back out onto the
beach the next day. We spent a few hours at Champagne Pools, a circle of
rocks that collects the water from the oceans that’s great for swimming.
Signs warn against getting too close to the rocks as the waves crash over,
and I saw more than one person walk away dripping blood. Then I expected the
dingoes to come running out at the smell of blood, but that’s just my
overactive imagination.

After the pools we did the other tourist stuff – Eli Creek and several of
the perched lakes, with the occasional meal and argument for good measure.
Overall our group was good though – everyone was nice, no one complained
unbearably, and we were always able to work together to get our 4X4 out of
the sand when it got stuck every fifteen minutes. I think we would have won
Survivor.

By the end of the third day we had completely run out of food, looked like
snowmen with all of the sand all over us, and were really ready to go. We
never saw any dingoes, but we saw a goanna go after someone’s lunch at Lake
Mackenzie. We also saw plenty or poisonous red back spiders, but no one had
to be helicoptered off, which is quite common. People that flip their cars
or get attacked by something have to wait an hour and a half for the
helicopter to arrive from Hervey Bay to be carted off.

I loved the island. The danger that surrounds it somehow makes you
appreciate it even more, since you respect it more. And the group tour did
manage to form a sense of camaraderie among the backpackers, since we were
forced to work together to make everything work. In the end we rolled back
into Dingo’s Hostel and piled out, exhausted. Nikki and I bid farewell to
the group, threw our stuff into the car, and once again were off.

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