Rainbow Beach & Fraser Island
Rainbow Beach itself I can’t really be described as a town, considering the main strip consists of roughly 10 shops, most of which sell your usual beach resort tat of towels and bodyboards etc. The coincidently named “Dingo’s” hostel seemed to be the main attraction of the town. Our purpose for visiting Rainbow Beach was simple, to cross over the sea and visit Fraser Island.
There quickly appears to be a theme that I knew absolutely nothing about what I was doing on this trip. I had no idea what the hell Fraser Island was, how one gets there or what there was to do there. I went in completely blind, the only thing I knew for sure was there would be dingo’s and I’d get the chance to drive a 4×4. However, if this trip had shown me anything, it was that entering into the unexpected resulted in a much greater experience.
We’d arranged a 3 day 4×4 camping tour of Fraser Island. It started off like so many other activities by having a group of professionals attempt to scare the life out of us before we’d even started. “Do not find yourself alone on the island” “You’re more than welcome to go for a swim in the sea, if you’re happy swimming with jellyfish and sharks”, “This sign says “Do not pass” but you’re more than welcome to”. Mixed signals to say the least, slightly replacing our excitement with apprehension.
The meeting did at least clear up a few things. It was the first I learnt that Fraser Island is an island (who would of thought) that requires a 15 minute ferry to get to it. It’s also the world’s largest sand island (i.e. made up of nothing but sand) about the same size as Hong Kong. 120 of us would go on this trip together, divided into groups of 8, each group assigned their own 4×4, and we would convoy across the island to our destinations. We were given a brief introduction to the sites we’d be visiting and the basic itinerary for the trip.
My particular group (number 2) was made up of me and Vanessa representing the nation of Wales, an English couple (the girl was claustrophobic, a fussy eater and petrified of insects), two Swedes, a Dutchman and a Frenchwoman who didn’t understand a word of English.
Luggage for the three days was minimal; the luggage for all 8 of us had to be able to fit in the boot of the 4×4. I took a woman’s beach bag (the only thing I could find), which had to include our own prison style metal plate and cup for us to live off, a change of vest, sun cream, toothpaste, camera, towel. Swim shorts would also have been essential if I would have remembered them, which would explain why most of my water-side photographs show me in my less that flattering boxer shorts for the entire 3 days worth of swimming.
8 vehicles in all, 2 of which belonged to the guides. To make our tour a little easier to handle, the 8 groups were further divided into two groups of 4 and given a guide each. We packed up, and then came the question “so who’d driving first?” Utter silence. Nobody likes to be the first at attempting anything, we all dropped our heads to inspect the floor until the brave Englishman volunteered. Partly as well he’d only be driving on tarmac, where’s the fun in that?
We drove the short 15 minute drive to the beach where we’d be catching our ferry. There was no high tech docking system, the ferry literally dropped its ramp onto the sand for us to drive aboard. We caught the ferry known as the Manta Ray the short 15 minutes onto Fraser Island, where we would embark on our manly adrenaline fuelled mission where we would manhandle mother nature no matter what she threw our way…5 meters off the boat, we got stuck, the very first group to get stuck. Damn.
That was the last time our group got stuck to be fair. The first part; as with most of the entire trips driving, took place along the beach. Most of the time this wasn’t your perfectly flat sand that just had the waves over them to keep them perfectly level. This was deep thick sand with all manner of wayward tracks formed by other 4×4’s trying to tackle the elements. Driving in a straight line was not an option, you’d have to flail the wheel back and forth just to attempt to keep it straight, with your foot down hard to the floor. Our guide informed us that usually we would have taken the road/track that goes right through the centre of the island. However due to lightening striking a tree on the island, it had started a bushfire that was consuming a good part of the island, including our road. This explained the misty clouds I saw the day before looming over the island. This meant we had to detour around it.
It took us roughly an hour of driving to get to the first “town” on the island, which I’d call more of a settlement. We had to drive over an electrified cattle grid to enter the fenced off town (all for the purpose of keeping the dingo’s out) which included almost more convenient stores than actual houses. This is where we were introduced to our food situation for the next 3 days. Everyday the 4 cars were provided with a cooler (which they called eskies) which every day included wraps for us to construct ourselves.
The general routine it would seem by now was that everytime we stopped, we’d switch driver. Both to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to do so as well as not just letting one poor soul having to drive constantly. I decided at this point it should be my turn to take the wheel, and in all honesty, I was petrified. Considering that my car back home is a tiny little vauxhaul corsa, a car the third the size of the one I was about to drive. As well as the fact that there are a total of 0 roads on this island, and what we’d just been driving over could be considered the easiest drive. I was about to drive on tracks formed by other adventuring 4x4s’ through the sand in the middle of the rainforest. 10 minutes in, you could have called me Mad Max. Driving to “Living on a Prayer” with one hand on the wheel charging through the soft, endlessly bumpy sand tracks through the Jurassic Park looking rainforest, I was in paradise.
I drove us to our first attraction of the trip, and arguably the best, Lake McKenzie. It was breathtaking. How clearly there was a divide between the first 10 feet being so crystal clear that I could see the hairs of my feet through the water, then a perfect line all across where it suddenly turned to a dark navy blue. Quite spooky infact, giving the feeling that there must be something unsuspecting in the deep blue. The lake had been formed purely from rainwater, and stepping into it felt like the cleanest most refreshing swimming pool you’d ever been in. We spent a couple of hours there getting to know the rest of the groups, endulging in football and practising our backflipping techniques.
Here as well is where we heard the call “DINGO!!” where immediately everyone span their heads in every direction trying to find it. There it was, the incredibly skinny beautiful little creature with his head down investigating our bags we’d left behind on the sands. I don’t think a single person was intimidated or took any attention to the numerous warning signs posted around the island and our guide’s advice. They looked exactly like friendly little dogs. This was the first and only time I saw a dingo on this island apparently full of them.
Time for some greenpeace nature loving drivel. This dingo honest to god was unimaginably skinny, this light orange fur was pulled in tight enough against his ribs that they were all entirely visible. It was quite sad, the poor creature was quite clearly starving. However, we were ordered NOT in any circumstance to feed the dingo’s. Due to tourists in the past doing so they’d associated humans with food, something the government did not approve of. Naturally you’d think “fuck the man” and give the poor little animal something to keep him alive. However, a quite decisive tactic to ensure this didn’t happen, if anyone was caught feeding a dingo, the dingo would be have to be killed. Even our tour guide, the man who told us not to do so said that he himself wants to feed them as its tragic seeing them in such a state. With him being a tour guide, if he happened to be caught, he’d face prison time. Absurd.
After driving back through the rainforest and back across the sandy beaches, we arrived at our second attraction of the day, which was nicknamed by the guide “hangover creek”. On the second day we found out why that was. But even being there completely sober, armed with an inflated rubber ring, drifting down the crystal clear waters that carved through the thick jungle, with tree roots worming their way through the banks of the river, the surroundings were surreal and superb. The only negative point was that it took less than 5 minutes from start to finish, but that didn’t stop me running back to the start several times before we had to leave.
The last destination of the day was yet another lake, Lake Garawongera. Sounds repetitive, but each one was spectacular in its own way. This particular one was not as picturesque as Lake McKenzie, frankly unless the guide had told us, you wouldn’t have gone into the brown/green water with decomposing leaves floating about. Two things stood out about this particular lake, firstly the sand at the bottom according to the guide was a great exfoliate, suggesting we rub it on our body’s, face, even your hair. It was quite amusing watching people just grabbing handfuls of moist sand and furiously rubbing it all over themselves. The second was the fact that certain pockets of water was boiling, like being in a bath. One minute you’d find yourself in the soothing cold, the next in a steam hot bath, very strange.
After a long exhausting day, we headed back to camp, and that’s exactly what it was. Tents set up in formations of 6, under a larger canopy shielding them from the sun. For the 100+ of us, a wooden shack for cooking, a camp fire, and a tiny wooden gazebo which was the islands “nightclub”, which became known as “THE nightclub”.
The day before we left, while being given our tour presentation, we were given a sheet with all possible options of alcohol, and asked to write down how much each of us would need for the trip. I had done some calculation, 2 nights on an island, if you’re alcohol runs out, you’re in trouble, there’s no running down to the shop to get some more…so 8 litres of wine should do. Not too bad for what amounted to £12. We cooked and ate in our groups (the fussy girl literally ate 5 pieces of diced chicken…) before quickly getting on to the internationally recognised card drinking games. After consuming close to 4 litres it was time to walk the agonising 25 meters to THE nightclub, where we arrived to 2 people swaying, this just wouldn’t do. Within 15 minutes with help from my Swedish and Dutch compatriots, we engaged ¾ of the camp and made it the nightclub it was always destined to be.
The sleeping arrangements. These were two man tents, however luckily I found myself with my own tent. Admittedly, if I was sober, this would have been the worst nights sleep of my life. No pillows, you were essentially laying on the ground, luckily some forethought I brought a blanket along with me. A moment of genius struck me. I hadn’t quite finished one of my goon (wine) bags, there might have been a litre, maybe a little more in there. I noticed upon throwing it on the floor of my tent…it looks remarkably a lot like a pillow. I slept gently on the water-bed like swaying of my goon bag beneath my weary drunk head that night.
Day 2, and our first real attraction of the day wasn’t too far away from our camp. It was a ship wreck that was clearly visible on the side of the beach, the Maheno. The story goes that it was an Australian cruiser bought by some Japanese, and in the process of transporting it to Japan, a storm hit, which ended with the ship beached up on Fraser Island, where it stayed.
This day is where “Hangover creek” earned its name. Originally we weren’t supposed to visit the creek again, but after the guide took one look at our lifeless faces, we convincing him to stop there on the way. A small group of us took the opportunity and dove right into the water, and came out born again, refreshed and free of the dreadful hangover that hung above us.
There was a stern reminder of the harsh conditions we were adventuring in. Upon driving to the tip of the island, we stopped, and were prewarned about the route that laid ahead. The route we’d already been driving had a mix of smooth flattened sand thanks to the regularity of the sea waves, and soft-ish sand that had enough substance to it that it wasn’t too hard to drive through. The next stint would involve driving over sand so soft and fine that it was like trying to drive through flour. This was emphasised when Vanessa was at the wheel and attempted to go up the slight uphill stretch only to get stuck. She asked to switch and I happily volunteered and put the pedal through the bottom of the car floor and rocked the 4×4 through the awful terrain. Success and a big head was inevitable. The reminded came in the form of a Land Rover that sat in the middle of the soft sand route, void of people. The guide informed us that this hefty offroading 4×4 had gotten stuck a while back…with no hope of getting it out, it was simply left there to the elements.
We also went further up the island to visit two attractions, the first of which were the champagne pools. These were a set of particularly beautiful rock pools, and pools they were. Crystal clear oasis that were shielded from the sea by the wall of pitch black rocks, regularly replenished by the crashing waves, with all manner of aquatic life underneath us. The champagne pools were named due to the waves crashing over the rocks formed frothy bubbles across the surface of the water that looked like champagne bubbles.
After we dried off we drove to our final destination of the day, somewhere we could see from the Champagne pools, that was Indian Head. This was a cliff in which we had to trek up a while, clambering over the rocky top, passing the “do not pass” sign to look over the cliffs edge to the rocky bottom below and the deep blue in front of it. Here we had the promise of seeing a shark from above, if we were lucky, and of course, we weren’t. However we were able to spot a couple of sea turtles (the first I had seen on this trip) as well as a mother dugong and her baby beside her. The latter was a huge surprise as I’d never thought I’d see one of them in my life, let alone this trip so I found it very special.
At this point we were well and truly exhausted, but I decided to take the lead again and become the designated driver as it was possibly the last chance I’d get to drive and a handful had been indulging in some booze at the last 2 stops. This time it was a bit less challenging than driving over horrendous powder tracks. Instead I’d get to drive on the edge of the beach as the waves creeped up against the tires of the car and the sun setting in the distance as I drove the group back to camp.
On the second night we got treated to steaks. None of your rice and beans for us hardcore adventures. It might have been the unbelievable hunger or the fact that I hadn’t had a steak in months, but that was the best steak I’d ever eaten. The food was needed as a heavy night of finishing off the last of the goon, rounds of “Ring of Fire” (an internationally understood game) and giving “THE nightclub” the sending off it deserved.
After a nights “sleep”, lacking a goon pillow this time, we woke to the baking heat, an apocalyptic hangover, and were told we have a 30 minute trek to our final activity of the trip visiting yet another lake, the joys. The trek led us through the forests of the island, which brought about a reoccurring theme. Seeing as I’m quite considerably taller than most, I walk directly into the many thousands of cobwebs that everyone else seems to avoid, and these are spiders you do not want to walk into their web. Particularly when you feel the silky deathtrap wrapping around your face as you unwittingly walk into them.
The trek was long, and incredibly hot, to the point we started thinking if the trek was really worth it. After breaking through the jungle into the sunlight, we found ourselves faced with an immense desert, and I mean desert. Sahara-like sand dunes surrounded us with vast thick jungles in the distances, crazy. We followed the footstep marked by the other visitors hoping that they would eventually direct us to the lake, which thankfully they did. At the bottom of an enormously steep sand dune lay the oasis we were looking for amongst this harsh desert, Lake Wabby.
This lake had something very special about it, not only the spectacular location; wedged between a lifeless desert and an enormous thick rainforest, but what lay inside. The lake was filled to the brim with tiny little fish, similar to the ones that a few years ago it was a craze to go into a salon or similar to stick your feet in a tank full of them and let them eat the skin off your feet. So there I was, laying neck deep in this lake, letting the many thousands of little fish feast off me. At first I was petrified, like when you go into the sea and your foot touches a piece of seaweed and you panic, it doesn’t feel natural. But after a while I became annoyed if I didn’t feel them bite at me. From my feet all the way to my shoulders they ate the buffet that was my dead sunburnt skin. I happily could of stayed there all day and was annoyed we had to leave, particularly considering we had to walk the same tortuous 30 or so minutes back.
After an agonising trek back, and a short hour or so drive back to the ferry, that concluded our epic trip of Fraser Island. However that wasn’t the end of the story for Rainbow beach.
After arriving back in the hostel, my objective was simple, sleep, and sleep I did. I slept for a whole 12 hours, before Vanessa woke me up and told me I had to eat. So after inhaling some cheap noodles, I went straight back to sleep for another 6 hours, clearly it was needed.
Our package tour with Peterpans also happened to include kayaking with dolphins, which we barely remembered about. If in all honestly we even saw it as a bit of a chore, we wanted a rest. So early the next morning we walked to town to meet our tour guide in one of the few shops the town had. He took us and two others in his 4×4 to yet again drive along the beach, something we were almost tired of at this point. However it was worth it, we finally got to see where Rainbow Beach had gotten its name. The deep pastel reds, yellows and purples of the cliffs beside us looked stunning, even more so when the colours seemed to bleed into the sand beneath it flowing down towards the sea.
We reached the end of the beach where a series of cars and surfers had lined up along it. I absolutely love kayaking, despite the thought of falling into the water scaring the hell out of me, I love just floating on top of the water in my little vessel. I could use my fingers to count the amount of times I have kayaked before but every time I have, I loved it. Even debated buying one as a kid. We took to the quite rough waters to hunt down some dolphins, excited at the prospect seeing as our guide had said that sometimes they even come up to the kayaks and are very curious. We couldn’t wait for the opportunity to be inches away from these amazing creatures. But no dolphins. 2 hours of floating on the water like an empty crisp packet for no dolphins. It was still nice to get the opportunity to kayak again after so many years.
That concluded our time at Rainbow beach, and without doubt Fraser Island was an unforgettable experience, and quite possibly the best time I spent in Australia with some amazing people.
Next stop, Whitsundays.