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Fraser Island conquered: 160 miles on the sand without getting stuck.

CM's handywork…

We went for a four wheel drive car so we could reach the areas that require something a bit more rugged. So now it was time to test the theory. We drove along the Sunshine Coast and up through the very up market resort of Noosa Heads, packed full of ‘designer’ shops and other ghastliness. We soon established that we wouldn’t have a hope of finding anywhere to stay in the town for less than hundreds a night so we kept on moving. We travelled on to the small hamlet of Rainbow, which is a ferry crossing point on the mainland for Fraser Island, our next destination and one of my ‘must see’ locations in this country. Arriving late at the campsite, and in the dark due to a power cut, we opted to sleep in the

onboard bed in the back of the vehicle. It would be fair to say that CM is not overwhelmed with this basic form of accommodation. It would also be fair to say she’s not slow to express her discontent either at times. It’s not always easy, I agree, but if the location is something special then a bit of inconvenience is a price worth playing.

The mainland ferry terminal (It's not Dover)

Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and Unesco listed as a place of environmental importance.  It took a million years of shifting sand to form the island and before the missionaries got here it was home to an Aboriginal tribe. About 80 miles long and probably 10 to 20 wide, the interior has subtropical rainforests and picture perfect freshwater lakes, while the coast has desert like scrub and huge rolling dunes of Lawrence of Arabia proportion. You have to buy a special permit to go there from the government rangers office. It has no tarmac at all, the main road north south is the eastern beach around low tide, and the interior is a network of sand tracks over the hills and around the lakes. A four wheel drive is mandatory on the island, so with trepidation we drove onto the car ferry for the short crossing onto the southern tip of the island. The island has no towns, and a population of only 360. No real development other than campsites and a couple of isolated resorts. This all hit home as we drove off the ferry with the tyres deflated, diff locked and 4WD engaged. A bit of a baptism of fire (or sand) for us off road rookies. I have a short video of the approach below:

We hit the beach and took off north along the sand super-highway. The speed limit is around 50 mph and you needed to do about that to stop getting bogged down in the softer patches. We also had to time our arrival, two hours around low tide is the best time to travel, nearer to high tide you can easily get stuck in the sand, or have the road disappear under the waves in front of you. Traffic on the island is dictated by the tide times, and you have to know what they are every day to avoid disaster.

The incoming tide dictates when you travel

It is an amazing setting, big blue skies and an endless beach stretching out to the horizon. The aquamarine ocean with curling rolling surf sits to the right, while huge sand dunes and sand cliffs, topped with greenery sit to the left (when going north). It’s the very essence of the word pristine. There are no buildings to be seen, and virtually nobody on the beach save the odd sea fisherman and tourist bus disgorging camera wielding passengers. Swimming is not an option, as inviting as the sea looks. Plenty of sharks and strong currents mean that the sea is out of bounds anywhere on the island. We headed up to a campsite and place called Dilli, when I say place, it was in fact just the campsite and that’s it, but a very nice site it was, and it was fenced in. The other notable point about the Island is that dingoes roam free and are protected. Dingoes descend from the wolf, and there has been a highly publicised attack on a child by dingoes here this year. There is a lot of advice and guidance around about how to avoid conflicts with them, and then what to do if you come face to face with a bold and hungry specimen. Most campsites are therefore fenced in, as ours at Dilli was, and we did indeed see dingoes roaming around the perimeter fence as well as hear them howling nearby.

Being dingo safe

Most of the campsites have electrified cattle grids at the entrance which keep dingoes out, we hope. We pitched the tent and had a warm night at Dilli, and after a spot of car maintenance the next morning heading inland to see some of the lakes. Driving on the beach had been really exhilarating, about 20 miles of lapping waves and few other cars, no hiccups except some big splashes through the creeks that run out to join the sea. The inland tracks are hilly, rutted, twisty, narrow, and have very deep soft sand in places. This makes for very challenging driving, but it’s also quite exciting. You can only do about 30mph maximum, but often you’re lucky to do half that. When you hit a soft patch, and they usually can’t be seen in advance, the car comes to a near halt and only momentum and will power keeps you going. Putting your foot down too much just makes the car dig a hole for itself until the chassis is sitting nicely in sand and the wheels are free to spin all day long. You don’t see many cars as the tracks are mostly one way, so getting bogged down and being sat there for hours, or possibly overnight (remember the dingoes) is a real possibility. You could be eight miles from the nearest campsite. The other worry is that our car drinks fuel at an alarming rate in 4WD, and petrol is not easy to come by. A lot of time is spent with the gearbox in low ratio, where you are in 5th gear by 20mph and the fuel tank is being rapidly emptied. All in all it is a real challenge for both car and driver, we’ve both driven and enjoyed it. Our old car has been brilliant, bouncing and sliding along for over 200 miles, getting drenched with sea water, and then giving us a safe place to sleep at night.

The shifting sand buries all! Signposts are normally about 5 foot high.

Here’s video from near the same spot:

We went north up the beach to Waddy Point, about 50 miles drive up. As we arrived a deadly snake slithered in front of the car and off across the camping area, either a taipan or brown snake. From there we did a lovely walk along the coast. It has a really remote feel, the perpetual noise from the big surf, an array of wildlife; we saw sea eagles, bee eaters and many goanna lizards. The view from the cliff tops and sand dunes is spectacular. The mosquitos are keen though, CM acquired a nice collection of bite marks. One morning we had a goanna, about three and half feet long nosing around our camp as we had breakfast. We didn’t take a lot of food with us to the island but we did discover the delights of couscous, a whole mean can be cooked quickly using just one pot and not much water. A welcome addition to our pasta then rice, evening meal rotation.

CM prepares dinner whilst keeping the mossie's at bay (and nice it was).

Inland we visited some freshwater lakes, they all have waters of a different hue. Lake Mackenzie was stunning, even on a cloudy day. The crystal clear shimmering water was almost warm and so inviting I had to go for a swim. You could see straight to the sand on the bottom no matter how deep you went, no swimming goggles needed. The sand was like caster sugar, white and very fine, the lakeside was certainly a definition of paradise. It was hard to get there but worth the effort. The parks people had done a nice job of the facilities too, such that they were.

Lake Birrabeen panorama – enlarge and scroll.

For our last night we stayed at the campsite in the centre of the island, this was in the rainforest area and under the forest canopy it was a bit colder and darker than usual, but a great setting. Again we slept in the car for warmth and safety. Dingoes might not get through the fence but anything smaller can, there are also a lot of spiders around. Not huge ones, but I wouldn’t want one in my bed. The track to this camp was treacherous, very soft deep sand and we very nearly got bogged down miles from anywhere. CM was driving and managed to keep us moving, but it was a very close thing. I felt disaster looming, earlier in the day we had helped dig two other cars out of the sand that were blocking our access to the beach road, and the tide was rising. Those guys had a lot of help from the serious fishermen, all of whom drive impressively kitted out 4WD’s, some with four or six fishing rods lashed from bull bar to roof. Once you get into the inland tracks other vehicles are few, and if they stop to help you get free they can easily get bogged down too.

Cars bogged and blocking the track to the beach road

The track on the right is the only road off the beach, the cars above blocked it for us.

Our last journey from the centre to Kingfisher Bay was a challenge, the track was little used and you constantly felt the car getting sucked down by the soft sand. The very last part was up and down big hollows and major ruts that more resembled a motorcross track, forward momentum is everything on the sand so we just had to throw the car into them and hope for the best.

Indian Heads, in the north east.

Driving onto the ferry to depart after six days and 160 miles on the sand left us with a sense of achievement and relief. We never had to dig ourselves out, and we didn’t damage the car. We also clocked up some proper four wheel driving experience; we’d done a little bit in Africa before but not like this.

CM on the beach road

Four dingoes came toward us on the beach, we retreated behind the camp fence.

Our Toyota 4Runner, a variant of the Hilux, the car with a reputation for indestructibility, didn’t miss a beat. We patted it many times in appreciation during the trip, it did us proud.

Safely on the ferry

By way of thanks when we got back to the mainland we took it straight to the jet wash for a bit of TLC. All it has to do now is give us about another six thousand trouble free miles, that’s not too much to ask is it? Although the exhaust is blowing again so I’ll soon be breaking out the tools once more.

Below is a gallery of more pictures (we took so many!).  It includes some of the great wildlife we saw.

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One Response to “Fraser Island conquered: 160 miles on the sand without getting stuck.”

  1. Carolann says:

    Hello,Wow stunning.Looks amazing!! :-) xx

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