Fraser Island & Noosa
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, an area of 184 000 hectares. It has a base of volcanic bedrock that has caught sediment – sand – for around 750,000 years and the shape of the island changes a lot due to a year-round South-Easterly wind that causes sandblows – dunes that move across the island because vegetation doesn’t stop them. (Stats courtesy of fraserisland.net and Wikipedia.)
I thought, being all sand, that the type of plants would be very limited. I was wrong. There were large, massive trees; lots of dense bush; lush, tropical foliage; and thick marsh. There are no paved roads on the island – a few tracks have wooden boards and rubber grips – but it’s predominantly soft sand driving, so four-wheel drives are the go. There’s also not a lot of accommodation options on the island: a couple of major resorts and some houses to rent, so camping is the go.
Fraser is renowned for its freshwater lakes. As I understand it, heaps of sediment has come to rest to form the bed of the lake and then they’ve filled up with rain water, they call them perched lakes. Whatever the science is they really are beautiful. There are, apparently over 100 lakes, we visited four :)
We went straight to Lake McKenzie on our first morning. It really was stunning. As you approach you can see the blue blue water through the bush, the sand is so very light in texture and colour, and when you’re up close it’s utterly clear and the mirror image of the sky is perfect. We immediately went swimming, it was a bit nippy (get on with it princess) but gorgeous, different to what I’d expected – there’s a lot of vegetation in the lake despite how clear it looks. Jess was convinced we’d see a turtle, I was convinced we’d see a crocodile. Neither of us were right.
Next up was Lake Wabby which was very different in atmosphere, darker, more intense, because it’s surrounded on three sides by dense bush and the one open side is a steep sand dune leading down to the water’s edge. The dunes are fun, and exhausting (get on with it princess) for scrambling around. I don’t know whether I like it or find it freaky how deceiving distance and texture is when you look at sand dunes, I thought that at Myall Lakes too, you think you’re at the summit and then… no, another mound to climb.
We got to Lake Garawongera quite late in the day but that actually suited it well. It’s an expansive lake that seems entirely surrounded by bush and trees. As it was getting dusky the light was really nice and the reflection of the clouds and sky-light was superb.
I reckon the drive from the beach in to Lake Boomanjin was one of the best. For a start we saw no-one at all, and coming from the relatively crowded beach it was cool. We had to go round this massive marsh which had a really different feel to other parts of the island that we’d seen and there were some fun, bouncy 4WD moments. The lake was shiny silver, we didn’t spend ages there (‘seen one lake..’) but it was really peaceful, I liked it a lot.
This is a well known spot and a mark on any Fraser map so I thought I’d mention it here. It’s an outcrop of rocks that breaks up the long stretch of beach. At low tide you can drive beach side, at high tide there is a track to follow. We did both and while the rocks aren’t pretty or anything they do make an interesting interval on the beach.
I was keen to see the pools thinking that with that name they’d be worth a visit. To be fair when we went it was throwing it down with rain so we dashed in and out. Even with a big serving of benefit-of-the-doubt I’d still have to say they’re disappointing. I get that they’re pools and that they catch the bubbles from the surf but, nope, didn’t do it for us.
Orchid Beach is the closest you get to a town on Fraser, and it’s tiny. There are three-ish streets and one store/ garage/ coffee shop/ pub. Doesn’t matter, all of the properties we saw were fantastic. These big, weatherboard houses with boats & 4WDs piled outside, rough landscaping & different ways of personalising their plots, and above all a lot of incredible views across the headland & ocean. This was where we ended up staying a night which worked out well for us but I just can’t imagine living here…
In the morning, when the weather had cleared, we actually took a look at Orchid Beach and it was one of our favourite stretches on the island. Not many people around at all, some pretty bays, the dunes were low so the sky was big, it was a good find.
Seventy-Five Mile Beach
I don’t know the details on how much of the East coast is officially drive-able but we traversed quite a lot of it and really it is a highlight. I think because it’s something new and different to do but also the openness & freedom, the way the water & beach change as you power along, the sound of the ocean in one ear & the intensity of the dunes and bush on the other side. The stretch South from Eurong was the most remote part that we drove and that was pretty fun. We were heading for the ferry crossing and the terminal turned out to be a stake in the ground, you just drive on to the ferry right from the shore.
On the whole the driving was fine. I’m saying that, Ranger Jess did all the driving, but I’m told it was fine :) We arrived at night and so the first drive on the island was in pitch black. It was awesome. The roads were manageable and the different shapes & textures of the bush caught in the headlights were beautiful.
The fun thing on Fraser is that you spend half your time thrashing down the beach and the other half squirming through bush tracks – it’s two really different experiences. The beach was deceiving – you think you know what’s ahead but in fact it’s softer/ wetter/ steeper when you get there. And like with sailing, the key is not to react over-quickly.
We had a Suzuki Jimny, about as cute a 4WD as you can get! He coped with everything and we were very proud.
One of the real treats was the drive to Noosa because we had expected it to be road all the way. Instead it was beach for over half the way and we had a smashing day for it. Neither of us would’ve minded if that had lasted forever…
Our plan was loose so we bounced around doing what felt right, mostly reacting to the weather. On our first night we arrived at Central campsite in the dark, pitched up, made dinner, cracked into some wine and then realised how goddam cold it was. Our first night was not a raging success…
As with the driving, the camping options are in land or beach front. The next night we went beach front, it was warmer, more atmospheric, a lot more basic (amenities = zero), overall much more to our liking.
And then it rained. Like, er, really rained. So we got all princess-y about the situation, called up a local, booked a house for the night and nestled under a tonne of duvets each.
The next day washed up clean, clear, glorious and we camped again on the beach. This was my favourite night probably in Australia not just on Fraser Island. We had a gorgeous spot in the dunes, the beach front was sparkling, Jess got all ranger and made a campfire, the dingoes came out – literally – to play, and it was a starry, perfect night. Good eh.
Given that it was technically out of season I was surprised at how many other people were on Fraser. Jess said summer on Fraser beach front is ‘like Pitt Street’ and I can believe that. Mostly it was trucks full of dudes focused on fishing & beer but there were also a few domestic tourists with very impressive outdoor gear, and some European backpackers with very impressive accessories.
The locals that we met were very friendly and helpful, sometimes a bit too helpful – we quickly tired of the Queenslanders’ need to give & heed caution!
The company we were most interested in was the dingoes. I’d seen them in Kakadu National Park but it was Jess’s first wild dog :)
These ones were smaller & paler than the ones I remembered. They were quite tame, definitely not wary of us, minding their own business and having the occasional poke around. I say ‘poke around’ one insisted on coming up to Jimny time after time and stealing… the water, what..?! And when Jess chased him off he wanted to play, funny thing.
Since Jess was Lead Driver I was appointed Head Chef. It wasn’t fabulous, mostly choose-your-camping-carbs and get on with it (am so sick of peanuts now!). But we had some creative moments – ‘toasting’ the bread, some moments that became routine – salad sangers, and some eye openers – Two Minute Noodles baby yeah… Basically everything tastes good in the fresh air, washed down with wine in mugs doesn’t it?
Noosa is stunning, a a beautiful, relaxed place that we both adored. Given we had around 18 hours there we did well in seeing the place but we would have loved a longer stay. Noosa is a right-angled peninsula with beaches on the North and the East, and National Park right on the corner (see map!). It’s especially beautiful because the beaches back onto National Park or at least bush rather than roads, shops etc. The water is crystal, and in the daytime still warm enough for swimming without a wetsuit.
The town centre is little – must be a nightmare in peak season – but has everything you can imagine/ need. Going away from the town and the beaches Noosaville and Tewantin are very green with lots of natural waterways and canals. The whole area is totally charming and, I presume, fantastically relaxing to live in.
We stayed in the Noosa Heads YHA hostel (Halse Lodge) right in the centre. It’s one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever been to: a big old wooden house with big balconies and fairy lights, plus decent rooms and a cheap-as-chips bar.
Although the surf was disappointing we knew we loved Noosa so we went on the hunt for matching souvenir hoodies :) Which turned into nice chats with the shop people, which turned into a little photo shoot, which turned into their Facebook page update. Noosa locals, us..?!
In Queensland the surf clubs are open rather than members’ only which I reckon is a much better idea because they generally have the best spot on the beach so it’s good if everyone can enjoy it. We had sunset beers and enjoyed the view from Noosa SLSC which is about as good as it gets.
Zachary’s for pizza was awesome – again friendly, cool people and a cracking meal.
When we’d got to Noosa the surf on Main Beach was, well, non existent. I couldn’t look Jess in the eye for about an hour. So it was a pre-dawn rise the next day…
And it was worth it. We were over at gorgeous Sunshine Beach, the Eastern beach, for sunrise. Jess surfed, I did yoga, we both saw dolphins, it was magical. My absolute best experience in the whole of Australia.
Will add Jess’s photos when get my hands on ‘em…