June 05, 2014

Dingo Dreaming

Words and photos by Carlisle Rogers

Fraser Island works its magic on another generation.

Fraser Island is a land of sunburned English backpackers, Troop Carriers with 11 western European twenty-somethings trundling up the beach towards Eli Creek and the Champagne Pools, and more poisonous snakes per square kilometre than anywhere else on the planet.
This tiny pocket of sandy earth was logged and sand mined for a solid 150 years, yet there are still pockets of virgin Satinay forest intact. These 40m towers were instrumental in building the Suez Canal. That anything natural remains here is a testament to how wild this place must have been 100 years ago.
Today there are over 125km of beaches to drive on, interlocking inland tracks that take you to places like Lake McKenzie, through breathtaking stands of Hoop pine, past hiking trails and resorts. There is mad fishing for tailor, dart, whiting, jewfish and flathead right off the beach and enough sand driving that you’ll be half an expert after one trip.
The sand here is as pure as it is anywhere in the world. The bottom of Lake McKenzie is comprised of pure silica so fine it puffs up in white clouds with each step. The fresh water that springs up all over this sea-locked island creates clear creeks and lakes that dot the island from end to end.
When I first rang Craig and invited him along to Fraser Island for a week with Hunter and I he jumped at the chance. Then circumstances and life got in the way.
So Hunter and I set off – his first trip in a couple of years, but ironically, not his first to Fraser. He was all of two months old when the whole family made a run from Melbourne up to Fraser in a brand new Defender 110. It was the same beast that would carry us across the continent and up Cape Leveque two months later. Hunter slept so much in that car that year that we set up camp with his car seat, and he slept in that.
This trip it was just Hunter and daddy. On the Manta Ray barge from Inskip he danced around the deck until they started the engines. His eyes lit up with a primal fear as he skittered around the deck like a mouse when the lights go on.

Fraser Island is a land of sunburned English backpackers, Troop Carriers with 11 western European twenty-somethings trundling up the beach towards Eli Creek and the Champagne Pools, and more poisonous snakes per square kilometre than anywhere else on the planet.
This tiny pocket of sandy earth was logged and sand mined for a solid 150 years, yet there are still pockets of virgin Satinay forest intact. These 40m towers were instrumental in building the Suez Canal. That anything natural remains here is a testament to how wild this place must have been 100 years ago.

The Dingoes
Fraser Island’s decreasing population of dingoes is one of the purest bloodlines remaining in the country, so you can’t bring dogs here.
While they are safe enough in most instances, it’s worth remembering these are wild animals. In 2001 a boy was found dead on the island, with dingoes the likely culprit. The rangers killed at least 120 dogs in reprisal, perhaps many more.
They are clever and persistent, and if you don’t keep food locked up or far out of reach, they will get into it. I’ve seen them take anything, from apples to bread to dragging off whole eskis if they can.
Development, human intervention and strict controls have likely caused the dingo population as a whole to be malnourished and on the point of extinction. Around 150 dingoes remain on the island currently. 


Today there are over 125km of beaches to drive on, interlocking inland tracks that take you to places like Lake McKenzie, through breathtaking stands of Hoop pine, past hiking trails and resorts. There is mad fishing for tailor, dart, whiting, jewfish and flathead right off the beach and enough sand driving that you’ll be half an expert after one trip.
The sand here is as pure as it is anywhere in the world. The bottom of Lake McKenzie is comprised of pure silica so fine it puffs up in white clouds with each step. The fresh water that springs up all over this sea-locked island creates clear creeks and lakes that dot the island from end to end.
When I first rang Craig and invited him along to Fraser Island for a week with Hunter and I he jumped at the chance. Then circumstances and life got in the way.
So Hunter and I set off – his first trip in a couple of years, but ironically, not his first to Fraser. He was all of two months old when the whole family made a run from Melbourne up to Fraser in a brand new Defender 110. It was the same beast that would carry us across the continent and up Cape Leveque two months later. Hunter slept so much in that car that year that we set up camp with his car seat, and he slept in that.
This trip it was just Hunter and daddy. On the Manta Ray barge from Inskip he danced around the deck until they started the engines. His eyes lit up with a primal fear as he skittered around the deck like a mouse when the lights go on.
The questions had not started yet, he was content, as was I, to just be on the road moving towards anything. I was relieved he didn’t ask me to explain where we were going. How could you explain a place like Fraser Island to a four year old? “We’re going camping,” would have to suffice, and was all he needed to know. Sunrise, we’re outside. Sunset, outside. The wreck of the SS Maheno was a beached pirate ship, the dingoes pirate dogs and the Champagne Pools were just swimming pools with fish in them.
We all long for a world that simple, and through children we can glimpse it through the rose-tinted glasses of youth and the utter bliss of ignorance. When I am on the road the universe sometimes becomes that naïve – karma is rewarded instantly, rain is always followed by a rainbow, the sunsets last longer somehow and the biggest decision isn’t always where to go, but what to listen to on the way.
Half of what we may be seeking on the road is not the new sights and places. A cliff by the sea is a cliff by the sea, on either coast. On a deeper level, sand disappearing into waves doesn’t change much between Saint-Tropez, France and Beachport, South Australia. For all of its wonder, the open road can be argued to be largely homogenous. What changes is us: how we perceive it, and how we receive it.
I have an inkling that this return to childhood is something that all humans strive for if they are seekers at all – a return to a mindset where it doesn’t matter where you’re going at all; to a place where letting things happen as they will, giving over the control of each moment, the justification for your actions and the ultimate result of a day spent is out of your hands to some extent. The Tao Te Ching says, “The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.”
We can learn a lot from a child on the road, how to live on the road. And once you’ve mastered life on the road, what in the real world can get in your way?
The sand at the northern tip of Inskip Point is extremely soft, worse than much of what you’ll find on Fraser. This is nature’s little test, I guess. I came in this way because the barge runs all day long and it is easier to plan your travel around the tides from here than it is to go over on one of the three trips from River Heads further north.
After a week of king tides, the beaches were washed flat and two hours after high tide the trees at Hook Point were still impassable, which meant spending 15 minutes on the inland track to get past this infamous point.
Here’s my advice: avoid the inland track like the plague. Once paved during the sand mining days, it has degenerated into a hard-packed, pothole pocked route with the worst corrugations I have experienced anywhere in Australia. At any speed Westy’s suspension was making the kinds of noises you just don’t want to hear this far from home. Considering the exorbitant price of 4WD permits for the island and the fact that the sea and traffic keep the beach well-packed, running a grader up this road seems like the least they could do.
The beachfront campgrounds on the southern end of the island must be booked beforehand, but you have to access this from the inland track, as they have no direct beach access. You also have to bring a portaloo.
From here the beach runs non-stop all the way to Indian Head, nearly 100km of endless sand highway. Along the way you can stop off at Lake Boomanjin and hike in from the beach (or take the Birrabeen Road towards Central Station, which skirts three more inland perched lakes). The turnoff is located at Dilli Village, a small resort/ backpackers just off the beach.

The Best Beach Camping Spots

Bush camping is available in many areas on the eastern beaches, designated by signs on the beach and marked in grey on Hema’s Fraser Island map, these fore dune camping areas require you to be fully self-sufficient. While these campgrounds must be booked in advance, they are the most affordable option and you don’t have to stay in a particular spot each night.
The top camp at Waddy Point, Central Station campground and many more around the island offer some amenities like toilets, hot showers, etc.  All of these must be booked in advance as well.
Some of the best beach camping areas are One Tree Point, just up the beach from Eurong and it’s beachfront bar; Wahba camping zone, where you can camp in sight of the wreck of the Maheno and the Eli camping zone, right up the beach from Eli Creek.
Any of the beach camping zones north of Waddy Point are generally great if you want to get away from it all, as there is little backpacker traffic on the beach this far north. 


Further north you get to the main east coast commercial centre of Eurong. Here you can get petrol/ diesel, stop into the bakery for pies and coffee, or pick up a few basic supplies and bait at the general store. The track inland from Eurong heads to Central Station and Lake McKenzie and continues on to Kingfisher Bay Resort and Wanggoolba Creek if you’re catching the barge there back to River Heads.
As clichéd and over-populated as it can get, Lake McKenzie is a must-see spot – a genuine bucket-list location. Like some of the swimming holes in Cape York or the Kimberley, its beauty is so immediate and untarnished it’s hard to believe it wasn’t hand built.
I was on a bit of a mission, though. I had promised Hunter that we could go look at the wreck of a real pirate ship today, so we pushed on up the beach past the Poyungan Rocks, famous for the amount of cars that have been lost trying to drive around them when the tides weren’t in their favour.

SS Maheno
A luxury ocean liner operating between New Zealand and Australia, the SS Maheno featured an ornate dining room, smoking room, grand piano and electric lighting. From 1905 to 1935 she carried passengers across the Tasman Sea, with a brief stint during WW1 as a hospital ship, although she also travelled as far as Vancouver.
During the war, the Maheno was stationed at Moudros, the naval base of the Gallipoli campaign for three months. After that, a series of voyages back and forth from England to New Zealand brought wounded soldiers home.
The ship weighed 5,000 ton, was 400ft long and could cruise at 17.5 knots. With three Parsons steam turbines providing both propulsion and electricity, she was a state of the art machine.
On July 3, 1935 the Maheno left the port in Sydney attached to the Oonah by a 270m cable. The pair of ships were bound for Japan, where they would be broken up into scrap.
Four days later the ships encountered a cyclone which broke the towline. Unable to reattach the ships in the heavy seas, the Maheno drifted off with its crew of eight.
Three days after that the ship was sighted by aircraft, breached on the beach where it still lies. The crew had set up camp in the dunes to await their fate and after a week by the campfire the Oonah arrived to try to refloat the Maheno.
Despite the best attempts, the boat could not be floated, and they stripped what they could and tried to sell the wreck as is, but there were no buyers, so it sits now, a bit lower in the water, where it did then. 

Above photo: The SS Maheno in 1935 just after it was beached. At 5,000 tons, it’s no surprise that it rests in the exact same spot it foundered 78 years ago.

 

The Champagne Pools are a natural sandy-bottomed swimming pool just north of Indian Head - the perfect place to bring kids on Fraser Island.
We stopped into Eli Creek for a quick dip, but I forgot to bring a raft to float back down the creek in, which is the best way to enjoy this deep creek lined with white sand. The water looks icy blue under the canopy of the rainforest it flows through. There are always crowds at Eli Creek and if you want to get it to yourself at all you’d better wake up early.
Just beyond Eli is the wreck of the SS Maheno. Launched in 1905, this ocean liner was beached here in 1935 in a cyclone during a journey to Japan.  Hunter was content for an hour to slowly walk along every inch of the ship, occasionally turning to ask where the pirates were or where the plank was on the ship.
We set up camp just north of the wreck behind the dunes. It was a great, grassy spot with enough room for Hunter to run around without me having to worry about him running out in front of a half-cut backpacker more concerned with the bikinis on the bench seat than what’s in front of him.
He found bits of rope and an old sand peg and had his halyard and pirate sword. Daddy opened a frosty XXXX and cooked some sausages and we had the simplest of meals watching the sun set. A breeze off the water kept the mosquitoes at bay and he stayed up until the moon came out, looking for falling stars.  
As the sun broke over the prism of the ocean we awoke and had a slow breakfast. I checked my phone and Craig was on his way to the island – we were having too much fun and he was stuck at work. He’d be at Lake McKenzie in a few hours.
So we packed up and headed back down the beach for Eurong. Even after breakfast, Hunter had room for a whole chocolate donut and dad was pretty happy to get a real coffee.
We pushed soft, scalloped sand all the way to the lake and got there early enough to have the place nearly to ourselves. No waves, the slightest ripple from the wind coming off the water and it’s a child’s wonderland, like a big swimming pool.
Craig arrived in his beast of a truck and we decided to head back north up the superhighway towards Waddy Point. I had not been this far north and the beachfront campsites sounded amazing.

 


Hey Hunter, do you want to see a real pirate ship wrecked on the beach?

That it was run by the parks guys should have been a fair warning to expect treated timber bollards. We pulled up next to where we could camp, jumped over a fence and looked at a fire pit with a sign telling us we could not have a fire. The rangers had already started one on the north shore that was burning out of control, and if they could not trust themselves, they certainly could not trust the public.
The ironic thing is that we pay more money to camp here, with no view of the water, no ability to set up a camper or caravan (there are 6 designated spots for that, somewhere) and our immediate neighbours located roughly eight feet away.
We made the most of the evening, though, by spending it away from the campsite down by the water’s edge on the northern flank of the point, a spot reminiscent of Double Island Point on the mainland, except that it was completely our own. At dawn the professional fishermen who live just up the beach towed their boats out to the point to launch them with tractors they must have driven all the way up the beach from the barge at some point.

There are highways with higher speed limits that may connect more beautiful places, but nowhere in the world is there a road as stunning itself as Fraser’s Seventy Five Mile Beach.
Hunter’s first swim ever was in the Champagne Pools back in 2008.
We headed back down to our native habitat that day, another beautiful spot behind the dunes just south of Eli Creek where we could fish and sink a few tinnies while Hunter explored the dunes and looked for pippies. On the way we stopped in at Champagne Pools and walked down the boardwalk to one of nature’s finest pieces of work. This is another place you want to get to early, mainly because the parking lot at the top of the hill can become a nightmare of long waits and double parking. I reckon by noon we could have auctioned off our car spots for slabs of cold beer.
The pools are naturally occurring rock pools that have half filled with sand. Waves spill over into the pools keeping them full, and they host angelfish, whiting and trevally, yet are a safe swimming alternative to the shark-filled open water here.
Hunter played in the shallow crystal clear water at one end while dad floated in the deep end waiting for the set waves to splash over the rock wall into the pool. It’s a special place that’s unique in the whole world. And when you’re in it, you’re secretly happy that there aren’t enough car spots at the top of the hill.

 


VITAL STATS

FRASER ISLAND is accessed via ferry from Inskip Point on the mainland. Inskip Point is located 216km north of Brisbane.
BARGES depart Inskip Point regularly from 6:30 AM daily. Timetable information can be found at www.fraserislandferry.com.au. The ferry trip from the mainland to Fraser Island takes approximately 15 minutes.
BUSH CAMPING is allowed in the fore dunes along many stretches of Fraser Island’s eastern beach. No facilities exist in these areas so campers must be fully self-sufficient and carry in all drinking water and necessary supplies.
CAMPGROUNDS are plentiful along the island’s inland tracks. Most designated campgrounds have basic facilities including toilets and drinking water. Camping at designated campgrounds must be booked prior to arrival by phoning Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
PERMITS must be acquired for camping at campgrounds or on the beach prior to arrival on Fraser Island. Camping permits cost $5.45 per person per night or $21.80 per family group per night and are available from the Rainbow Beach Information Centre or by phoning the QPWS.
FRASER ISLAND DRIVING PERMITS must be purchased before arrival on the island. These are available from the Rainbow Beach Information centre or QPWS and cost $42.15 for a one month permit.
FUEL is available on the island at Eurong, Kingfisher Bay, Happy Valley, Frasers at Cathedral Beach and Orchid Beach although prices can be exorbitant and supplies dependant on deliveries from the mainland. Many campers choose to fuel up at Hervey Bay on the mainland.
GROCERIES, ICE AND BASIC SPARES are available on the island at the same locations as fuel. Again, prices are often high and supplies limited, so it is advisable to be as self-sufficient as possible once you arrive on the island.