Hervey Bay/Fraser Island

I couchsurfed again in Hervey Bay, with possibly the coolest host on the site, Axel. Axel makes bass guitars from hand, and it's an impressive sight to say the least. Here are just a few of his babies:

Hand crafting an instrument is a special skill, and it's pretty impressive to see him at work. The attention to detail is incredible and he had multiple instruments on the go while I was there. There's certain stages of the build which require a very specific humidity level in order to make sure the wood doesn't warp or distort. When I arrived it was perfect humidity, and Axel was taking full advantage, working most of the day to get as much done as possible!

Hervey Bay is a relatively quiet place, with most of the people gravitating towards the esplanade along the beach. Apparently 90% of the population here are retirees, which would explain the chilled out nature. One of the things I enjoyed was borrowing Axel's bicycle and going for a ride along the esplanade cyclepath, a good 14km. It was a struggle towards the end as I approached hills, I'd not been on a bike in a while! As with a few other places though, the main reason for the visit was not the town itself, but the access it provided to another location - Fraser Island.

Fraser Island draws huge crowds, crowds who fancy a taste of adrenaline filled, 4WD, off road action!

As some of you may know, I'm just slightly into my cars. I couldn't pass up a chance to try something as cool as off-roading on an island! You can establish two things from the above photo. 1: One of the cars was pink. 2: You get to drive along the beach. One of these things is massively cooler than the other.... but it is at least some consolation that you dont actually see the pink when you're in the car!

The tour was run by a hostel in town, and they gave free accomodation for one night either side of the tour. I wouldn't have usually mentioned this, but I wanted to find some way of showing THE BIGGEST KEYRING IN THE WORLD.

Anyway, back to Fraser...! What you can't see in the first photo, is Santa. Yep, THE Santa Claus.

He was our tour guide. This was at the start of December, so in a couple of weeks he was going to put that job on hold and head back to the south pole to check the elves were pulling their fingers out.

In the meantime here he was letting some air out of the tyres in the cars, as it helps when driving on the sand.

There were two types of driving tracks on the island, the inland trails, such as this (these were the tame ones!):

And then the "highway" (and runway!) along the beach:

When driving along the beach, you'd treat it just like a road, and keep to the left of any other cars coming in the opposite direction. It looks deceptively flat when driving along, but all of a sudden you could come across sections of the beach where water running down from the dunes has channelled out the sand, and you have a massive drop or a big, right angled "kerb" of sand coming straight at you. This would then need a diversion around to try and find a shallower drop, usually further towards the sea.

On the first day we headed to Lake Wabby. I think that one was possibly just an excuse to get us to walk and get some exercise! To get to the lake was around twenty to thirty minutes walk, but it was well worth it. The lake is right next to a huge sandblow that will eventually completely consume the lake as it's blown further along by the wind.

Apparently some retards have tried running at full speed down the sandblow, jumping into the water then breaking their legs or their backs because it's so shallow, then needed airlifting off the island by helicopter. Gives you some indication of what some people here can be like! It was pretty funny watching people trying to lie on a body board and slide down it into the water though. What would inevitably happen is they would run out of momentum, and then stop short about a metre before the water!

After our allotted time at the lake, we headed back to the beach and Santa lead us to our campsite for the night. As there are dingos on the island, this particular campsite was completely fenced off and all the car entrances went over cattle grids, with electrified strips running along! Definitely no danger of dingos in there, then...

The next morning we rose early to catch sunrise on the beach, pretty breathtaking...

Still misty at first though:

We then headed off to our first stop of the day, Champagne Falls. But not before one of the guys got stuck in the sand. Santa went back to sort them out though:

Champagne Falls was a rockpool area by the water, so named due to the similarity of the waves to flowing champagne as the waves roll in:

It was pretty cool watching these little things on the rocks, I guess they were some kind of coral... as the waves came crashing in, they would obviously get soaked with water, but then you'd see them squirt it straight back out again in a little jet of water. Apparently they absorb any nutrients they can from the water, then spit out the rest!

From there it was a short drive along the beach to Indian Head, which you can see in the background of this shot:

You can walk right up to the top, but you're warned against going too close to the edge, with small markers on the ground indicating how far you're allowed to go. Apparently wardens with binoculars monitor this, and if you go too far you're met with a fine after walking back down! Probably rubbish!

We began our inland adventure after this, heading away from the beach towards the centre of the island. The going became more difficult, as the sand got deeper and the track got steeper and bumpier. At this point I wasn't driving, as we all had to rotate and take turns in the pink car (only Santa was insured to drive the white one). We continued on, arriving at our next stop, Lake Allum. This one was really cool because it was full of tea tree oil, so you could see a film across the water and it looked pretty murky. Apparently it's really good for your skin and your hair. We all went for a swim in the beauty treatment spa pool, with the turtles! Santa got pretty annoyed with some of the lads when they went for a swim to the other side of the lake and back, taking their sweet time about it... oh, Santa!

We took a different route back down to the beach, en route to our next destination, Eli Creek. This one reminded me of the lazy river at Water Palace in Croydon when it was still around (only some of you will know about this one!). This was a great fake river which ran around the edge of the building, where you could just lie back and relax on a rubber ring as the flow of the water pulled you along! The creek was similar, you could walk along a boardwalk to a certain point, before getting in and letting the flow of the water slowly drift you back down to the beach! Amazing... just missing the rubber rings though. This place was really nice at first, when we arrived there was no one there (we'd beaten everybody to each place by getting up so early!). But the crowds soon arrived, and there were soon lots of people there. We took off to our next stop, a campsite on the beach, stopping at the wreck of The Maheno along the way:

This steamer had been sold for scrap, and had it's rudder removed to be towed by another boat to Japan. On the way, a storm was encountered which snapped the tow rope, and the ship was washed up onto Fraser where it's remained ever since.

The campsite we went to had no electrified fences this time, we were given strict instructions not to walk anywhere alone as the danger from dingos is very real. They might look like a scrawny little dog, but apparently can be pretty nasty. Not content with the danger from dingos, there are also sharks in the water - so basically you're not safe anywhere! We still went for a swim anyway, up to waist height is fine.... supposedly. I'm still here, at least. This was another place where the view of the stars at night was just incredible, as there was no light pollution anywhere on the island to hamper the visibility.

Day three is where things started to get a little more hairy. Coincidentally, it's when I started driving... funny that! I began driving from the campsite in the morning to the next place, Lake Mackenzie. This was actually no bother, but great fun on the windy little, bumpy inland tracks, sliding about in the sand and having to correct the wheels. Having sat in the other car watching Santa drive, you realise just how many revs you need to be giving the engine to keep the car moving and not get bogged down. Where you would usually change gear on the road, with the engine revving very high, you need to keep it like this in order to make sure you have enough momentum to not get stuck.

Anyway, the morning stint was fine - we made it Lake Mackenzie no bother, which I think was probably my favourite place out of all those we went to. It was very beautiful:

Unfortunately things started to go downhill from then on. One of the other lads took over the driving on our way to Lake Barriban. We reached a point where we had to stop due to a traffic jam in front of us. Someone had become stuck in the very dry, soft sand up ahead as they tried to drive up a mild incline. We took a slight side track to get past them and then tried our luck at getting up the hill. We didn't get very far, before we got stuck too. This becomes a very annoying problem, and we were soon to find out, a very painful problem too.

Everybody needs to get out of the car, and Santa takes a seat behind the wheel. We then have to push the car from the front, and roll it back down the hill for a while, to get it out of the bog it's buried itself into. Once it's moving freely, and faster than you can push, it's all good and we can get going again. The problem is, cars are bloody heavy. The other problem is, the sand is blisteringly hot. I can honestly say it's the hottest my feet have ever been, and you can't take more than a few brief seconds before you are literally running for the shady patch by the side of the road. It's not helped by the fact you're only wearing flip flops which fall off pushing the car! So after a few attempts, we managed to finally get the car out of the rut it's dug itself into and get it rolling freely. Santa jumps out, gets back into his car and we give it another go. This time the accelerator is firmly planted to the floor, with no mercy! It works, as we rapidly approach the top of the hill with the engine screaming loudly. The car snakes around wildly, from side to side, as eventually we get over the crest of the hill and onto firmer ground. Huge cheers and celebrations are had by all, and we continue on to our last lake before we have to head back to the barge to get back to the mainland.

While we were there, we had lunch. As we did so, we witnessed a few other cars getting stuck in the sand trying to exit the car park for the lake. There were failed attempts by all to dig the car out, and eventually when another one arrived they resorted to using a tow rope to pull it. Here's Santa lending a hand:

Having witnessed all this first hand, in hindsight it was probably a pretty stupid thing to do to volunteer to drive the final leg back to the barge! We left the car park, and managed to make it past the bit where others had previously got stuck. So far so good. We reached the bottom of the hill we had sped up earlier, and yet again someone had become stuck at exactly the same point as the last person we had driven around. We were forced to stop until they could clear the way, being pulled by another car they were with. With the obstruction gone, we continued... only to get stuck in exactly the same spot that had trapped everybody else. Santa stopped his car, wandered back and looked pretty unhappy, for Santa. We were against the clock, to get to the barge in time. Things were now a little more serious. We got out the car, onto the scorching hot sand and began to dig out the sand in front of each of the wheels. Santa jumped behind the wheel, and we all pushed the car from behind as he floored it. We moved it, for about one metre! This continued for at least five more attempts, and the frustration was increasing... cue plenty of shouting and swearing! The best bit was, Santa had no tow rope in his car. Apparently his boss hadn't packed it. You'd think that was pretty much an essential for amateur off roaders who'd never done it before, but anyway...

Time was ticking by, and we were all exhausted. We dug out the wheels one last time, and with one final monumental effort, finally managed to push it far enough for Santa to continue on driving up the road, having safely got out of the bog it was in. We cheered loudly, and rushed back to the car. Unfortunately one of my flip flops was a casualty of war, it fell off during the last big push, and I was physically unable to go back and spend any length of time looking for it due to the heat of the sand. You literally couldn't walk on it, let alone stand digging around for a flip flop, you had to run everywhere!

One flip flop down, I planted my bare foot on the pedal to the floor, and we rushed down the road with no further incident. We made the barge with around twenty minutes to spare, and everybody liked me again! Lucky escape...