7.00 We woke up and strolled out onto the beach had breakfast before driving back to the Raging Thunder Cafe in Tully. We were bundled onto a bus and told by a witty rafting instructor named Vinnie to introduce ourselves to everyone and choose your own groups. The two girls in front of us turned around and asked if they could raft with us; Shevonne a 24 year old from Ireland and Becky a 19 year old form Sweden seemed friendly enough so we agreed. Richard a German extreme enthusiast also joined our group, in total there were three groups - 2 of 6 and 1 of 5.
Our group were assigned an instructor which turned out to be Paul aka 'The Butcher', a 28 year old witty kiwi who was really easy to get on with. We were all kitted up with the correct gear and briefed whilst in the raft; the brief included various sitting positions which we had to adopt within seconds, after the brief there was a number of nervous faces around - including mine. If the brief wasn't scary enough Paul went on to tell us that he was a first aider and had to carry all the specialist equipment and that at some point today he will a have to use it. The first ten minutes weren't too bad and we all got a feel for the raft but then we started to hit some pretty intense stuff, "all left" paul shouted out, Richard and I moved to our left seat position throwing the boat onto one side which allowed us to fit down a tight gap, "back in your seats" Paul would cry out over the sound of the white water gushing into the raft, and then at the bottom he'd say something like "forward team" but we were all knackered and spluttering up the water we'd swallowed; Paul then reminded us that we'd signed up for extreme and he wanted us to get our money's worth.
We darted down a few more rapids and at one point Richard and I were tossed from the raft but both managed to hang on with one leg as the others grabbed us back in by our life jackets. We leap frogged the other boats and set up safety rope stops for the other just in case someone was thrown out, once the three rafts were together we stopped for a while and climbed a rock to perform a couple of jumps. First everyone performed a standard jump then we the braver ones amongst the team performed forward flips and backwards flips after Paul gave us a couple of tips.
At dinner we pulled in and had a bbq, the water around us was full of fish and turtles and the food was delicious, after trying to get our money's worth 'food wise' we were back in the water going under waterfalls down more grade 4 rapids and performing more rock jumps. At one point we were taught how to survive should we fall into a rapid, we all had to float legs first down a set of rapids and breath at certain points, if you got the breathing wrong you wouldn't get enough air to last you until your next breath, this was particularly scary as the rapids pushed you uncontrollably under the water. The other hairy moment was the water chute, a chute of white water down a steep drop into the deep water below. Paul explained to us that once we jumped from the raft and into the chute take a huge breath as the water will push you down and into a tumble for around ten seconds, the pressure of the water would be so great that we were told to equalise our ears after a few seconds of being under the water. This was such a scary experience but such a rush we did it again but this time instead of jumping from the raft we climbed high into the trees and jumped off a huge rock face into a fast flowing pool and under the raft and down the chute, before going under the raft we had to take a breath and then once we were half way down the chute we'd take a second, all this was happening at speed and if you didn't get the timing right, Paul would be stood at the side laughing with his safety rope and first aid kit.
Even though the raft had tipped a number of times during the day and we all knew what to do should this happen, we were told that for the last ten minutes of the rafting expedition we try particular hard not to fall in as crocodiles had been sighted further down the river, lucky for us we didn't encounter any.
The Tully's surroundings were beautiful, it had deep jungles on either side, waterfalls, huge rock faces, huge colourful butterflies and big lizards basking in the sun, all in all a great place for my first rafting experience and I'm looking forward to getting back in the raft soon.
We caught our minibus back to the Raging Thunder Cafe in Tully and had a beer with our team before hitting the road again; we really wanted to get out of Tully and drive a couple of hours south before setting up camp.
At a petrol station south of Tully an English lad shouted over from the other pump, the friendly southerner asked if he could drive in convoy with us to which we agreed. The camper van of three included driver James (23), Sean (23), and a Danish girl called Camilla who they picked up a couple of days ago. The five of us ended up pulling in at a free campsite at Rolling Stones just before Townsville, it was now pitch black so we quickly cooked our food on the communal bbq, freshened up before rummaging around for fire wood. Poisonous cane toads and other smaller toads jumped around the ground as we tried our best to source some wood; apparently people are encouraged to kill cane toads because of the number of them about and the fact that they are poisonous, two German lads were taking this to extremes as the Krouts played golf with any poor toad they could find.
We managed to get the fire started and were joined by two more girls (Rach and Alanna), the seven of us sat around the fire for the rest of the night exchanging travel stories.
After a refreshing dip in the creek we said goodbye to Rach and Alanna who were heading up to Cairns, the others would follow us down the coast to another free campsite which Rach and Alanna had recommended.
The drive down the coast was pretty scenic but I'm slightly disappointed that we haven't seen any kangaroos; there are hundreds of signs warning us of the Ozzy marsupial but still no sightings. We stopped off in Townsville for a walk around the hot and stuffy industrial town. The town has an air of racial tension as a hangover of riots broke out there in 2004 after an aboriginal man died in police custody; reports of stabbings, predominantly by belligerent out of towners hanging around Flinders Mall after dark, now appear in the news on a weekly basis. It was day time and the town felt pretty safe to be in, it boasted and attractive mariner and an interesting museum detailing the history and artefacts from HMS Pandora.
In 1788, the British Admiralty vessel Bounty sailed from England to Tahiti, with a mission to collect breadfruit seedlings, intended to provide a cheap food source for Britain's slaves in the West Indies. However Tahiti's mellow climate provided so much better life than on board the ship so the crew mutinied. Captain Edwards was instructed to bring back the mutineers to stand trial in London, Pandora arrived in Tahiti in 1791 and rounded the bearded chappies up and put them in a three metre wooden cell on named 'Pandora's box' before setting off home; Pandora never made it back to sunny England because it hit the Great Barrier Reef killing a number of the crew.
After visiting the museum we climbed up Castle Hill which was a lot more exhausting than we anticipated 1400 steep steps up a huge rock. The views from the top where magnificent we could see Townsville below us and a number of islands out at sea; one of the islands was magnetic island named by Captain Hook in 1770 when his compass played up on him.
Back on the road again we drove slightly further south to Home Hill and found the campsite, which was basically a row of campervans on the road running parallel to the highway and a railway track on the other side. The facilities were superb with free sheltered bbq and kitchen, outdoor kitchen area, hot showers and power supplies, if this was in England there'd be graffiti all over and teenagers drinking on the benches, however that night the only people drinking on the streets next to the small water feature where us guys and a few other fellow backpackers.
Having made use of the hot showers and excellent facilities in Home Hill we hit the Bruce highway towards Bowen. We spent most of the day at Horseshoe Bay which is a small blissfully secluded cove with huge boulders at one end, James, the other James and myself played around on the rocks until I cut my toe open jumping over James head, landing on a sharp rock - ouch.
After James2's treat of ice-cream and doughnuts we headed back on the Bruce and down to Airlie beach which is nestled between the sea and some very nice apartments. The view of the deep turquoise bay, dotted with yachts and cruisers was gorgeous especially when the sun was setting. We had a bbq overlooking the beach whilst the sun was setting and made use of the free shower and dish washing facility before driving to our final destination of the day; a small car park next to a creek. Most the car parks say no camping but this one didn't so we lit a fire and was soon joined by a number of European lads; two of the lads had a didgeridoo so I took the guitar out of the car and had a bit of a jam session with them. When collecting fire wood we had to be especially careful and not stray too close to the water's edge because of the crocodiles, I didn't see any crocs that night but there was definitely something bigger than a fish splashing around - uncomfortably close to us.
10.00 We headed back to the shower block on Airlie beach before strolling up Shute Harbour Road. James and I had a number of things to do on the internet including the hire of our next camper van. Whilst I was on the internet I found out that Mel will be joining us in a few weeks J so we will need a bigger camper van; one suitable for the three of us.
After an afternoon internet session and a lazy day on the beach we headed back to our vehicles only to find a huge tarantula looking spider on the inside window of Southern James's camper, all the lads were screaming, luckily we had a Camilla the 19 year old brave Dane at hand.
James and I cooked Veal and pasta whilst we chatted to two other backpackers whilst we were in the car park and recruited them into our pack. Ben and his friend / travel buddy Tracey were really easy to get on with and with Ben being a fire fighter / arsonist we enjoyed the evening around a huge campfire in the same spot as the previous night. It was around 4.00 before we decided it would be a good idea to get some sleep.
10.00 James opened the car doors as the sun was pretty intense. The fire from the previous night was still flaming so we cooked our breakfast on that to save gas. After breakfast our three vehicle convoy headed back down to Airlie beach to use the facilities, however it was Saturday and the market was in full of swing resulting in us having to have a proper public shower right in front of market punters.
Airlie market was lovely, live music entertained the shoppers and everyone had smiles on their faces. James and I bought some ginger and fresh melon before saying tally ho to the rest of the campers. The other guys had booked a sailing trip around the Whit Sundays but we opted out as we wanted to see Fraser Island and we'd done enough sailing in the Philippines.
James and I hit the Bruce again and drove to Eungella National Park before sunset, which again was pretty spectacular because we'd climbed to a much higher altitude and stopped off for a bbq at view point next to Eungella.
We parked the car on a quiet roadside and lit a fire to keep warm, after the last couple of nights we were happy to have a bit of a quieter one. We cooked our food on the fire and the only sound around us was the crackling of the fire and the constant hum coming from the jungle.
Eungella National Park is home to a number of wild Plataypus so after our breakfast which consisted of bread jam and melon we headed to the 'Broken River' to see if we could spot any, but returned to our car with disappointing faces as we couldn't see any. Further down the road there were a few signs illustrating the Australian Monotreme (egg laying mammal) and a few factoids of the interesting animal. Behind the sign was a path leading to a man made wooden walkway which was at a vantage point over the river edge, James and I waited about an hour watching the fresh water turtles below and a bright blue kingfisher, before we spotted the Platypus / Duck bill and I even managed to get a decent shot of this shy creature.
Found only in eastern Australia the duck-billed platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus,lives in streams, rivers, and occasionally lakes with year-round water. It feeds mostly on bottom-dwelling aquatic insect larvae, which it finds by probing the stream bed with its pliable, sensitive bill. It grows to a maximum weight of 1 to 2.4 kg (2.2 to 5.3 lb). One of only a few venomous mammals, the male platypus has a poison gland in the hind leg that opens through a bony spur on the ankle. The spur is used to defend against predators and possibly to defend its territory against other males. The females lack the venom gland and bony spur - fact.
Back on the road we drove south stopping off for water and a sardine sandwich; I drove for over five hours through baron land which resembled South Africa. The only thing that kept us awake was Ricky Gervais's Podcast and the fact we had to dodge road kill from time to time, we must have counted over ten road kills, a few of them being fresh wallabies.
We drove through Rockhampton before pulling in on the Bruce, the spot we found was quite close to the noisy road but out of sight. We couldn't have a fire that night because I think we were on a farmers drive so we settled for hot chocolate and a bolognaise before having an early night
After an early night we were both up pretty early and back on the road. We decided to have breakfast a little later because it was throwing it down outside and had been raining all night. We pulled in for breakfast at a tiny deserted town near Miriam Vale which had been cordoned off to keep it in the same condition as it was decades ago, it looked like the kind of place you'd see an abo being chased off by a hick with a pitch fork or the kind of place where your mother is your lover.
On the journey south I spotted my first Wallabies jumping around on a golf course, I managed to get quite close for a decent snap of the Australian marsupial.
We drove south through Gin Gin and stopped for a sardine butty in Childers which is a pretty, one horse highway town sadly known for a terrible fire in 2000 when the 'Palace Backpackers' burnt down killing fifteen people.
After a few hours of driving we ended up in Hervey Bay which was one of the access points to Fraser Island however once we'd researched four wheel drive hire there really wasn't a lot to do here. Locals have called the rapidly expanding sprawl of coastal suburbs "Gods Waiting Room" due to the large number of retirees living there.
The rain eventually came to a stop so we cooked up the last of the meat on a bbq on the beach front, this sounds lovely but the temperature had dropped quite a lot and we had just changed some travellers cheques tempting us to splash out at the restaurant across the road, however we decided to cook for ourselves.
That evening we drove slightly further south in the dark clocking up over 1000k in two days, we parked the car right outside 'Tin Can Bay' where a number of other camper vans were parked and settled for the night.
8.00 We moved the car to Norman Point which was about a Kilometre from our camp spot, at around 8am each morning Indo-Pacific dolphins pull into the mariner to be fed by the locals. James and I watched as retired couples released their boats into the water and set sail for the day, we were just about to set off to Rainbow beach when I spotted a shadow in the water as a dolphin breached the surface of the water, it was a stunning sight to see as the sun shimmered on the turquoise water.
We left Tin Can Bay and headed towards Rainbow beach which is a small casual knot of streets set back from a fantastic beach facing into 'Wide Bay'. We spent most of the day on and around the beach, making use of the cold power shower. A local man had been out fishing but instead of using a conventional rod he was armed with a spear, mask, snorkel, fins, and a wet suite; the 60+ year old had caught a huge Spanish mackerel. I ended up with the giant fish in my arms as the bloke removed the spear from the still moving fish; I had to immediately jump into the sea to wash off the fishy slimewhich kind of lingered around me until I had a proper shower.
In the afternoon we decided to book a 4wd car which would enable us to get to Fraser Island the following morning. We shopped around and got a great deal, most people book everything through and agency in a major city but James and I have saved a fortune by just turning up at places and haggling. The car cost us $100 per day then we had to buy a driving permit $40 camping permit for two night $10 and then of course a bit of food and plenty of goon. We left the Juicy camper at the 4wd rental shop loaded up the Dhaitsu Rocky with all our gear and headed to Inskip Point, this would be where we would catch the ferry from the following day. Inskip was full of other 4wd vehicles and campers; we rolled up in our purple, rusty but reliable Rocky and pitched our tent for the night. Later that evening James, Sean and Camilla caught up with us as they had been sailing around the Whitsunday Island; Ben and Tracey should have also been with them but Ben had cut his foot open on the corral and ended up in hospital.
6.00 my alarm went off and James and I gathered our stuff up and dismantled the tent, we wanted to catch the ferry at 6.30 so we could have 2 hours of driving up Fraser beach before the tide came in. We had strict tide times to stick to as a number of people have been killed four wheel driving on Fraser Island, and we really didn't want to be fined for salt damage. We said our goodbyes to the other three and drove across the deep sand whilst the sun was rising and onto the ferry; our vehicle was the only one on the white vessel, and within minutes we were heading to Fraser Island for our next leg of the adventure.
After a brief chat with the deck hand we drove off the ferry and onto a beautiful beach, selecting the suitable gearing we drove over a few dunes and through a few shallow creeks before blasting it up the beach. There was a host of unusual birds around us and a complete absence of other vehicles; it was as though we had this huge paradise island to ourselves.
With a length of 123km, Fraser Island is the world's largest sand island. Accumulated from sediments swept north from New South Wales over the last two million years, the scenery ranges from silent forests and beaches sculpted by wind and surf to crystal-clear streams and dark, tannin- stained lakes. In 1992, the entire island was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with all but a few pockets of freehold land and the tiny township of Eurong being national park.
We had to drive about 60km north up the beach and through a number of creeks giving us just enough time to visit a ship wreck on the sand, once we had photographed the Maheno Wreck we had to head in land to avoid high tide.
The inland tracks where superb and again it was if we had them to ourselves, a normal car would have had no chance over this terrain but the Rocky with its lowered air pressure and chunky tyres made it look easy. We ascended through some thick forest and stopped off to view a number of lakes including Allom, Boomerang and Coomboo, all extremely scenic; Allom was probably my favourite of the lakes as we could spot fresh water turtles and a huge monitor lizard.
After lunch (noodles and pineapple) on the beach we drove past Eli Creek which is probably one of the bigger creeks on the Island. By this time a number of tours where taking place so James and I took the opportunity to splash through the creek stopping off to take photos of the wild dingoes.
The beach had a few other vehicles on it at around midday and on a few occasions we had to reduce our speed especially when a plane landed close to us.
The rest of the day was spent off roading in the dunes before we set up camp at 'Yurru' a small sand dune overlooking the sea to the East. The ranger visited us to check our permits and told us that we weren't allowed to light the fire we had prepared, the guy was pretty cool so we did as were told and had a fire free night. We cooked our tea on our gas stove, drank a few glassed of goon and spotted a few satellites orbiting the earth above us before falling asleep under a clear starry night.
6.00 Woke up early, I didn't have the best night's sleep as wild dingoes ran round our tent at around 4.00. I strolled onto the silent beach which was only metres away from our tent and sat on the soft sand to watch the sunrise; it was a little cloudy but still spectacular. After our sausage and egg butty we packed away the tent and headed north; the rain had started to pour down and our tent was still pretty wet from the nights down pour.
We stopped off at Dundubara private campsite and washed our pans and had a quick shower before heading up to Indian Head, at this point the road detours around the huge rock (Indian Head) through deep sand and as far north as any vehicle can visit. We strolled down a path which overlooked the beach and champagne pools, which are a series of salt water pools formed by the sea during high tide, the light from the sun glistens on the pools giving it a champagne effect.
10.00 it was high tide but we managed to stick near the sand dunes and back down to the south of the island passing through Eli Creek where we plunged the car into the fresh water before driving inland at Happy Valley and up to Lake Garawongera. We parked the car up and walked to Lake Garawongera which had a beach hugging its perimeter; however the weather still wasn't great, the rain made it more fun for off road but not the greatest condition to swim in.
At rainbow gorge we exited the forest and onto the beach again before going inland to eat lunch, we pulled over at a view point overlooking the sand dunes and cooked our food before driving over some rough terrain to get to Lake Wabby. The view point overlooking Lake Wabby was spectacular; a beautiful serene lake with a dense forest on one side of it and steep sand dunes on the other. To get to the dunes we had to walk a couple of km through dense forests before scrambling up the deep sand dune. The sun was now shining and the climb to the summit was pretty tiring however the view from the top was incredible, a desert like landscape surrounded by green lush forests and by far the most beautiful lake I've ever seen. Eagles soared above the lake and swept down to catch the fish below whilst two playful dingoes strolled across the desert-like dunes. I had a swim in the fresh water before trekking back to our car for another afternoon of off road action.
We visited a few more lakes including splashing through. After the brief down pour the tracks were excellent, sandy paths with huge puddles, the car was getting dirtier and dirtier and our confidence was also on the increase as we tackled some of the tracks in a rally style fashion.
5.00 back on the beach we drove behind some sand dunes at Govi point and pitched the tent and cooked up a belting meal before celebrating another successful day of off roading on Fraser Island.