Whitsundays and Fraser Island: Island hopping

It had been a year since our travels in Asia where night bus journeys were something you just got used to and unfortunately after a year break it was a bit of a shock to the system to be back on one. And fairplay to the Thai and the Vietnamese, they definitely beat the Australians in providing comfort. Anyway, we arrived in Airlie Beach and you cannot help but be impressed by this little seaside haven. It is essentially one strip with bars, backpacker hostels, surf shops and a Subway on the water’s edge, with a very 5 star hotel like lagoon which is free for the public to use.

Our hostel, Beaches, was unfortunately – a shithole. We booked everything through our travel agent Nina back in Melbourne and we expected quality all along the way. She really let us down here. The rooms were pretty average, not too bad actually, but the biggest cockroaches I have ever seen lived close by. The pool was unswimmable, it looked like a swamp and the kitchen was like something out of horror movie. Or maybe a Gordon Ramsey series. Luckily we only had one night here and then it was off on our cruise the next day.

The day beforehand the cruise we were supposed to take cancelled and we had to switch to another company meaning a different boat. The original cruise would entail 2 nights stay on a little island while the new one entailed 2 nights sleeping on the boat. We had no issue with this, Diarmo and I had slept on a boat before and loved it. The Halong Bay trip of Vietnam was probably the best thing we did in our 4 months in Asia. 3 days sailing on a beatiful boat amongst little islands with a great gang of people including Byron and Andy, free meals and cheap beers, water sports and staying one night on a paradise island.

I wasn’t expecting precisely the same brilliance on the Whitsundays trip but I hoped for something at least close. Our boat was called the Habibi and upon boarding the deck looked ok, plenty of room to laze about under the sun. The eating area was very small though and the rooms, well, they reminded me of pictures of coffin ships I have seen, those used during the Irish famine. Luckily Ela pulled strings and got us the only double bed on board, women are always a step ahead.

So we met the crew and they told us the rules etc. So we have our guide, a 19 year old Aussie lad who thought he was an absolute hero; he wasn’t. The chef, a French girl who was as ditzy as they come and the captain, a large old fella who was clearly an alcoholic. There was about 18 of us on the trip and the 3 of us cracked open the beers hoping people would come over and have a chat. So an english couple and a scottish lad came over and we had a few games over the course of the afternoon, it was a good laugh but the rest of the people there just sat around not very much to say.

Later that evening we had a very nice dinner and more people got involved in the group afterwards. Still though, it wasn’t a great bunch, you could just feel the lack of atmosphere in the air. At one point one of the english girls asked another in a very serious tone ‘Is there a lot of fat in pineapples?’. Oh dear. We had been sailing the whole day and had banked in the dark, but the next day we would see the beauty of the Whitsundays.

Our first stop was a little island where you stopped at a little beach which was not pretty in the slightest, but a trek up through the forest led to a view of Whitehaven beach, the most amazing beach I have ever seen. The sand was whiter than I had ever seen and the water absolutely crystal clear. We ventured down and spent a few hours there until the rain started pouring down and we had to hide in the trees. The rest of the day was spent mainly snorkelling amongst the little green islands and we saw some fantastic coral and fish, the highlight being a massive sea turtle which was definitely showing off; about 15 people around her and she just looked delighted to have the attention.

It must be said, the meals were really really good and that night we had another great dinner. But we weren’t even bothered trying to have fun with the group and the crew were really starting to annoy us. Our guide Liam was definitely on cocaine or some kind of acid, the French girl was as rude as the French are infamous for (Sorry Ela) and the rooms were so humid that sleep wasn’t really possible. The next morning we sailed back and got back to the hostel as quickly as possible. We had heard about how beautiful the Whitsundays were and we were not let down as the pictures show, I guess we were just a bit disappointed that the cruise was not as much fun as we expected and I guess Halong Bay would forever be the FC Barcelona of cruises.

Unfortunately we were back in Beaches that night but not for too long, it was off to Rainbow Beach the following day. When we arrived at Rainbow Beach the weather was shocking. A little Irish guy called Ryan led us over to the hostel, Pippies Guesthouse which was like a little house, cosy would be the best word to describe it. The reviews we’d seen on line indicated this place was the place to be but really it was like living in a house with a big crazy family.

The walls were thin as paper and there weren’t enough tables for everyone to have dinner. But there was a charm to all of this at the same time. Our Fraser Island tour was run by our hostel and from day one you knew the tour would be top notch. We attend a briefing the evening before we left for Fraser, it lasted two hours and one of our guides Ty gave us the itinerary for the 3 days along with the rules and regulations of the island and most importantly the dangers: spiders, snakes and dingos.

There would be deadly spiders there but primarily only Huntsmen; huge gigantic harmless spiders. There would be many types of venemous snakes (nothing new to the 3 of us) but most of all the dingos were to be respected. On their own they are harmless but in groups they are prone to viciousness. Most notably; they are smart devious animals, we had to ensure no food was kept in the tents, that no bags were in sight in the cars and that even wallets and bags were kept locked inside. The final danger was sharks.

We were absolutely not allowed to swim in the sea around the island as it was a breeding ground for Tiger sharks. There was about 34 people on the tour and we were divided into 4 groups as there would be 4 land rovers amongst us. Oh that’s the best part – you cannot tour Fraser Island unless you have a 4×4 and on the tour we would be the drivers. So our groups were sent off shopping and so Ela, Diarmo, 2 Canadian lesbians, an English brother and sister and I went off to IGA and spent an obscene amount on food. As for the alcohol, Diarmo and I suggested we should all buy our own because let’s face it, it wouldn’t have worked out fairly at all!

So the next morning we awoke to a another typical Queensland rainfall and set off in our 4x4s. We first met the main guide Dan and he gave us another run through of the tour. Now there was one disadvantage of being in our 4×4, Dan would be the only driver as he needed to lead the convoy at all times for safety reasons. Unfortunately this meant Diarmo, Ela and I would have to switch to other jeeps at some stage on the trip to drive. But in other cars there were only 3 or 4 people wanting to drive who would share it between them over the 3 days. There was a lot of driving and to be honest, the 3 of us got screwed in this sense.

On arrival on Fraser you knew it was a very unique place. The island’s perimeter is made up of long golden beaches and from the outset we were reminded of a Doctor Brown quote from Back to the Future ‘Where we’re going, we don’t need roads’. The beaches were like the highways of the island, an 80 km speed limit and the quickest way to travel around. As you venture inland, the island is made up of forest and is quite hilly too. Dirt tracks will take you from place to place and if you tried tackling them in a Golf or Clio, you wouldnt make it far at all.

So on day one we discovered some of the island’s bizarre landscape; deep red rock formations you would find in the out back, freshwater lakes and vast rolling sand dunes amongst the rain forest. We went for a swim in the lake and it was the most refreshing water you could possibly find. We set up camp in the evening time and we were each given a tent for two. The cooking area was pretty nice but pretty hectic with 34 people trying to cook at the same time.

Our group were pretty nice but the people we really bonded with were a bunch of absolute lunatics, Deena, Vahid and Roya who were siblings, Rebecca their friend and a crazy American girl Janella. These were the type of people who make you wonder ‘do you take pills all day?’ but the thing was, particularly with the siblings, they hadn’t a bad bone in their bodies, they were almost like the Brady bunch, but less cringy and cooler. So anyway after dinner Ela who I learned is a fantastic DJ had the tunes blaring and we played the biggest game of Kings of all time. Diarmo got the 8th king and drank a concotion of beer, wine and some tomatos which somehow he didn’t regurgitate.

The following day we continued to explore and see the beauty of the island. Dan and Ty were absolutely brilliant, they knew exactly what they were talking about and unlike Liam and the French girl on the previous tour, they were professional in their work along with being fun to be around. So there was more lake swimming and we were all looking forward to visiting a place called Champagne Pools. I don’t know why but in my head I felt that it would maybe involve real champagne. Unfortunately it didn’t, it was just a little lagoon in front of the seaside where waves came crashing in. No sharks, bit of a let down. We also did a trek up a seaside cliff with a fantastic view over the beach. The weather was pretty awful once again, not so much rainy but just overcast.

In a way however, it kind of suited the island. By no means is it a paradise like islands in Krabi or Halong Bay or even the Whitsundays. It is a unique mix of forests, beaches, dunes, hills and lakes and the weather was almost fitting with the brilliant strangeness of it all. We camped in the same place that night and once again had a great laugh and had some good games. All of the girls boycotted their own toilets and began using the men’s because of the presence of 6 or 7 massive Huntsmen on the walls, all but one; Ela. I was very proud!

And the dingos were up to no good too. Someone in another group left food in their tent and as warned, the tent was ripped apart, the food eaten and their stuff messed up. In the middle of the night, I got up to use the toilet and in the kitchen area there 4 or 5 dingos sniffing around. It was dead quiet and when they saw me, they all stared at me as I stared back. In my head I wondered ‘Are they going to maul me because I look like I’ve found them being bold?’. Luckily I quickly went to the toilet and back to bed without a fight.

On our final morning on Fraser we went to the famous Lake McKenzie. The legend goes that the water is so pure and the sand so fine that you can bath yourself and even brush your teeth in the lake. The legends were true, it is the most pristine lake I had ever seen and even though it didn’t feel very nice, we all brushed our teeth repeatedly. I swear, my teeth have been white as snow since that day!

Thanks to the Gold siblings and co, we all acted like kids in the water and were throwing each other into the air and making human pyramids for hours. On that morning Ela, Diarmo and I finally got to drive too and it felt so good to drive this beast on this tough terrain. The highlight is definitely on the beaches, when you have to time it to perfection to drive on the sand in between the tide coming in and out, if you miss the underside of the car is ruined and so literally the only way through is to accelerate like Lewis Hamilton as the water splashes away at your side. So we arrived back at the hostel in the afternoon and had an absolutely brilliant night in Rainbow beach. Dan our guide told us he was playing a set in one of the bars on the street and so about 20 of us ventured down to see him.

When we arrived there were about 4 people in this massive bar and all of a sudden Dan had a bunch of crazed fans before him as we sang and danced to the Chilis, Tenacious D and the Foo Fighters. He looked seriously delighted. That night Monsieur Goon was born, Diarmo’s new best friend who got up to all kinds of antics in Australia and New Zealand before recently passing away on the island of Kho Phangan. RIP Monsieur Goon. So we left Rainbow the next day and next stop was mine and Ela’s favourite place in Australia; Byron Bay.

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