Thursday, February 4, 2010

Feb. 1: Fraser Island muddin'

Woke up early & checked out of the hostel, storing our bags in the truck & climbing on the bus to the ferry to our day trip on Fraser Island.  I woke up with a sore throat and stuffy head, probably from the drying air con in the room; it was a chilly rainy morning & I was grouchy and whinging.  I probably spent the next two hours (and quite a bit more of the day) with my head on Nick's shoulder, sniffling.

The boat to Fraser was a small drive-on ferry with just a little sitting area up top.  We, smartly, sat against the back wall, next to the door so that the cold wind & pricking rain didn't blow in on us as it did on the main seating area in front of us.  After a false start & then turning back around, which confused all of us, the ferry finally took off in the choppy grey water for a 45 minute trip.  Nick spent the time as my pillow, and we both were entertained by the fluffy white cat that had curled itself up under a chair, and the little French girl who, tentative and thrilled, petted and poked it.

the ferry - lifejackets along the ceiling

Arriving on Fraser Island, we boarded a big-wheeled bus in the rain.  Our driver, Jayson, was cheerful, saying he'd only worked here 3 months and had never seen or driven in weather this bad!  He made the trip, but more on that as we go along.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world.  It is partially covered by rainforest, which grows directly out of the sand.  Now, take a minute to think about what happens when you dump a whole lot of water on a whole mess of sand...

That's right.  Mud.

The island was mud.  It was slurpy, gooey sand with bath-sized pockets of mud placed directly in the path of our bus' tires.  It was deceptively dry looking sand, treacherously soft, trying to grab at our wheels.  It was dangerous, sticky and slippery, and Jayson loved it.  He conquered it.

Hard to tell how wet it is...

Our first stop was the rainforest, and we got to see it in its element - - raining.  Since I hadn't been feeling well, I'd grabbed my water-resistant jacket, and I was glad I did because we took two steps out of the bus and my shorts were dripping rain & my flip-flops were covered in mud.  Nick, without a raincoat, was soaked through.  We trickled and sloshed our way through the trees, following a clear, silent, sandy-bottom stream.  It was actually kind of fun walking in the rain, but I couldn't really look up because raindrops got in my eyes, and when I looked down, renegade raindrops squeezed themselves in my collar and shivered down my back.  Nick could look anywhere he wanted; he had no chance of keeping anything dry, and he loved it.  He kept saying he's so glad he didn't come on a sunny day.  Every time Jayson stopped us to explain an interesting tree or tell us something about the island, the rain poured harder.  No, it didn't just feel that way because we'd stopped moving, this rain was tricky.

We filed back into the bus, raindrops turned to goosebumps by the air con, laughing at how ridiculously wet we were.  Then the real fun began.  The roads on Fraser are sand, and they're only large enough for one vehicle - especially when that vehicle is a bus.  We were flying along, half the time without windshield wipers, through the rain, tree branches slapping us hi-fives and muddy potholes bouncing us like a carnival ride.  I can't explain the pothole bumps except to say that if we hadn't been wearing our seatbelts, there were more than a few times we would've hit the ceiling.  I'm not exaggerating.  And Nick and I were sitting over the wheel; there were some older ladies in the back, probably in their 60's, who were bouncing the worst.  They were giggling like schoolgirls.

Nick & I, back on the bus, soaking (he's pointing at the raindrops on his cheek)

Next stop was the resort for an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Jayson suggested a Bundy & coke to warm us up, and that's exactly what Nick & I, and the other Aussie couple on board, did.  The food was good & thawed us out.  We realised the weather was probably not getting any better, which worried us a bit since our plan had been to drive that night, after our Fraser Island day, down to Noosa for a kayaking everglades tour the next morning.  Nick called the Noosa company, hoping to not be charged for late cancellation, and found that the tour was already cancelled because of weather anyway, since there were 33 knot winds!  I am really glad I don't have to paddle a kayak in that kind of storm.  They hadn't called us because they'd written Nick's number down wrong, so it's a good thing we called.  We called Next Backpackers & got ourselves another night's stay so we didn't have to drive, and it was all sorted.

Speaking of storms, the Aussie couple on the bus told us that they saw that Airlie Beach had been destroyed by a cyclone on the news -- what!!?  They said the new marina - which is directly in front of Nick's hostel - was demolished.  We thought, surely someone would've called us... but Nick's phone had no signal.  When we finally did have signal, he had seven missed calls from his dad!  With worry on his face, he stepped out to call back, and with worry on my mind, I waited to hear.  He returned with good, although odd news - everything was fine, the worst the storm did was wash two boats onto the rocks, and his dad was calling with questions about the computers.  Relief.  Apparently it isn't only the American news that exaggerates...

A bit warmer, we got back on the bus and Jayson drove us down onto the beach.  He chased the surf, kicking up loose sand and splashing through puddles so deep they had a current of their own.  It was fascinating to just look out the front window, seeing the obstacles he saw, and watching him manually shift and rev to get around or plow through them.  Nick was more than impressed, and cheered him on every time he got us through an especially sticky situation.  A few times, he drove headfirst into a puddle so deep, and with so much speed, that water burst in underneath and around the door, and splashed everyone in the first five rows.  It was like a theme park ride!
The ocean through the streaked bus window

Our next stop was Eli Creek, the largest fresh water creek on the island, which, as Nick noticed, interestingly has conflicting currents in itself, without reaching the ocean.  We walked the boardwalk in the rain to the end, and then, noticing the signs that encouraged swimming, thought, we're wet anyway, and took off our shoes & waded our way back down the creek.  It has a nice current and apparently on a sunny day, you're meant to float down the creek.  it was not a sunny day; we waded up to our waists.  The sand was soft & mushy between our toes, the water was cold, and the surrounding vegetation was bright and beautifully wet.

Eli Creek - not my picture - my camera battery died at this point. :(

On the way back to the bus, we saw a Fraser Island Dingo - this is the only place in the world where Dingoes are full-blooded & not interbred with domesticated dogs.  He was skinny, ginger, and uninterested in us, like a scrappy runaway child.

not my picture - dingo

More crazy beach driving, until we reached the S.S. Maheno - a monstrous metal shipwreck, sinking in the sand & surf.  It was so very cool, and if the rain hadn't been so punishing at that point, or if I'd had a waterproof camera (working), I'd have taken so many artistic shots.  As it was, I shielded my phone from the storm and managed one quick picture of the rusty skeleton, window holes like eyes, eerily clouded by the rolling sea behind them.

Nick and the shipwreck

Then we drove up to Rainbow Sands, mountainous sand dunes in layers of color - predominately red, orange, yellow, brown.  They were beautiful, but by this point it was raining quite hard and I was sick of being cold and wet, so I didn't get out of the bus.  Took a picture through the window and rested my head back on Nick's sopping shoulder.

Rainbow Sands

At this point, the bus had to turn around and make it back along the beach.  It wasn't as exciting this time; we all stayed quiet and let Jayson concentrate on splashing surf, climbing coffee rocks, spitting sand and avoiding the self-drive 4x4s whose headlights occasionally beamed through the grey.

We made it off the beach and back into the dense forest.  Apparently, a 4x4 with a trailer had gotten bogged - easy to do in these conditions - and Jayson had to make sure the path was clear or we could get stuck with them.  It was.  We ascended the island to Lake McKenzie, which is a slightly acidic lake with a coffee rock bottom and silica sand beaches.  Even under the grey sky, it was absolutely gorgeous.  Pure white sand leading to a half-ring of brilliant turquoise blue that suddenly drops off into the deepest navy.  
The sand out to the bi-colored lake

As much as I wanted to swim, and as wet as I was, my core was still dry, my jacket having done a respectable job, and I was already shivering.  Nick, soaked through from the very beginning, didn't even hesitated - he and a few other passengers, ran full-speed into the water, while I waded in behind them, up to my shorts.  It was so warm!  It was like bathwater, and Nick said it got warmer the deeper you went.  Because of the pH balance of the water, you don't feel light, the way you do in a pool or ocean, you feel like your actual body weight, and you don't float.  What a strange feeling.  I splashed my face with a handful of the lake, and it was sweet and so so fresh tasting on my lips.  We only had about 15 minutes there because the rain had set us back a bit, but on a nicer day I could've spent hours there.  It is an incredibly beautiful place and there was no one there.

The guys in the lake

Back to the bus for some great info about the Aboriginals from the island, and back to the ferry for a tired trip back to the mainland.  Jayson was also our bus driver back to the hostel, and he and Nick chatted the whole drive back.  Good guy; his attitude about the weather, his skill and adventurous spirit, made the crazy weather fun.  By the end of it, I felt less like I was on a holiday and more like I was on an expedition & Jayson was the only person who could lead us to safety.  If you ever do an Explore Fraser bus trip, I hope you get him as your guide.

Muddy and achy, we slopped back to the hostel, showered, went to the very locals-only, unfriendly pub next door for dinner, and then sat in the movie room of the hostel and watched "Almost Famous."  That's my favorite movie and it, along with cookies, chocolate & tea, certainly put me in a good mood.  

Today I am so grateful and happy for:
~ making the best of a less than ideal situation
~ the beauty of Fraser Island (even visible through the storm)
~ not having to drive after our tour
~ good attitudes

xo! n.

1 comment:

  1. Don't get AB started about Fraser Island!!

    Sounds like a great mini-dventure your on right now as part of the big adventure ;-)

    R xx


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