Fraser Island tours

 

“A lot of strange versions have gone around concerning the history of Fraser Island...but I like mine best. So sit back, fasten your seat belts and listen closely. Here we go.” With his ruddy northern European complexion and his strong Austrian accent, Fritz Leeb is not the typical Aussie bush-guide. Thirty-odd years living in Queensland have done little to mellow that accent but there can be few people who know Fraser Island better than Fritz.

So I did as he said and buckled up as the powerful Hummer rumbled up the ferry ramp and onto a completely unique coastal wilderness. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island. “It measures 120km by 15km,” said Fritz, “and is the only place in the world where tropical forest can be found growing directly on sand.”

I had been trying to think just what it was about this jungle trail that seemed slightly ‘off-kilter.’ I had been feeling that there was something strange about it ever since we drove off the ferry. It was not just the barrage of heavy rain. (It was ‘the big wet’ in Queensland after all and I had spent enough time in jungles around the world to be left in o doubt whatsoever as to why they are so often referred to as rainforests). And now I realised; we were driving through a dense tangle of rioting vegetation and yet the Hummer’s tyres were rolling over the sort of soft ‘brown-sugar’ sand you more often equate to deserts.

Fraser Island has evolved over the last 700,000 years and really is a unique place. Life would have been tough for most of Australia’s Aboriginal inhabitants but you soon get the feeling that the Butchulla people (whose territory encompassed Fraser) would have been one of the luckiest ‘mobs’ around. It was with good reason that they called the island K’gari, which roughly translates as ‘Paradise.’ The island is still covered in sacred Butchulla sites, which are unfortunately now known more commonly by the names they were given by the first European explorers or by early settlers: Cathedral Rock, The Pinnacles.

We stopped for a picnic lunch towards the north of the island where Fritz brought us a carpet python and we stopped again after a quick swim at Lake McKenzie. I had taken part in a few fairly extreme 4x4 expeditions in the last few years but this was my first with a champagne and strawberry high-tea. “Fraser is never the same to drive two days in a row,” Fritz was saying as he navigated the Hummer cautiously over the bare patch of sand that was left between the brutal waves and the dunes where the first tender shoots of grass were fighting to stabilise this shifting landscape. It has always been a treacherous coast.

“I found the remains of a shark on the high-tide line a few months ago,” said Fritz, “It must have been about 6 or 7 feet long at one time but the entire back half had been bitten off by a shark that must have been immeasurably bigger.” Few people would risk these sharky waters and the Butchulla themselves only took to sea on the sheltered westward side of the island. Many a ship captain regretted passing too close to these reefs and rips. Near the top of 75 Mile Beach we stopped to check out the rusting wreck of the S.S. Maheno. She was a beautiful cruise ship of the Titanic class (and a holder of the Sydney to Wellington speed record) in her day but was already decommissioned in 1935 when she broke loose from the ship that was towing her and smashed her hull on Fraser Island. Over the next few years the constant smashing of the waves did their best to smash the rest of her...and the Australian Navy helped to speed the process by using her for bombing practise.

A little to the south along 75 Mile Beach we finally saw the sighting that we had really been looking forward to. Fritz, of course, spotted it first. Just a sandy coloured dot foraging along the edge of the dune grass. It was so well camouflaged that even when Fritz spotted it another vehicle, up ahead of us in the distance, was driving past oblivious.

I had once had a very fleeting sighting of a dingo near Uluru (Ayers Rock) but this was the first time I had seen one up-close. This one was young, not much more than a puppy, but he was not intimidated at all as we drove closer. The dingos of Fraser Island have gained a, mostly unwarranted, reputation for ferocity but it often stems from a combination of hunger and habituation to people. We saw another dingo in our drive down the beach but this one was scrawnier and was gnawing the remains of a coconut that had washed up on the high-tide line. The dingos, like most of Australia’s natural inhabitants, are tenacious survivors.

It was a fantastic experience to see these beautiful dogs in their wild habitat. Even more so on Fraser Island which, among its many other claims to fame, boasts the most pure-blooded dingos in Australia.