My time on Fraser Island was bitter-sweet... i.e. I had great times, and I had some not-so-great times... it truly is an amazing island, a natural wonder in fact, and I met some terrific people on this trip, but I also had a bit of misfortune towards the end... and even the luck of the Irish couldn't help me. But I get ahead of myself, let me start from the very beginning...
Fraser Island is an incredible place for many reasons. First off, it is the largest all-sand island in the world... and the 'all sand' part is what makes it so incredible... the island truly is just sand, and if you were to dig, the sand actually goes down to 600 meters below sea level, so it is not rock with sand on top, it is sand. All the vegetation on the island (including rainforests) are growing on just sand... and this island is the only place in the world where rainforest grows on high sand dunes.
The plants and trees get all their nutrition from any dead plant matter or leaf litter on the ground. This island was at one time used for logging, but when it was realized how scientifically important it was, the logging stopped... and timber hasn't been collected from the island since 1991... and in 1992 it was listed as a World Heritage site... and now the island is only making money by tourism.
Fraser also has over 50 freshwater lakes and about 80 streams and creaks that run through the island. We were able to swim in a few of them, and unfortunately, some of us got a bit of grief from them... (hint hint towards the bad luck!)
OK, now on to my actual trip. I was picked up in the morning at around 7:40 (it was wonderful! I had a sleep in!) and after everyone was picked up, we headed towards the ferry that would take us to the island. There were about 16 or so of us, and most people came in groups... it was just myself and one other girl who seemed to be travelling alone.
We boarded the ferry (as did our bus) and settled down for a 50 minute boat ride to the island. You will all be very happy to know that I did not get seasick on this ferry... I think big boats are OK for me, but the little ones, not so good...
After we arrived to the island, we boarded back onto our bus and headed out into the rainforest. As we drove along, our tour guide (Peter) told us a bit about the vegetation, the rainforest, and the island island itself. The way he spoke was very amusing, it was kind of like how a pilot might speak to the passengers as he is taking off, 'We plan to be flying at approximately 20,000 feet, we are expecting a bit of rain and turbulance so be sure you buckle up!' He certainly seemed to know his stuff though!
After a short drive, we had the chance to get out of the bus and take a walk through the rainforest, so we might see the flora up close and personal... we also had a chance to get to know each other outside of the bus. Before we set off on the walk, we all introduced ourselves and said where we were from. As usual for these tours, we were a pretty varied group! There were a couple of other people from America (NYC actually), a whole group of girls from Norway, a couple of Dutch girls, a Swiss German family, (their child was ADORABLE... couldn't have been much older than 2 or 3...) a German couple... one English girl and two Irish carpenter brothers. I ended up hanging out mostly with the English girl (she was the other person traveling by herself) and the Irish brothers. They were all so much fun, and were hilarious! I love the Irish and English sense of humor... despite the fact that they don't think Americans are funny.
Anyhow, after a short walk through the rainforest (and a run-in with a LOT of spiders... I think I saw more spiders in the two days in Fraser than I did in my entire time in Australia!) we got back into the bus and set off for our next stop, Eli Creek. BUT... on the way, we met up with a small airplane pilot who offered to take us for a flight over the island for a small fee. He promised us that this would be an incredible experience... and that we would actually be able to take off from the beach, and we'd see parts of the island that you'd never be able to see without being in the air. He also said that we'd see plenty of creatures like sharks or large fish in the water. I don't normally do things like that (spend a lot of money for 15 minutes of fun) because I never feel like it is worth the money... but I was convinced to do it, and anyway I figured that since I didn't do the helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles so I should do SOMETHING similar... and I also really wanted to see the sharks and other sea life from the air!
We got on board (myself, the captain, my Irish and English friends, and two other people) and we took off, as promised, from the beach. That was actually a pretty neat experience... watching the ocean from the window get smaller and smaller as we got further into the sky...
The tour from the air was pretty neat, we did see a lot from the sky.
This one was actually my favorite, a lake called 'butterfly lake'.
Ok, so we definitely wouldn't have gotten those kinds of views from the ground! The ride lasted about 10-15 minutes before we decended. I did enjoy the trip, but I couldn't help but be disappointed. There was no marine life out (that we noticed)... so we didn't see any sharks from the sky, or even any large fish. That was the selling point for me, so I couldn't help but feel a LITTLE cheated... but it still was a great experience. One more airplane pic of the captain and I!
After leaving the plane, the six of us walked to Eli Creek, a little stream that had the CLEAREST water that I think I have ever seen in a creek... and although it was running swiftly, it was completely silent because the water was moving through sand instead of rocks. We took a bit of a walk through the creek... it was very shallow at first but as you can see from the picture, it got pretty deep. And me without a swimsuit on!
The shallow... (those aren't pants, it was windy!)
And the deep! Ok, that isn't so deep, but it actually got to my thighs only I didn't get that picture...After the creek, we stopped for lunch at a little resort-kitchen – it was buffet-style eating... chicken, salad, lunch meats, etc... low-key, but delicious. After about an hour, we were back on the bus to our next stop, the Maheno shipwreck (the same ship in the picture above that we saw from the air).
The ship was at one time a 'luxury cruiser', which was built in 1905. In 1935, it was sold to Japan for scrap metal, but ended up being caught in up in a cyclone, and was washed ashore on Fraser Island. Now, it is just one of the many interesting things that people come to look at on their trip to the island!
Our next stop was a lookout over the ocean called Indian Head (named because when Captain Cook first discovered it, he saw many Aboriginals on it - and he thought they were like the American Indians) where we might be lucky enough to see sharks, large fish, turtles... etc.
It was a beautiful view, but we unfortunately were NOT lucky enough to see anything other than schools of small fish and the birds that were eating them. I hoped that there was still a chance that we might see turtles when we visited Lake Mackenzie, which known for being an extremely clear and beautiful lake, and I asked Peter if that was a possibility. “Oh, we aren't going to Lake Mackenzie, we don't have a liscense for it. We're going to another, similar lake, Lake Birrabeen.” Whaaaa? I was once again slightly disappointed... I had thought (and I seem to remember that my travel agent told me this to be true) that we WOULD be seeing Lake Mackenzie... it was the most famous lake in Fraser Island! How sad that we were missing it... but Peter said that because of how popular it is, not everyone can have a liscence for it, or the lake would end up being destroyed by so many visiters, and that the one we would be going to was just as nice, just not as popular. Oh, well....
We were up there for a while, and when it seemed that everyone was leaving I headed back down to the bus as well. Then, about 15 minutes later, a couple of people came back down from the lookout point, all excited because they had seen a whale. Hmph, another time when I miss something because I left too early! First the penguins on the Great Ocean Road, now this! After the lookout, we headed towards our camp for the night, with a quick stop to this neat little area called the 'Coloured Sands'. They were beautiful, and reminded me a bit of the okrah pits from my Heading Bush tour, but these sands weren't used by the Aboriginies to create body paint. How do I know? I asked!
We got to camp pretty early, about 4:30, and dinner wasn't until 6... so myself and my Irish and English friends entertained ourselves by building domino tracks and card houses... it was fun! My house was the best, no matter what you might have heard. Dinner was absolutely DELICIOUS.... Peter made everything... we had the choice of steak or fish (I had fish), and there was also baked potatoes with sour cream, salad, garlic bread... and the best part was, after we finished, we didn't have to do any of our own dishes... there was a dishwasher! This was the life of luxury! We didn't have to cook our own food, AND we didn't have to do our own dishes! And to top it all of, we finished with vanilla ice cream!
We were all in good spirits after dinner, and were talking and joking around when we were offered the chance to go on a night walk with one of the other groups to see if we couldn't find any dingos or other night roaming creatures. In the first 5 minutes, we did see one creature, however just mentioning the name of this little guy sends shivers down some Australian's back... it was a large cane toad.
The next morning, I almost didn't wake up for the sunrise... my alarm went off but I pushed snooze and then fell back asleep... where I had a dream that I had gotten up too late and I ended up missing the sunrise by just 5 minutes. I woke up again to a rooster crowing (it was actually the older Irish brother who wanted to wake me up) and we began walking the 15 minute hike down to the beach. I off-handedly mentioned my dream of missing the sunrise by minutes, and I guess I look like a psychic because they then got nervous and made me run! Of course, klutzy me in flip-flops, I fell a couple of times while running in the sand (but it was nice, soft sand... good cushioning!) but we made it there before the sun had showed it's bright shiny head.
After the sun was too bright to stare at anymore, we walked back to our campsite and had breakfast - cereal, toast, and fresh fruit. And once again, I marveled at this wonderful dishwasher that was sparing me from washing dishes! After we all had enough to eat, we again headed out on the road, eager for another day of fun!
we didn't care HOW cold the water was, we all jumped right in! The water was really deep in the middle, but it wasn't very large - you could easily see the other side of the lake, so some of us (myself included) decided to swim to the other end of it.
I had my Casio with me (in it's waterproof case) so it wasn't very easy for me to swim the normal way while holding my camera. I backstroked most of it... it was actually farther than it looked on the way there... by the time I got there I was tired but I made it! The view looking back was well worth the swim...
We stayed there on the opposite side for about 20 minutes before it was almost time for us to get back on the bus for our next stop, so we swam back. Getting back seemed much easier than getting there (perhaps my arm muscles were getting more developed by the minute!) and we were on the other side in no time at all, congratulating ourselves on a job well done.
This, dear friends, is when the first tragic event of my Fraser Island trip took place... I looked at my wrist to see how much time it took me to swim back, and saw... a naked wrist. My watch, the one that has been with me since day one of Australia... my xmas gift from mom... my way of telling in an instant what time it was in the US and Australia... it was gone. Gone, somewhere on the bottom of Lake Wabby. This was so upsetting to me! I had really become attached to this watch, really grown to depend on it... and wore it all the time... but now it was gone, just like that! I am still trying to look on the bright side of this loss... maybe this will be good for me, and for my last couple of weeks I shouldn't live by the clock anymore... but I still find myself looking at my wrist every now and then and feeling a twinge of sadness. My wrist looks so empty now... :( But I guess now Fraser Island will always have a piece of me...
We left the lake and went to the area of our picnic lunch... nothing spectacular happened here, but we were forced to eat in cages.
Hah, just kidding. These were dingo lockers, where you would run to hide if a dingo attacked the campsite... ok not really... they were the place to put your food and other products so the dingos wouldn't get them :)
Lunch was sandwich wraps (fajita type things again... what is it with Australia and fake Mexican food?) which I didn't enjoy as much as I could have because I was still thinking of the lost watch. I got a little happier when I saw that we had shortbread cookies for dessert though... :)
After lunch, we went for another bit of a rainforest walk. We saw a couple of eels swimming around in the crystal clear water of a creek (really neat to see) and we saw a couple of large lizards climbing up the trees... but it was really a wonder that we saw anything! A few of the girls up front would spot a lizard and they'd start screaming and jumping around and making a huge ruckus (not because they were afraid, but because they were excited to see it) that I would have thought the lizard would have ran away in terror before the people at the end of the line saw it... but it didn't, and I got some video to show you!
After the rainforest walk, our last stop was at another lake, crystal clear Lake Birrabeen (our substitute for Lake Mackenzie). This lake actually had been filled by only rainwater... there were no streams leading into it or out of it. I wondered to myself if it was filled with leeches, as leeches are known to be in places with standing water, but I forgot about that as soon as I saw how clear and beautiful the water was. It really was clear as glass... and the sand was so white and soft! We had about an hour and a half to swim and play before heading back to the ferry, and we tried to put it to good use!
Because the water was so clear, I tried getting an underwater picture of myself, but it was harder to do this that it seemed... but I did get a nice underwater video!
We were playing around, swimming, splashing, picture-taking, when suddenly we heard loud screams coming from near the shore. Instinctively I looked around for sharks or crocs or baracudas or something like that, but saw nothing... I just saw one of the Norwegian girls screaming and jumping up and down... and I think I heard the word 'leech'. Uh oh! We all got closer to her to inspect the damage, and indeed, she did have a leech on her... she managed to get it off, but was bleeding. We saw the offending leech on the bottom of the crystal clear lake... and it was a big sucker, no pun intended! I think most of us lost our taste for swimming after that (the thought of more leeches on one of us was not very appealing) so we got out and lay in the sun for a while.
I took my camera out of the waterproof case to take some more pictures of the lake (the waterproof lens was a little smudged so I wanted to get a clearer pic out of water) and this is about when terrible thing number two happened. I dropped my camera in that nice, soft, white sand. Uh oh... I quickly brushed off all the sand I saw, and blew in the creases and cracks of the camera. I figured it was ok, I didn't see any more sand in any place that should matter, so I pushed the button to turn it on. The lens started to come out... then it stopped. The LCD screen flashed 'Lens Error!'. Great. I got a piece of grass to try to get every last bit of sand out of the area... and blew into the cracks as hard as I could... and eventually got the lens to open and close again, but it made a funny sound as it was doing it... 'no matter', I thought, 'I can deal with funny sounds... I have lived with my sister Stacy for years and I got used to her funny sound...' (hahahaha).
I didn't have time to take any more pictures as everyone was rushing for the bus. So, I carefully put my camera in it's case, and told myself I'd take more pictures to test it later. We headed to the ferry, everyone a bit sad that our time would soon be coming to an end, and boarded the boat. I was on the sundeck of the boat, and was about to take a picture of the island we were leaving, when I realized something was wrong. My camera turned on, the lens opened and came out as it should (only with a funny noise) but... it wouldn't focus. Noooooooo! I tried in vain to focus on a bunch of different things... but it just didn't work. And it made more funny noises. Fraser Island has now taken my watch, AND my camera! I raised my fist and shook it at the island that was growing smaller and smaller as we headed towards Hervey Bay and shouted 'damn you Frasier Island! You haven't heard the last of me!' I was consoled by my Irish and English friends, and we went down to the middle deck to sit down. So, this was my horrible news. I lost my watch and my camera on one trip... although my bad luck on Fraser doesn't compare to the bad luck of it's namesake, Captain Fraser. If you are curious.. Captain Fraser, his wife Eliza, and his crew were sailing around Australia when they shipwrecked a few hundred kilometers from the island. Most of the crew went on the lifeboat to try to get to land, leaving Captain Fraser, is wife, and the first and second mate with the ship. The captain and others eventually washed onto Fraser Island, and were captured by Aboriginies living there, and forced to work. Captain Fraser was old and frail, and was eventually speared in the back by the Aboriginies and he died. The first and second mate also eventually died on the island, but Eliza was saved, and returned to England... and about 20 years later she was killed when she was hit by a horse-drawn tram. The island was eventually named after the Frasers... I suppose when the island brings you that much bad luck, it's only fair. Maybe the lakes names should be changed to be named after me... Lake Wabby could be 'Karen Lake' and the sand on Lake Birrabeen could be named 'Karen Sands'. It's only fair, right?
Anyhow, I guess the fact that I broke my camera is no big surprise. I am actually shocked that it didn't break before that day... I am way too clumsy with my stuff at times. It had a bunch of dents and chips in it (thank goodness it was a tough metal) but it couldn't hold up to a couple of grains of itty,bitty sand. I actually wasn't as upset about the camera as the watch, I was just glad that my photo cards were OK... So, our trip was over, and we all said our sad goodbyes, with promises to keep in touch. Despite the fact that this was one of the shortest trips I have been on, I got on very well with the people on the trip, we got to know each other better than I got to know other people on 3 or 4 day trips. I did have fun, and learned a lot about that fascinating Island, and I wouldn't turn back the clock and not go just to save the watch and the camera... though I would fasten the watch a bit tighter and not take the camera out of the protective waterproof case until after I left the beach!
Anyhow, the reason that I got up early this morning was to go to the electronics store and see about getting another camera. Some electronics in Australia are actually better priced than they are in the US, so I figured I should see what I could get... plus I was going to the zoo and I knew I'd want to be able to take pictures there. I looked up a bunch of cameras on Amazon, and checked out reviews, and decided on one camera that I thought would be perfect for me. Shockproof (you can drop it up to 5 meters and it will be OK) freeze-proof, waterproof, crushproof... basically, it is a Karen-proof camera. I took note of the Amazon price before I got to the store, and it was about 30 bucks cheaper in the store than it was on Amazon (American Amazon) and the price was actually even better than that because of the (slight) currency difference between the US and Australia. The only downfall to this camera was the fact that it used XD cards, instead of SD... and I had a nice supply of SD cards that would now go to waste. Well, I guess not all would go to waste, since I can use them as disks for my mini-computer!Anyhow, I am now in Noosa in my hostel (I'll talk about the hostel and Noosa in another blog) and tomorrow I am off to the Australia zoo. I know some of you are looking forward to hearing about this, so keep your eyes out for the new blog either tomorrow or shortly after (depending on how tired I am tomorrow!) Tah!
Ps... since this blog was written, I have already been to the zoo... but I have no time to talk about it today... I will post again tomorrow or the next day!