Mad dingos and Englishmen

OK, so we hardly saw any dingos on Fraser Island, just two skulking about when we ate a picnic on the first day and one on the beach, but I liked the title, and there were a lot of English people around.

The four-wheel drive camping safari to Fraser Island was the highlight of my time in Oz – it had some stiff competition against the Red Center and the Whitsundays, but it was fantastic fun, and enough to restore my love for the seaside. OK, I still can’t stand tacky beaches, but sitting round a barbecue to keep warm with a group of funny people, huddled between a four-wheel drive vehicle and a tent, drinking nasty wine and listening to a drunk Frenchman play a didgeridoo while the surf washes the shore in the background – this is the stuff that memories are made of.

Three groups from Palace Backpackers in Hervey Bay were prepared for their trip by the fastest talking Australian I have ever met. He spoke so fast I don’t know if even he knew what he was on about, but it was something to do with putting the tents on the cars and driving to Woolworths to pick up food for three days. Our groups were all randomly assembled it seems, but to me, our group getting together was sheer luck – we all got on like a house on fire, and we didn’t have the American guy that slept through the safety briefing and was heard to say “F*ck it man, I’m gonna catch a dingo”. He could have got annoying.

Indian HeadFraser Island was bigger than I expected, in fact it’s huge, over 100 km long, all made of sand. Huge sand spits hide inland behind lines of trees, creeks and washouts run down to the sea from the island, the endless Eastern Beach is a national highway and aircraft runway combined, and the roads are only traversable by four-wheel drive. Dingos, goannas and birds rules the island, and whales, sharks, turtles and dolphins rule the waters. You can’t swim in the sea because of the sharks, jellyfish and strong undercurrents, unless that is you’re a Norwegian called Raimond who knows no fear. Fraser Island is beautiful, and getting onto the Eastern beach, facing away from Australia out to the Pacific, seeing dolphins jumping in pairs from the water as the sun rose, was truly memorable.

Lake McKenzieThe group wandered the island following a loose itinerary set out for us by Palace – but the beauty of the self-drive format was that we took ourselves where we wanted to go. I can’t stand being shepherded around the place by tour guides so this was perfect, but we still had our Danish drill instructor, Helle, to keep us moving on if we stayed in one place for too long. Our first discovery on the island was the stunning Lake McKenzie, an inland freshwater lake of incredible deep blue water over pure white sand. The photo on the right is a rare shot in that it doesn’t have an overweight fifteen-year-old Australian kid being molested by seven of his mates in it.

We decided straight out to camp on the beach – the inland campsites had a no-noise regulation after nine at night, and the good thing about our group was that we immediately knew we would be making some noise after nine at night. By the end of the first night, we were busy laughing hysterically at something none of us quite seem to remember, and we didn’t really stop for three days. The problem with a group of people getting together and having fun is that you end up saying ‘you had to be there’ to people who weren’t, because the stories just don’t sound as funny, and this was one of those cases. Nevertheless, highlights in the mirth stakes included Raimond being attacked by an underwater dingo, the sand monster, Raimond in general, Adam the ‘Hand Grenade’ going off after drinking enough Jack Daniels to make an elephant dizzy, Ping Pang Pong and Chris volunteering to drink for Helle, and the French lads complete inability to play Ping Pang Pong. You see, you had to be there.

Team 3With six drivers in our car we had six different people take opportunities to try and kill everyone. The inland roads of the island have holes a foot deep, are basically just sand tracks, and wind round and up and down hills, but it’s incredible what a feeling of invincibility you have driving a filthy great Toyota four-wheel drive, a bit like being in an arcade game as Andy described it – it was great fun. The only problem was that while the driver was having great fun, everyone in the back was being thrown a foot off their seat by the bumps. Driving on the beach took an an extra element of danger with loose sand, deep washouts, creeks, planes and other cars – a couple of times, sitting in the back, we saw sky, then sand, then our lives flash before our eyes as the car bounced about over sand or dropped into a washout.

Fraser Island was a great combination of natural beauty and hilarity with a great group of people – we were all a bit cheesed off to leave. See the photos from Fraser Island here.