Posts Tagged ‘AUS National Park’

A world of sand

On the way further north the crops change and sugar cane and pineapple dominate the scenery; in the paddocks heat and drought resistant Brahman cattle replace Angus or Hereford.

When we arrive at River Heads in Hervey Bay, the car park at the barge ramp is empty and there is plenty of time to get ready for the island, for Fraser Island that is. We have already stocked up our supplies and should not have to restock for at least 2 weeks. The gauge shows 46 Psi when we check the tyre pressure and we deflate to 20; this should get us through the sand without problems.

The ride on the barge across Great Sandy Strait takes just 40 minutes. Dolphins, turtles and a white-breasted sea eagle join us for a while and then the landing at Kingfisher Bay appears in the distance. What a great feeling to set foot to the island again after 10 years. And it seems to be every bit as beautiful and magic as we remembered it. After a quick look around at Kingfisher we get serious and head inland. The massive fence just behind the resort hasn’t been there last time; the electric cattle grid looks like out of “Jurassic Park” and we wonder what dangerous beast may roam the peaceful island.

The vehicle tracks on Fraser consist entirely of the same material than the island itself, sand, sand and more sand. Around Kingfisher and Central Station the tracks are pretty rough in places and the sand very soft and deep. Getting around without a four wheel drive with a decent ground clearance is impossible. We feel a bit uneasy at first, the single lane inland sand tracks with a 30km speed limit are not always easy going and oncoming cars can only be passed at certain points. Reversing is difficult at times and at the designated passing points the sand is quite often even deeper.

Our Landcruiser behaves well though and thanks to the wide, deflated tyres we make it to the other side without getting stuck. After slightly more than an hour the forest opens up and we drive onto the eastern beach. We enjoy the ride north along the surf, at the same time feeling guilty that our driving is spoiling the peace and quiet of this beautiful stretch of coastline. All the vehicles share the beach with small planes, which use the firm sand as a convenient air strip.

At Happy Valley we leave the beach and pull up in front of our little cottage minutes later. What a beautiful little paradise and our home for the next 10 days! Native plants and coconut palms create a tropical atmosphere and the resident goannas seem to have gathered to welcome us. Bree, our host, comes around for a chat and her passion and love for the island is obvious. Her knowledge is going to be a great source of information and making our stay even more enjoyable. Bree also tells us about the fences and the electric grids that have been put up in the last 8 years.

Fraser Island is home to one of the purest populations of Dingoes remaining in Australia. Stupid and irresponsible behavior of visitors caused several attacks and despite the fact that most of Fraser is declared a National Park and belongs to a World Heritage area, supposedly to protect its natural values, problem Dingoes have been destroyed (official term!!) and fences have been erected.

The next ten days see us exploring the island and reading the books about the area given to us by Bree. It is great to gain an insight into the history of Fraser Island, its human inhabitants and its flora and fauna and visit some of the places described. There is a unique range of habitats from rainforest to dry heathlands, from wetlands teaming with life to seemingly lifeless barren sand dunes, from miles and miles of golden beaches on the island’s eastern side to its western mangrove fringes. Despite the fact that the island consist mainly of sand, it features many freshwater lakes. The usually permeable sand is made impermeable in places by layers of decomposed organic matter, which prevents the water from draining. Other lakes are simply a depression in the sand reaching into the underlying water table.

On our walks and drives we come across an abundance of wildlife. In the pristine freshwater lakes and streams we spot turtles, rainbow fish, eels and even jungle perch. At dusk Dingoes appear regularly and patrol the beaches in search of a morsel or two. We love our beach walks and always collect bits and pieces the sea has left behind. One day we come across some beautifully marked jelly fish and even a more than 2 meters long sunfish, thrown onto the sand like all the other flotsam by relentless waves. The weird and wonderful fish impresses us even in its death and we try to imagine how beautiful it looked when gliding effortlessly through the water.

The annual Tailor run on the island’s east coast attracts thousands of anglers, keen to catch their share of the tasty fish. At high tide, countless groups of fishos in yellow oilskins are dotting the beach, casting their offerings into the surf. Bait and chrome lures work a treat at times and the bag limit may be reached quickly.

A very friendly bunch of fishermen from the Lockyer Valley near Brisbane are staying next door and we enjoy our little chats at night. One late afternoon the sky gets covered in thick black clouds within minutes and moments later a reasonable subtropical thunderstorm breaks loose. The coconut palms
bend like jelly sticks and we fear that they are going to break. Suddenly we realize that our absent neighbors have placed all their gear and cloth outside to have everything dried by the sun. Quickly we rescue their stuff and place it on the large covered veranda. Later we get generously rewarded for our little effort and get invited for a delicious feast of fresh fish for dinner. The storm doesn’t last very long and after about an hour the rain eases and the wind drops without having caused any serious damage.

Some of the more touristy attractions like the Maheno wreck and Eli Creek are bustling with people and we enjoy chatting with fellow travelers. Eli Creek can be a very peaceful little place, in the tourist season though it gets hammered by commercial operators and the crystal clear creek gets flooded with screaming and splashing visitors most of the day. The resident jungle perch don’t seem to mind and only head for cover when too many human beings seek relief from the heat in the cool freshwater.

Time goes by far too quick once more and we have to say good bye. Hope to be back one day! All the very best to you, Bree. May all your good work and efforts bear fruits!

Fraser Island facts
Area 184’000 hectares
Length 123km, average width 14km
Fraser Island and neighboring Cooloola represent the world’s largest vegetated dune
systems and are part of the Great Sandy Region. Fraser Island became World Heritage listed in 1992 and is home to many rare and endangered plants and animals.
The area is of great cultural significance with at least 40’000 years of Aboriginal occupation. The island was taken from the last native occupants about 100 years ago, when they were killed or deported to make room for progress and profit.
Fraser Island and Cooloola attract a massive number of visitors, over 500’000 a year. After
logging and sand mining have been stopped, there are still a lot of issues to be addressed and solved to secure the unique natural value of the area for the future. Many of the island’s unique ecosystems are fragile and cannot cope with thousands and thousands of people who regard Fraser as a giant adventure playground.

Back on the mainland and in Hervey Bay, we decide to stay a little longer. The place
is busy with visitors, many of them wanting to see the Humpback Whales Hervey Bay is famous for. The whale watching season has just started and the whales are already here in numbers.

With fond memories of Bundaberg, we just have to do a day trip to the home of a true Australian icon, the legendary Bundy Rum. The distillery runs tours and we enjoy our visit a lot – not just because of the drink at the end of the guided tour. Pretty simple actually to make rum out of molasses, a byproduct of the sugar milling process, but surprisingly delicious.  And, according to the manufacturer, enjoyed in moderate quantities, it’s good for your health as well. Not so sure about that!

Every night hundreds and hundreds of flying foxes leave their roosting site and for
several minutes the sky over parts of Hervey Bay is full of the noisy mammals. People watch them with mixed feelings these days, because many of the bats carry the potentially deadly Hendra virus. In Queensland several deaths have been recorded this year. So far, no direct transfer of the virus from bat to human has been established, with horses needed as a second carrier.

Blue Mountains and beyond

The Blue Mountains have always been special to us. Steep cliffs, countless waterfalls, hidden valleys and the charming mountain villages are a world of their own, a mere 90km from Sydney CBD. Especially in winter, the villages have a resort like atmosphere to them and walking through the windswept streets, ten years after our last visit, made us feel at home. The weather was very cold – at some stage, nearby Lithgow got a bit of snow – with frosty nights and cold, windy days with lots of sunshine; the perfect weather to go hiking.

There is an abundance of well marked tracks available to suit everyone. Many of the tracks lead into the surrounding valleys with some hair-raising descents down the cliff faces. One of the longest and steepest of the many staircases is the aptly named Giant Stairway with its more than 900 steps.

The bird life in the Blue Mountains National Park is prolific and we saw many different species. Lorikeets, Rosellas, Cockatoos and other parrots are the clowns of the eucalypt forests and what they lack in singing ability, they make up for with their colorful feathers. One of the very skillful singers though is the Lyrebird and we listened to its melodies for hours. Lyrebirds are masters in imitating any other bird, in fact any sound, even a car alarm or a screeching door.

The clean mountain streams are home to the bright orange freshwater crayfish and we were looking forward to seeing them again. But despite our efforts we couldn’t manage to find one this time. Whether the water was too cold or whether we looked in all the wrong places, we don’t know.

What a pleasure to come home after a long day out, light a fire and have a hearty cheese fondue. To our great surprise we found cheese fondue mixture in one of the shops in town. One morning we had to stock up our groceries and left early. The car started beautifully with the first turn of the starter motor despite the frosty temperature. We found everything we needed up in Leura and – having it safely stowed – wanted to drive off. The starter motor turned as it is supposed to, but the engine wouldn’t run. After many attempts we called the NRMA and just 10 minutes later a technician arrived. Not having a car of our own back home at all, we were pretty nervous and wondering what might happen next and having to get the Troopy out of an inclined parking space on a busy car park without the engine running didn’t help either. It took our friendly helper half an hour to find out that the injection pump did not get power and therefore the engine didn’t get any fuel. He organized a tow truck and another half an hour later our Troopy was sitting in the back off the truck and we were on our way to the local car electrician. It was close to 5pm now and getting dark. We had to leave the car at the workshop and organize a ride back for the 20 kilometers to our cottage. The guys at the workshop did their best and eventually found a broken wire causing all the trouble. They did a very good job fixing the problem and we picked up our car two days later. Troopy was running again and purring like a big cat. Time went by all too quick and we had to move on to Lake Windamere and Dunn’s Swamp, an easy two hours drive to the north.

Breakaway Farm, east of Rylstone and adjacent to Wollemi National Park, was our next base and Jenny Franks’ rock cottage a very charming and comfortable place indeed. Our intention was to get serious with the boat, to give it a proper workout and to catch the first yellowbelly of the trip. But sometimes things don’t go according to plan. The weather was not only cold and windy day after day, but also very wet. We made the most out of it and did a lot of reading. One of the great books we read was Reg Franks’ – Jenny’s late husband – book “Out of my tucker box”. Reg and Jenny lived in the area for most of their lives and being given an insight into local history and local stories was great. We found many places described in the book and the knowledge we had from reading Reg’s stories made us feel like locals. On our walks along the Cudgegong River and up to Kandos Weir/Dunn’s Swamp we saw Platypus’ and turtles and the songs of Lyrebirds were always surrounding us. The area is very scenic with many rocky outcrops and caves. The going is tough and many years ago the rugged land around Nullo Mountain provided the perfect hideout for Elizabeth Hickman, known as the Lady bushranger, and Captain Thunderbolt, a well known bushranger lived here as well. The book about Elizabeth’s life made fantastic reading during our stay and being right in the middle of where it all happened made the book become very much alive indeed.

One of the highlights of our stay one Jenny’s farm was the guided tour she gave us up the mountain right at our back door; her knowledge and her love for the land made it a wonderful experience.

Mudgee, a good half an hour by car from Rylstone, has become the center of a grape growing region with many family owned wineries producing great wines and we enjoyed the hospitality of this country side town several times.

After weeks of cold and often wet weather, it was time to head further north and back to the coast in search of sunshine and warmth.