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Friday 3 May 2013
Fraser Island, Australia

Saving the worst trip for last... part 2

The next day was a full day exploring the island. Aude drove first over a very rocky stretch of beach up to Eli Creek. The creek is a shallow stream with a boardwalk alongside which leads up to the top of the stream. From there you can swim or paddle all the way out to the beach. Great fun floating along with the GoPro! The next drive took us all the way to Indian Heads, about two thirds of the way up the east coast, where the long beaches are divided by a huge cliff. We climbed up the rocks all the way to the lookout point at the top, from where we could see the southern and northern stretches of beach as well as the inland sand blows. Getting off the beach was hard work as it meant revving hard and trying to race up a steep slope of very soft sand. We managed it on our third attempt. An English girl called Nat was driving this time. We followed Wayne along the inland sand road but got stuck twice, both times having to all get out and dig the sand away from the wheels. We could smell a burning smell in the car when Nat revved the engine and questioned Wayne about this, but he said it was because we were slipping the clutch too much. We had to use the low range and give it some power to get through the softer sand, which we did. The road from there wound up and down through the trees like a rollercoaster. All we could do was hang on, giggle helplessly and try to keep up with Wayne. (The music shuffle on my Ipod came up with some classics at this point - 'The Devil went down to Georgia' by the Charlie Matthews Band, 'Edge of Glory' by Lady Gaga and 'Gonna Fly Now', the Rocky movie theme!) Because the terrain was so uneven, Nat stayed in second gear the whole way as every time she tried to change up she'd lose second and first again on the way down and we'd come to a standstill. Consequently, the revs were quite high the whole way and the burning smell stayed with us. After about 20 minutes of this, we reached the picnic area at the top of the hill. When we pulled in behind Wayne we realised there was smoke coming out from under the bonnet and the engine temperature indicator was very high. Wayne told us off for not changing out of the low range, but given that none of us had any experience of 4WD, we'd just done what we'd been told and stayed in low on soft sand. Apparently this applies only when first pulling away and we should have gone up to the high range again straight away.

So the mood was pretty sombre at lunch as we were all a bit worried about the engine, but a bit indignant and defensive too. The main fear was that we'd all be liable for any repair costs as the paperwork we'd signed - I was one of the only ones to actually read the 8-page contract, it transpired - had agreed to a $1500 excess split between the passengers, regardless of who was driving. I had asked at the time if there was a way to reduce the excess, but there was not.

After lunch we drove on down to the beach and had another hour sunbathing and relaxing. A Danish girl drove next, but really struggled to get us through the deep sand back off the beach. Within a few minutes of getting on the trail again, we still had a high engine temperature and saw smoke from under the bonnet again. Wayne very carefully refilled the radiator for us and told us to keep the heater on to encourage the water to move through the system. We waited another 10 minutes then set off again, but with the instruction to stop if the engine temperature spiked again... which it did within minutes. Wayne had already shot off up the hill and as we had no radio, we just had to wait for him to come back again.

By the time he eventually returned, we had all agreed that none of us was prepared to drive the car any further and risk damaging the engine more. After putting yet more water into the radiator and waiting another 20minutes - we were now about an hour behind schedule - Wayne drove the car himself and one of the others drove his car, which was not strictly legal as he had 10 passengers and we were insured for no more than 8. At the top of the hill, he agreed there was something very wrong, most likely a hole in the radiator as nothing was helping the engine cool down, and also agreed that the gearbox really was as difficult as we had complained about. Legally, we should have called out a rescue crew as towing is illegal on the island due to the difficulties of controlling the vehicles. But as a group we would have been liable for the cost, if the damage was deemed to be our fault. So, trying to save us some money, Wayne towed us for over an hour all the way back to Eurong village. It was quite frightening in places as we skidded about and tried not to end up in the back of him going down some of the steeper hills. On top of that, we were all brooding over how much money it was going to cost us even though the vehicle was clearly not fit for the trip.

Back at camp, Wayne called his boss who yelled at him for towing us, but agreed to send a mechanic over first thing in the morning with a new car for us to complete the rest of the trip.


Luckily, when they arrived the next morning, it turned out that both the fan belts had snapped which is why the engine was over heating so easily. As the damage was not caused by us at all, we wouldn't be charged for anything. A big relief!! However, it really underlined how badly organised the trip was, that we could be given a vehicle in such poor condition with no means of communicating with the only guide. The majority of the group were 18-22 year old backpackers with little awareness of what they'd signed up to, which made me quite cross. The trip was designed to do things on the cheap and get away with as much as possible. Wayne did his best to look out for us and I got the impression that he disagreed with how his boss ran things a lot of the time.

With our new car, an automatic this time, we set off inland to Lake MacKenzie. This is a beautiful peaceful lake in the middle of the island with crystal clear waters. We had time for a swim and some more sunbathing before heading back to pick up our bags and drive back to Noosa.

Despite the debacle with the car, I did enjoy my trip to Fraser Island. The scenery is beautiful and really unusual. One thing is for certain though, I will not be going on anymore Nomads trips or staying in any Nomads hostels again. They are aimed at ripping off inexperienced and naive backpackers and I am not interested in that kind of travel anymore.


Back in Noosa, I headed over to Flashpackers, a much nicer hostel where Christina had been staying while I was on Fraser Island. She'd got a private room for us to share, so we had a very chilled evening watching 'Magic Mike' on my laptop. (Channing Tatum! That's all I'm saying...)  Christina, thank you so much for saving my sanity with a slice of civilised normality!!

The next morning we got the greyhound down to Brisbane together and discovered Guy, the awful French Canadian on the same bus. He bored Christina senseless while I went off to find a drink. After just 5 minutes she understood what I had been talking about! We walked up the hill to stay at the YHA and changed quickly before meeting up with Tara Linkhorn, a girl I travelled around the Red Centre of Australia with in 2011.

Tara now lives in Brisbane so it was lovely to be able to cross paths again. We went to a nearby tapas restaurant and had some delicious food and a really good catch up. A lovely end to my stay in Australia.

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