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Thursday 2 May 2013
Fraser Island, Australia

Saving the worst trip for last... part 1

I had signed up for the Fraser Island trip back in Sydney at the same time as my Whitsundays sailing trip.  I probably should have learned from the mis-sell on that trip that put me on a party boat when i had specifically asked for the opposite.  But I hadn't made the connection.  I learned again the hard way...

The 18 of us going to Fraser Island met for a briefing in the Nomads hostel the evening before our trip departed. We watched an hour's video about driving 4-WD vehicles on sand covering how to drive 4WD, how to get unstuck, what to do about dingoes, etc. We then had a load of paperwork to complete so that those over 21 with 2 years on their licence could take a turn at driving. The tour was designed as a tag-along tour, which meant we would be driving in a convoy of 4-wheel-drive vehicles and we could have a go at driving ourselves if we wanted. As it turned out, only 6 of the 18 people were old enough to drive the cars anyway.

I had assumed - rather foolishly as it turned out - that we would have a guide in each vehicle, or at the very least a means of communicating with the guide in the lead vehicle. Nope. When the cars arrived the next morning, I discovered we had only one guide for the whole group, a guy called Wayne, who was driving the first car with 10 passengers, while the remaining 8 of us took the second car. We had no guide or radio in the second car, just had to follow and hope Wayne would stop and wait if we weren't behind him.

I'd volunteered to drive first so that I could get used to the car on normal roads before having to drive on sand. I'm glad I did, because it had a very temperamental gearbox. Getting into second was almost impossible and even first gear was quite stubborn - not what you really want for a 4WD drive on sand where first and second gears are essential. The car was new to this tour company but already had over 500,000 km on the clock. I drove us through Noosa, up to Rainbow Beach along some fun dirt roads and eventually out onto the sandbanks across a small channel from Fraser Island. Almost as soon as I got onto the sand I got stuck, but reversed back and took a second run at it with 'a bit more welly'. It's very disconcerting to feel the steering go slack and feel the wheels slipping around - like trying to drive in snow. I got us on and off the ferry barge for the short hop over to Fraser, then followed Wayne's car along the deep sand and around onto the end of 70-mile beach, which runs the length of the east coast of the island. The harder sand was easier to drive on, though I still didn't go as fast as Wayne so he had to wait a couple of times. We had fun dodging the waves and occasional rocks for half an hour or so, then followed a very bumpy inland road for a while. How Wayne drove over it as fast as he did, I have no idea. His passengers must have been shaken around like ragdolls.

We finally reached the Eurong Village Resort, which was a small resort area made up of campsites, hotels and some more basic hostel style accommodation. The whole area is fenced off to keep the dingoes out and we were advised against walking back to the beach on our own. We had sandwiches for lunch and then drove on up the island to Lake Wabby. This involved following a sandy pathway for 2km, which then opened out into a huge sand blow (a swathe of sand dunes) in the middle of the island. Around on one side the dunes dropped away steeply into a green lake. We all stripped off and leapt into the cool water for a very refreshing swim. We stayed there and sunbathed for an hour or so until it got too crowded with all the other tour groups piling in.

Back at Eurong, we split into groups of 4 for the rooms. I'd made friends with a German girl, Melanie, and a French girl, Aude, so we went to find a room together, but the only one left had a French Canadian lad called Guy in it. There are not many people in this world that can rub me up the wrong way so quickly and so convincingly, but he was one of them. He was one of those people who has done everything before and done it bigger and better, or has an opinion about everything even when he obviously didn't know what he was talking about. He kept advising us how to drive the car on sand, even though he had never driven 4WD himself and was currently banned from driving in Australia and awaiting a court hearing for driving while drunk. Thankfully he didn't travel in the second car at all, so I had a break from him during the day.

In the evening, we walked around to the store to get some cold beers while Wayne cooked chicken, potatoes and a huge salad for dinner. The rest of the night was spent playing drinking games and finding out far too much about my travel companions in a game of 'I have never...' I'm sure I am too old to be playing that game now!

The first day was mostly ok, but things were about to get worse.


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