From Toowoomba we made our way down The Range to Brisbane to visit family.
Our departure from Toowoomba was eventful as the electric brakes on the van stopped working just as we were leaving. Facing a long and steep decent from The Range, we thought it best to store Zizi in Toowoomba (we had originally planned to store the van in Brisbane, so this was no big deal). After much investigation, time and money we eventually determined that the van was fine but that the dodgy installation of our new roof racks in Broome had meant that a tiny leak through the roof racks was enough to short the internal towing connections.
After a few days with Grandma, Grandpa, the Vadlas and (of course) Sasha, we were soon on our way north to Fraser Island. We had a brief overnight stop in Hervey Bay and then boarded the barge to Wanggoolba Creek on Fraser Island. Thankfully recent rain meant that the sandy tracks that criss-cross the island were in pretty good shape.
With clear skies and warm weather we made our way to Central Station and walked through the lush rainforest along the picturesque Wanggoolba Creek. From here we made our way to the iconic Lake Mackenzie - a large fresh water lake in the middle of the island. Lake Mackenzie is a ‘perched’ lake, which means it contains only rainwater as it is not fed by streams and does not flow to the ocean. It has an impervious base meaning that the rainwater is trapped. As you will see from the photos we had a great time swimming at Lake Mackenzie, with the kids perfecting jumps, dives and flips.
We spent three nights at the Kingfisher Bay Resort, on the western side of the island, famous for its sunsets. The next day we headed to the famous Eastern Beach. To get there, we had to cross the island - a total of only 30km, but which took over an hour. Once we arrived on the beach, we expected to see the much-talked-about beach highway. Instead, we saw no one - not a single 4wd. Hmmm, that seems ominous. Racing a rising tide we made our way north along the beach to Happy Valley. With the tide coming in, we were forced to drive higher on the beach in the softer sand and steeper cut-aways to the creeks that empty across the beach. This led to the kids proclaiming that beach driving is better than a roller coaster.
Our original objective was to make it to Eli Creek. Given the incoming tide, we thought we would ask for advice at the Happy Valley Pub.
Me: Do you know if we can get across to Eli Creek at the moment?
Publican: Well, that depends.
Me: On what?
Publican: Is it your car?
Publican: Is it a new car?
Publican: Then no you can't.
So, with travelling further north to Eli Creek no longer an option and heading back down the beach on high tide also not a great idea, we decided to head on a small inland track to Lake Garrawongera. At the pub for lunch, Sienna was carefully studying the road maps of the island. Here is the conversation that followed:
Sienna: Are you an experienced 4WD driver, Dad?
Me: Not really
Sienna: Are you sure?
Sienna: Well I think we should reconsider this track to Lake Garrawongera as the map says it is for experience 4WD drivers only
Me: [Gulp] Ahh, we should be OK.
With Sienna's warning top-of-mind, we headed off to Lake Garrawongera as we waited for the tide to change. The loop track to the lake was only 30km, but had an estimated drive time on the map of 2.5 hrs. As we quickly learned, this was not like the wide sandy tracks across the other parts of the island. We thought the first part of the track was tough - steep, narrow tracks climbing hills and large tree roots with Karen needing to jump out and clear any number of branches across the track. And then we drove the second half of the track, which got even steeper, more narrow and lots more fun! We had a great time at the lake - which we had all to ourselves (a stark contrast to Lake Mackenzie the day before). Luckily, by the time we reached Eastern Beach the tide was on the way out and we had a great trip back.
With more of an understanding about the importance of tides, we headed off the next day after lunch. Not surprisingly, everyone else had the same idea and so there was a steady stream of 4WDs leaving the resort and heading back across the island or to Lake Mackenzie. Only about a kilometer out of the resort everyone stopped... and waited. Looking up the track it seemed there was a bit of activity ahead, so I ventured up to see what the issue was. There, in the middle of the track, was a Nissan Xtrail well and truly bogged and, more surprisingly, next to it was a HiLux ute also bogged.
When you board the barge to Fraser Island there are lots of signs that say "High clearance 4WD with low range only" and "Reduce tyre pressure on sand". It seems the French backpackers in the Nissan Xtrail and the Chinese tourists in the HiLux had missed these signs. After letting air out of the Hi Lux's tyres, it managed to get going. However, by this time, there was congestion in both directions with 4WDs wedged off the single lane track in every available pull-out.
We were the last 4WD to pass the Xtrail and the local helping them get out asked if we could wait ahead in case they needed a tow. He then suggested to the French backpackers that they take their car directly to Lake Mackenzie and "push the bloody car in the lake". And they thought he was joking.
Luckily the Xtrail got going without our help. However, when we came to the crucial junction where you could cross the island to Eastern Beach or stay on the more developed inland tracks to Lake Mackenzie, the Xtrail decided to follow-us on the Eastern Beach track. This was definitely not a good idea as this track was much more difficult than where these guys had just got bogged. So shortly after the junction we pulled up and I walked back to speak to the young French couple. Here is the conversation:
Me: Where are you guys going?
Frenchman: We want to see everything.
Me: I don't think you should go down this track?
Frenchman: Why? Is it a difficult track?
Me: [Looking at the sand already up to the cars axles] Ah, yes. I don't think your car will make it.
Frenchman: [He looks disbelieving] Oh really, OK.
Me: You should back up and head to Lake Mackenzie or perhaps the barge back at Kingfisher Bay.
The last we saw of the French couple was them just managing to reverse their Xtrail down the sandy track. We don't know if they made it back to the barge or whether having caused more chaos on the island other helpful locals had disposed on their car in the lake.
We finally made it back across the island and onto Eastern Beach. This time on an outgoing tide we had a smooth trip up the beach, only stopping to allow a number of light aircraft to land on the beach ahead of us. We got to Eli Creek and waited to watch others cross the creek before us. While we were outside the 2-hr no-go time after high tide, we thought it best to wait and see how deep it was. Our concerns were alleviated as we watched a tag-along tour group hit the creek crossing at about 60km/hr.
We had a great afternoon swimming in the crystal clear waters of the creek and then exploring the wreck of the Maheno. With the sun starting to set we made our way back down the beach and then back across the island to the resort.
Fraser Island had been a definite highlight of our entire trip. The 4WDing was great fun, the scenery spectacular and the swimming was awesome. The kids had a ball and we did too.
We had originally planned to take our time heading back down the coast towards home. We had noticed from the Lotus Owners Facebook Group that alot of people could take 6 weeks to get from A to B, but when it was time to head back home they would make it from B to A in 3 days. And so it was that as soon as we pointed the car southwards with the realisation that our trip around Australia was coming to an end, we made the quick trip home.
We stayed in Mooloolooba for a couple of days to get our roof racks re-sealed and then picked up Zizi in Toowoomba before heading to Armidale. In Armidale we stayed in a caravan park that was hosting a three-day dog show - in the caravan park. The next day we meet an older couple at a lookout on our way across the Great Dividing Range who had also stayed at the same caravan park in Armidale. The demure older lady sitting eating her cheese and grapes at the look-out said, referring to the dog owners at the caravan park, "You know I've never met more loopy people in all my life". We agreed.
From the Great Dividing Range we made our way through Stroud (Important Public Announcement: Stroud is holding its world famous 'Brick Throwing Competition" in July - get in early people, accommodation is going to be booked out) and then on to our final night at Karuah.
After a night spent reminiscing about our trip and creating our list of awards (best caravan park, best swimming spot... more on that soon), we headed back to Zizi for our last night. We were all a little sad. We had such a great time and experienced so much, it was hard to believe it was over. We learned more about our kids than we could have imagined. We enjoyed the challenge of trying to teach them and learned first hand how different they are in how they learn. The kids lived with only a few toys for ten months and had more fun outside climbing trees, building cubbies and meeting other kids along the way. We all loved the simplicity of life on the road and being together. Then I said to Karen "You know we haven't really done Queensland and Tasmania..." and so planning for the next adventure begins.
On Our Way to Fraser Island
Day 1: Central Station and Lake Mackenzie
Day 2: Happy Valley and Lake Garrawongera
Day 3: Eastern Beach, Elli Creek and the Maheno Wreck
The Final Leg