Fraser Island, August 1999

There was an official reason for our visit. SCICADE, an international scientific grouping with a special interest in the somewhat exotic subject of differential equations and their application to system simulation, had decided that the Kingfisher Resort looked a likely site for their next meeting. Fraser Island had not been all that high on our wish list, but this was certainly a convenient excuse, and we had enjoyed some splendid photos of the trees taken by Dave Mitchell. Inskip Point at the northern end of the Cooloolah National Park is the start point for the shortest (and cheapest) ferry crossing. The loading is on demand (no booking required) and a turnaround time of about 30 minutes would be a reasonably good guide. There is a National Park Ranger Station at Rainbow Beach where tide times, park fees and camping permits can be obtained. There do not seem to be any particular access restrictions in force with `first in best dressed’ being the rule currently in operation.

We timed things nicely, driving up from the Gold Coast in fine weather just in time for low tide at about 11.00 am. The 20 minutes barge trip provided an opportunity to adjust tyre pressures. We then had a pleasant run along Seventy Five mile beach on firm sand as far as the Eurong Resort. Benching at the occasional creek crossing provided the only occasions for caution – a Japanese group flipped on one of these a few days later. Here we left the beach using the track to the main Ranger Station at Central Station with the aim of lunch at Lake McKenzie. This took us into the area of the major forests which really are something special.

Forest track near Central Station

The inland tracks are of fairly loose sand, but the traction presents no trouble with care (and reduced tyre pressures). Main problems are partly exposed roots, and bad edges on corduroy track laid in some of the steeper sections. Our plan was to camp at Lake McKenzie and commute to the conference. Our timing was good because we managed to claim just about the best site, a good large level site close to the lake access. Relatively level sites seem to be pretty much at a premium both at Lake McKenzie and Central Station. The idea of spending five consecutive nights sliding downhill did not appeal. While we were setting up our camp and having a liesurely lunch, a ranger appeared to check our credentials. She warned us that that the site would be full by evening, and that there was a good chance our neighbours would be groups of young people keen to party long beyond the suggested curfew. The noise problem did not eventuate, fortunately – a combination of luck and weather. These groups are an interesting phenomenon. They tend to originate in backpacker hostels where they are selected by the management with an eye for compatibility. The management then organise their vehicle hire. Almost always these were `Troopies’ without safety equipment, not even towing points, as we were to discover. A very substantial number are English. There must be a lot of them because, according to the ranger, pressure on the campsites hardly varies with local factors like school holidays.

Once our camp was set to our satisfaction we set out for the Kingfisher resort to report our presence. The resort is attractive, but so it ought to be for the basic conference charge of $149 bed and breakfast per person per day. In a sense it is on the wrong side of the island, but the site is attractive because of the vegetation. The Eurong resort on the eastern side is set back behind the coastal dunes, presumably for shelter. It appears reasonably modern, but is bleak by comparison. One catch with commuting is we missed the opening reception. Driving at night on the forest tracks did not appeal. G. was disturbed during the night. Some girls at a nearby site had hysterics when a dingo (clearly not compatible company) invaded their camp in the small hours.

Camp at Lake McKenzie

Learning about commuting next day proved an interesting exercise. We had to be ready to leave reasonably early to fit in with the conference timetable. However, time to the resort proved to be almost independent of departure time. This was a consequence of the road rules that give right of way to tour operators, and relatively limited numbers of passing points where you can escape a bus. The earlier we left, the more priority vehicles we seemed to encounter leaving the resort. Returning to Lake McKenzie in the afternoon we found the Trooper of one of the backpacker groups well and truly bogged in the middle of a track crossing.

Getting them out would have been straightforward if there had only been a towing point on the vehicle. There was a Hayman-Reece towbar, but no locking pin. Fortunately these seem to be generic. The driver was quick to reduce tire pressure after this lesson. We only had time to explore around the lake and associated walking trail before dusk which came in with some rain.

Tuesday was fine and warm. That this was noteworthy is an indication of the kind of winter Queensland has been having. Technical commitments did not seem too attractive after lunch so we decided to explore. Our route went from the resort to Lake Waby, then down the beach to the Lakes Way, and so back to Lake McKenzie. Although we had most of the afternoon, this proved quite a severe itinerary with relatively little time for exploring – the inland tracks are not fast.

Wednesday was the day of the conference excursion. The tide was just ideal for a long run up the beach. We got as far as Indian Head within our time constraints. There is what should be an ideal campsite here sheltered from the south and east by the Head. However, it looked like tent city. Also, neighbours at Lake McKenzie told us that many of the Indian Head campers were long stay, and that motor driven compressors were a definite sleep hazard. Evening storms - some of the campers around us got very wet.

On Thursday, conference constraints meant we were able to do little more than explore Central Station and the surrounding forests. Return constraints on Friday meant we had to leave relatively early and head for Hook Point by the slow inland route to avoid high tide. This uses the Lake Way to Dili Village and then a route behind the dunes that would once have been sealed but is now being allowed to deteriorate. There was some excitement on the beach waiting for the ferry. A Discovery just made it, losing drive just as it reached the sand. The driver was getting some traction by pulling on his handbrake but otherwise…. He had to be towed on and off the ferry. Turns out that he most likely had a broken rear drive shaft, and that progress could be made in front wheel drive by locking the diff. There had been warning sounds as he had been driving down from North Queensland, but a couple of Land Rover service operations had been less than helpful. Our return trip was uneventful. We managed to miss the worst of the traffic on what had been the Gold Coast Highway and may become a super expressway. Right now it is an exercise in patience.

There is a lot of hype about Fraser Island. We both felt our curiousity had been satisfied. For us the best feature is the forest with the unique Satinay trees which are quite splendid. The worst effects of the tourist load that registered was the widening of the inland tracks as a result of people improvising passing lanes instead of using those provided. The biggest disappointment has been our inability to get good colour fidelity in scanning our beach photos.

Mike and Gloria Osborne.


Lake McKenzie