Having spent a relaxing night with another delicious, enjoyable camp dinner (no kidding, I miss cooking so much even camp cooking made me happy!!!), and a surprisingly dingo-less night, we woke up early in the morning for a quick breakfast and to pack up camp.
Our plan was to continue driving up 75 Mile Beach, to explore the northern end of the island. The farthest north that Aussie Trax said we could drive was no further than Orchid Beach. So that was our limit, and there was plenty to do and see around the area. Everything north of Indian Head was considered to be somewhat trickier driving than normal, with lots of deep, soft sand traps. So I let Ethan take over :). We once again had to obey the tides, and be off the beach two hours before and after high tide, which worked out perfectly with our plans.
Our first stop, once we drove around/behind and past Indian Head, was Champagne Pools. This is the only place on Fraser Island where it is safe to swim in the “ocean” – its not actually the open ocean, but rocky outcroppings which enclose these wonderfully perfect swimming holes. It was quite nice, and amazing the watch these huge, rolling waves coming our way, only to be broken up into spray once it reached the pools. I guess the only concern remaining was marine stingers like box or irukandji jellyfish – but we took our chances anyways, along with plenty of other people. Seems we were the only people lucky enough to have such perfectly suited footwear as Five Fingers, though…:)
When we got to Champagne Pools, it was beautifully sunny, but within an hour, there seemed to be an approaching storm on the horizon and it quickly got overcast. So we left to see where we could go next – we were no longer allowed to be on the beach because of the high tide, but we were in luck because the Orchid Beach area had plenty of inland tracks. One of them led to Waddy Point, which was a place that I wanted to visit because I read it was quite nice, but upon arriving there, we were quite confused as to how to actually get to Waddy Point – it seemed we would have to park somewhere and hike down the beach to it. We weren’t sure if it was worth it (we couldn’t really see it off in the distance) so we decided to keep driving to check out the Orchid Beach area, which was the northmost “resort”. The northern inland forest was quite interesting – beautiful trees growing in sand. A wallaby leaped right across the road in front of our car, which was quite a treat (especially for Ethan :)).
We arrived in Orchid Beach, which seemed to be a little community of its own – there was a store, restaurant, and community center. We went into the store to buy some more food for our extra night on Fraser, as well as a couple of postcards and a sweet stubby (coozie) with a dingo on it. After that, we had to spend some time trying to figure out exactly how we would rearrange our plans once we had to leave Fraser Island. We consulted Jon’s Lonely Planet guide, (which he had lent us and proved to be truly indispensable on our trip) and decided on driving a little further south and visiting the highly-regarded Australia Zoo (of Steve Irwin, wildlife conservation hero).
Then it was time to visit Waddy Point (which turned out to be our favorite part of Fraser Island). We drove back from Orchid Beach and took the track to the Waddy Campground. We parked the car near the campground, and began our hike out to the point. To get there, we walked through some swampy area, then across a sandblow, then the beach. It seemed that the beach leading up to the point was immensely popular, and there were several swimmers, and some fishermen. There was a huge sandbar that made for a nice swimming area, and the water was calm, and it seemed to be more of a local secret. We reached the end of the beach, where a tiny little path climbed up some rocks and onto the top of the point. We had it all the ourselves – and the views were breathtaking.
Waddy Point was beautiful. It seemed that it was somewhat more of a local secret because while we were there (for quite some time) no one else came. Which was surprising, considering the amazing views. It was my favorite spot on Fraser Island for its raw beauty. It would have been an amazing place to camp – however camping areas are strictly supervised and regulated, and camping there was prohibited (which is a good thing, I suppose, to preserve its integrity). Fishing was also prohibited, however unfortunately we found evidence of some recent poaching – someone had caught several jacks (Carangidae) and filleted them, leaving the carcasses.
Eventually, regrettably, we had to leave. We decided to begin the drive back down 75 Mile Beach since our ferry was scheduled to leave mid-morning, and we still wanted to check out the inland rainforest. Since it was on the way back, we decided to stop at Indian Head, which is a famous overlook where often sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins (and from May to November, humpback whales) can be spotted. We climbed up to the top and sat looking for a good half hour, but saw nothing 😦 It was probably too late in the day, but it was still another beautiful area for admiring Fraser Island’s extensive beauty.
We couldn’t spend too long at Indian Head, as it was getting late in the afternoon and we still had a while to drive down 75 Mile Beach. Driving back down the beach was nostalgic, as we passed so many places we had explored before – the campsites, the spots where we got stuck, and the hulking Maheno.
Eventually, we made it down to Eurong in relatively good time, and decided to try to see if we could find a campsite in the beautiful Central Station rainforest campground. It was close to getting dark, we were getting a little low on gas, and we weren’t sure if there would be space for us at Central Station (which was 30 mins drive away). But we decided to take the chance anyways, because while camping on the beach is nice, I was hoping for a change in scenery. We got to Central Station at dusk, and realized that you have to book a spot in the campground. But we drove in and saw that there were several empty spots, it seemed. So we had to find a phone to book a spot – the fine for not booking is lofty, and rangers DO check permits. There was a phone a little further down the road, in the Central Station itself (a historic house and from where Wongoolba Creek hikes begin). So we went there and called the 24-hour number. Unfortunately, there were no spots available! Even though it had seemed empty, the guy on the line said that they were reserved and couldn’t sell us a permit for the night. Such a disappointment. The rainforest was peacefully quiet, and very calm – very different from the windy beach (although the sound of the surf is very relaxing). But we had to find a spot for the night, and now that it was dark, it would be more of a challenge. So we drove back to Eurong and out onto the beach, hoping we would find something soon – we were ready to settle for anything. We went a little south and managed to find a really nice spot behind some dunes and with some trees – quite lucky for doing it in the dark! We left the headlights on while we set up the tent and stove, and a dingo did sneak up on us, but we chased him off.
We had another delicious pasta dinner with sausage we had bought (for a ridiculous amount) at Orchid Beach, and headed to bed (after the necessary cleanup and stowing food back in the car – dingo-smart!). We didn’t finish our entire pasta though, and dug a hole to put it in. I thought it was deep enough, but in the morning, sure enough, it had been dug out and every little scrap was gone! I felt bad – we contributed to the bad human-reliant dingo population. I was sad that we would be leaving Fraser Island very soon, but we had such a wonderful time there, and saw so many amazing things, built so many great memories, that it was bittersweet. My time with Ethan was passing by far too quickly, and that made me somewhat sad as well. He would be leaving 5 days later, but we were to make the most of those 5 days as we could.
So we packed up camp, said goodbye to 75 Mile Beach, and started the long drive across the island to the ferry point.We were incredibly low on gas, and we had gotten up so early that the Eurong gas pumps weren’t open yet. We couldn’t wait another hour, so we decided to risk the drive. First, however, I wanted to stop by Central Station once more to hike around the rainforest and see Wangoolba Creek. Because of our scheduled ferry, we would only have had 30 minutes to explore, so I made Ethan call and change it to the next one at 11:00 am. Since we arrived so early in the rainforest, we once again seemingly had the whole place to ourselves – it was so beautiful! And so different from the coastal areas we had spent so much time on. There were plenty of birds – we saw a couple of azure kingfishers that were stunning!
Wanggoolba Creek rainforest is somewhat special in its location, and its biodiversity. It is the only place on the island where the King Fern grows, which sprouts the largest fronds of any ferns and is one of the most primitive and ancient ferns around. Interestingly, its fronds are supported by water pressure – they are like water filled hoses, unlike more modern woody-tissue ferns. We encountered a little tour group on the way, and overheard the guide saying that because of the abundant presence of these ancient ferns, part of “Walking with Dinosaurs” was filmed there…cool!
We got to spend a little over an hour walking the trail there, which was so beautiful – I love rainforests so much, they feel like home to my heart ❤ but we had to leave if we wanted to make the ferry. We were cutting it close, but we thought that we had enough time. However, upon leaving Central Station, we somehow managed to make a wrong turn and were heading in the wrong direction. By the time we realized this, we had lost 30 minutes, not to mention wasted our desperately low gas. So we had to turn around, stopping several times to let by large 4WD tour buses that were just coming onto the island (from the other ferry landing). This slowed us down even more. We were stressing a little about time, and gas.
A little over an hour later, we finally made it back to Kingfisher Bay, where our ferry was leaving from. We had to stop and get gas or else we would never make it off the ferry. Just as we’re filling up, we realize its 10:55 – 5 minutes until the ferry left!!!! We hadn’t been watching the time and somehow it just slipped by us. We raced down the road just to watch the ferry leaving. The next one wasn’t until 1:30 pm, so we had quite a bit of time to kill. We ended up getting staying in Kingfisher Bay – there unfortunately was just not enough time to go anywhere – getting some coffee, and spending too much time in the gift shop. We pored over a book of bird photography for at least 30 minutes. There were some amazing pictures in there. I found an awesome stubby with “birds of Fraser Island” on it that made me super happy, and I bought myself a new bird guide – the compact edition of Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds, which is done in a similar manner to Sibley’s (what I use and love back home). Ethan bought some beautifully painted boomerangs, one for a present, and one for himself. Afterwards, we headed over to the resort’s open-air restaurant and grabbed a quick snack of potato wedges (served, as they do it here, with sour cream and sweet chili sauce). Then we didn’t have long to wait for the ferry, and managed to get one of the first spots in line, just to make sure we wouldn’t miss this one.
We got back to the mainland after 2, and then had to fill up the Jimny all the way, and return it to Aussie Trax, have them look it over, and get our car back (which I missed from the comfort point of view!). We moved all our things out of the Jimny, and into our decidedly comfortable rental car, and left wonderful Hervey Bay and Fraser Island behind. Having decided to visit the Australia Zoo, home of the late, the great Steve Irwin, we had to drive a few hours further south. We decided to stay as close to the Australia Zoo as we could get, and that was in the colorful, youthful town of Mooloolaba. Out of the Lonely Planet Guide, we called the couple of hostels they recommended, but since we needed it for that night, they were all booked. One that we called recommended another hostel, Mooloolaba Backpackers, which had room for us, and so we booked a room with them for the night.
Arriving at our hostel about 7 pm, we decided to walk to the main street to get some food. It runs parallel to the beach, and is crammed with an assortment of open air, sidewalk-seating restaurants, cafes, and trendy stores. Having looked at what was up for offer – American, Irish, Italian, Tibetan, and all sorts of fusions, we settled on Moroccan, because it smelled very fragrant and delicious. Every restaurant looked good, but they were all quite pricey, especially for a backpacker. Afterwards, for dessert, we spotted a gelato shop!!! I was so excited…oh how I love gelato. It was a perfect ending to a long day. I was really looking forward to the next day, when we would be visiting the infamous Australia Zoo….