Next stop on the adventure tour was a 3 day 2 night tag along tour on Fraser Island.
I had heard nothing but awesome things about Fraser Island; it was must-do. The best way to experience this place, the largest sand island in the world, was to drive around in a 4WD; there are no paved roads, just sand. Without my license renting a car was not an option, but with my International Drivers Permit I could still drive in a tag along tour (thank god). Plus the tour provided the car, food, campsite, and other people to share it with.
The way the tour works is that there is a lead car for each group, with three cars following behind. We were able to drive our own cars, adhering to the route and speed of the lead car. The overall group was organized through Frasers on Rainbow and Dingos hostels at Rainbow Beach, our launching point for the tour, and consisted of 4 groups of 4 cars, with 8 people per car. We all saw the same places but it was up to our guides when we would go to them. Food was provided but we had to cook it ourselves, and accommodation was camping.
We attended a briefing at Frasers on Rainbow where we were divided up into our cars. I was sadly not in a car with Marie, Chris and Pascal, although not surprisingly since I didn’t know them when we all signed up for this tour. They ended up in a car full of just Germans. At the briefing there was only 3 of us from my car: Chloe, a 27-year-old English girl; Celene, an 18-year-old German girl; and me. The other 5 had not arrived yet, we would meet them in the morning. Judging by their names they were 5 Scandinavian boys, who we assumed were traveling together.
The next morning we met Christian, Gustav, Matthias, Sebastian, and Lasse, the 5 Danish 20-year-olds that we would spend the next 3 days with. Our Danish boy band. Not really, but they looked like they could be, especially since Christian was a Nick Carter doppelganger. At first I wasn’t sure what to think about these boys. Would they be rowdy, stupid, young boys who wanted to do all the driving, none of the cooking, and stay up all night drinking? I was pleasantly surprised. They were friendly, polite, spoke English most of the time we were in the car or at meals so we could understand them, happy to help with the food and the dishes, and wanted us to drive as much as they did. Sure they were still boys who couldn’t go more than a few seconds without getting the football out and tossing it around, even if we were just waiting a few minutes for the ferry. But I left Fraser with a great impression of the Danish.
The first morning was mostly occupied with packing the cars and getting out to the island. We stopped for lunch on the beach before our first destination. When it was time to go the guys suggested a girl drive (2 guys had already driven in), so I jumped behind the wheel, turned the key, and nothing. The car wouldn’t start. The rest of the cars were waiting impatiently as our car refused to even make a sound. The guide checked under the hood, tried to jump it, and still nothing. He would have to take a look at it while we were at our next stop, so he took everyone to the lake and we played soccer on the beach while we waited for him to come back to get us. Not a bad way to kill some waiting time.
We ignored the potential to not have a working car while we swam in freshwater Lake Wabby. It was an oasis in the hot sand island and we were happy to cool off in the calm not-salty water. The only unpleasant part was the little fish that insisted on nibbling at our feet. When the time came to go back we wondered if we would have a car. Our guide managed to fix it, but it would continue to be a guessing game whether or not our car would start for the rest of the trip. He blamed an influx of saltwater for making it die. Apparently you shouldn’t speed up going through saltwater, something Lasse had done on the drive in. You think they would have mentioned that in the 2 hour briefing the day before. I got my chance to drive but it was all smooth sand, basically I drove on a road, and we switched before the fun part of driving the bumpy road into camp.
As soon as we got to camp we started prepping for dinner. Everyone was hungry. Dinner this night was actually really good, chicken and veggie stir fry with rice. Of course the guys ate all of it. At least they seemed full for a bit. We bonded over drinks and drinking games before joining the other groups around a campfire. There was music going in the background and everyone was getting to know each other, but since it was the first night most people still took it easy, anticipating a bigger night tomorrow.
Day 2 we saw the most sites. We started with The Pinnacles, where the girls got to talk about whatever happened last night, before going to the Wreck of the Maheno, a huge eroding shipwreck that is one of the most photographed sites on the island. Next up was Eli Creek, a river so pure you can drink from it. Refreshing. We dipped in the river and walked back along it to the beach where we were left to hang out for a few hours. After lunch it was time to drive up to Indian Head for a view of the beach, stopping at Red Canyon so the boys could gossip too, before an afternoon lounging by the Champagne Pools, our only saltwater dip in this trip. You can’t go in the ocean at Fraser – if the jellyfish don’t kill you the sharks will.
Everyone had big expectations for night 2. Our first letdown was dinner; a measly portion of beef and potatoes left everyone still a little hungry. We tried to mask this with drinks, first playing games at camp before joining a small party on the beach. One guide, the awesome one, drove his car out to the sand to provide a soundtrack for people to party to underneath the stars. When we got back to camp we attempted to go to “the disco,” which was just a roof over a raised floor with some flashing lights. The soundsystem was broken. Disco fail. Back at camp people were around the campfire again but there was an air of disappointed uneventfulness. A few of us stayed up talking about how we expected more out of the night, somehow making it to 2:30 before succumbing to sleep.
The last day the guys told me to drive, since I had been unlucky with my smooth stretch the first day. The drive out of camp was bumpy fun but then it was all smooth again. When it came time to switch drivers no one wanted to take over, blame the hangovers, so I happily continued. They said I still needed to drive something more challenging. Then I got to drive the best stretch into Lake McKenzie.
The road into Lake McKenzie is notoriously where cars get stuck. The advice I got was to give it all I could but proceed with caution; seemingly conflicting ideas. I was confident though. With 10 years of driving experience in all kinds of conditions to support me (way more than the rest of the drivers in the car), I had no problem navigating the crazy bumps, dips and hills of the sand road. And it was so much fun. Satisfied with the drive in, we relaxed and played in the beautiful lake and Christian drove us back out, a little less gracefully. I was in the back seat this time and was thrown around so much that I actually had bruises from the seatbelt preventing me from hitting the roof of the car. But we made it out being the only car that didn’t get stuck.
A fun part of having the guys in our car was watching everyone else get stuck and having to send out the Danes – they could push everyone out of whatever scenario they were stuck in. Even though our car never really got stuck (just once when Celene was in the wrong gear, but it was brief) we had the muscle in the car to never have to worry about getting out.
After the lake we had lunch and played around on the beach before going home. Fraser is a beautiful place and there’s something really awesome about not having paved roads or towns. It was just a bunch of us driving around for a few days to different pretty places, playing on beaches and hanging out around our campsite. There’s no denying that it’s a great trip, and I had a fantastic time hanging out with the Danish boy band, Celene, and my Habibi German friends.
There were just a few problems that tainted the experience. 1) Our guide kinda sucked. He didn’t tell us much more than the base requirements, took pictures unenthusiastically that I haven’t even seen, and wasn’t very informative about our plans. The last morning he just showed up at camp and declared we were leaving in 20 minutes. Some warning would’ve been nice. Another guide in our group openly mocked him on the radio to his cars; this is the guide who started the beach party and told his group when there were dingos by the camp fence so they could see them. I didn’t see a single dingo. Disappointing.
2) There wasn’t enough food. If the car was just Celene, Chloe and I we would have been fine, but they did not account for the 5 growing boys. Every meal was a rationing negotiation: we have so much lunch meat so we can only eat this much today so we have some for tomorrow; tonight’s meal is all these veggies but tomorrow is just these potatoes. And then there were the useless things like a disgusting fruitcake no one wanted and some mediocre cereal bars. These probably cost a lot more than getting another bag of potatoes or another loaf of bread, things that would have been way more useful. Our last day we luckily stopped near a cafe so after our measly lunch of wraps the guys went and got burgers, the first time they were full in days.
3) Everyone is so young. The East Coast of Australia is full of gap year kids around 18-20 years old, so as a 27-year-old traveler who already experienced the workforce for 5 years I was the adult of the group. We had conversations on Fraser about how no one thought of me as being old, most people guess I’m in the 24-26 range until I start talking about my work experience, but there were still times I felt the age difference. This ended up being a strain on my time in Oz that I couldn’t shake.
Other than that though, Fraser is still a terrific place. Despite being the only place where I really thought “this would be better if I did it with my friends,” there’s no way to deny that driving around a sand island from one lake to another is a great way to spend a few days.