Sunday, August 4, 2013
Driving the Eastern Side of Fraser Island
After buffet breakfast, and a check of the tides, we packed a picnic lunch and headed down the beach. Our plan was to drive along the beach highway as far as Indian Head. We didn’t want to cross the island again to the western side and continue to the very north of the island as time did not allow a return visit because of the incoming tide and the need to be back down at our accommodation before high tide.
At the entrance to the beach there is signage reminding visitors that the island is dingo territory. These signs are very common on the island and seen at each of the lakes and visitor areas.
We had not seen any dingo at all so we were so pleased to drive on to the beach and see one wandering along the sand – it was one of the few that we saw during our visit.
Obviously other visitors hadn’t seen many dingoes either as a number of 4wd vehicles had stopped on the beach and out came the cameras. Touristy or not, we had to do the same. The dingo wasn’t that obliging to stand still and be photographed so we had to accept what we had. They are wild animals and visitors are asked not to get out of vehicles, approach or feed them. We certainly followed the advice.
We continued along the beach finding it somewhat strange that we were allowed too and especially with the speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour. The normal road rules apply on the island, with driving on the left, overtaking on the right, no drink driving etc. There is a police station on the island and although we didn’t see the policeman out policing the beach we were advised that it is certainly a common event. There is a reasonable amount of traffic driving up and down the beach during low tide. Common courtesy was to indicate to ongoing vehicles that you were definitely taking the left hand side.
At some points along the beach there are rocky outcrops with sandy rock pools which had to be negotiated. Some of these are more challenging than others. As a general rule we followed the sandy tracks of other vehicles but sometimes these had dug out and it was necessary to take another way. It can be a bit off-putting with the waves crashing quite close!
We had a distance of about eighty kilometres to drive along the beach from Eurong to Indian Head so we decided that the best idea would be to drive all the way without stopping and then slowly make our way back. There was no doubting of where we should stop – the 4wd tour buses were already there. However, there was one stop that was absolutely necessary and there were no tour buses already parked up. As we drove along the beach I noticed what looked like a whale pulled up on the sandy bank. I was initially sure that this was possibly a statue but it wasn’t mentioned in any of the guide books and it was whale season and people talked about seeing the whales out in the distance (we hadn’t seen any). What we found was in fact a dead whale calf that had been pulled up on to the bank. Not a particularly pretty sight and we had no idea, and never did find out, how it died or anything about it. However, it was the closest we had ever been to a real whale and to think it was only a calf – it seemed huge.
We had to make one detour off the beach at Yidney Rocks as the waves were crashing over the rocks and it wasn’t possible to drive around the point. There was a track leading up the sand dunes and drives through Happy Valley which has quite a few holiday homes and accommodation with a general store. The detour is quite short and soon we were back down on the beach heading north. We bypassed Eli Creek (we returned the next day) and continued on to Maheno Wreck where our plans to continuing just driving north were forgotten. The wreck is so amazing we found it impossible to just drive past, and secondly we would have had to drive on the airplane runway.
The ship, the Maheno was a New Zealand ship (originally built in Scotland in 1904) initially sailing trans-Atlantic for several years and during WW I was a hospital ship. After WW I it sailed the trans-Tasman route between Sydney and New Zealand. It was eventually sold to a Japanese company who, low on cash, sold the huge brass propellers from under the still working Maheno to help fund the journey to Japan where the plan was to be melted down and sold as scrap metal. An unseasonal cyclone hit off the coast of Fraser Island and the ship wrecked in July 1935. Fortunately there was only a skeleton staff of Japanese on the ship and no lives were lost and the eight sailors on board were found camped on Fraser Island. The wreck is now seen by thousands of tourists every year and is amazing to see but because of the rusty condition access on to the wreck is prohibited.