Tag-a-long Tours, Fraser Island
Fraser Island is special. Very very special.
It’s the largest sand island in the world which is pretty cool, there are around 100 dune lakes which at this time of year can be pretty cool, it’s a World Heritage site and is also home to the purest breed of Dingoes in Australia.
The fishing along the eastern coastline is incredible, the forests which cover large areas of the island are magical and its original name is ‘K’gari’ or in the Badtjala people’s language ‘paradise’.
According to Aboriginal legend, when humans were created and needed a place to live, the mighty god Beiral sent his messenger Yendingie with the goddess K’gari down from heaven to create the land and mountains, rivers and sea. K’gari fell in love with the earth’s beauty and did not want to leave it. So Yendingie changed her into a heavenly island – Fraser Island!
So taking all things into account you can see why I was absolutely loving the idea of heading back there.
Exploring Fraser requires a 4WD as the roads are made of sand and driving on this very different surface requires a certain amount of skill, training and concentration. Backpackers love to come here to explore, hiring a Land Cruiser, filling it with friends and heading off into the great unknown.
It sounds all very romantic doesn’t it? Well it definitely is but it was also a little bit dangerous too with a number of accidents happening over the last few years which have led to new rules and regulations being introduced to reduce them. The problem came from overloading the vehicles with too many people. Their luggage also had to go somewhere and so the roof-rack would be loaded up resulting in a very top-heavy vehicle, driven on sand by an inexperienced driver. Not the best recipe for a ‘safe’ holiday experience.
So you can still head out and hire a vehicle but the new laws mean you can only carry a maximum of eight people at any one time, no luggage can be carried on the roof and an 80kph speed limit has been applied to all beach roads. As an experienced four-wheel driver this now makes total sense.
Getting past the problem of having no experience driving on sand roads is being addressed too. A new system has been introduced called ‘Tag-Along Tours” which allow you, your friends and your vehicle to join up with an accredited guide and driver. The theory being that you form a convoy to explore the island together, have less impact on the roads through responsible driving practices and at the same time learn heaps more than you would if you were out there by yourself courtesy of your friendly, informative guide. Perfect.
Brooke and David were there to meet me at Akama bright and early on the Sunday morning, the weather was just about perfect. One of those winter’s days that I’d have dreamt about back in the UK! Overnight the heavens had opened but when you’re about to drive on sand roads that’s a really good thing as the rain beds down the soft sand leaving a good hard crust on top that’s perfect for tyres to dig into.
They started their company, Safari 4WD Tours, 15 years ago and offer a variety of different ways to explore the Fraser Coast. Today they’ve collected me in their Land Cruiser – big, comfortable and easily able to take on the roads across the water. But they also offer an even bigger, more luxurious way of travelling – the all American Hummer and their tour is pretty special. In one day you can get across to the island, take in a few of the attractions, feast and dine on a luxury hamper and to wrap it all up enjoy a glass of champagne as the sun sets.
But I’m here to try out their new adventure – the Tag-a-long experience. Normally the tour runs for two nights with camping at different locations on the island but as I’m only here for the day we’ll be joining up with the group to see some of the island’s sights before heading back to the mainland before sundown.
There’s a couple of ways to get across the water to Fraser Island and one of the easiest is to take the barge from River Heads to Wanggoolba Creek on board the Fraser Venture. It pretty damn cool really and the air of adventure starts to build as soon as everyone loads their vehicles! When you get to the other side there’s no fancy terminal building, no slipway – nothing. Just drive straight out onto the sand road that leads into the island.
The early start we’ve made is a great thing. The warmth of the sun’s rays is just starting to permeate through the canopy of the trees, evaporating the moisture from last night’s rain-burst with steam rising from the soft sand. It adds a mystical feel to the drive as we head due east towards Central Station through the forests that change with almost every corner, from light bush and coastal heath to towering rain-forest – some of the trees are enormous and dwarf our little Land Cruiser. Central Station used to be the central Forestry Department station from 1920 to 1959, but ceased when Fraser Island attained its World Heritage Listing in December 1992.
The myriad of tracks across the island are well signed and once we’ve crossed the central hub of the island we make for Lake McKenzie – one of THE destinations that everyone aims for. This freshwater lake is simply stunning; the clearest fresh water, the whitest of beaches (that reminds me of Whitehaven in the Whitsundays) and an entirely new toilet block and amenities unit! Thank goodness, there used to be just a couple of old things when I was here in November!
It’s here that we find the group we’ve been looking for, four other vehicles making up the Tag-a-long Tour and it’s all backpackers. Loaded up with people, kit, food and what would appear to be some decent hangovers from the previous night’s escapades! There are 27 people here all enjoying Fraser for the first time and after chatting to a few find out that the tour so far has been great fun – and they’ve learnt something too. Paula our guide might only be on her first guided-tour but she is a wealth of information and as I change vehicles and jump on board with her learn loads about the history of the island, the trees and the animals that live here. You see this is what it’s all about – having fun with mates, getting out into the great outdoors and learning something along the way too.
The drive takes us to another one of Fraser’s landmarks, Lake Wabby – one of the Green Lakes on the island. It always amazes me that you can even have lakes on a sand island…surely the water should just drain away!? The actually survive as the water sits on top of decayed leaf and vegetable matter which creates a seal and the colour variation across them is huge some are dark green and some crystal clear. Isn’t nature just incredible sometimes.
By now the hunger pangs of lunch are starting to hit and Brooke drags out the hamper box just in time, once we’re done we have to bid farewell to the group as we have to get one more landmark in before returning to the barge…Eastern Beach. Driving out onto this vast stretch of sand finally gives you an idea of how huge Fraser Island is as it disappears off into the distance all the way to Indian Head around 60 kilometres to the north. There’s not another person in sight, just Brooke, David and I.
The race is on though, enough time spent on the beach soaking up the view, unfortunately there is a boat to catch and David ushers us back into the car. An hour later we arrive back at the waiting area and there’s a few other people already here, also at the end of their own little adventures. The cruise back across the channel gives me time to think about the day and as the island gets smaller in the distance I’m already planning the next trip in my head.
In a few months time my lovely Land Rover will be arriving here from the UK and when it does my first camping trip away will definitely be back here. I’ve fallen in love with Fraser Island and I’ll openly admit it