Hervey Bay, Fraser Island, and Brisbane
29.09.2008 - 06.10.2008 29 °C
And the break continues! The humidity level dropped as we ventured further south, but there were a lot more bugs in Queensland than NSW and I ended up being eaten alive - particularly while we were camping...
Monday, 29 September
We arrived in Hervey Bay at 6 a.m. and were met by the Fraser Roving hostel's van, painted in a subdued pink color (that was a joke - I was laughing at the poor guy who had to drive it through the town because he attracted quite a few stares!) The hostel was located on the main strip and was right across from the beach, so once we were assigned a room (a 10-bed share), we dropped off our stuff and Bonnie headed to the beach. Deciding to get a look around, I went for a walk and had a lovely morning to myself at a nearby cafe that served the BEST pancakes topped with about six different types of fruit. The street was similar to Shute Harbor Road in Airlie in that it featured most of the hostels, cafes, bars and a few touristy shops, so I walked back to Fraser Roving on the warm sand and settled myself in a lounge chair by the hostel's pool with a book and my iPod speaker.
Since Hervey Bay is one of the main gateways to Fraser Island (the biggest sand island in the world - I read there's more sand here than in Saudi Arabia), the hostel offers this cool deal: they put together groups of nine people, rent them a 4-wheel drive Land Crusier (that's hot pink, haha) equipped with tents and cooking gear, and send them off for a 3-day, self-guided tour of the island (they also give you a suggested itinerary and a map, so you're not left completely in the dark.) That night, we gathered for a briefing in the common area and met the rest of our group: two quiet guys from Norway (we called them Jay and Silent Bob), a pair of German girls (both named Katie), a sweet girl from Taiwan named Ling, and these two guys (another Paul, who's from London, and Shane from Ireland) who had met while traveling another part of Australia a few months back. We got our instructions for the following morning, then B and I set off to grab drinks with Paul and Shane.
Tuesday, 30 September
The morning dawned bright and sunny as we prepared to leave at 7:30. We were instructed to drive down the street to Woolworths, a grocery store, to figure out meals and pick up a few cases of beer (the guy who briefed us couldn't stress the importance of this enough: every activity he described on the island began with "So you pop open a beer and head to...." Silly Aussies.) We figured we'd just live on PB&J, steaks, chips and apples, then proceeded to Liquorland to load up on beverages before heading out to the barge (where we'd load our cruiser onto the boat with us) with loads of others doing the same thing through other hostels.
Shane was nominated to drive for the first day, so upon reaching the island, we piled into our inconspicuous car and powered down the road (again, it was all sand - there was literally not a paved road in sight.) Things were gravy for the first 10 minutes or so, then suddenly we hit a particularly big heap of sand and the back wheels stuck, stopping the flow of traffic behind us. We got out and tried to push the car free, but to no avail, so a few people got out of their cars and tried to help us push the car off to the side of the road (including a bad-tempered tour guide who kept swearing at Shane - hilarious.) Once we were safely off to the side, Paul hitched a ride to the nearby resort to call the hostel while we melted in the heat next to our heap of a cruiser.
After about 20 minutes, the heat and the small talk became unbearable and we decided to try and fix the problem. One of the girls put the car in gear and attempted to back out, and that's when we noticed the problem: one of the front wheels hadn't been locked, so the car wasn't running in 4 wheel drive. A quick turn of the knob solved the problem, so we piled back into the car and drove to the resort to wait for Paul, shaking our heads at the stupidity of our mistake.
While waiting for Paul, Bonnie, one of the Katies and I decided to check out Eulong Beach further down the road, taking goofy photos of each other in front of the sign before heading back to grab coffees and rejoin the group. Once we found Paul and sorted out our situation, we took off for Lake Waddy. The lake was a good 30 minute hike from the beach, but once we made it, the scenery was well worth it: one side featured lush forests, and the other was all sand dunes. We spent the rest of the afternoon here before heading back to the car and driving to a spot near Eli Creek, where we set up camp. Over steak sandwiches, we played drinking card games and talked together well into the night.
Wednesday, 1 October
The sun woke us up around 7 a.m., but because of the tide, we couldn't drive out of our campsite until 11. We had a leisurely breakfast of fruit and cornflakes before walking down the beach to check out Manoa, a shipwreck from WWI that had been caught in a storm en route to Japan in the 1930s. Pretty cool how it's still intact, albeit rusty and partially buried in the sand.
Around 11, we headed back to the campsite to pack up our tents and follow a troupe of other self-guided tours to Indian Head, a cliff that offers spectacular views of the island. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to check out these "champagne pools" further down the beach (which were probably Fraser's version of a lagoon, since you can't swim in the tiger shark-infested waters here either), so we headed back to Eli Creek and played around in the water for a while.
That night, while enjoying a dinner of sausages and burgers with our beer, we were greeted by a group of travelers from another campsite: a couple Aussies (including one who had just applied to study at SF State on exchange - super random) and their friends who'd just arrived from Bordeaux, France (and who were drinking BOXED wine, because they figured any wine they found in Australia would suck in comparison to what they were used to. Sacre bleu.) They joined us for a couple drinking games before heading back to their campsite.
At this point most people had gone to bed, and just as we were cleaning up from dinner, we saw a dingo! Dingoes are wild dogs that look like cute domestic house pets, but because people have treated them as such, they're not afraid of humans and have become quite aggressive. The dingo barked and growled at us, running around our campsite before growing bored and scampering off down the beach.
Thursday, 2 October
The sun woke us up early again, so we decided to take advantage and head out to our last destination, Lake McKenzie. At this point we were all pretty dirty and unshowered, so the freshwater lake was a welcomed final stop! I was reminded of Lake Tahoe while I was swimming around, except that the water temperature was considerably warmer.... We spent a few hours here before loading back into the cruiser and heading towards the barge, getting stuck in the sand AGAIN on our way back. Classic.
We arrived back at Fraser Roving around 4 p.m., giving us plenty of time to shower and rest up before the all-you-can-eat Mexican dinner provided by the hostel. Since we were due to leave that night for Brisbane, Bonnie and I settled into the common room with Shane and Paul to watch a (really stupid, unrecommended) Wayne brothers comedy called White Chicks until our cab arrived.
Friday, 3 October
At this point I'm getting pretty good at sleeping on the Greyhound, so when we pulled into the Brisbane bus station, I was feeling relatively refreshed. We stashed our stuff in luggage lockers at the station, grabbed the biggest coffees we could find, and set off to explore "Australia's sunniest capital city" (true to its name, it was a beautiful day.) Since today was really the only day we had to tour around, we decided to buy tickets for the hop on/ hop off City Sights bus that drove all over the city. This was the best decision we could have made, because it allowed us to cover a lot of ground that morning: we passed City Hall, the Riverside Centre (houses the stock exchange), hopped off to explore the Roma St Parkland (16 hectares of gardens and ponds), and Suncorp Stadium (the heart of Queensland rugby league) before driving up Mount Coot-tha for the most stunning views of Brisbane and the surrounding areas. At the base of Coot-tha, we visited the Botanic Gardens and just got lost in the diverse foliage, photographing just about every tree and flower in this beautiful park. We missed the first bus out, so we stuck around and walked through the planetarium before making our way to the South Bank for lunch and shopping.
South Bank was this quaint little square full of restaurants, gelato stops, a lagoon (since Brisbane is set on a river, not the ocean), and this fantastic craft fair full of handmade jewelry, sundresses, summer scarves (the guy gave me a discount because he liked the way I retied the scarf on his mannequin, haha) and...wine! We made friends with Rob, a sixtysomething marketing director from Queensland's Mason winery who hooked us up with a bunch of tastings. Each wine was so light and refreshing, perfect for summer nights, so B and I each bought a couple bottles before catching a ferry back to the Greyhound station.
We arrived back at the bus station just in time to meet up with my flatmate Awa, who'd spent her break at home in Byron Bay (a couple hours south) and whose friends we were going to stay with in Brisbane. Our SF friend Artie also happened to get in touch with us just in time, so he joined us at Awa's friends' place! That night, the four of us took a train to Fortitude Valley and grabbed dinner before venturing to a few bars in search of a bar that served James Squire beer on tap, per Artie's request (we were unsuccessful, but we did grab drinks at Bowery Bar, which someone said was rated Australia's #1 bar!)
Saturday, 4 October
Thanks to Awa's connections in the music industry (aka, a friend of hers was performing), we spent today at a music festival called Parklife. Festivals, which are the #1 summer activity in Australia, are a sight to see: attire-wise, anything goes as long as it's fluorescent (and/or skimpy, as far as girls are concerned.) The festival took place at the City Botanic Gardens (not the ones we had previously visited) between four stages featuring the finest performers and DJs in electro/techno/dance music: Soulwax, Van She, Neon Neon, Diplo, Peaches, Snob Scrilla (a.k.a Awa's friend Sean, who's actually from San Jose! Personally, I thought his show was one of the best.), Blacklicious (Bay Area rapper), Goldfrapp, and so many others. This kind of music isn't usually my scene, but my music taste has expanded loads since I came to Australia (plus the fact that we got in free and had VIP bracelets didn't hurt!)
Sunday, 5 October
Our last day in Brisbane. We had intended on going to the Australia Zoo (affectionately called the Crikey Zoo, since Steve Irwin used to run it. Tear), but decided to just take it easy. The four of us, along with Awa's friend Brittany, ventured back to Fortitude Valley to check out a craft fair and have lunch before the girls went back to the house to sleep and Artie and I left to walk around the neighborhood. We ended up settling at a picnic table with a couple bottles of beer (Melbourne Bitter for him and James Squire Golden Ale - so tasty, you gotta try it - for me) and some free music magazines, soaking up the last of the day's sunshine.
That night, Awa left for the airport (smart girl, flying back to Sydney) while Artie, Bonnie and I took a train back to the Greyhound station and boarded the 7 p.m. bus.
Monday, 6 October
Seventeen hours later, I was awakened by the driver's chirpy voice as he welcomed us to Sydney. I peered out the window excitedly as we drove across the Harbour Bridge, past the Opera House and the familiar city skyline, feeling as though I'd actually arrived home. It was back to reality!