Tuesday 18 February – From Julia’s Creek, we reached the last outback town before the coast – Charters Towers an old Gold mining town. It had no flies! A dream. And green was now part of the landscape. But the weather had turned. We watched on the news a few days later as a town in the outback we had passed through called Hughenden, had completely flooded. The locals were celebrating with kids dancing in the street, as they had been in drought for about three years. They were loving it, us not so much. We’d reverted back to old times in Europe, when we have to pack up camp in the toilets or kitchen. The American theme continued in Charters Towers. It had arenas for cattle sales, like those you see on TV for a rodeo in America. The houses too were very Louisiana style looking with intricate lattice trimmings and verandas around the entire outskirts. The town was a bit of a mish mash. Looks like they have tried to conserve that look and blend in the new stores but it doesn’t quite work and it looks a bit of a mess.
A week after we left Darwin we made it to the coastal town of Townsville and were now heading south on the Bruce Highway. We drove straight through Townsville towards Bowen.
There was nothing of particular interest this time of the year, it was just a small seaside town with camping near the beach. It did however have a giant fibreglass mango taking pride of place as you approach the town. The giant mango has since been ‘stolen’ (apparently a publicity stunt by Nandos). If it had been summer we could have gorged on Mango, which is according to a local magazine the most consumed fruit in the world. At the same time, I’m glad we’re not here during the summer – I’ve read it gets brain-deadening hot, such intense heat you want to tear your face off. Not sure it gets hotter than Darwin though, so maybe the Queenslanders are just exaggerating. On the way to Bowen we passed through a lot of sugar cane fields and fruit farms, most of which were flooded. We’d been excited about reaching the coast but at the same time forgot we can’t swim in the sea. Its ‘stinger’ season, lots of box jelly fish in the waters. Also, theres lots of rules about not camping on any government parks or beaches which happen to be the best spots. They do however provide public bbqs nearly everywhere. They are kept really quite clean, so we made our dinner on the beachfront that evening.
Thursday 20 February – We made the very short drive to Airlie beach the next day which is the gateway to Whitsundays, and also a bit of backpacker/student beach town. A few people have said they don’t like the east coast as it’s too commercial, they prefer the west. Well, they were older people. Airlie is busy, but it’s got everything you could want. It also has a huge man made swimming lagoon you can use for free all day. A big cruise ship had stopped just off the shore and the town was brimming with golden oldies whipping out their iPads to take selfies of them and their new besties they’d met onboard. They were all English. As we were walking down the foreshore we spotted two motorcyclists with European plates. I was a little excited as we haven’t seen any foreign bikes in a while. We caught up with them the following day when they were pulled up at the side of the road. They were German, but they had but they had shipped their bikes here all the way from Germany for a month holiday.
That evening we decided we’d stay another day, even with the weird escaped convict guy that kept lurking around on our campsite. Watching the news that morning Paul was convinced he was a murderer being shown, until they reported the police had already captured him. He was definitely hiding from something.
We woke the next morning to find we’d been eaten alive by ants. Then when I opened the pannier a colony of big red and black ants had been born overnight. Eggs were visible in Paul’s shoe, I’d put them in there to stop them getting wet overnight. Bad idea. There was thousands and they were bloody hard to kill too, they seemed to be able to swim and wouldn’t drown. As quick as we were washing them off everything they were back or crawling up our legs. Even writing now, I’m itching.
The weather in Airlie was perfect so we spent the whole day at the lagoon with beach buffed backpackers. It being Paul’s “Birthday Eve” (he even tried using birthday boxing day) he needed to buy himself a present in case there were no shops in the next town, he got a very boring t-shirt but declared that he still had outstanding balance to still spend.
We made a plan to stop at Marlborough but there was absolutely nothing there. The drive was pretty dull, highway all the way the scenery didn’t change, the signs at the side of the road acknowledged the dullness by providing trivia questions to keep you alert. After driving for a good few hours in the heat, an Ice cream sign is always a nice sight. It was advertised for miles in advance, then when we got there it was closed down.
It turned into a long day and we arrived into Rockhampton at about 17.30. It’s just an industrial town and the campsite we stayed at was right on the highway it was however nice and cool. The following day was much of the same and just as dull. Passing through endless fruit and sugar cane farms. So bored by the highway Paul pulled into a dirty river like it was a spectacle to observe. It was just a brown river.
We eventually reached the turn off for Agnes Water, a small surfing town. Quite rightly all the highways run inland which takes all the traffic away from the nice coastal towns, but makes for boring straight drives. The neighbouring village to Agnes Water is the Town of 1770. Named 1770 because it was the place Captain Cook landed in Australia in the year of 1770. Though look into it a little and it is actually the 2nd place he landed, that’s probably why we’d never heard of it before. It was the perfect place for a birthday evening and we ate and camped right next to the beach that night. I thought I would be treating Paul by buying steak for his birthday but turns out it’s really cheap, as is wine. The only two things that are cheap in Australia.
Agnes Water was a good place to surf so we stayed the next day. Paul opted for a short board, and my surfing skills after only ever surfing a handful of times are not good enough for a short board. Chances were limited further by the local surf school who taught its students by lining them up in one big line then letting them go one by one. Much like herding cattle onto a truck, ready for the slaughter. It was pretty much like sending them to their death as they were so close together, boards were flying everywhere. Their instructor was pretty mental too, shouting abuse at them. I’m glad we took lessons in Java, not only did we likely pay a fraction of the price, we got an instructor each. Not one overweight, abusive instructor to 20 odd students.
1770 was really laid back and only had the waterfront and one pub. A nice place to be, everyone was having a good time. One family were going for a luxury scenic flight in one of those small sea planes.
We left the next day for Hervey Bay. On the way we called in at the Bundaberg factory. I knew of Bundaberg Rum but I had no idea it was made in Australia – maybe it was the polar bear branding. We were going to do a tour, then main reason being the free tastings but seen as Paul had to drive there wasn’t much point. We just called in to take a quick look and got on our way.
5 minutes after leaving the factory, a police car turned on it’s blue and red lights on the opposite side of the road. I just looked at it like it was going on a police mission. It didn’t even enter my mind it was for us. The officer stuck his arm out of the window as he passed, if he hadn’t, we would have definitely kept going as Paul thought the exact same. Then I thought ‘shiitttt’ especially when I saw the ’40 Roadworks’ sign as we were definitely doing over 40 km. Turns out that was just a stray left over sign, but speeding was what they had pulled us for. Despite it being a highway, the speed had changed and Paul hadn’t noticed. 80kmph on a straight open highway was the limit. Paul was doing 100. There was a good cop bad cop scenario going on. The one questioning and writing the ticket, was the bad cop and there was no way he was going to let us off. The good cop was the breathalyzer, lucky we didn’t do the Bundaberg tour, and the one to drop the news the fine was $220!! Great, that pretty much wrecked the rest of that day. Paul being cautious to make sure he kept observed the speed limit, which can be painfully slow in some places and can change in 5kmph within a few hundred metres of the last sign. With our clock in miles, it can be quite difficult to maintain.
Getting to Hervey Bay didn’t make things that much better. It looked like festival park in Stoke-on-Trent on the approach, though the seafront is much nicer. It was a bit of an epicentre for retirees on mobility scooters. Even the campsite owner was an OAP. An OAP who didn’t like to wear his teeth, making it very hard to understand what he was saying. When two German backpackers in a campervan turned up later that evening we witnessed him pretending not to work there. He had just clocked off and gave us a cheeky wink.
Hervey Bay is supposed to be ‘the’ place to spot whales, but we’re here the wrong time of the year. They are spotted during their migration from north to southpole or vice versa. As with most things it seems in Australia, there are even rules for watching the Whales. No chasing, do not go within 3 mertres of them etc etc. There is little other reason to come here, so we gathered information on Fraser Island. A Norweigan guy we met back in Katherine had told us about Lake Mackenzie and said we must go to this island. I also remember my friend Faye travelling to Fraser Island a few years ago and recall her saying how beautiful it was.
The only thing was it has no roads. Sand can be really difficult thing to ride on. Riding a push bike is hard enough on sand, so I was pretty anxious about taking the motorbike given the weight. Especially as the beach is 75 miles long. Being the passenger, I would be the one walking if it became too difficult. Paul seemed quite relaxed about it despite advice on many forums not to even try. As long as we could dump some of the stuff we were carrying, we would give it a go.
The other thing to take into account when going to Fraser Island are the Dingoes. Dingoes look just like dogs, possibly mixed with foxes, though they are apparently closer alike to wolves. There have been numerous attacks on travellers and some children were even killed by them on Fraser Island.
Rainbow beach is the town that is next to Inskip (point where we could get the barge over to the island) where we picked up all the things we needed. You need to be completely self sufficient on the island as there isn’t much at all, so we had to stock up with food and petrol.
Once again there were rules. You need a permit for a vehicle, a permit to camp and a ticket for the barge. It ended up costing $120, whilst anything over $100 always feels expensive it’s actually not that bad at about £30 each. We stayed in Rainbow Beach for the night, which was another small laid back surfing town. Named Rainbow, because of the multi-coloured cliff rock faces. We drove to port to check it out. Inskip is actually part of the Great Sandy National Park so the whole end of that Peninsula sand. The inlet roads were all deep, soft sand. A little nerve racking for what was about to come. The entrance to the ferry point also had a sign ‘warning: soft sand’ hmmmm.
On the way back, we were looking for some engine oil and ended up down a dead end. Paul checked the phone for directions and then turned the bike around. In that time, two dogs had sneaked up on us. I had flip flops on, skinny jeans and bare-arms, Paul was not much better with flat pumps and jeans. We knew they were going to go for us but we had no choice but to drive past them, they had corned us. One on the left and one on the right. One looked exactly like the evil dog with the voice box from the Disney film – UP. One had a collar on so he wasn’t a Dingo, maybe just caught up in the bad dog crowd, egged on by the dog from UP to join the gang. As Paul drove they came chasing, one on the right for the first chase, then one waiting a bit further down the road on the left for the second chase. It was like a challenge on Gladiators when the contestants had to dodge Fox and then Lightening. Both of us had our legs up as high as they would go, I nearly went straight off the back as I wasn’t holding the handle in case they nipped my hands. One got Paul on the leg but it wasn’t able to grasp so no broken skin, so no need for a rabies jab but we’re pretty weary about the actual Dingos if these were in fact standard dogs.
Back at the campsite we were being attacked again only this time by little midgy things, that were easy to kill but they always got to bite first and there were thousands. Our skin now resembles bubblewrap, there are so many lumps. Our repellent, coils and spray is failing us. Australia so far is not my favourite. I want to tear my skin off.
We were woke the next morning by a bush turkey pecking on a bin liner of our stuff we’d left outside the tent. Bush Turkeys are black wild birds, not sure if they are eaten for Christmas dinner or not. They don’t have as wobbly necks as English Turkeys.
Anyway we left the campsite and some of our stuff behind and headed for Inskip. The sign of ‘warning: soft sand’ wasn’t lying. We weren’t even on the barge yet and I had been told to get off the bike. The patch of sand to get to the ferry was as soft as powder sugar. The kind of sand you hated when you were little as there was no chance any sand castle was going to be constructed without a million trips to collect sea water and even then it would probably collapse. I could see the back end sinking as Paul was trying to set off after I got off, sand flying up from the wheel, the front handle bars shaking but it made it. On the 10 minute ferry barge, we wondered what we were doing and if it was a bit stupid to even attempt this. I was already hot and sweaty after walking to the barge dressed in all my gear over soft sand. I really didn’t want to walk all along Fraser Island too.
The sand when we got off the barge was quite slushy and chopped up by the 4x4s though wasn’t as soft as the opposite side. We’d been given a tidal timing leaflet and this was the just in the beginning of the good time to get onto to harder packed sand provided by the sea going out. Plus we were early enough to get there before all the tour groups in 4x4s or huge monster truck like buses.
The only problem was it wasn’t very far out, meaning that as normal road rules applied (drive on the left) we were being pushed to the softer stuff which instantly made the handling a nightmare for Paul. I could feel us start to wobble. On sand it is better to travel in a higher gear and move quickly, so you have to go against instincts of slowing down when you feel like your about to lose it and power through instead.
Paul was trying to use the far right as much as he could get away with and some 4x4s would even pass us on the left, allowing us to stay on the harder packed sand and waving with huge grins, everyone enjoying the thrill but then there was an arse hole who was really far left even though there was plenty of space still to pass on the right. He continued on his path which would have really forced us into the really soft sand so Paul just stayed right instead. It was the police. We got stopped. Yes, the police are here too. He was such an arse about it. ‘You need to pass on the left, Everyone wants the hard stuff” Uggggghhh. Three times we have now been stopped by the Police after passing through 18 other countries and only stopped once in all that time, it’s a bit more than annoying. Especially when they are idiots. What happened to police like the Haslington village policeman who rode his bike just making sure everyone was ok and would rescue little girls that fell off their bikes? Nobody needs jumped authoritarian fun spoilers in their 4x4s. It’s a beach use common sense to make out a road not assume the whole half widths of the beach for the opposing sides.
By around 11 the beach was perfect conditions, the sun was shining and we were definitely glad we came. The golden strip of sand quadrupling as a highway slash sunbathing area slash fishing jetty slash runway [yes, you have to give way for planes landing]. Which makes it even more ridiculous the police stopped us. What did they say to the woman sat on the middle of the ‘road’ in her sunken deck chair and the fishermen on the hard shoulder?
Fraser Island is known as K’gari by the Indigenous population meaning Paradise. Why it became known as Fraser Island, I don’t know. I did read however that the Indigenous population were moved off the island in the 40s. 4000 indigenous people used to travel to the island during fishing season which I doubt happens anymore as all the costs associated with visiting makes it unfeasible – all of which were imposed by the white government. There was no reason given as to why they were ‘moved off’, but now there are only white permanent residents on the island. I don’t know if there is any injustice felt about this, but I was shocked by the statement they were ‘moved off.’
We passed one of the 4x4s which was on the barge and they were stuck on one of the roads heading inland. We knew we had no chance of going on the deeper inland tracks. The first spot we came to was Eli Creek. The creek was crystal clear, flowing from an underground fresh water source. Then a bit further along the beach was Maheno shipwreck, a luxury cruise liner which was sold for scrap and was being towed from Sydney to somewhere in China, when it got caught in cyclone and broke loose. It’s been left there to decay and is now a bit of a feature. They were even rules for how close you were allowed to get. Not like the decaying boat in Timor which the kids were swarming around and jumping off.
We made it right upto Indian head – the furthest point north we could get and the end of the 75 mile beach. It’s a big cliff face that reaches out into the sea. They only way to get around it would be to head inland through the dunes. Once up on top of Indian Head we could see the other side and there was a beautiful azure blue pool, so we made the trek on foot.
Ready to set off, Paul had parked on the edge of the soft sand using his back pad for the stand to sit on, and thought it wasn’t too deep to go forward. But as soon as he went forward the bike began to sink quickly. The chain was being smothered in sand, it was so low the bottom of the panniers were touching the sand. A big push was all it needed to get it out but as I pushed I got full covering of sand and unwittingly I hadn’t put my visor down. As soon as he became unstuck, I fell to the ground. It must of looked a bit like a carry-on movie.
Our next obstacle was camping. We had opted for beach camping on our permit meaning technically we needed to set-up on the beach, well the dunes. But since our stove broke we needed to be near somewhere we could cook. So we tried one of the government campsites. That was a bad idea. The entry from the beach was slatted wood, but then it was deep, super soft sand and the road went on and on. The campsite was set quite far back. I had to jump off to reduce the weight. He drove off, and I was left to try and negotiate my way over the dingo grid. They’re like the cattle grids only they are electrified. On the entrance there was a human gate, but not on the exit. There was a thin ledge I had to balance along to avoid being electrified. When we eventually got to the campsite, it was set so far away from the beach we decided to head back and find somewhere else.
Conscious that the tide was coming in and we needed to get off the beach, we made it to a place with possible cooking called Happy Valley. Only it wasn’t Happy Valley for us. All the area around was a bit wet so we were thinking the tide would come in, drown us and swallow the bike. We had an argument at this point, as I thought we should have just stayed put at the government place, as we were there anyway and there was camping and a dingo fence. Now we were in the crappy part of the beach to camp, and I was sent off to find out about the tides. The ladies in the shop wern’t too helpful saying we needed to get the bike on the dunes – there were rocks at this point so no chance of getting the bike up there. So I went to the hotel to ask if we could park there. I was met by a very chirpy, deeply tanned, gap toothed guy with his arm in a sling. He was more than happy to let us park, in their carpark. I was wishing we could sleep there too. Perfect, I knew Paul would be happy the bike was safe. The guy asked me where I planned to stay and immediately said ‘just watch out for those Dingos’ The entrance to this happy valley area had an electrified Dingo grid again. I read whilst on the island the Dingoes here are of the purest strain. Not entirely sure what that means, more deadly maybe. I wasn’t looking forward to camping.
I mentioned to Paul when I went back to tell him the good parking news that the guy had a nice patch of grass we would could ask to use, at least we would be behind the Dingo fence. He must have heard us still bickering in carpark, as he came and asked again where we planned to stay. Then like our knight in shining vest and shorts, he announced he was going to look after us. He was doing up a little house and offered it to use for the night. It was the best outcome really. Both fed up of camping because of the amount of bites we have, a bed for the night was amazing. I feel bad I can’t remember his name, but he was from the Salthy Fish hotel and was originally from New Zealand. He actually lost his arm in a motorcycle accident. Yes it was kindness and he did help us out, but we paid a small amount for the little house. We weren’t resentful for that, as it was 100% what we needed and had great views, but so far in Australia we have not experienced any no catches kindness. Like the kindness we experienced from people who have hardly anything in the poorer countries, selfless kindness.
The next morning we waited for the tide to go out and then set off. Only when we reached Eli Creek the sea wasn’t far enough out to pass through, plus there was a Dingo milling around. That’s the first one we’ve seen. He was heading our way quickly, so I picked up a stick whilst Paul turned around and we headed south again. Only when we reach Yidney Rocks the tide was still too far in so we had to wait. Anxiously looking for the Dingoes. We waited for about half an hour before we judged that there was enough time between the waves to pass through the individual sections. Successfully through we headed further south until we reached the inlet to Lake Wabby.
The walk to Lake Wabby was over a huge sand dune, or sandblow as it’s marked on the map. The Lake was so clear the fish were visible from just sitting at the edge. It didn’t really look that appealing as it was green, but apparently in a few years the sand will have blown so much it won’t exist. It will just be a huge sand dune. So it was worth coming for a look at least.
After making the long walk back to the beach we headed for the barge at the very south of the island. Before setting off we learnt from a 4×4 tour guide that my boots that I left behind under the bike had been attracting the attention of some dingoes, apparently they love leather and will “have sex with it”. I placed the beating stick back in it’s holster on top of the pannier and we set off down the beach. As it was now close to lowest tide the sand was nice and hard packed for the rest of the way down the 75 mile straight so we were travelling pretty fast when nearing the southern tip when all of a sudden the surface changed to shallow rutted craters, which weren’t visible till up close. We hit them at speed and began to jump and bump around, all of our bottles of water and my Dingo beating stick went flying but we managed to stay on. I had to go recover our stuff after, taking a photo of the track taken, you can see at some points the tyre tracks are even missing.
Getting back to flatter sand we arrived in the que for the barge back to the mainland, though when we arrived on the other side the deep sand entrance that leads to the sealed road was completely blocked, a pickup truck had managed to get itself buried and a team was in action trying to tow it out. A wise old man walking his dog was able to tell us of an alternative route by following the beach down and entering via a footpath. Back on tarmac we made our way back to Rainbow beach to wash all the salt water and sand off the bike before making a plan on where we would move onto the following day.