Mr 4X4 and a Most Unexpected Storm

We had a shocking sleep in Fink Gorge, it was muggy and hot which turns one of us into a star fish resulting in the other being squashed against a window all night. Trying to make the most of the cooler start in the morning we fired up Egg early and attempted to put a dint in the track before it warmed up too much. By 9am it was 35 degrees, by 11am it was easily pushing 40 and rather than setting up at our planned campsite for the night we decided to continue our drive and enjoy the air-conditioned comfort the inside of the van offered us. I’m a bit ashamed to admit we literally drove all day until 130km later in the afternoon we pulled up at the Henbury Meteorite Craters. If you think 130km in a day seems like the slowest drive ever please remember we were on a 4WD track for half of that where I think we averaged 10km/h and then spent the rest of the day on a sandy, corrugated, nightmare of a road where the speedo crept over 40km/h maybe once. I hope I’m painting an accurate picture of how grim it was. Needless to say, until the sun dipped over the horizon we hid under a picnic shelter and did a fantastic job of sweating everywhere and trying not to move.

If we slept poorly in the Fink it had nothing on Henbury, with the back of the van open to the non-existent breeze the inside didn’t get cooler than 32 degrees. It was less than ideal. Both completely shattered from two nights with next to no kip we decided to drive straight to Rainbow Valley to sit back and do nothing for the better part of the day. We were that exhausted we even stopped and had a coffee at a less than salubrious roadhouse. Yummy. It all wasn’t doom and gloom though because the dramatic landscape of Rainbow Valley woke us both back up with multicoloured spires of sandstone arching across the horizon. We claimed our spot, set up a bit of a camp under a picnic shelter and went for a walk through the dunes and amongst the stone formations. Back at camp we completed our goal of doing nothing, I lay around in my hammock, Matt sat in his chair reading and occasionally ran off to catch a lizard or two. The area was very quiet with maybe two or three cars visiting during the entire afternoon. Around 4pm, just as dramatic dark clouds were rolling in, 3 groups rocked up in flash 4WDs. Matt and I watched on in amusement as they set up 2 cameras (one proper TV camera and one expensive DSLR) and busted out a drone. Matt loudly said to me “do you think they’re shooting an episode of Neighbours out here?” which the guys seemed to find very amusing. One came over and explained they were filming a 4WD show.

We spent the entire afternoon watching the team run around getting shots of a bloke in a fancy hat and a button-down shirt while making snide comments. As the clouds rolled in further the light clearly got too bad to shoot so they all came back into camp. I’d started on dinner and noticed some rain on the horizon so also brought all our belongings in undercover. To our surprise instead of driving back out to Alice Springs the guys started setting up swags and cooking dinner on the fire, that’s when it started to rain properly. Because of the rain they all came under the shelter and asked if they could sit with us for dinner, we were more than happy to shuffle over and had a great chat with them all. Turns out the show they were filming for has been running for 14 seasons on channel 10 (whoops) that the main guy Pat Callinan is known as Mr. 4X4 and is a bit of a four-wheel-driving celebrity (also whoops). They were a great bunch and didn’t mind in the slightest we didn’t have a clue who they were. Conversation flowed easily about their plans, our plans, whether they’d been to Tassie, things about our van and their cars, camping set up, all while watching a thunderstorm roll over the desert and pouring rain wash the dust off Egg. What a great night.

The rain continued into the evening and brought the temperature back into the low teens so needless to say we slept like logs. We said goodbye to Pat and his crew, promised to start watching his show (at the time of writing this we’ve seen 2 episodes and they’re great) then got back on the road heading North East.

Campsite Reviews

Henbury Meteorite Craters – Hot, dry, minimal shade and not particularly exciting but it had picnic areas and a nice loo. The walk around the craters would have been amazing if we hadn’t seen the Tnorala site the day before but because they were so much smaller it was a bit underwhelming. Do Henbury first and it’ll be much more excting – $4pp/pn – 6/10.

Rainbow Valley – Even without the excitement of a film crew this was a beautiful spot and had possibly the nicest smelling drop toilet in the NT. $4pp/pn – 8/10.

Nip into Burra

I finished my last post with Matt and I enjoying my woeful first attempt of camp oven cooking so we will take off again from there. We left the farm after saying goodbye to the animals and checking out the view over the river. Our first stop for the day was Waikerie, a surprisingly pleasant little town with orange shaped rubbish bins, massive TV aerials, silo art of a giant parrot, and most importantly the Nippy’s Factory Outlet. I’d like to say that Matt and I were restrained and did not buy a ridiculous number of drinks to the point where we had to stack boxes next to be bed but I can’t. Now in possession of every conceivable flavour of milk me made our way towards our next campsite in Burra.

Our unplanned lunch spot ended up being Morgan, which in it’s day was the second busiest port in South Australia after Port Adelaide. It was an interesting town and we spent a good couple of hours following the historic walk through the village, train station, and port area. I’d strongly recommend stopping in if you are in the vicinity, especially if you have kids as there is a playground that is shaped in one part like a paddle steamer and in the other part as a train station! So cool!

When we rolled into Burra in the afternoon we were faced with yet another pleasant surprise. There is definitely something to be said for travelling around without much of an idea of what you are doing because we are constantly rolling into towns and being amazed with what is there. Burra is so far probably the best example of this as not only did Matt meet a lady working in the visitor centre who was from Burnie with her relatives attending school with him but the town itself was amazing!

Burra was established in the 1840s after copper was discovered on a local property, it was originally a number of different towns known collectively as “The Burra” but combined later on as they began to expand into one another. At the peak of the copper boom the population swelled to make it the second largest city in South Australia after Adelaide. What was so interesting about Burra was the number of historic buildings and how well preserved they all were. For most people the best option to visit these sites is to purchase a Heritage Passport from the visitor centre. The key that is provided to you after paying the $30pp and $50 deposit will get you into all of the main attractions (and they are numerous), I hear that it takes about 5 hours to complete them all. For those of us that wander into town in the late afternoon expecting a standard country town and therefore not having nearly enough time driving around and looking at the outside of the buildings was still highly enjoyable and interesting. My favourite part was 3km out of town where we saw the house from the album cover of Diesel and Dust by Midnight Oil!

We set up camp just outside town down a dusty dirt road at a place I found on WikiCamps called Red Banks, the sites were sunny in lowish bushland but with trees that were robust enough to put the hammock out. The next morning we walked to the Red Bank along a dry stream bed and then back into camp so we could pack up and make our way northwards. The drive towards Cradock was fairly uneventful apart from the loss of Matt’s straw hat. We’d pulled off the road (as we often do) to have a poke around an abandoned railway station at Eurelia and Matt decided to climb up the abandoned railway water tank. Just as he got to the top of the ladder a gust of wind caught his hat and blew it into the tank. I was very helpful and found him a new had in Cradock (pictured below).

Campsite Reviews

Red Banks – Stunning location for a free camp with interesting walks and an impressive “red bank” of sand a short walk away. Free – 8/10.

Cradock Hotel – This place was so much fun, the publicans were lovely, beer was cold and the food was delicious. Couldn’t have picked a better spot to do the census “there are 11 people in town and half of them live here”. Free – 7/10 (broken glass all through the camping area).

A Visitors Guide to K’gari (Fraser Island)

I wasn’t planning on writing about Fraser Island before we left but as I lay in the bath this morning looking out the window at the cold grey sky I found my thoughts drifting to the tropics which inevitably led to contemplating our visits to the world’s largest sand island. It’s unlikely that we will be visiting on our lap and I therefore thought that I should write a post about our experiences on K’gari before we head off (in 50 days!!)

Moody kunyani out our study window

K’gari (pronounced gurri) is a word in the language of the Butchulla people meaning paradise that comes directly from the creation story of the island which you can find transcribed from one of the elders here. Fraser Island is a habitat to large numbers of vulnerable plants, birds, and marine life and has the second highest concentration of freshwater lakes in Australia (behind Tasmania). Of the lakes on the island 40% are perched, meaning that they are formed when sand is cemented together with decomposing organic material making a barrier that prevents the water from flowing away. There are 80 known perched lakes on earth making K’gari the perfect place to see (and swim in) these watery wonders. It is the ideal destination for travellers that enjoy 4WDing, camping, fishing, wildlife, bushwalking, and swimming.

Places to Stay
The accommodation options on Fraser vary significantly in both location and price. I can only speak in confidence about the places that we have stayed/experienced but I’ll also outline the other options that are available to travellers.

Kingfisher Bay Resort
On our first trip we spent 4 nights at Kingfisher Bay Resort. Because it was the off season (June) we got a fantastic deal which included accommodation, breakfast, drinks, and our ferry tickets. The resort will often have promotions and seasonal packages available on their website.

Kingfisher Bay is a very interesting place to stay. Some of the reviews online describe it as dated but we felt that the older architectural style and fittings added to the charm of the resort. The atrium is incredible, the staff were friendly and helpful, and the layout of the grounds and cabins makes you feel like you are a part of the wilderness.

We participated in several of the activities offered by the resort including the ranger guided bush tucker walk, where we learnt about and sampled food growing in the area, the ranger guided night walk, that included a trip down to the jetty to look for rays and the disturbing information that spiders eyes reflect torch light, the guided kayak paddle, and the brilliant Bush Tucker Talk and Taste. Needless to say we were never bored during our visit.

Private Accomodation
There are a number of communities on Fraser such as Orchid Beach, Second Valley, and Happy Valley. In these areas you can find houses and units that can be rented. If you are planning to go to Fraser with a large group of people and weren’t camping this would be a great option. Find them by searching for “Fraser Island” on airbnb

By far the biggest town on Fraser Island is Eurong which makes it a very convenient base for holidays. The main place to stay is Eurong Beach Resort. We’ve never been into the building but we have looked jealousy at their pool (which is amazing). It’s cheaper than Kingfisher Bay and a bit more basic however the rooms appear bright and roomy and it would be a great place to stay on a budget.

Most of our time on Fraser has been spent camping so we can offer some advice on where to stay if you are roughing it in a tent or campervan.

Central Station Campground – My personal favourite campground on the island it is situated in the middle of the rainforest and has the added bonus of being the closest site to Lake McKenzie. It has drop toilets, $2 showers, and massive flat sites for cars, vans, or tents. We left this site early in the morning and drove to the lake where we spent an hour enjoying it all on our own.

Wathumba Creek – An absolutely stunning site for a campground but be warned, do not try and camp there in summer! We set up for the night but ended up leaving in the dark because the midges were horrific. I literally have scars on my legs from the bites. The other issue was that a lot of dingos (wongari) were in the area and they were much too friendly. I had to shoo a couple away several times.

Add: I’ve just read that in early February this campground was closed due to issues with the wongari interacting with people. Good decision by QPS.

Dundubara – This wongari safe campground is a quick walk inland from the beach. There are open areas, grassy areas, and hot showers available. There is also a ranger station and phone reception next to the building which is handy. We really enjoyed our stay at this site and it was nice to spend a night where we weren’t being constantly followed by dingos.

Northern Beach Sites – We ended up staying in one of the Northern Beach camping zones after being chased out of Wathumba by the bugs. In the evening while we were cooking dinner I had a feeling that something was watching us and sure enough there were a couple of wongari poking their heads around the dune behind our van but they didn’t bother us. The sunrise the next day was spectacular. There were no facilities available at this site it was simply a cleared area on some dunes.

Eurong Beach Campsites – Just north of Eurong there are a number of beach campsites available. We chose one back from the main drag in some she oaks. It was very pleasant in the evening but unfortunately during the day we were hounded by sand flies. I ended up cooking dinner while Matt supervised my legs and swatted the flies off with a thong. We killed about 50 and still they came. After this trip we ended up buying an awning tent to avoid these kinds of situations in the future.

We really enjoyed camping on K’gari but struggled a lot with the number of biting insects. I think winter would be a much nicer time to be outdoors or bring a heap of insect repellent with you (and buy the strong stuff aeroguard didn’t work).

K’gari is a mecca for 4WDing but if you don’t own an offroad vehicle don’t despair. There are numerous 4WDing tours you can do including the huge and impressive 4WD bus tours, self drive tours, and guided tours.

On our first trip we hired a 4WD for a day from Aussie Trax 4X4 (which is next to Kingfisher Bay Resort). The price was absolutely obscene, from recollection it set me back $400 without the additional cost of paying for petrol. Matt really wanted to do it for his birthday and there weren’t any other hire options where we were staying so I forked out for it. It would seem from the Google Reviews that the owner may have changed since we were there and I therefore wouldn’t recommend using this company any more. For us at the time it was a good option and the man that talked us through the hire and basic 4WD safety was friendly and fun.

Matt had basic 4WDing experience when we first visited but if you don’t I’d definitely steer clear of hiring and take one of the coach tours around the main sites on the island. The tracks aren’t very challenging but it there are a lot of potential hazards, especially along the beach, and if something goes wrong it would become a very expensive issue very quickly.

The second time we visited (in January this year) it was part of our trip to bring Egg down to Tasmania and we therefore had our own 4WD to get around in. It was absolutely brilliant and we saw so much more of the island in the 5 days that we were there. The inland tracks and beach were very soft but we didn’t have any issues with getting bogged or stuck. Another great thing about 4WDing on Fraser is that if you get into trouble there is always someone around to give you a hand. Before you leave the mainland don’t forget to buy a vehicle access permit to drive on the island. The Queensland Parks Service has two options:

  • 1 month or less = $53.65
  • More than 1 month (up to 1 year) = $270.00

There are a number of ferries that service the island with two departure points: Inskip Point near Rainbow Bay and River Heads just south of Hervey Bay. These will either drop you at Kingfisher Bay Resort, Wanggoolba Creek, or Hook Point. We’ve taken the ferry on foot from River Heads to Kingfisher Bay and have taken van on the barge from Inskip Point to Hook Point. Be warned, Inskip Point is notorious for vehicles getting bogged while trying to get to the ferry and there have been a couple of incidents of sinkholes appearing.

Price varies depending on the service and vehicle being taken. In January we paid $130 for a return ticket with our van on the Manta Ray barge.

We filled up twice on our January trip, once at Happy Valley and once at Kingfisher Bay. Both places were $2.10-$2.30/L which is pretty normal for the island. I’d recommend bringing a couple of filled jerry cans along on any trip just to cut the costs down a bit or even better get a long range fuel tank. We used our 20L of spare fuel pretty fast.

If you are going to buy supplies or eat out on Fraser Island expect to pay a premium for it. The most cost efficient meals will be those that you cook on your own equipment with food that you have brought over from the mainland (there are big supermarkets in Hervey Bay). If you do want to eat out we’ve been to several of the options on the island and can recommend the following:

Kingfisher Bay Seabelle Restaurant
Currently closed for renovations this high end restaurant is a fusion of modern Australian cuisine and traditional indigenous foods. Matt and I had a very memorable dinner there and I had an outstanding chili crab dish. It was also the site of the Bush Tucker Talk and Taste experience where I tried crocodile for the first time.

Kingfisher Bay The Sand Bar
The most relaxed dining experience in Kingfisher Bay this friendly bistro is a great place for a quick meal and a couple of drinks. The pizzas and the burgers are great.

Kingfisher Bay Sand and Wood
We only had breakfast here however it was sooo good it is definitely worth a mention. I’m often skeptical about buffet breakfasts as they don’t often represent good value or quality but this place was just great. The variety of food was brilliant and everything was delicious. No powdered eggs here! Yum.

Eurong Bakery
Another budget friendly option especially for lunch, here you can find everything that you’d expect in a bakery. We had a sausage roll and a pie, both were very nice.

Orchid Beach Trading Post and Driftwood Bar 
This pub/store/bar/museum was a great stop on our way to the northern end of the island. We popped in for lunch, Matt had a burger and I had the most fantastic squid (pictured below). Again really good prices and look how fresh that salad is.

Things to See and Do
Nothing can really prepare you for the beauty of Fraser Island as it is truly like nowhere else on earth. Expect rugged coasts fringed with colourful sand cliffs, pristine lakes, dunes, and awesome rainforest. Our favourite places include:

Central Station
There are so many interesting things in and around Central Station it is definitely worth taking an hour or two and exploring the area thoroughly. The original town was built to service the logging industry on Fraser Island which began in 1863. Other area highlights include Wangoolba Creek with water that is so clear it almost seems like it isn’t there at all, King ferns which only grow in one other place in Queensland and the Satinary tree which has the hardest timber in the world and was used for the construction of the Suez Canal.

Boorangoora (Lake McKenzie)
Undoubtedly the most famous place on Fraser Island is Lake McKenzie and it isn’t hard to see why. Leaving the car park and walking down to the lake you are greeted by perfectly white sand and turquoise water surrounded by forest. It’s not only my favourite place on K’gari but one of my favourite places in Australia. I feel truly blessed to have been able to visit twice in the last couple of years and in January to have had it to myself for over an hour.

If you would like the lake to yourself your best bet is to camp the night at Central Station and then get up early in the morning and drive over. We left the camp ground at 6am, got to the lake at 6.30am and had breakfast before swimming and exploring from 7-8am. The other things in our favour were, COVID-19 has prevented international travel and Fraser had only just opened to tourists again after a large fire shut the island.

Lake Wabby
Come and see this place while you can. Adjacent to Hammerstone Sandblow this beautiful emerald lake is slowly being eaten by the dune and will disappear entirely in the next 100 years. It currently provides a habitat to 13 species of freshwater fish that live in its 12m depths. The walk from the carpark is around 40 minutes each way, make sure you take plenty of water as it gets very hot on the exposed sand.

Lake Allom
Our second favourite lake on the island is Lake Allom. Named after a forestry surveyor in the 1900’s called Noel Allom the lake is one of the only rainforested lakes on K’gari and is filled with friendly turtles that swim up to the viewing platform. There is a circuit walk around the lake offering different viewpoints and additional turtle spotting opportunities.

Champagne Pools
This natural spa changed a lot between our first and second visit as the result of the tides and therefore I’d recommend visiting with a higher tide rather than a lower one. The large rock pools are one of the only safe places to swim on the eastern side of the island and are very popular.

Eli Creek
Another great spot to hit early in the morning to miss the crowds this creek is the largest on the island and has a flow rate of 4 million litres of fresh water per hour which makes the current perfect for cruising along on an inner tube.

S.S. Maheno
The S.S. Maheno had an interesting life as a ship. It was built in 1905 and worked as an ocean liner between Australia and New Zealand until 1915 when it was commandeered and used as a hospital ship in World War I. After the war it was returned to New Zealand finishing its life as a commercial vessel in 1935. In the same year, as it was being towed to Japan the tether attaching it to the tow ship broke and the S.S. Maheno washed up on the Fraser Coast where it has remained.

Wathumba Creek
Wathumba Creek is off the beaten track and therefore missed by most tourists to K’gari. Matt and I spent so long swimming here we went all pruny and only got out when the water was so low we were sitting on the bottom. Unfortunately due to wongari interactions the campsite and the beach are currently closed and will remain closed until the end of June or later. We experienced several issues with the wongari here which in retrospect I’ve learnt we should have reported to a ranger. When it reopens we’d strongly recommend a visit.

Lakes Birrabeen and Boomanjin
Two of the lesser known lakes are Birrabeen and Boomanjin. Birrabeen is an almost exact copy of Lake McKenzie just much less popular with tourists. It has the same pure white sand, crystal clear water and surrounding forest. Boomanjin was the only brown coloured lake that we visited. The colouration occurs as the result of the feeder creeks passing through a wallum swamp, collecting the tannins, and tinting the water.

Unsurprisingly the biggest sand island in the world has a lot of different sand. There are sandblows, sand dunes, sand cliffs and coffee sand. There is sand of every colour texture and shape. If you are a sand lover or passionate about sand Fraser Island is for you! On the other hand if you are like my dad and hate sand I’d probably give it a miss.

K’gari is a paradise for animals particularly birds, reptiles and marine life. There are beautiful creatures everywhere you look. Of course the most famous inhabitant of the island is the wogari. Said to be some of the most pure dingos in Australia these wild dogs can be seen along the shores and in the forests. Unfortunately due to tourists attempting to feed and take photos with dingos they are becoming increasingly bold and changing their behaviour which has resulted in several dingo attacks during the past decade. If you visit please ensure that you read the information booklet on wogari and give them the space and respect that they deserve.

I hope that this quick guide to K’gari has been helpful, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to send us and email and we will be more than happy to provide further information. It is a truly wonderful place to visit and a must see for anyone completing a lap around Australia.