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The Dingo Ate My Chips!

Our adventures on Fraser Island

After an 8 hour drive from Mackay to Hervey Bay, we were knackered once again. We loaded up on camping food and supplies (boxed wine…check! Easy Mac…check!) retired early to our king-sized bed (huge treat) and prayed for sun. Early the next morning, we headed to Aussie Trax, the company that we rented us our 4x4 vehicle and camping gear for our weekend on Fraser Island. As we are all class all the time, we opted to rent our own vehicle instead of embarking on a group tour. We wanted our boxed wine all to ourselves, thank you very much. Therefore, we wound up with what we lovingly referred to for the rest of the trip as the Barbie Jeep. It was a 2 door white Suzuki that barely fit us, our camping gear, our food for the weekend, and our bags…and it was amazing! Barbie Jeep because the rest of the 4x4s out there were huge Land Rovers with engine snorkels and monster-truck suspension.

Fraser Island is an amazing place. It is the largest sand island in the world. And somehow, lush rainforest and beautifully clear mineral lakes exist atop the sand dunes. The only way to navigate the island is in a 4-wheel drive vehicle because the driving is done on the beach and on inland sandy/very muddy/bumpy tracks.

It is a requirement for all those heading to Fraser to watch a 30-minute video, consisting of driving and dingo safety on the island. In addition to the numerous warnings about insurance being null and void if intoxicated (“and you still may be over the limit the next morning!” it kept reminding us), we were quite amused by the scene in which two women encounter a dingo (a wild dog), cross their arms over their chest, and back away slowly while maintaining purposeful eye contact with the creature. We did not know then how handy this tip would be for us later on. We also learned that driving on the beach is prohibited at certain times due to high and low tide times. The tides pretty much rule life on Fraser:

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After this, we packed up the Barbie Jeep and headed to the ferry at River Heads. Upon boarding, we proceeded to the top deck to bask in the beautiful sunshine for which we had longed for the past week. Here is Nikki soaking up the rays:

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After enjoying the 45-minute ride, we disembarked in the Barbie Jeep with Marin at the wheel. What ensued for the next hour or so was a small test of the strength of our marriage. We seem to have had a few of these on this trip… It was necessary to drive from West coast of the island to the East (where the beautiful beaches exist) via a rough inland track. The conversation throughout sounded a bit like this:

Nikki: “Marin, please slow down a bit.”
Marin: “Sweetie, I am going 10 km/hour.”

As the same conversation repeated itself many times over, Nikki stopped saying please and Marin stopped saying Sweetie. These polite terms were instead replaced by “Why don’t you listen to me?” and “Don’t you tell ME how to drive!” But, we made it. ☺

It was so strange to follow a one-lane rugged sand road through the rainforest and emerge on the other side of the island onto beach and yes, believe it or not, a beach resort (the only one on Fraser – it felt like some sort of weird colony from Lost). We stopped at the general store there to pick up some additional supplies, namely a $25 dollar (yes that’s right folks) 6-pack of VB (Victoria Bitter). Can’t camp without cold beer, after all.

Nikki took the wheel and the beach driving was a whole lot smoother than the inland road. As you can see, she started to relax a bit:

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Driving on the beach for miles and miles and miles was very cool:
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The only thing to watch out for on the beach is what they call “washouts.” This is a place where freshwater flows down from the rainforest and the lakes over the beach and runs into the ocean saltwater. They create creeks in the sand and if you hit a deep one too quickly, it is bad news bears for you and your vehicle. While Nikki enjoyed crossing the washouts at the approximate speed of an injured tortoise, Marin’s style was a bit more…adventurous. To Marin, it was only a good crossing if you went fast enough to completely cover the windshield with splash.

We headed to Lake Wabby, one of the island’s most amazing freshwater lakes. It is the deepest one on the island (12 meters) and is very clean and filled with curious catfish. The lake is accessed by parking your jeep on the beach and hiking inland about 2.5 KM through rainforest. Along the way, we spotted some huge, scary spiders:
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Arriving at the lake was awesome, as the trail leads out of the rainforest onto a ginormous sand dune. We thought perhaps we had missed the lake or it had dried up until we followed the steep slope of the dune down to a gorgeous lake where people were swimming in the amazing oasis. Lake Wabby is surrounded by Eucalypt forest and 3 sides and the sand dune on the 4th. Also, the shoreline is shrinking by 3 meters per year as the dune encroaches on the lake. We jumped in immediately, before it was gone! Check it out:
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We hiked back out to the beach and drove further North to find our campsite for the evening before the tide came in. One of the coolest things about Fraser is that you can just set up camp along the beach pretty much wherever you like with no one else around. This is exactly what we did! Home sweet home on Night #1:

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We each began our designated camping jobs, Marin setting up the tent and Nikki preparing the evening’s food supplies. We drank boxed wine out of tin cups and ate the best generic tortilla chips and salsa ever at our beach-front camp site, as we watched the day beautifully melt into night. This was one of our favorite parts of the trip so far hands down! The view from our doorstep, and Happy Nikki taking it all in:

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Our dinner that night: the worst Easy Mac you can imagine (hard noodles and cold broth with some salsa added for an extra kick). But it still tasted great because we were so happy! We think it was some time around 8pm when we hit the hay because what else is there to do in the dark when you are camping?

We rose early with the sun the next day and battled the many horseflies of Fraser as we packed up camp. As we drove up the beach further on day 2, we stopped to see some of the best highlights of Fraser Island.

Eli Creek is the largest Freshwater creek on the island and you can actually swim in it. You hop in towards the top of the creek and then float on out to the ocean, just like a fish. So fun. We took this opportunity to take the day’s “shower.” Take a look at Eli, and this classic jeep scene along the beach:

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Further up on the beach, The Maheno Shipwreck is the remnants of an actual vessel that was cast ashore Fraser Island in 1935. It is awesome to see the waves splash over it and erode it:

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Although the ocean is beautiful on Fraser, you cannot swim in it because of the sharks, jellyfish, and extremely strong tides. However, there is one location at a place called the Champagne Pools at the Northern end of the island, where rock formations create natural shallow salt water pools out of ocean water and it is safe to swim. These pools are absolutely gorgeous, with different areas that are shallow and then suddenly deep. We enjoyed some salt water swimming and beers in the sunshine here:
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Indian Head juts out at the Northern tip of Fraser. It is a great place to hike up for amazing views of the island’s dunes and rainforests. Occasionally dolphins and turtles can be spotted in the waters below. Check out the view of the dunes behind the beaches, and look how happy we are:

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After our long day of exploring we found another both private and perfect beach campsite. Our home on Night #2:
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Marin had mentioned earlier in the day that she was disappointed that we had only seen 1 dingo so far. As we drove up and down the beach, she had her camera poised and ready on her lap for the perfect dingo shot. Marin cannot get enough of the Aussie wildlife ☺!

Well she got her wish as we were enjoying our tortilla chips and tin cup wine that evening. We had just remarked how absolutely delicious the tortillas were when out of nowhere, in the dark, a dingo appeared about 1 meter behind us. He had snuck up behind us on the dune and taken us completely by surprise. And just like the silly women in the dingo safety video we crossed our hands over our chests and backed away (after Marin shrieked like a little girl). The bold dingo snatched up our bag of chips in his mouth and proudly trotted away to share with his buddies up the beach.

We should mention here that both the dingo safety video and the numerous signs posted all over the island strongly warn against this as the dingoes can get very aggressive. The signs instruct you to hit a dingo hard with a blunt object if they attack you. And if you are camping with children under the age of 14 on Fraser, you must sleep inside these weird human cage things.

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It turns out the dingo really can eat your baby. And your chips!

Marin completely forgot all of this and found the dingo rather cute (despite his theft) and called out, “Here boy, here boy.” She then made that lip smacking, kissing noise that you make when you want an animal to come closer. And come closer he did! He returned to take a few licks of our salsa – apparently not his thing, as he left it behind.

Day 3 events on Fraser: Marin eating a most delicious bacon, meat and cheese pie at the local bakery, a hellish drive back through the inland tracks of the island and a stop at Lake McKenzie (there are over 100 lakes on Fraser, all freshwater). Nikki frolicked in the clear water while Marin napped off her pie:

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After this we caught the Ferry back to Hervey Bay, bid farewell to the Barbie Jeep, jumped back in our little Astra, and headed down the coast to Noosa.

Up next, the beach towns we fell in love with, Noosa and Byron Bay, and our visit to Steve Irwin’s legacy, the famous Australia Zoo. Woohoo!!! Xoxo Marin and Nikki

Posted by Marbert18 17:10 Archived in Australia Tagged beaches fraser_island driving camping jeep dingo Comments (1)

Blame It On The Rain

Braving the East Coast, with the Astra as our Ark

Well…where to begin…

After being settled in Cairns for 3 nights, we were ready to hit the road again. Seemed like perfect timing as some big clouds were rolling in and it began to drizzle. “What good luck! Rain on our driving day, not our beach day!” we sang to ourselves, not knowing it would be more than a week until we saw the sun or had a dry pair of socks/pants/shorts/underpants again.

John, our aforementioned Welch Crush, directed us on a scenic route south through the Atherton Tablelands, which is a huge rainforest area up in North Queensland. Turns out rainforest has that name for a reason – lots of forest, lots of rain. Though it was cloudy, and Marin was getting pouty (love that seasonal affective disorder)
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there was still some cool stuff to see, like this wicked huge tree, called The Cathedral Fig (just to give an idea of scale, if 24 adults stretched out their arms and held hands it would almost complete the circumference of the base of the tree), and these waterfalls:
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We kept on keeping on and headed south towards Mission Beach. Sounds nice, right? When we pulled into town at the end of a day of long and rainy driving, we started to get that creepy crawly feeling when you know something is just not right. We didn’t see any people anywhere…and the whole place just felt so…empty. We found our place, Scotty’s, but when we approached the doors, it appeared to be nothing more than an empty restaurant with shuttered windows and chairs stacked along on the walls. Very, very ghostowny. We soon realized that Mission Beach was hit incredibly hard by the cyclone back in February. They are just at the beginning of their recovery, still. Hence the miles and miles of uprooted trees along the beach, the shuttered homes, the lack of people, and the tumbleweed rolling by. The rain, now a full downpour that would continue for days, only added to this effect. We found our way out back behind the restaurant and discovered Scotty’s, our accommodation for the night. Though rated #1 on Trip Advisor and listed as “Our Pick” in Lonely Planet, this was a close to last pick in Marin and Nikki’s book. We knew we were in trouble when we were immediately invited to the evening’s “Bad Taste Dress Up Party!” (insert wet t-shirt here) by the throng of European teenagers in the pool. Scotty’s is actually probably a decent enough place, when it’s not pouring, not invaded by Euroteens, and not recovering from a major hurricane – meaning there is internet, the whole place is not under construction, and the electricity and water are not shut off without warning.

But the real fun began the next day, when we arrived in Airlie Beach. Again, rain rain rain. Again, another long, long drive. But, no worries, mate, we were going out for a boat cruise and snorkel on the amazing Whitsunday islands (another location on the Great Barrier Reef), right? Right?

What we thought we were getting, and what we thought we might do:
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What we got and did instead:
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View from our room we were soooo excited to arrive to (we booked a “resort” on discount! A resort! We couldn’t wait), and pool and spa area we were so excited about:

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View from our room we got:
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Sadly, due to the continued downpour, our boat trip was cancelled for two days in a row. Finally, we came to the conclusion that although the Whitsunday Islands are amazing, we could not wait around in Airlie any longer for the rain to stop. After all, we are only in Australia for so long and we have many, many beautiful places to experience. One can only drink wine and watch The Kardashians on loop on the hotel room for so many days. And these damn Australians are so friggin’ good-natured, it was hard to find anyone to even whine with. We’d try to start something up in a bar with a fellow traveler whose week had also been dashed only to get back a warm smile and a “Hey, what can you do, you can’t control the weather, it’s still a wonderful holiday though, isn’t it? Life is grand! Rain makes the flowers grow! I love to drink beers with my mates!” ARGH.

Another problem (a real one) was that due to the extreme weather, the Bruce “highway” (a two lane road which was our only route out of Airlie beach) was completely flooded and therefore closed in both directions. Even the airport was shut down for several days as no cars could access it. Marin however, thought it might be a good idea to go investigate the flooding ourselves (Marin has become a major risk taker since her extreme hang gliding adventure) and Nikki hesitantly agreed (Nikki has become a major scaredy cat since her last Australian excursion 10 years ago). If the roads were at all drivable, we needed to high tail it out of there. Marin was able to successfully navigate us around some initial flooding with her keen sense of direction via some back roads (note water levels):

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Then, the real fun began…well not quite. (Moms and Dads, we apologize in advance for taking our lives in our hands, but keep in mind we are writing the blog right now and therefore we are alright)
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After sitting parked for a couple of hours at the point of road closure in a one-horse town by the name of Proserpine, we made the daft decision to take our tiny Astra hatchback through the crock-infested flood waters following behind a line of 18 wheelers and some 4-wheel drive vehicles. Initially, the flood waters were seemingly not that bad – we both imagined them to be like a quaintly flooded back road in New England in springtime. But instead, the flooded roads just kept going and going for miles (or kilometers) and there were several points where the water level was up to our windows on both sides of the vehicle. Marin was at the wheel and managed to stay surprisingly calm (though she bruised her finger from biting on it so hard) with Nikki at her side, asking anxiously every 10 seconds or so, “Is it ok…does it feel ok…can you feel the road?” At the time Marin just kept saying, “It’s fine, It’s fine!” After making it through safely to the other side, Marin divulged that for most of the treacherous drive, she felt the car floating up off the road and being pulled to the side by the strong flood waters. We later found out that the road did not officially open to drivers until 2 days later (it turns out everyone we were following was just making an illegal break for it at low tide) and 2 cars had been washed off the road into the croc-infested waters. Needless to say, we were both extremely jolted by the experience and happy to be alive AND we were extremely proud of our little Astra! American made, baby!

We spent that evening in a little Motel in a town called Mackay eating take-out Chinese, drinking cheap wine in bed, and trying to stay dry. The following day, still downpouring, we would embark on an 8-hour drive to the amazing Fraser Island. Tune in next time for our 4x4 adventures in our Barbie Jeep, on the largest sand island in the world. We also found sunshine! Hooray! xoxo Marin and Nikki

P.S. We are a bit behind on our entries as we have most recently been doing things like camping in the Outback without Internet, so expect a few coming your way in the coming days.

Posted by Marbert18 06:21 Archived in Australia Tagged rain driving whitsundays mackay airlie_beach mission_beach Comments (2)

We've Arrived!

Crossing the international date-line into the Southern Hemisphere

After what seemed like the never-ending journey to the ends of the earth, Marin and I finally arrived in the quaint “city” of Dunedin. The hours leading up to our arrival were fraught with lost baggage, dizzy spells, bland Bloody Marys, all too perky flight attendants (YES, I know my shoes are untied!!!), and very, very, very little sleep (or if you are Marin no sleep at all). One of my favorite moments was when Marin and I boarded Air New Zealand flight 7 from San Francisco, California to Auckland, New Zealand. Marin and I were psyched to settle in to our plush seats and catch some zzzzs on this 13-hour leg of our 36-hour journey. Upon entering the plane and making our way to our seats, we discovered two things: the seats were not plush and the man sitting in the seat in front of Marin snored loudly and had reclined in his less than plush seat prior to take off, leaving us little to no leg room. In addition, we thought it would be wise to provide ourselves with some in-flight entertainment. We each downloaded the acclaimed flick, Inception, (at 14.99 a pop each time), only to discover that Air New Zealand offers a wide variety of current films including Inception. Of course, we have yet to watch the movie.

Here’s Marin trying not to pass out:

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Upon arrival in Dunedin, we were greeted by the lovely clerk at Nationwide Car Rental. As she loaded us into our vehicle and was just about to send us off after an expository speech about the technical nuances of the emergency break, she suddenly looked up and asked, “ But where’s all your luggage???” Nikki felt proud in that moment – first time anyone ever asked her that! Marin muttered, “Bag got lost somewhere between JFK and Auckland.”

Off we went, driving on the left side of the road in our 2001 Nissan. The driving on the left is not the hard part. What was tricky then, and still continues to be tricky 3 days later, is re-training your brain and your muscles to remember that the blinkers are now on the right and the windshield wipers are now on the left. Also, up with the blinkers is now left and down with the blinkers is now right. So basically, every time we turn, in addition to a radical swerve to ensure that we’re not careening into oncoming traffic, we go through a series of mishaps involving turning the blinker on in the wrong direction and then turning the windshield wipers on and off several times and then changing the blinker to the right direction (wipers still wiping…speed changing in a desperate attempt to flick the correct switch before getting in a head-on collision). It is a true comedy of errors every time we have to make a turn – luckily the roads are very long here. We want to video this – it’s pure comedy -- but seeing as we opted to decline the rental car insurance, we’d better not…

Here’s Nikki navigating us out of the airport like a pro:

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More coming soon! XOXO Marin and Nikki

Posted by Marbert18 22:04 Archived in New Zealand Tagged travel driving flights Comments (0)

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