Wild meets luxury on Fraser Island
Miranda Forster | AAP | June 2 2017
Half the pleasure of bushwalking comes after you remove your boots.
I reach this conclusion as steaming hot water from the resort shower massages my sore neck and shoulders and washes the sand and dirt from my feet.
I've just returned from a 15km rainforest hike on the world's largest sand island - Fraser Island off Queensland - and my body, unused to walking this far in one day, is feeling every step.
But, despite my exhaustion (or maybe because of it), I'm happy. I feel calm and content; day-to-day worries seem far away. It's as if during the hours on the trail I've absorbed the stillness of the rainforest and brought it back with me to my room.
Outside, dusk approaches. A grove of native trees casts long shadows across the pond below the deck outside my room.
I practically float down to the beach bar, where cold drinks and a plate of fresh prawns await while a fiery sun sets across the still waters of the Great Sandy Strait.
Hardcore hikers would likely scoff at the idea of staying at a resort rather than camping in the bush. But, I think later as I bite into a burger at dinner, there's something to be said for a hot shower, a warm bed, and not having to cook at the end of a long day's walk.
Fraser Island is said to be named after shipwrecked captain James Fraser's wife, after the couple was marooned on the island in the 1800s. The indigenous inhabitants and traditional owners - the Butchulla people - aptly called the place K'gari - "Paradise".
The island is mostly national park and is on UNESCO's World Heritage List. It's a walker's delight, with vast sand dunes and clear freshwater lakes laying amid ancient wilderness.
Less than an hour into my first day of hiking, I have a "wow" moment when our group comes across the startlingly clear waters of Wanggoolba Creek.
The shallow water flows over white sand but is so clear it's almost invisible; the creek looks dry until you get up close. An eel swimming downstream appears to be gliding through air and the water is so clean and pure you can get on your hands and knees and drink it.
Our guide, Kingfisher Bay Resort ranger Ann Bauer, explains that the water comes from a huge underground aquifer and has been filtered through sand over decades,
"It's among the purest and cleanest water found anywhere in the world," she says.
We follow the trail as it leaves the winding creek and meanders through an area named Pile Valley, past piccabeen palms, strangler figs, and a towering, 1000-year-old satinay tree whose massive trunk dwarfs us.
It's hard to believe the island was once a tiny patch of sand built up over the past two million years by ocean currents and winds into the vast, 125km land mass it is today.
Our walk ends at the photogenic Lake McKenzie, whose deep blue waters fade to turquoise at the white sand shoreline like a pristine tropical beach.
The lake is busy with swimmers when we arrive in the mid-afternoon. We find a quiet spot, strip to our bathers and plunge in. The water is too chilly to stay in for long, so I end up sitting on the shore and as tiny waves lap over my aching feet.
Less glamorous than McKenzie but just as striking is Lake Wabby, on the surf side of Fraser Island. Its brooding green waters are shielded on one side by sand dunes and on the other, by thick forest. When our group visits the next day, the weather is grey and rainy, with no one around and nothing to disturb the silence except the chatter of birds.
No one feels like swimming so we continue into the forest, where a steep trail leads to a carpark and a lookout with spectacular views of the lake, the sand dunes we've just crossed and the ocean.
Although families flock here and the island attracts visitors from all over the world, there's an element of wildness to Fraser Island. Signs warn visitors to "Pack food away" and "Be dingo safe". In 2001, a nine-year-old boy who was camping with his family was killed by dogs, and since then, there has been a handful of less serious attacks.
There's now dingo fences around the island's two resorts. We're advised that if we encounter one of the creatures, we should stand our ground, don't show fear and, whatever we do, don't run. As it turns out, the only glimpse we get of any of the 200-odd resident wild dogs is from the tour bus as we return from Lake McKenzie to the resort. A young dingo emerges from the bush ahead of our vehicle, the dog appearing unfazed by our presence as it sniffs the ground, trots past our vehicle and vanishes into the scrub.
Contemplating my approaching ferry trip back to the mainland, and roads, airports, traffic, crowds, emails and deadlines, I long to do the same.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Hervey Bay is a 50-minute flight from Brisbane, from where you can transfer to the River Heads Ferry Reception (3h 45m drive from Brisbane). Fraser Island Barges operates ferries from River Heads to Kingfisher Bay Resort.
STAYING THERE: Kingfisher Bay Resort is a 4-Star eco resort on the western side of Fraser Island. It has three restaurants, villas, an outdoor pool and spas, bars and a day spa. The Seabelle Restaurant offers fine dining with dishes that incorporate native Australian "bush tucker" ingredients. http://www.kingfisherbay.com/
PLAYING THERE: Two, three and four-night Fraser Island Great Walk packages are available from Kingfisher Bay Resort or Eurong Beach Resort. Prices start from $585.50 per person twin share, including ferry transfers, accommodation, breakfast, picnic lunch, on-island transfers to daily start/finish points and optional guide. Walks include The Lakes & Rainforest Walk, The Beach & Bay Walk and The Great Adventure.
Fraser Explorer Tours is at 1 Eastern Street, Eurong (Fraser Island)
Cool Dingo Tours - inquire at 1 Kingfisher Drive, North White Cliffs, Fraser Island
* The writer was a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland.
(image credit: matt-lamers-219512/unsplash.com)