We got up early to begin our highlight of our stay in Noosa. We were on our way to the largest sand island in the world which funnily enough is situated in the Great Sandy National Park. Before our tour really got underway we had a stop at the Dropbear office for a safety briefing. We were welcomed by Troy, our local Aussie guide and lead driver. The main reason for the safety briefing was to make us a little more aware of the driving conditions on the island and what we should be doing. The videos were painfully repetitive but with a little help from the coffee, fruit and biscuits we were awake by the end of them. Matthias volunteered to tackle the roundabouts and be the first to drive on the beach and with everyone in the car we were off.
It really wasn’t long before we drove off the tarmac and onto the golden sand. We wouldn’t be seeing much of tarmac for the next three days. Driving up the beach towards the dark grey clouds made us worry that we were going to be wet and miserable for about two seconds. After that we were too preoccupied getting to know our car mates that we no longer saw those black clouds. Our group turned out to be a great mix of nationalities and backgrounds, although Troy sometimes struggled to get the Dutch component to stop chatting. Our first stop was Rainbow Beach, where we collected a few extra friends and admired the ‘rainbow’ sand cliffs. The cliffs are huge, with lines of different sand in reds, oranges, yellows and whites. It wasn’t quite a rainbow but the exposed cliffs where sand-valanches had occurred really showed off the colours. From there we drove along another beach before boarding a ferry to cross over to the island.
While waiting for the ferry Troy told us that the island’s actual (Aboriginal) name was K’Gari (pronounced Gari) and we carried out a ritual to pay our respect to the aboriginal spirits. More on the origin of the name later.
We were lucky enough to see dolphins and a turtle from the shore and ferry before we arrived on the island. Then the wildlife just kept on coming. Driving alongside the pacific ocean there were crested terns resting their wings and oystercatchers hunting for breakfast. We made a brief stop to hunt for pippies (clams) and have a race to see whose would bury itself the fastest. Next up was check in time at our camp and lunch. It turned out we were in the only semi-permanent camp on this part of the island as the national park had closed all the other camps in order to allow the adolescent dingos in the area to find their feet and hunt naturally. This is also the reason our camp had an electric fence and dingo sticks (bits of plastic pipes) were supplied to keep us safe. We saw quite a few dingos from the car, but only one ventured close to camp to have a peak at us from the cover of darkness.
After lunch, we drove a little further up the beach for a nice short hike. Most of the island is covered by forest and rainforest, which weirdly grows on sand, all thanks to a symbiotic relationship with a fungus. The walk through the forest was beautiful, but the forest abruptly ended and a large sand dune appeared. Just around the corner was Lake Wabby where we braved the cold and jumped in. It was refreshing for a while, but then we needed to warm up a little. Troy helped us out and gave us all a boomerang lesson with proper boomerangs made by an Aboriginal artist. As it turned out, Matthias was quite good and ended up in the final (at least Germans make the final somewhere). Sadly he didn’t win the free beer but came second after another German. Boomeranging made us all hungry so we drove back along the beach and had a cuppa before we opened the wine. Dinner was a real treat for us. We couldn’t remember the last time we had had a steak but it was good to taste it again. For the rest of the evening the drinks and stories flowed merrily.
On day two we were up early again to make the most of the tides and sights. This was the day when the island of K’gari was really revealed to us. We started early with a decent drive inland where the sandy tracks led us deep into the forest. The ride was a little bumpy but each drive was a challenge for the driver as the sand is devious and tried to steal your power and guide you off track.
We made it safely to Lake McKenzie, a crystal clear lake with bright white sandy beaches.
The champagne pools
Next up were the romantically named Champagne pools; rock pools which receive the occasional wave at low tide but are fully under water at high tide. Each wave makes the pools look a little like bubbling champagne as it is poured into a glass. More interestingly than the exaggerated bubbles were the see squirters, chiton and white bellied sea eagles.
Before we returned to camp we climbed Indian Head where we were rewarded with great views but sadly no whales. Our final stop of the day was a short one but pretty interesting. We parked up next to still imposing rusting shipwreck which was slowly being taken back by the sea. This wreck is all that is left of the Maheno, a ship which sailed from Scotland (where it was built) to Australia and had a fairly interesting life as a cruise liner, hospital ship and then as target practice for the Australian Z force (special forces) after getting beached by a rare winter cyclone. A quick stop was all we got before we began a race against the incoming tide. We raced along the beach only slowing yo cross creeks and avoid the odd rock. The pinch point was a group of outcropping rocks which we had to time crossing to avoid the waves. All three cars just made it through and we got back to camp after a great day.
That evening we discovered the real story of K’gari and the history of the people who lived and visited the island. We already knew from our time in Western Australia that much of Australia has a dark history in relation to the aborigines and colonizers. K’gari and her inhabitants didn’t escape this either. The island belonged to the Butchulla people who had a creation story very different to ours. They believe that K’gari was a goddess who loved the world she and her husband so much that she wanted to live in it. She was not allowed to but her husband made her sleep on the three rocks that are part of the island and enshrined her in the island when she was asleep. The Butchulla people cared for K’gari and were pushed off their land by settlers due to a sensational story told by Eliza Fraser. Eliza Fraser was the woman of a captain who crashed his ship into the great barrier reef. The survivors (including the two Frasers) made it to the island being close to death’s door. The Butchulla nursed them back and most of the sailors managed to get back to civilisation. Eliza’s husband died in the island but she survived. Without any money she began to tell stories about the ‘savage and brutal’ Butchulla who apparently cooked and ate people (even they did not have metal to make the pot). Eventually this resulted in the murder and imprisonment of the Butchulla people years later. The island has since been given back to the tribe and was re-named to ‘K’Gari section of the Great Sandy National Park. Today the Butchulla descendents still care for their island as rangers or visit their sacred lakes and creeks
Day 3 was a less jam packed day but we still had time to visit the rainforest. The rainforest contains some quite special plants including the ancient king fern which we saw growing in the crystal clear Ely creek. The walk was great and at the end we saw the old forestry lodge where all the timber cutters lived back in the days. Amazingly they never touched Ely creek valley as they deemed it too beautiful and worth preserving We had time for one final stop at a red lake for one final swim. The lake is red brown due to the tea tree trees growing around it. Supposedly this would make us and our hair soft but it was just cold and Zoë’s hair still defeated the hairbrush and remained tangled. The cold made us hungry so we drove back to camp for lunch and our final meal together before we headed back to the Dropbear office. It was a little sad to say goodbye to our new friends but what an awesome time we had spent together.
We had a great time on the island and were lucky to avoid most of the rain (well done Troy). Dropbear Tours is a local company that are very serious about nature protection. Unlike some of the other tours we actually got to drive ourselves and did not get driven around in busses. Troy was one of the most passionate tour guides we met in a very long time. There was always plenty of food too and everyone was happy. We can therefore totally recommend them.