Mon 30 Apr 12 - Fri 4 May 12
Rainbow Beach has to be the tiniest town we've been to yet. It's pretty much just a jump-off point for Fraser Island so there's very little going on here. There's a beach, one main road (which can only be about 600m long from one end to the other), a few cafes, and one pub. But it's been a nice place to hang out at for a few days, and we've spent a few mornings on the beach (before the seemingly inevitable afteroon rain has set in). It seems to be the simple life that draws people here: generally good weather, beautiful sights, excellent surf spots, and a World Hertiage Centre on the doorstep.
Fraser Island was, of course, the absolute highlight, and the only real reason for coming to Rainbow Beach. It's the world's largest sand island and is completely unspoilt. It's amazing to visit somewhere so untouched; although there is a small resort there, the island itself is 120km long and 24km wide, so one resort doesn't really infringe on the beauty or remoteness.
We were picked up by a huge 4x4 coach and took a barge over to Fraser Island and drove along the East Coast of the island along the beach (an official highway) up to the Maheno Shipwreck. Along the way we drove over creeks and past amazing vegetation growing straight out of the sand. We had to go inland briefly and drove past a pack of dingoes – great to see them in the wild instead of in a zoo enclosure – and by all accounts we were incredibly lucky to see such a large pack (there were five in total), as they're usually more solitary animals.
The wreck of the S.S. Maheno was really interesting to see – and I spent plenty of time trying to get some real arty pics. After being caught in a cyclone, the ship washed up on the shore of Fraser Island in the 1930s. It was used for bomber target practice in the second world war and also for testing mines. Consequently, there's a lot less of it than there used to be, but five decks of the ship are still buried under the sand! The shell of the ship still exists though – rusty and battered; great photo material!
We turned around at the Maheno and headed back down the beach, stopping next at the coloured sand formations on the island called 'The Pinnacles'. There's plenty of similar formations on the island (and along the coast from Rainbow Beach) and it's really interesting to see how the different layers of sand have formed into marbled rock.
Our next stop Southward was Eli Creek – one of the many freshwater creeks that run out to the sea from inland. Woody, our amazingly knowledgeable guide, told us that the thing to do here was to follow that boardwalk inland, get into the water and float back out to the beach, pulled by the current of the creek. So float we did! It was a little shallow in places, but it was a lovely experience to just lie back and drift along the creek. The picture below is taken from part-way along the boardwalk, looking back towards where the creek comes out on the beach.
Once we'd floated down the creek and had a chance to dry off a little, we had the opportunity to take a scenic flight over the island, while the coach continued down the beach. It wasn't too expensive and Woody highly recommended it. Again, he knew what he was talking about! You geta whole different perspective from the air: the island is practically covered in forest, dotted with huge sand dunes and enormous lakes.
We landed at Eulong (the resort) where we met up with the coach again. After a lovely buffet lunch and a bit of time spent sitting in the sun around the resort pool, we took a longer drive inland through the different forests on the island. There are 'open forests' where the trees are spaced out enough for the sun the reach the ground and plenty of foliage to grow, and 'closed forests' which are incredibly dense and more like rainforests due to the subsequent humidity.
Soon we arrived at Lake McKenzie – a beautiful freshwater lake set in the middle of the dense forest. The water was a beautiful turquoise blue and crystal clear, and the sand was pure white silica sand. The sand here is so fine you can use it on your skin as an exfoliant, and even clean jewellery with it! We had about an hour at the lake to swim, exfoliate(!) and admire. The pictures really don't do it justice, and we didn't want to leave!
Our last stop of the day was a drive into more rainforest to Central Station, which used to be the central forestry station before the island attained world heritage status and the logging was stopped. Woody took us on a walk around the rainforest boardwalks and showered us with far too much information to remember about the native trees and plants. And inevitably, I took lots of tree pictures... Come on – you expect this of me now!
On the barge back over to Rainbow Beach we had a chance to admire some fantastic clouds above the horizon as the sun began to set. A beautiful ending to an amazing day.