Noosa – Fraser Island – Rockhampton
We left the comforts of the Australis Sovereign, Surfer’s Paradise on the day after Boxing Day. Those who had opted in for the skydive joined us on the bus after a much earlier start, absolutely buzzing their nuts and full of stories. I had mixed feelings about the fact I didn’t go for either a skydive or a bungee jump in the end – but with limited money, I had prioritized my scuba dives above leaping out of planes and off platforms – absolutely nothing to do with the fact it terrifies me, obviously. Got a horrible feeling that my friend Char isn’t going to let me get away with it whilst living in the adventure capital of the world for a year: Queenstown, New Zealand. It is also apparently home to the worlds first commercial bungee jump. Fabulous.
A rare rainy day made our lunch and city stop in Brisbane a little more shopping orientated. Coffee and travel pillow purchases were the order of the day. My pelican-patterned travel pillow that fits in a U-shape around my neck and is filled with little soft beans is one of the best things I bought whilst I was away – it allowed me to actually sleep on the plane home as well as catch some much needed shut eye during travel stints on the coach.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Brisbane, as I’ve heard some great things – an overnight stop at the very least would have been better. We ended the day in Noosa, a surfing town just south of Fraser Island, where we soaked up some sun on the beach and had a delicious barramundi dinner at The Surf Club. Barramundi is like the Aussie version of cod, and they serve it up pretty much everywhere – Snapper is also pretty common. Both are delicious and a nice healthy option.
The next morning we were up early for our 4WD tour of Fraser Island. This 184,000 hectare wonder stretching along the south coast of Queensland is the world’s largest sand island. It’s pretty spectacular, and also home of the Dingo. We left from Noosa in these beastly machines, looking rather ridiculous driving down the suburban roads.
However, once we were out onto the Great Sandy Strait, we felt a lot more at home in these monsters. I got to ride shotgun and have a chat with the guide.
After a little stop on the way at Rainbow Beach (see above) for a flask or two of coffee and a glorious tray of lamingtons, we were on our way again. I cannot stress enough how much you all need to try a lamington. Aussies are almost as proud of Lamingtons as they are of Vegemite – and I can vouch for the fact that Lamingtons taste approximately 100 x times better. They’re a light soft sponge, sometimes with a jammy filling, dipped in chocolate and rolled in dessicated coconut. Can’t go wrong, realistically. Apparently the Kiwis traditionally make a lemon/raspberry version, so that’s my first bakery-related task in New Zealand.
You would think with tyres the size of small countries, the ride around the island would have been smooth. Wrong.
Dense forest + Fearless Aussie Driver = NAUSEA
We also got the chance to go for a hour’s walk through Fraser before our lunch stop at Lake Mackenzie in the centre. It was actually raining once we got there, but that stopped literally no one from leaping in.
Then it was a lovely burger and barramundi Barbie. Our tour guide had previously regaled us with a story that last time he had been there, a kookaburra had swooped down and stolen his hot dog right from his hands; I had thought this tale had been slightly embellished until the same little feathery bastard took off with the fat from my steak. No worries mate, I was finished anyway…
Our accommodation took the form of big eco lodges with 4 bedroom bunk bed rooms. A shuttle from the hotel (of sorts) took us up the hill to the islands infamous Dingo Bar, where a brilliant night was had. It was a Toga Party, for what appeared to be absolutely no reason, but it was embraced by all nonetheless.
The next day was completely different again. Up early (PAINFUL), we headed back out on the ferry from Fraser Island to our beloved Contiki coach, the air conditioning of which we had sorely missed. As you make your way up the east coast, the humidity is building all the time. Our next stop was a stay on a cattle farm in Rockhampton. A lot of us didn’t really know what to expect at this stop, but pretty much all were pleasantly surprised.
Once again, I was taken aback by the sheer shale of the Aussie way of doing things – the farming family used HELICOPTERS to heard their cattle – that is how many they had. Australian cows are also quite a bit different from your Aberdeen Angus – they’ve got a hump (like a camel’s fat reserve, an extremely bug resistant hyde to defend them from the thousands of flies that buzz around their hindquarters all day, and a lot of excess skin on their neck (a bit like a turkey).
The family had chosen to diversify a little into tourism in order to supplement their income and thus had constructed a purpose-built block of hostel type bunk bed rooms that we were all housed in, complete with large communal dining room area cum dance floor, complete with a well-stocked bar. The grandmother of the host family swiftly became everyone’s favourite family member when she dished up a roast to feed all fifty of us, followed by bread and butter pudding. Phenomenal – for anyone missing those home comforts, this was a very welcome treat.
After a whip-cracking demonstration that resulted in the unsightly murder of a cane toad, followed by several terrible attempts to imitate, the long-awaited karaoke night began. At first mention of this entertainment, there was a communal groan on the bus, particularly from the British among us. However, tanked up with a few beverages, this turned out to be one of the most hilarious nights. The highlight for me was undoubtedly four of the boys performing a particularly rousing rendition of a Westlife classic, complete with a communal move to their feet at the right key change.