Hiking Fraser Island, Queensland in Winter

Fraser Island is a considerably sized sand Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia.  Some say it is the biggest sand island in the world (and some find meaning and significance in hierarchising anything and eveything).

I set off for my six-day, 90 Kms, hiking adventure on Fraser Island from mid-winter Melbourne.  Queensland is warm all year round, which is disastrous for human perspicacity but is ripe for hiking. Hiking on Fraser island is best in the winter as 1) there are fewer tourists, 2) the snakes are asleep, and 3) your brain doesn’t boil in the heat (it is a mild 24 degrees Celsius). I flew into Brisbane, then hopped on a small aircraft with two propellers to go to Hervey Bay.

The Beach at Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia

Hervey Bay is geographically bright, but culturally grey. A go-to climate-fantasy for captive Modernists escaping from Modernity by creating an even worse version. I checked into my Air BB in a laconic ‘Queenslander’ (a type of wooden house on stilts), then went for a walk along the boulevard of mistaken dreams. I had dinner in an obese fish-and-chip shop, a pint of Guinness in a grim gambling den masquerading as a sports-bar, then walked back to the ‘Queenslander’ for a laconic night’s sleep.

At the crack of dawn, I was on the ferry to Kingfisher Bay, a quick 40-minute ride across to the Island. The ferry master discussed the European history of the island through a tedious frontier narrative; the stuffed dingo toys for sale at the bar were a lot more intrepid.

As soon as I disembarked, I started walking, eager to escape from the 4-wheel drives full of families with babies inviting to be devoured by the dingos. It is illegal to feed the dingos on Fraser Island, there is a $10,000 fine, however it isn’t illegal for the dingos to eat the babies as dingos aren’t legal persons under Australian law.

Wooden Pier, Fraser Island, Queensland

Day 1: The first day I walked from Kingfisher Bay to Lake McKenzie. This was easy walk along wide, sandy paths through scrubby bushland. There is a beautiful wooden pier on the way, and thankfully, I didn’t meet any other people. I really wanted to do this walk by myself, to experience solitude and refection, to read in the evening, and listen to the birds. Admittedly I was feeling a bit dark before I left, but the life in the Fraser Island rainforests buoyed a starved Modern soul.

Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island, Queensland

Lake McKenzie is special; a large fresh-water lake in the middle of the forest. I pitched my tent in the well-equipped camp site surrounded by a hysterical dingo fence, then went for a swim in the beautiful lake. In the evening I watched Netflix on my phone (pre-downloaded) and listed to ABC Radio.  It was pitch-black dark by about 5.30PM, so luckily I bought an excellent re-charge battery for long, lonely evenings in the tent.

Central Station, Fraser Island, Queensland

Day 2: From Lake McKenzie to the utilitarian named ‘Central Station’ was an easy stroll.  I stopped and had lunch at the deep Basin Lake, fringed by reeds and home to frogs and freshwater turtles. I walked through the rainforest with towering trees, banksia woodlands, melaleuca wetlands, and eucalyptus. Just before Central Station, there is a spectacular sandy creek traversed by the meandering wooden walking trail.  The walkers camp was in the middle of a rain forests that rained. I set up camp, hydrated my dinner, and settled in for the night.

Central Station Walker Camp, Fraser Island, Queensland

Day 3: From Central Station to Lake Wabby was a very long way, and I welcomed the physical challenge as the past could of days had been pedestrian. I walked through the vast rainforest with mammoth trees, and I still hadn’t met anyone on the path, which suited me fine. I set up near Lake Wabby, then walked to the lookout. Lake Wabby is beneath a giant ‘sand blow’; the sand island fights the trees, attempting to reclaim the island.

Day 4: Lake Wabby to the Valley of the Giants was again a very long day, but I wasn’t weary. It is amazing what you can achieve when you are a little bit scared. I walked through the central high dunes, cloaked with open eucalypt forests and woodlands. Most of the day was through the cool, dense rainforest with a cacophony of birds, and the odd ray of sunlight shining through the canopy.

Valley of the Giants, Fraser Island, Queensland

The Valley of the Giants walking camp was deserted like all the other places I had camped; just me and my post-apocalyptic fantasies. The camp is within a forest of giant satinay and tallowwood trees. I set up camp, and walked about, too scared to stop in case the existentialist catch me.

Swamp, Fraser Island, Queensland

Day 5: After deep sleep, I made some strong coffee, then walked through inspiring stands of brush box, satinay trees and never-ended cool rainforest of piccabeen palms, and kauri pines. Lake Garawonga was a handsome lake, big, bold and fresh, like Lake McKenzie. I set up camp but was starting to feel a bit Kurtz, the horror, the horror. I could smell the soul-eating Modernists close by, ready to take me back into their prison.

Walkers Camp, Valley of the Giants, Fraser Island, Queensland

Day 6: The last days’ walk was the easiest of the hike, and I was in the village of “Happy Valley” (which was neither), by noon. I found the local bar, bought some deep-fried, salty fat chips and beer, and waited for my 2.45PM ‘taxi’ back to Kingfisher Bay to catch the ferry. The taxi (a 4-weel drive) cost me a reluctant $160 but was worth the expense. It took about an hour to drive back to Kingfisher with a number of embarrassing piss-stops. The driver told me stories of nubile attracted dingos and that there were only 200 on the island (there must be at least eight warning signs for every dingo).

I arrived back at Hervey Bay at dusk and rested before my flight back to Melbourne the next day. A great winter hike and Queensland has a whole series of ‘great walks’ similar to this. I am looking forward to discovering the others.

Driving from Melbourne to Uluru

Uluru is a massive rock in Central Australia. Some say it is the biggest rock in the world; some say many things. I was a bit sceptical to see Uluru at first as it reeked of ‘’ínstrumental tourism’’, a place defined by the outcome rather than the journey (in teaching we call this “constructive alignment”).

So, I started the ‘’unaligned’’ journey in Fitz-Roy (the illegitimate centre of Australia), rented a car in Coburg, strapped in my wonderful co-pilot Paul Sebastian Garate Peralta from Cuenca in Ecuador, and set off for The Rock. I had done some superficial research before I left, so I knew it was a very long way, and that it was hot, but both these things are comfortably intangible until you actually live them.

Day one: Port Fairy

The first day we drove along the coast to Port Fairy, a bucolic, old village a few hours from Melbourne. We didn’t want to overdo it on the first drive; to ease our way into the dawn-to-dusk driving essential in the never-ending Outback.  The Victorian coast along the Great Ocean Road is gorgeous; long white beaches, sandstone cliffs, and roads languidly winding through the forest. The problem is that the Great Ocean Road attracts many ‘’urban modernists’’ that find anything other than straight-lines confusing; 60 KMH becomes 20 KMH, break lights gleam through corners, and turn-out bays for slow-drivers are ignored in favour of a robotic industrial rigidity that holds everyone back.

Thus, a 300 KM journey took most of the day, and we didn’t arrive in Port Fairy until early in the evening. We pitched a tent in a well-serviced caravan park (caravan parks n Australia are usually pretty high standard with lush grass and free bar-b-ques) and took-off to the local pub for beers and pool.

Settling in to a pub in Port Fairy, Victoria

Day two: Adelaide.

We perhaps drank a little too much on the first night, and I had a restless sleep, so I was tired, grumpy, and thus worried about how well-equipped I was for a full day driving. Still, after a bucket of espresso and some breakfast, I felt a lot better, and the stretch of road from Port Fairy to Adelaide was again gob-smacking with a lot less timorous urban modernists attempting to drive so we covered a lot more kilometres.

The Coorong National Park

The highlights of the day were the township of Robe, and Coorong National Park, a thin strip of coastline with untouched beaches and an abundance of sea-life including Pelicans and giant fibreglass lobsters. We stayed in an Air BB this evening, in a rambling, dilapidated house in a no-where suburb of Adelaide and had a good nights sleep, but I was a little nervous about the long drive ahead to Coober Pedy, the start of the Australian Outback.

Giant Lobster

Day Three: Coober Pedy

From Adelaide to Coober Pedy is a very long way and fortuitously our eccentric Air BB host gave us a large flask of black coffee, which was effortlessly drunk by the first stop in Port Germein. The road out of Adelaide hugging St Vincent and the Spencer Gulf is pretty grim, a sort of battle between provisional Australian modernity and arid desert flatland.  Still, Port Germain had a dignified sense of decline, and the longest pier I have ever seen. And it was beginning to get hot, very hot, a harbinger of the apocalyptic Christmas heat-wave we were driving into.

The pier at Port Germein

We arrived in Coober Pedy early in the evening to witness the sun-set over the hotch-potch Opal mining town with the ant hill landscape beyond. Like many hotels and houses in Coober Pedy, our accommodation for the evening was under the ground to escape the Martian heat. Our motel keeper was straight out of Wolf Creek (a reference lost on my Ecuadorian companion). We had to wander around a few dark mine shafts before we found our room, which was literally a hole in the ground. But still, we had a wonderful nights sleep, and I would recommend sleeping in holes to anyone.

Underground motel. Coober Pedy

Day four: Uluru (Xmas Day)

This was the toughest day of driving as it was the longest distance across the somnambulant plains of the Australian Outback.  The highlight of the day was nothing, thousands of kilometres of nothing, the happiest place on earth as there is no need to compare yourself to anyone else (except that Wolf Creek bloke in Coober Pedy, he was a bit scary).

Co-pilot Paul Sebastian Garate Peralta from Cuenca in Ecuador

We stopped at a rustic, deserted truck stop for Xmas dinner of ham and salad wrap and a bottle of red. It was apocalyptically hot, around 42 degrees Celsius, but this didn’t seem to matter as our first Outback Xmas was pretty special, a long way from Santa Claus.

Xmas day truck stop

We arrived at the Uluru resort early in the evening, pitched a tent, and drove the twenty kilometres to The Rock.  Seeing Uluru for the first time is dreamlike; most world icons are pretty banal once packaged by consumers, but not Uluru, there is awe-room for the instrumental tourists as well as everyone else. We got as close as we could and had a picnic of supermarket roast chicken and red wine and met a cute young couple from France and Ireland and watched The Rock change colour at sunset (from bright orange to ochre to brown).

Uluru or Ayres Rock (trippy)

Day five: Uluru

This day was a rest day, at least in terms of driving. We had found ourselves in the middle of an extreme temperature heat-wave in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Thus we were up at 6AM as the temperature was in the 40s Celsius by 11AM (and the park rangers close many of the walking  tracks because of the heat). We did the four-hour walk around the rock which was pretty special as there are lots of informative signs about the importance of certain aspects of The Rock to various aboriginal peoples. I particularly liked the way in which climbing The Rock hasn’t been completely banned by the Aboriginal owners, even though it would be easily achieved. It is left to the individual to decide; thus it becomes  a reflective choice and ‘virtue ethic’ which is a much more powerful learning  experience than merely banning Modernity.

The Rock

Day six: The Olgas

The Olgas are another weird rock formation close to Uluru. Today was hotter than hell, so we were up early morning to do the Valléy of the Winds walk (or the Valley of heat with no wind walk).  I liked the Olgas even more than Uluru, there were fewer people, it was more scruffy, and the few tourists that were there mysteriously knew where to stop on the track; their leash only stretches so far I suppose. We sauntered past them and did the complete Olga circuit with my broken hiking shoe flapping, aggressive blow-flies buzzing, and the big-heat sucking at my body. It was one of the best short walks I have ever done.

The Olgas

In the afternoon when the Venus temperature reached  462 Degrees Celcius, we went to a unimaginative bar called The Outback and drank beer, played pool and chess, and sat in front of a giant fan that didn’t help in the slightest.

Day seven: King’s Canyon

The drive to King’s Canyon from Uluru is a long one, about four hours of arid, shrubby land. The Outback is not really a desert, it is dry and scorching, but there are many forests and shrubs and waterholes for animals to quench their thirst.  The moving sand-dune type of desert in South America and Africa is quite rare in Australia, with most of the vast interior of Australia covered in sparsely wooded and grassed planes.

The Outback

We pitched our tent at the King’s Canyon campground that was virtually deserted; the Outback is too hot for most people this time of year.  We spent the afternoon in the one and only pub for about 500 KMS and escaped the heat with chess, pool and beer into the early evening. During the night some Dingos decided to have a howling-match, metres from our tent (and I wondered if Dingos only take babies).

Day eight: King’s Canyon

Today we woke at the crack of dawn and made our way to King’s Canyon. The circuit walk was challenging in the heat, but spectacular; the track has an initial steep climb and then meanders its way around the canyon edge with rich ochre outcrops of rocks and desperate plants clinging for their life. When it rains, waterfalls cascade into the gorge, which seemed hard to believe in the height of Summer. Deep in the gorge is a long, dissident waterhole that attracts all sorts of in-the-know bird-life whose calls echo on the steep walls of the canyon.

King’s Canyon water hole

Day nine: Alice Springs

The next day we went to Alice Springs. There was a shorter route to Alice Springs from King’s Canyon, but like many roads in the Northern Territory, it required a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle and our city car may have fallen into a pothole and disappeared. So six hours later we arrived in Alice Springs, to a cute 1970s caravan in the desert about 14 KMS outside of the Alice. The caravan was a welcome reprieve from camping for the past 5 nights (thanks Air BB). In the evening we explored Alice Springs which is an ugly Modern town wrestling with the environment (it is no Palm Springs). Still, it has some pretty good supermarkets and air-conditioned malls where most of the population congregate to escape the heat.  We purchased some steak and beer and went back to the caravan and settled in for the evening.

Accommodation in Alice Springs

Day ten: Alice Springs (New Year’s Eve)

Today was one of the few days on the trip that didn’t involve driving (or so we thought). Our Air BB host had suggested a water hole for swimming, the fabulous Ellery Creek Big Hole, which ended up being 80 KMs away (a short distance in these parts). The drive to the hole and swimming in it took most of the day, which didn’t seem to matter as the hole was worth the drive and a welcome reprieve from the relentless heat.

Ellery Creek Big Hole

In the evening (N.Y.E.) we went to the nasty Lasseters Casino (only because I had seen it in the movie, Priscilla Queen of the Desert), and then a cheesy Western Style bar, which was the only two options in town it seemed.  But as we were staying 14 KMS outside of town, we didn’t drink much alcohol, and instead got some takeaway beer and went back to the caravan which seemed the sensible thing to do given the hostile appearance of the local constabulary.

Day eleven: Coober Pedy (again)

The drive back home seemed daunting, and for the first two days, we were covering the same territory. But 10 KMS effortlessly turned into 100, and 100 turned into 1000, and before we knew it, we were in the same underground room in the same motel.  The same Wolf Creek bloke greeted us, and in the evening, we explored the Mad Max town relishing in the post-apocalyptic future.

Coober Pedy

Day twelve: Laura

The road from Coober Pedy to somewhere else is tough; it is flat, dull, with few distractions except for moments of lucid self-reflection (and horror).

But if there was one thing that made the long-drive home worth it, it was the pleasant town of Laura in South Australia.  It has a grand, broad, and laconic main street straddled by shops in various degrees of decline. We stayed in a stately old stone house with tastefully decorated rooms (and air-conditioning). We bought a bottle of wine from the local pub, some fish from the supermarket, and cooked up a feast. This was the first genuinely comfortable place we had stayed in the whole journey (again, thanks Air BB).

Laura, South Australia

Day thirteen: Dimboola

The drive from Laura to Dimboola was a leisurely one, the B-roads along the Clare Valley are winding and uneven, passing through many towns with slow speed limits (and places to buy coffee and cakes). It took most of the day to get to an A road and back into Victoria.

The Victoria Hotel, Dimboola

We arrived into Dimboola in the Wimmera region of Victoria early evening and pitched a tent under a tree and a noisy flock of cockatoos near the Wimmera River. We then sauntered to the legendary Victoria Hotel. This vast expanse of Victorian splendor  has an overly friendly front bar and a dining room in the rear along with a warren of rooms bursting with Victorian bling. It has a huge veranda overlooking the town claiming its place as the most essential institution for miles around.

The Victoria Hotel Dimboola

We had a shepherds pie with chips and salad and a beer or two or three before we made it back to the cockatoos.

  Day fourteen: Fitzroy

The last three or four hours back to Fitzroy were tough as I was tired and the driving had lost its adventure. It was an A to B sort of a drive, instrumentalism again wasting my time.  We arrived back home to Fitzroy (the centre of Australia) in mid-afternoon.

Overall, it was a great introductory adventure to the Outback, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes litres of coffee, and I am looking forward to driving the Oonadatta Track or Birdsville tracks one day soon.  

Beware..

Driving from Melbourne (Fitzroy) to Uluru (Ayres Rock)

Over the Christmas break, I plan to drive the immortal distance from Fitzroy in Melbourne to Uluru, Central Australia. I have never driven this far in Australia before, and luckily I will be with my dapper co-pilot, Sebastian from Cuenca in Ecuador (who I met during that other monumental road trip).

From that famous Australian road trip movie…

 

Thankfully we will be in an air-conditioned car with an icebox full of Coopers beer, and not on a moto, that wouldn’t be wise in the Australian desert during the height of broiling Summer.  We only have 14 days, which is relatively tight given the distance to The Rock, so an itinerary is obligatory.  Here it is (and I will blog along the way).

  1. Port Fairy, VIC (22/12)
  2. Adelaide, SA (23/12)
  3. Coober Pedy, SA (24/12)
  4. Uluru, NT (25/12)
  5. Uluru, NT (26/12)
  6. Kings Canyon, NT (27/12)
  7. Kings Canyon, NT (28/12)
  8. (somewhere in the desert) (29/12)
  9. Alice Springs, NT (30/12)
  10. Alice Springs, NT (31/12)
  11. Coober Pedy, SA (1/1)
  12. Laura, SA (2/1)
  13. Dimboola, VIC (3/1)
  14. Fitzroy! (4/1)

If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear from you.

Returning to South America

Late last year, I returned to Ecuador in South America on snug annual leave to revisit that agreeable country. I was there for just over a week, which was admittedly, a bit ‘loco’ considering I spent about a similar amount of time on aeroplanes getting there.

Flying over so much rich geo-cultural context like a Modern, instrumentalist corpse in a cheap-tin-coffin aeroplane was almost worth it to visit Quito, Cuenca, and my Ecuadorian mates again. I say almost worth it because it was frustrating not being able to explore and unpack some of the curious cultural layers and geography in Ecuador. I was restricted to the urban areas and did not see the jungle nor the coast, two regions of Ecuador I have yet to explore.

Plaza de Armas Quito

And, in Ecuador, a country where over 90% of the population has some degree of indigenous heritage, they celebrate Columbus day as a national holiday 600 years after contact. Sure it has been “indigenised”, but they do not deny this history, it is what they are, contradictions and all.

As one of my favourite Australian historians once said, it is as though Australians cannot hold two (contradictory) ideas in their head at the same time; especially regarding our national ‘Australia Day” holiday it seems (which is held upon the date the first fleet came to Australia from ‘Modernity’ in 1788).

Many Indigenous South Americans have appropriated ‘Spanishness’ and utilise it as a form of identity and resistance in a world dominated by slavish consumer conformity.  Perhaps Captain Cook could also become a symbol of resistance to a much more pervasive and destructive form of contemporary Modernity.

Bullet proof moto

I have been riding a perfunctory and rather average Suzuki GS500 for close to 10 years now. In fact, I like them so much, that this is my third one. I rode a GS every day in London for three years, which was some of the best bus-dodging moto-riding of my life, and I have had two in Melbourne.

They are robust, nimble and forgiving of bad riding, they hardly ever need servicing, they are skinny enough to negotiate peak hour traffic, and big enough to escape the city on weekends (unless there is a headwind).  They aren’t particularly powerful, but as a daily beat-the-city-grind bike, you can’t go wrong.  You could possibly do a circuit of Australia on one of these things, at least this is what I tell myself as I manoeuvre the Benthamite grid of humanity as I ride home each night.

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Fast lane to tears..

When I got back from travelling, one of my most immediate goals was to buy a new bike. But not an average bike and certainly not a 125cc. I dreamed of my future bike while riding through a sand storm on the way to Lima in Peru (the bike had slowed to walking pace, and I couldn’t see more than 100 metres ahead).  At this time I imagined that my next ride was going to be the largest cc moto I could afford,  something with about ten times the power of the 125cc.

So with what little money that I had when I returned, I went out and bought a BMW 1150 RT,  an older model with a lot of kilometres on the clock, but still, a beautiful ride, something like driving a luxury car.  I did a bunch of country rides and a long ride to Sydney with my friend David on the back, but the love affair with the BMW was to be short lived, as it turned out to be a Charleton and a one-trick pony.

BMW RT 1150 RT

 

In reflection, I’m am not sure what I was thinking, buying a BMW whale, it was a trophy bike for some other game. It was impossible to maintain, difficult to get between the fat traffic, and tricky to park on the footpath without maiming children.  What finally ended the affair was a mere flat battery. Replacing the battery required taking the fairing and petrol tank off, a task that took me half a day, and even then, the battery cost as much as a Llama.

So after three months, the BMW was sold for a considerable loss, and I purchased a bullet proof Suzuki GS 500, the third one I have owned, the most reliable, robust, and minimalist bike around.  I spent three years riding a GS 500 around London and I have owned two in Melbourne. I ride it almost every day, and it is socially flexible, unlike the BMW that was stuck in a fast lane to tears.

Camping in Natimuk, Victoria, Australia

Sydney to London via ex-posite bike!

This is such a wonderful story, incredibly inspirational.  But when do you stop?

“And I just don’t think as humans we’re programmed to reach a point where we’re happy with our lot. We always want more. And so I suppose at the end of the trip I realised it hadn’t really achieved anything and how I was still in the same mess as when I set off”