East Coast Australia 3 – Driving on Sand

Following on from our epic USA road trip in 2011, my girlfriend and I are currently in Australia on an even bigger adventure travelling this incredible country.


The next stop on the Gold Coast was the capital of Queensland, Brisbane.  We had heard bad things and were only staying for a night but after a walk around the city, it seemed like a beautiful place. The river setting is gorgeous and the botanic gardens and manmade beach make it seem as welcoming a city as you could get. Maybe it was just because it was a lush evening, or maybe because I was excited when a possum visited our balcony that night, but I fell a little bit in love with Brisbane. Jodie was particularly excited to see “a turkey – in Brisbane” which became somewhat of a catchphrase of the trip (you will understand why when I post the video we made of the trip in an upcoming blog).


A swift Greyhound trip later and we were in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. We walked on a long trail to a coastal lookout called Hells Gates, but there was nothing hellish about this piece of tropical paradise.  There isn’t a great deal to do in Noosa but there are turkeys, koalas and jaw dropping sea views a plenty. It’s really a place that rich Australians go to retire, I imagine, and as a result it’s quiet at night but very pretty with everyone’s boats moored at a large dock similar to being lakeside in Michigan. It’s worth going just to have a burger or breakfast pancakes at “Elvis’s”, home of a large Elvis Presley statue the locals seem disproportionately proud of.  Dangling one’s toes in the water results in a large school of teeny weeny fish swarming to your feet, which made me wonder whether these were the type of fish some people use to nibble away their dead foot skin as a weird kind of therapy.  Sadly I chickened out and withdrew my toes before I had time to find out. A blog for another day perhaps.

Further north, we checked in at Rainbow Beach, a location which exists almost solely as a base for those making the short ferry hop across to Fraser Island, the world’s oldest sand island and the only place you will find vegetation growing on sand. We had a “self drive” 4×4 three day tour booked, meaning we would be in a group of eight taking turns to drive our 4×4 in convoy across the beaches and rainforests of Fraser Island.  At the hostel the day before our departure, we all had to sit and watch a driving on sand safety video, which we didn’t hear much of because the dude playing it to us kept telling us “don’t worry folks, this is just the government tryin’ to scare ya”.


The one thing Rainbow Beach does have is Carlo Sandblow, a superb sand dune where I tried out sandboarding for the first time (a lot like sledging where you get just as out of breath climbing the hill but less chilly). It’s a great place for photos and we even saw a wedding taking place on the dune.

Our group for Fraser Island included English, Scottish, Swedish, German and Abu Dhabi(an?) folk and far too much alcohol, notably “goon” which is dirt cheap boxed wine made from eggs that tastes gross but is a backpacker essential down under. I was first to drive the 4×4 and make the rookie error of switching on the wipers thinking they were on the indicators as their dashboard positions are the opposite to the UK (“I knew you would do that”, sayid Jo).  Driving on sand for the first time is an exciting and nervous experience. It is crucial to keep to a low gear however loud the revving gets and fortunately I nailed it in first when we pulled off the ferry onto the beach. At the front of the convoy is the lead driver who sticks his finger out the window at us (no, not like that) to indicate when a particularly tricky soft sand section is coming up so we know to switch down to first. After a bit, we pulled off into the rainforest and it got incredibly bumpy. So bumpy in fact that one of the bags of goon split, causing much chaos and hilarity in the back of the car. After a swim in stunning Lake Mackenzie, we drove on towards our camp for the night. On the way we got stuck trying to ascend a steep hill on soft sand. Eventually the lead driver gave us a lesson in sand driving by backing a long way up and flooring it up the hill. We were camping on the island and thanks to excess consumption of the aforementioned dreaded goon, we twice ended up in the wrong tent. Few things are more awkward and embarrassing than heatedly arguing with someone about tent ownership only for them to point out all their belongings lying under where you have been sleeping.

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The following day we drove to Eli Creek, where three million litres of water flow to the sea every hour. We jumped in the chilly lazy river and floated downstream, twice in fact as it was such a good hangover cure. After obligatory photos at the Maheno shipwreck we drove to Champagne Pools, the only section of Fraser seawater you can swim in thanks to it being entirely rock pools cut off from the ocean. The coastline around the island is fraught with perils from sharks to jellyfish and going into the sea is strictly prohibited. It is the lakes, therefore, where one goes to splash around and they just happen to be some of the world’s most beautiful lakes. Take Lake Wabbi, for instance, where we went on our last day. You walk for forty minutes through subtropical rainforest (some people saw the deadly brown snake and a myriad of spiders) and just as you are getting a bit miffed at how long it is taking, you arrive atop a colossal dune and peer down to the stunning blue water below that is so worth the hike. The sandy descent is steep and we were warned that due to the water being shallow near the edge, running down the slope and diving in has resulted in serious injury in the past. It is certainly the largest gradient of a beach I have ever seen but it makes the location all the more spectacular for it once you swim to the other side and look back.

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We headed back to the mainland, but not for long. Our next stop was on “Castaway island”…


5 thoughts on “East Coast Australia 3 – Driving on Sand

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Aussie Memories | Places and Races

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