Sunshine Coast and K’gari Island, 1st - 2nd October
We start off the day chillier than the usual. Last night it poured down on us. We are fortunate to have slept on the downstairs bed. The cold rain is also dictating that we start the day in trousers, shorts aren’t suitable today.
Our first stop is Buderim Forest Park and the relatively short walk to its waterfall. Since early on in the morning, we are both in great spirits and we set off walking happily. From afar we can hear kids laughing - today is clearly a day for first-of-October swimming in a cold waterfall. I don’t feel the paranoia that usually follows me through national parks. Even amongst the bush, the unseen creatures don’t worry me. We envy the kids, take pictures behind the water curtain, climb to the edge of the cascade and cuddle. It starts to rain slightly and that just makes the whole experience even more unforgettable. It feels great to feel truly great.
After Buderim, we follow the tourist recommendations for local attractions and go to Australia’s biggest castle! Ha, what a parody … But what can be expected from a country with 200 years of history? Built with no other reason but tourism, this funny castle entertained us for a long time while waiting for the storm to pass. They gave us games and riddles to search for in every hall. Imitation decors, thrones and imposter royal mannequins surround us, but to us, it is even nice and different. We also visit the adjoining doll museum, all of which of course suck out your soul with their porcelain gaze. But we’re enjoying it … after all we can brag about being in the biggest castle of the Land Down Under.
Once it becomes obvious the rain won’t stop we run to Bertie and move to the centre of Sunshine Coast - the name translation to Bulgaria’s Sunny Beach is literal. No other similarities can be found though as Sunshine Coast is a sea town, not just a resort. The walk by the beach strip is quite the enjoyment while it continues to drizzle over us.
The visit has a final goal as well - a place for lunch that has plugs to get some work done. We can’t visit much else in this rain anyway. We find not only food and plugs but a view to the ocean too, so we stay - deep into tasks until the restaurant closes which comes back to haunt us. We got so carried away that we completely forgot to do the important things - first to book us on a tour of K’gari Island for tomorrow and then to find somewhere to sleep tonight.
We manage to get it all done on the go but it gets so late that we have got to drive in the dark and wet on empty roads which is not the best feeling after all the scary stories we have heard. The campsite tonight is free which also means it is unlit. For us, that means that in the dark we can’t feel the area around. Therefore, we find the toilet next to the car and the ramen water just refuses to boil regardless of how long I wait for it … (The one has nothing to do with the other, promise!)
We go to sleep in the lower bed, annoyed that we went this long without a plan. If we had arrived in daylight we would have seen that the spot is very nice and all worries from last night wouldn’t have weighed on us. Well, we are learning as we go ...
Thanks to Google we arrive at Rainbow Beach only two minutes before the said time. It would have been nice if we had arrived, I don't know, 10 minutes earlier, but Google had its own wishes. (If you cannot tell in the text format, this is sarcasm! The navigation completely messed up our morning plans with its robot thinking.) Whatever ...
We park ourselves, surrounded by huge monsters. If we had thought Bertie is a big vehicle, we were mistaken. As Nic dealt with booking the tour I was not prepared for the size of our transport which I cannot even describe. It is not a bus or a lorry - but something in between … Whatever it is, it is huge, tall and definitely 4x4!
There are 15 of us in the belly of the monster. Our tour guide Drew starts with the jokes early on. It is 7:45 am, and we got up at 6! The adventure begins before we even get to the ferry as the monster drives on the beach sands, good preparation for the day ahead. Well, maybe I should now tell you where we’re going.
The Great Sandy Peninsula, the Great Sandy Island, Fraser Island or K’gari Island - it has been through a lot of names. The first two were given to it by Captain James Cook - in 1770 he was somewhat confused whether there is a connection between the island and the continent. After that the story of Mrs Elisa Fraser, the wife of the famous captain Fraser, becomes emblematic for the island - she survives on the island after a shipwreck in which the captain and crew die. And the new version K’gari (pronounced Gari) returns to the original aboriginal name. Prince Harry even unveiled a sign to confirm it. I expect it to follow the destiny of Uluru and Kata Tjuta and soon no one would have heard about Fraser Island, only K’gari - and therefore I will use that name too.
With its 1,840 km2, the island is the biggest sand island in the world, protected under UNESCO World Heritage. Captain Cook wasn’t wrong calling its sands great. The island is one of the main tourists’ attractions around Brisbane also because of its elaborate biodiversity and geo-formations. We’ve come here on an organised tour to see as much as possible!
On the ferry, there are at least five more vehicle-beasts like ours and some brave people with 4x4s. We did consider trying out Bertie on the island, however, we made the (right) decision not to. All the passengers have come out to feel the breeze of the early morning and to start photographing the sandy island in front of us. The morning is still grey, cloudy and cold, but we have brought our bathing suits so it better start warming up.
As the ferry moors we have already taken our seats so the monsters quickly sprint onto the sands (naturally with the tyre pressure lowered so as not to damage the unsecure surface). Drew is clearly insanely experienced as he continues his stories during the never-ending slaloms on the sand avoiding the waves, beached branches and rocks or the tracks of those before us.
One of the most frequently seen animals here on the island is the Australian wild dog Dingo and we pay attention to the landscape to ensure we don’t miss it. Drew insistently explains and repeats the safety rules for wild dogs - do not stray from the group; if you see a wild animal try to get the attention of the group to come to you - the mere count should intimidate the animal; definitely do not try to run away from it as you will not be quicker.
And so we see a Dingo chilling on the sandy dunes without much interest in us. I completely understand why the warnings are so necessary - this is a generic dog, not too big and kinda yellowish. Knowing how much I love dogs I would have definitely tried to cuddle and pet it. Listen to the rules, Vassya!
Drew continues to navigate and all of us in the back feel like bags of potatoes. It is not our first organised trip in the back of a 4x4 truck. (If you have been in a Gazka (or Wazka) with us in Rila, Rodopi or the Balkans, you know exactly what I am talking about.) Dunes and dingos on the left, huge powerful waves on the right - too bad that the view from the inside of the beast’s belly isn’t great and the slaloms limit the opportunities for focused pictures. After about an hour on the roads of K’gari, we stop for a morning coffee-break. “Please, no one leave the group!” warns us again our experienced driver. As I pour tea into my reusable mug (setting example for the others), Drew shouts “Sims Crew!” I own up to being one of the two Sims and he hands me a bag of snacks labelled vegan as the cookies for the tea aren’t suitable for us. “Oh, thank you” - we did not expect special attention, especially as we only booked our attendance yesterday. We take the last grey, cold beach pictures and get back on.
Now we get into the heart of the island as we pass the only village here with a population of 180 people - Eurong. I am sure you will not be surprised that the populated area is surrounded by tall fences to keep the dingos away - after all children are born here too. We are now driving within deep tracks due to the tourists that won’t learn to lower their tyre pressure and dig out the road. We pass Prince Harry’s sign being assured that for Meghan and him all roads on the island were flattened - they aren’t bags of potatoes, are they! And about 45 minutes after the coffee break we arrive at our next site.
Lake McKenzie is one of the hundred freshwater basins on K’gari but the clean waters on this one are completely gathered through the rain - it has no streams coming in or out. Therefore we get another eco-lecture - in our best abilities, no human matter should be introduced to the vulnerable ecosystem of McKenzie (if you understand what sort of “matter” I mean). Oh, and no food should be brought on the beach as whole backpacks often disappear due to the dogs and with that usually the passports go too. Okay - we understand and will be careful!
Well, I will not prolong your anticipation - we did go in! Also, the sun managed to break through to get us in the mood too. Finally, we submerged ourselves in Australian waters, even be it fresh not ocean ones. Cold but crystal clear, blue and recharging. And the sand - white, fluffy but dense - like fresh snow. The long-awaited moment definitely matches our expectations. We stay on the beach, looking out towards the turquoise water until the last minutes, after which we move to the picnic. Drew has already arranged a table of salads and the main is kept warm on the grill - once again there is an option for us. We meet a couple from England and share Australian stories. We also chat to the family with three kids as we spread out the fruit equally to the group.
And then back into the belly of the beast that brought us here. This time, however, after a good lunch, the sway in the back becomes unsettling and we get out with great relief at the next stop. K’gari Island has its own rainforest (we haven’t seen one in a while, have we) and Drew will take us on a walk through it. overall - a rainforest like any other, but two things set it apart and would stay in our memories forever.
Drew first turns our attention to the empty river bed under us and quite right to do so. It isn’t just dirt down there, there is actual water flowing through, crystal clear and invisible - like a thin piece of glass over the earth, breaking the light and reflecting back. The water is safe for drinking, however, due to historically-cultural heritage, it is protected by the rituals of the original landowners - the Butchulla tribe, although they no longer live on the island.
And as we observe the magic of the water I see a Kingfisher - small, bright blue with duck-yellow cheeks and a long beak. The first and last one we see in Australia (not in Asia though) which gets scared by us so Nic doesn’t get to see it. Above it landed its cousin - the arrogantly laughing Kookaburra. Well, we saw plenty of kookaburras in the 4 months or I should even say - heard! If you have never listened to the incredible “song” of the kookaburra this is a clip of it - you cannot miss it. These Australian “monkey-witches” often woke us up in the morning (if some other crazy bird didn’t get to it first) but you cannot argue on their looks - fluffy round beauties! At the end of the forest, Drew gathers us around a map of the sandy K’gari to show us the tour we had done today. We are all amazed that he is pointing only to about 5% of K’gari. Did we really only see that much? The size of the island is truly huge!
For the last time, we sway on the dugout roads, which His Royal Highness doesn’t know, and we’re back out on the beach avoiding waves, stopping a few times for dingos and quickly getting back on the ferry. It is clear we are all tired as hardly anyone gets out and the kids behind us are snoring away. Back on the continent we stop for our afternoon coffee break and Sims Crew get handed another vegan package. Before we realise we are back at the Rainbow Beach car park saying goodbye to the group. Drew sends us off with the rest of the fruit and bread from lunch, apparently Nic and I seem to be in need. Well, Australians are caring!
We go for a short walk on Rainbow Beach to see what makes it rainbow but we can’t find it. One of the cliffs is meant to be in different coloured stripes but we don’t seem to be able to tell them apart. Come on, let's go so we aren’t late again. We get back to Bertie, thankful we didn’t take him on K’gari - we would have probably managed but it would not have been nice or safe. Leaving the village we pass countless drivers pumping their tyres back up for the asphalt roads. Well, for that we were definitely not prepared. And also, look how much we learned from Drew!
The campsite tonight is for veterans - there are more hopping kangaroos around us than people. We take advantage of the last daylight to tidy up and relax after a long and wonderful day! Our first Australian island was a wonderful preparation for the next 3 in Queensland territory and one more in Western Australia. We’ll get to them soon …
Vassya (and Nic)