A tour of Fraser Island is the perfect side-trip from Brisbane for those just beginning to foster their spirit for adventure, and those well-seasoned adventurers looking for a lower-key, lower-budget, off-the-beaten-path (literally) experience.
My then-54 year-old, and self-described “unathletic”, mother and I were visiting my sister who was studying abroad in Brisbane for the semester. Looking for an “Australian adventure” that all of us could enjoy and participate in—one that wasn’t too dangerous, was only moderately outdoorsy, and not at all physically taxing—we decided that a two day tour of Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island (123 kilometers long and 22 kilometers at its widest point) and a World Heritage Site, would be the best bet: it was exotic (they have dingos!), inexpensive, non-threatening to life and limb, and offered the option to stay at the island’s “resort” instead of camping.
Our tour guide was to meet us at the bus station. An unlikely-looking couple (the woman from which seemed to be keeping her distance from the man), and a gold-toothed motley-looking middle-aged man (presumably fleeing the law) were also waiting. From the window, we watched a large Safari-type vehicle pull to the curb. It looked like the kind people in movies about guerilla wars are kidnapped in, and the name of our tour company was painted on the side. When the others followed us outside, we realized that these were our fellow tourists, all of whom were Australian, making us the only foreigners on the tour.
Our guide hopped down from the driver’s seat and introduced himself. He looked like a Hobbit, and appeared to be striving towards dreadlocks—not only on his head, but also in his goatee, and in the toe hair that curled over the thongs of his flip-flops. He threw our bags on top of the vehicle next to the “Eskie” (“cooler,” for my fellow Americans) and we climbed in. Sitting on hard benches knee-to-knee, we began to learn about our fellow travelers—or at least two of them: Bad Date Man was delightful, if a bit awkward, but Bad Date Woman sat silently, arms crossed. We learned that the pair had met in a sword-fighting chat room. We surmised that this was a blind date and that she was not smitten, though he may have been. Gold Tooth was actually quite the gentleman, though we never did find out what he did for a living, and my suspicion that he was on the lamb was never fully squelched. The Hobbit-like tour guide was a wealth of information, although we would soon learn he did not always keep us informed.
We drove for about 3 ½ hours—longer than we expected, not being able to translate kilometers into miles—before somewhere near Rainbow Beach, without warning, we began to drive on the beach, parallel to the ocean, as if this were a perfectly normal everyday occurrence. The three of us looked at each other nervously—surely this must be illegal: some attempt at a short cut, or to avoid the police at Gold Tooth’s request. As it turned out, this was our first experience with a “beach highway.” We followed the beach to a ferry that took us to Fraser Island.