The road to K’gari

Monday, January 16th.  This morning we said goodbye to the University of the Sunshine Coast and Sippy Downs community as we headed north to new adventures on Fraser Island. The three-hour bus trip gave us the opportunity to take in some of the rural countryside. The horse and cattle properties, farms, wide open spaces, and billboards reminded of the countryside we see in Wyoming and elsewhere in the western United States, but with tropical trees and grasses instead of cottonwoods and sage brush.

On our way, we stopped at a truck stop for snacks and the restroom. Many of us took advantage of the mailbox there to mail postcards back to the United States.  By noon, we had reached the mainland offices of the Kingfisher Resort, our eventual destination on Fraser Island. There were lots of buses coming and going and it was there that we got organized for our ferry trip across the water to the island. There were also some small shops including a pharmacy where I and a few others bought some sunburn remedies. We checked bags for the ferry and finally boarded a bus with another 30 or so visitors that shuttled us to the Mary River Headlands ferry dock.

barge
The “KingFisher Bay” ferry barge: our transport to Fraser island

The bus ride was relatively short, maybe five minutes.  We got to a small pier with a concrete ramp entering the water. There, painted in blue, white, and yellow was our ferry to Fraser Island.  The ferry boat even proudly displayed a nautical Australian flag.  On board, the boat was very cozy. There was an interior with shaded benches and a little bar/snack stand and the upper level provided a roofed but open air view with benches and the captain’s bridge easily accessible.  During the actual ferry ride, the captain told the passengers facts about the Great Sand Strait, the water body we were crossing.  As we neared Fraser Island, we could tell that the island was comprised entirely of sand even from afar.  I pulled out my binoculars to try to spot any dingoes.  My efforts were futile but I did get close-ups of some fantastic scenery:  sandy cliffs, undeveloped beaches, and lush rainforest vegetation growing on sand.  Overall, I think the ferry ride lasted about 45 minutes.

flag
Alek and Brody enjoying the view.

When we landed at shore, we had to wait for the vehicles to get off the ferry before pedestrians were allowed to disembark onto a long, narrow wooden jetty.  It reminded me of those kind of welcome piers that you’d see in movies like Jurassic World.  We got a warm welcome from a hostess who quickly settled us in the restaurant/resort area for a nice welcome lunch consisting of sandwiches, salad, ice cold water, and ice cream.

disembark
Unloading at KingFisher Bay Resort. Vehicles take priority.

Our accommodations at the resort were great. My classmates and I, along with our USC guide Rafael, all shared a communal lodge with 3 to 4 of us per room with bunk beds and shared bathrooms/showers. I really liked how at this resort, the wi-fi wasn’t exactly perfect.  It makes the guests want to enjoy the island more.  Also, our lodge had plenty of screens for sunlight to get in.  This was a nice touch with a natural feeling.  I know that as an eco-tourism resort, the resort itself was camouflaged so that it looked like it were part of the rainforest and lights that may attract dingoes weren’t terribly visible.

lodge
Wilderness Lodge accommodation at Kingfisher Bay Resort.

After salad and pizza for dinner, we had a campfire presentation from one of the resort rangers.  The campfire was even complete with a marshmallow roast.  The ranger, named Regina, had an environmental science degree and was very knowledgeable about the island’s history and flora and fauna. According to Regina, Fraser Island hosted some of Australia’s most poisonous snakes including the Eastern Brown Snake. The large Golden Orb-Weaver Spider and the tiny yet highly venomous Funnel Web Spider also call Fraser home. While Fraser has some mammals including the monotreme (egg-laying mammal) echidna, wallabies, and wombats, oddly Fraser is devoid of kangaroos.

spider
A Golden Orb-Weaver visited our campfire. Such a cute little guy.

Dingoes are arguably Fraser’s most iconic wildlife. The top apex predator, they are the main source of interest on the island. Rangers track every dingo on the island as the Fraser population (numbering between 100 and 125) is one of the most genetically pure strains of Dingo left in all of Australia. Throughout Asia, dingoes have been the victim of genetic pollution, as domesticated dogs have bred with dingoes and it’s impacted their gene pool.

From Regina, we learned that Fraser Island got its anglicized name from the Frasers, a couple who got shipwrecked on the island prior to European settlement. The couple was taken in by the local Aboriginal tribe. Mr. Fraser died on the island of unknown causes, but Mrs. Fraser eventually left Fraser Island where she spent the next years telling unsubstantiated tales to other European Australians about her terrible experiences with the Aborigines. Unfortunately, this started a period of terrible history for Fraser Island in which native peoples were killed or relocated and the island degraded by overlogging and sand mining.  The Fraser label for this place had European origins, but the island’s original name as established by the Aborigines was actually K’gari (pronounced, “gari”). I want to get into the habit of using K’gari instead of Fraser.

In terms of sustainability and my experiences on K’gari, I believe the island would benefit from more vehicle regulation. There were more vehicles than I thought there would be. In my mind, if there are so many people on the island, why not just add an extra bus or two. It would be better than tourists blocking the narrow roads or driving into locations where people are doing a hike or nature walk. (This happened to a group of us the next night on our ranger night walk.)

I’m dealing with some bad sunburns but I’m enjoying K’gari Island and so is the rest of the crew.  Down the road, we have Lady Elliot Island to look forward to and our eventual return to the United States.

– Chris

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