Friday, April 11, 2014

Great Sandy, the Queensland Coast

I did end up "skipping" Sydney, or at least giving it just a few hours on my way up the coast to Great Sandy National Park and Frasier Island.

I didn't get much of an impression of Sydney, other than that it's a big city, and parking is very expensive. I spent an afternoon strolling under the Harbor Bridge and past the Opera House, through the Rocks neighborhood (the oldest European settlement in Australia) and into some of the Royal Botanic Gardens. It was pleasant, but I didn't have much time to actually get to know its character. I mostly stopped just to say I did.

From Sydney, I journeyed two days up the coast to Queensland, bypassing Brisbane to get to Great Sandy National Park, home to Fraser Island. Fraser Island has nothing but 4x4 tracks through soft dunes and across beaches. I needed "permission" from Britz to take Princess there, so in the interest of time, I opted for the mainland section of the park. It too boasts miles of pristine beaches and a very lovely campground that, turns out, is at the end of a 4WD-only track. I locked the hubs and figured that since I didn't need permission to visit this section, it couldn't be that bad.

Mmm.. soft, squishy sand!
I've never done any 4-wheel driving before, so I don't have anything to compare it to, but a 10-km track made of nothing but 8-inch ruts in soft sand seems like a decent challenge. The way into the campground was down a gentle decline, so even though it was nerve-wracking, I didn't get in too much trouble. But entire drive, I kept thinking, "There's no way I can get back up this."

Obviously, I did have to get back up one way or another. The next morning, I unloaded as much loose clutter I could from the back of the campervan into my tent and made a practice run. There were some hairy moments, but I didn't get stuck or slide off the track once. And when I got to the top, my reward was this:

Suck it, New England!
Perfect beach, brilliant sunshine, warm water, and big, fun waves, all a thousand kilometers from any development, yet patrolled by the world's best lifeguards. If I could only tolerate the tropical sun a bit better, I would have stayed there all day.

The beach by my campsite wasn't bad, either, but because of the local currents, swimming is "not recommended."


Somewhere above Brisbane, the landscape started to look really tropical. The plants got greener, palm trees sprouted wild instead of just in gardens, and grazing land gave way to banana and sugar plantations. Even the clouds looked more equatorial.

On my way out, I paused after conquering the 4WD track to take a nature walk through a small section of tropical forest a bit back from the coast.

Strangler fig!

Palm trees just growing like they grow there!
Everything--the birds, the plants, the soil--seemed new and exotic. Once I got back on the road, it was a quick hop even further north, to the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

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