TRIP REPORT FOR JANUARY 13-16, 2006
Wednesday, January 11:
It's been a long couple of weeks. From December 26th to the 8th of January, we've been away up on the far north coast of NSW (including a 2-day trip to Brisbane), and covered 3810 km over some very rough forest trails in a new truck. Yes, folks, we're now on NotExcessive Mk II. Little did I know back on the Snow Country Weekend last year that that trip would be the last big one for Olde Faithful, but it had grown way too tired after three years of hard going, and after the Snow Country Weekend, I made the decision not to re-register it in December. By mid-November I had the good fortune to stumble across a worthy replacement for a steal, so NotExcessive MkII is a dual-fueler Nissan GQ Patrol with a 50mm body lift and lots of included goodies that make it a huge leap forward in comfort and off-road capability compared to the good old 60 series. Transferring over all the equipment from the 60 series and taking it over a near 4000km shakedown test, it was well and truly sorted out for the run up to Moreton Island.
It felt odd being back in Sydney for just three days. By now, everybody else that was booked in for this trek was already on their way up to Brisbane.
By noon I had finished my office work and started packing the truck. Leaving the Sydney CBD a little bit after 1600 hours after picking t up from work, it was a quick run up the Pacific Highway and onto the F3 Freeway. As night fell, progress was hindered just north of Taree, when it started to rain. The rain soon turned into an absolute torrent. I negotiated the heaviest rainfall I've ever had to drive through in my life. It was horizontal, and was so heavy you'd swear somebody was turning a fire hose onto the windscreen. It got so bad that the blower box filled with water (causing t to have a free foot bath) and blew both fuses for the fan motor, as well as vapourising the fan speed resistor box, filling the cabin with smoke (causing t to go into a little bit of a panic), thus causing the air conditioning to go out to dinner, so a lot of kilometres were done with the windows partially open so I could see anything through the windscreen.
After the rain eased up a little bit (but not for long), I pulled over into a rest area and checked out the fuse box. I replaced the fuses and got the air conditioning working again (but only on full speed as the resistor box had disintegrated) and got back on the road. Although the rain continued, and quite heavily, the air conditioning held up and so I had a clear view for the rest of the night. The rain finally ceased a little north of Kempsey, and we pulled up into the driveway in Emerald Beach, just north of Coffs Harbour, at around 2330 hours to settle in for the night.
Thursday, January 12:
Driving south back into Coffs Harbour was the first thing on the agenda this morning. We stopped by the ship chandlery at the jetty to pick up some power points to install into the floor console at a later date (marine stuff is the best sort to fit into a working 4WD - it's rugged enough) and then drove down to Toormina where my favourite 4WD wreckers are located, to pick up another fan-speed resistor box. I figured I'll just grab one now and replace it some time later on the island. Driving back north into Coffs, I stopped by the tackle store and picked up some 1/0 and 3/0 hooks, and then finally a trip to Repco at Home Base to grab a few fuses (you can never have too many) and some Rok straps. These are great and are better to use than standard occy straps for certain things, like surfboards and fishing rods. Arriving back at Emerald Beach by around 1100, it was time to do the final repack to include the items I had left here the week before, although I decided to leave the chainsaw and its fuel container behind - there wasn't really any use for it on the island as it's National Park, and included in the load were three bags of already-cut firewood, which we had collected a week beforehand and had sitting here in the garage, ready to go.
A little after midday, we were on the road and heading north.
We got into contact with MP and jwl, who had been camping for the past four days up in Yuraygir National Park, just half an hour north of Emerald Beach, but had left to head for Ballina at the same time I was heading south into Coffs to do my shopping. We agreed to catch up in Ballina, which we did by mid-afternoon.
As we arrived in Ballina at about 1430 hours, we established radio contact, and MP informed us that they were in a caravan park just off the main highway, where they had been washing clothes and just generally relaxing. We obtained the location and headed over for the caravan park, but MP also stated that we should not laugh at his truck when we saw it. I left that one alone and decided I'd just wait and see exactly what he was talking about.
Sure enough, spotting the diesel Patrol a few minutes later revealed that there were two thin, long logs (about 3m or so length) tied to the roof racks, one on either side of the basket. MP had been unable to procure the usual wood for the camp fire, and this was the next best thing, from what I could make out. All of which was fine, except that it made his Patrol look like something out of Gilligan's Island. It looked like it had a bloody raft attached to the roof, which I suppose is practical if you can't make a river crossing and want to float the whole thing across.
Leaving Ballina and heading up the coast road, I found myself humming the theme tune from Gilligan's Island, but of course I didn't key the microphone. I guess I was too busy looking for seagulls to land on MP's roof racks. Just north of Byron Bay, t makes a suggestion that we make a short stop to drop in to the Humble Pie Company, located at... where was it again... bilingual?... no... ah yes, Billinudgel (what the hell they both begin with "b"). This place has the best pies in any universe. My favourite place used to be Freddo's just north of Kempsey, but this place is now at the top of my list. After giving up after half an hour's planning on how to attach a snatch strap to the establishment in order to fling it north and onto Moreton Island for my culinary indulgence, a couple of samples were loaded into the fridge to be enjoyed on the weekend, and our travels continued.
Before very long, we reach Coolangatta and cross the border into Queensland.
I looked down at my odometer. Oh wow, look at that. The odometer had just wound itself back by one hundred years.
As we neared Brisbane, we parted company - MP and jwl were going to meet up with Barry and Barb at a mutual kink friend's place near the Gold Coast, and we were on our way to the motel in Aspley, where we were due to meet up with the Canberra crew of Tn & j, who had managed to get a booking at the same motel.
We arrived in Aspley at around 1700 hours Queensland time, and found the diesel 60 parked right nearby. Tn & j were just a few doors up, and after greetings were over it was time to relax for a bit and then get ready for the munch we had arranged for 1930 hours in the West End.
We left for the West End at around 1900 hours in the 60 series, and arrived exactly on time. The other half of our convoy, which was staying near the Gold Coast, had managed to find their way here without incident, which led me to believe that MP wasn't the lead vehicle, otherwise his own personal interpretation of convoy procedure (see the Snow Country Trip Report of 2005) would have meant that Barry and Barb would have ended up in Darwin.
All up there were around 20 people at the munch, some faces that I had not seen for a very long time, and the night passed very pleasantly.
By around 2200 hours or so, it was time to head back to the motel and get some sleep, because we had an early start in the morning.
Friday, January 13:
One interesting thing I've learned about Sony Ericcson mobile phones: they bounce off the wall really well when you swat them off the bedside table after the alarm goes off. It's 0600 hours and the bloody birds are chirping already. I stumble out into the daylight at 0615 to check on the truck, and Tn is already outside. We gather all our stuff together and set off by around 0630 hours after leaving the keys to our rooms in the manager's mail box.
Along the way to Redcliffe, we find out from the Canberra crew that we need to stop at a service station somewhere along the way so that they can fill up their gas bottles for camp. No problem, I think to myself, as we pull in to a BP servo halfway between Aspley and Redcliffe at 0655 hours, and Tn gets out the two gas bottles for the attendant to fill. Big mistake. This guy didn't have a friggin' clue how to refill a gas bottle, and shouldn't be allowed near sharp objects. While we were waiting (and waiting, AND waiting), I heard the other two vehicles over the radio: they were a lot closer to the harbour than we were, and the clock was ticking, fast. I went over and told Tn & j that we had really better pull this guy's finger out, because at this rate we weren't going to be there in time. After we had been waiting for over twenty minutes, I had the thought of showing the servo attendant the inside of my exhaust pipe, when Tn told me they were ready to go. After what seemed to be an eternity, we finally manage to leave the service station at 0720 hours, but now we had to put the pedal to the metal (gawd I've just been waiting to say that) because we had a way to go, and I still had to fill up my truck with 90 litres of LPG, 100 litres of petrol, and also fill the three jerry cans on top of the roof rack with yet another 60 litres of petrol, all of which I would have done if Mr. Speedy's Service Station had LPG, but it didn't, and I was so pissed off with how slowly this guy operated that I decided to spend my dollars at another service station anyway, on principle.
We went to the BP service station at Woody Point, which is the servo I regularly use when I'm in this part of Brisbane, and did a very rapid fill up. I could see the operator watching, slightly concerned, as he saw the various hoses fly out from the pumps and connect to the rear and roof of the truck, but this is, after all, Queensland. They should be used to odd things up here. Not that I'm odd or anything, just misunderstood.
We get away at 0730 hours and barrel up Victoria Avenue, having to slow down occasionally to ensure that the diesel 60 doesn't get left too far behind. Having the 60 towing a camper trailer doesn't help in the quest for speed. Victoria Avenue is a long, straight, stretch of road. It's amazing just how long it is when you're trying to get to the end of it as quickly as possible. I respond to a query over the radio as to where we are: the GQ diesel and the Bundera are already on board. I tell them we're only five minutes away. We finally pull in to the yard at 0740 hours, and get the trucks on board by 0750. The barge finishes loading and pulls out into the waters at 0815 hours, and finally, we're on our way.
We meet up with the others on the top deck, and chat for a while. It turns out that when they were loading their trucks on, they had spoken with Gus, who was on duty and driving today, and when they mentioned they were with me, he exclaimed "not that mad photographer bloke!" as that's how he knows me, as a photographer and not as an engineer. He also mentioned that I owed him a photo, which was true, as the last time I saw him, he was piloting the barge on the way back to the mainland in July 2004, and I was upstairs on the bridge with him showing him the shots I had taken with the Nikon during my stay. He had selected a shot ( "Fingers") I had taken amongst the dead trees on the southern end of the island, and I told him I'd run him off a signed A3+ print. I hadn't seen him again until now, but he remembered as soon as he heard my name. As I knew weeks ago that he'd be on shift this morning, I had made sure I had printed off a copy and brought it up with me from Sydney.
Barb starts on how the Nissan Patrol is a Datsun, and this was to be an often-repeated comment by her over the course of our stay. It's NOT A DATSUN! But what would she know?
MP and I go downstairs and air down. I set my Stauns to about 1 atm and also use them on Tn's diesel 60. MP does his GQ diesel, and I think Barry did his own by using the time-honoured Kiwi "put your fingernail into the valve and count" method. Not sure, but then again I'm not sure about anything with Barry. We rejoin everybody else up on the topmost deck after we're done.
About half an hour out to sea, I leave the others and go downstairs to the truck and pull out a postal tube, then return. I pop onto the bridge and say hello to Gus, waving the tube at him. Gus is really impressed when he opens it and asks how much he owes me: I tell him it's no charge as long as he frames it properly under glass. Also on the bridge is Michael, a police officer who's rostered for duty on Moreton Island for the week, and he asks me "surely that can't be a digital photo?"
I tell him a bit about SLRs and archival inks, and before too long we're engaged in a three-way conversation covering topics such as photography, life in general, and, of course, four-wheel driving. Gus bought a 100 series Land Cruiser a little while back, and he expressed surprise that I no longer had my 60 series. I told him of its export to Albury in November (the guy who bought it from me is currently rebuilding it for another lease of 4WD life) and how I found the Patrol. Gus then said the first thing wrong with my truck was the fact that it was a Patrol. I said to tell the cops that: their new toy was a GU Patrol and Michael was driving it this week. In reality though I have no particular brand loyalty and from where I sit, if it's a good design and does the job, I don't care which badge it wears.
When we were discussing the vehicles, however, Michael mentioned that the GU had a cage in it. I said so what, so does mine (I fitted a cargo barrier a few days after I bought the truck). He says, "ah, but mine has a cage built for just two people!"
Hmmm... I'm not so sure about the Queensland Police. I wonder if I should send him an invitation to The Mountain for next month?
Gus's jokes are as bad as ever: "This guy's at a fancy dress party and is wearing a custard on his dick. He's asked 'what are you supposed to be?' and he answers, 'I'm dressed as an emotion.' He's asked 'what kind of emotion?' and he answers, 'I'm fucking dis custard'".
It only got worse from there: "This other guy's at the same party and is wearing a pear on his dick. Somebody asks him 'and what emotion are you supposed to be?' and he tells them, 'I'm fucking deep in dis pear!'"
It was at this point that I asked Michael if he could arrest Gus. Michael said he didn't think he could, but he'd like to.
I spend the entire journey on the bridge, as usual. I felt kind of guilty leaving the others on the deck outside, almost antisocial, but hey, I figured we're spending the next four days together anyway, and besides, I have to take every opportunity to bag Gus as I don't see him all that often.
The barge lands at Comboyuro Point at 1015 hours and I say my goodbyes to Gus and Michael. Gus won't be on duty for the trip back on Monday afternoon and so I tell him I'll see him on my next trip up from Sydney. I tell Michael to drive carefully on the island and not to do more than 190 on the beach. He said he wouldn't, and then I said well you wouldn't be able to in a bloody GU anyway!
I head downstairs, where everybody's getting ready to start their engines, waiting for the drawbridge to lower. The drawbridge soon lands on the white sands with a 'whump', and before long we're heading down the ramp and onto the beach, and are officially on our Getaway!
It's a little crowded with all the vehicles moving about, so we drive a couple of hundred metres farther up the beach, and park out of the way of the traffic. I outline the general plan, and after chatting for around ten minutes, we start the trucks and head on into the (very) tiny township of Bulwer, our first stop.
The general store comes in handy as we buy a few drinks, and after finishing them we then set off down Bulwer Road (actually it's just a sandy track - there is not one single millimetre of paved or sealed road anywhere on Moreton) to make our way to the eastern side of the island, where we'll be setting up camp. We stop by the lookout for Honeyeater Lagoon and take in the view for a few minutes, then continue on down to the beach. Turning onto the beach itself, I notice that the sand is smooth and relatively hard-packed, and I make a mental note to up the pressure in the tyres later, as I don't really need to have them this low for these conditions.
The small amount of rain that the island had had a week or so earlier had made the sand much firmer than on my last visit, and made it much easier to drive on. We proceed south along the beach and pass by the Middle Road junction. Soon, we reached the campsite that I had used last time, and I radioed the other vehicles to wait on the beach while we drove up and checked it out. On the way up, I noticed that the campsite immediately in front (and below) was occupied, and thought that perhaps "my" campsite was also being used, but it turned out to be vacant after all.
Good, I thought. Looking around, though, it was not certain that all of our trucks could fit comfortably along with all the tents (plus of course one of our group was towing a camper trailer) so I radioed Barry and Barb to come up and have a look as well. After a bit of discussion, we all felt it would be a bit of a tight fit and so I radioed everyone to stay put and that I'd go down further and have a look at other prospective sites.
Driving down the beach for a while, we visited a few potential sites, but they were either too small, or were already being used. There was one large secluded site that we found, but it was a sand bowl with zero vegetation and hence no shade of any kind, so obviously that was out. Venturing farther down the beach by a couple of kilometres yielded results. We found a beautiful site that was just twenty metres or so back from the beach, was hidden from view by a low embankment, backed directly against a high and fairly steep hillside for total privacy and wind protection, and was covered by plenty of trees and hence offered generous shade protection. It was also flat ground, and was large enough to comfortably take up to eight vehicles, their occupants, and their tents. This was the best campsite I had ever seen on the island and I immediately waypointed it on the GPS computer.
By 1200 hours, we start setting up camp. Some of us finish faster than others, so it's off into the ocean for a swim for them whilst the rest of us carry on with putting up the tents and unpacking the rest of the gear. By around 1430, everybody's unpacked, set up, and we all get into some lunch. Barry goes to where the track comes off the beach, sticks a metal pole into the sand near the junction, and places an old 2 litre Coke bottle over the end. We now have a marker to make it easier to find the camp. Obviously Barry had read the Trip Report of the previous Moreton Island expedition, and wasn't going to be taking any chances with coconuts, especially seeing as how you can't trust them. That's why I use GPS! So I guess our camp is now Camp Coke, whereas the previous one would have been Camp Coconut.
After lunch, I went down to the beach and took a shot of the truck, the same way I had done two years earlier with the Land Cruiser. It felt strange, being here and not driving the old 60, sort of like not having an old friend around any more, but the new friend had become familiar enough since November to make me comfortable in hurling it at the scenery.
After some time spent chilling out, it was about 1530 hours and time for a swim. The waves were absolutely brilliant and you ended up spending a lot of energy just keeping up with them. An hour later, we decide to head off up to Blue Lagoon. The camp is 11km south of Blue Lagoon, so it's not exactly a short walk to get there, and I take the air mattress along in the truck so I can dunk it in the fresh waters of the lagoon and see if I could spot the air leaks that have been a problem for quite a while. I figure it should be easy to spot the air bubbles in the water, and I had a patch kit with me.
We spend some nice time in the tea tree-stained waters of the lagoon, and I note the locations of three air leaks (finally achieved by my jumping onto the mattress whilst Barry played scuba diver and had a look at the thing under the water) to be taken care of once we get back to camp. By 1800 hours we hit the showers at Blue Lagoon. The other vehicles soon leave to go back to the campsite, and I spend some time washing down the mattress with fresh water and strap it down to the roof racks to air out on the 11km drive back. We finally leave by 1840 and by 2000 hours everyone's getting into dinner and relaxing. By 2230 hours it's pretty much bedtime for everybody as it's been a big day. I break out the Q-Bond and with t's help, start repairing the mattress. By midnight everything's all done and t heads off for bed, whilst I fire up the truck and head off for my favourite (yes it's stored in the truck's GPS as a waypoint) When Nature Calls spot, safe in the knowledge that the shovel is in its place, strapped to the HiLift bracket on top of the roof racks.
There are times when you just need to be alone. This was one of them.
I eventually get back to camp at around 0100 after a slow drive along the shoreline, staring up at a clear and star-filled sky, and hit the sack.
Saturday, January 14:
It's a clear sunny morning with a calm sea when I awaken at 0600 hours. It's high tide, and the water is literally lapping about eight metres from the end of the track leading into our campsite, whereas at low tide the water line is more like fifty metres away. The camp is slowly stirring to life: it's going to be a hot one today. At around 0700 hours I go over to the truck and notice the fridge has stopped working, as it's flattened the second battery. This is not unusual as it's not a proper compressor type of fridge but a Peltier device, or "thermoelectric cooler", fridge, and they suck current like mad. I unplug the fridge from the power point in the cargo area and plug it into the dashboard so that it runs on the main battery, then start the truck and let the engine run for a while to get some charge back into the secondary. We drive up to the facilities at Blue Lagoon, and by the time we get back, find that some of the others had left camp to go for a bush walk. I noticed that MP had his rod in the sand, and he told me that he had cast out and was almost immediately bitten off - perhaps a shark.
By 0815, everybody had returned to camp, and it was time for breakfast. Moreton Island has a huge population of crabs, and it's impossible to look at any patch of sandy ground and not see large numbers of burrows. Ever since we had set up camp, we had countless numbers of them popping up, digging out cave-ins, and generally running around our site. Breakfast was spent with everyone sitting in the circle of chairs, chatting, and watching the crabs clean house in the middle of the common area, much like going to watch something in an arena.
So it comes to this: crab-watching. That's what happens when you don't have any internet access for a few days.
I don't recall exactly how it came about, but the topic of conversation eventually turns to sex, and Tn has to win the Quote Of The Week Award when he promptly blurts out, "I heard a dog fake an orgasm". We all just look at him. There's an awkward silence for a second. He then adds, "on the radio". Hmmm... I wonder about Tn sometimes. No, make that all the time. I think the conversation went sideways after that and I don't think any of us will ever find out exactly what he was on about, despite his explanations. I don't think we wanted to find out. Sometimes you're safer that way.
At around 0900, we go for a quick swim in front of our camp. The waves carry a real punch, and it was tiring just walking back out into the surf, because every five seconds, it felt as if you were being hit by a bus. It was at times like these that you realised just how powerful the ocean can be. After about half an hour, we were sufficiently (and happily) exhausted to go back to camp.
We needed ice, so at 1000 hours two of the trucks leave camp and head back to Bulwer to do an ice run and fill up all the coolers. We get several bags from the garage, and then visit the tackle store to buy some bait. Also in the tackle store, a new cooler bag specifically for drinks is spied and subsequently joins the equipment list on my GQ. After all of the ice is loaded into the coolers, it's time to head back across the island again and we arrive back at camp by 1130. We start setting up for lunch, because after that, we'll be going off to circumnavigate the island. The tide has been on the way out this morning, and I figure that by this afternoon, it'll be low enough to allow us passage through what can be quite treacherous sections of Western Beach.
Lunch comes and goes, and it's so hot that the sand is literally too hot to walk upon with bare feet. This was to set the pattern for the duration of our stay.
By 1315 hours, we're all loaded up and the convoy of four trucks leaves camp and heads south along Eastern Beach for the start of our circumnavigation of the island. We stop several kilometres later at Rous Battery, which was built for the defense of this section of the Australian coast against potential invading hordes from across the sea. You know. Tasmanians.
It had decayed somewhat since my last visit here in July of 2004 - the concrete had been crumbling for decades, and in the eighteen months that had passed since the last time I had set foot here, I could see that there were more pieces that had fallen off and landed onto the blistering sands below. Perhaps in another twenty or thirty years from now, there won't be much of the original structure left. Who knows.
We continue on towards the southern end of the island, where the beach makes a sudden right turn, and if you don't do the same, you end up hearing a loud splashing noise. Our convoy stops and we get out to take some photos, and to admire the view south. From here, you can clearly see North Stradbroke Island, and the outline of its hills. The waters in the deep channel a couple of kilometres or so out to sea are amazingly rough and choppy white water covers the surface. It's no wonder they've lost so many boats out there over the years. We move on a little farther and stop at a large forest, made up of dead trees embedded in the beach. Barb decides to go for a quick dip and I warn her that that's fine, as long as she doesn't go out more than five metres from the shore, or else I'll smack her. Amity Point on North Stradbroke Island is just on the other side of the channel, and that was where someone was taken by a pack of bull sharks just a couple of weeks ago. She said that's the first time she's done what I've told her. I don't know whether it was the threat of sharks or a smack, but hey, they both begin with "s" and it works for me.
Moreton Island is basically a huge mobile sand mass and it's moving north, so the forests gradually die off as the trees advance south and march into the sea. The shot that I gave Gus was taken near here, and the notion came up to see if we could drive farther along the beach and find the spot, but the whole scene had changed so much in eighteen months that I doubted that it wasn't underwater by now anyway. We had a look but nothing seemed familiar enough so we didn't bother and headed for Kooringal, a small township at the southern end of the island, but on the western side.
To get to Kooringal, it was necessary to backtrack a few hundred metres and take an inland track in order to cross the southern end of the island. The maps warn that the southern beach is impassible due to fallen trees. Well, yes and no. On my first ever visit to Moreton Island back in July 2003, I did indeed manage to take the Land Cruiser all the way along the beach, zig-zagging along the trees and other obstacles, but it was fairly hairy in a lot of places and it certainly wouldn't be fair on the others to ask them to risk it, so we took the inland track.
We were making our way along the track and were just a few kilometres away from Kooringal when I spotted another 4WD coming the other way. I immediately recognised it as the GU Patrol of the local constabulary. I could tell this from the bright blue checkerboard paintwork and the red and blue light rack. I'm very good at picking up on subtle details, you know.
As soon as the GU's nose was a couple of metres away from mine, I leaned out the window and yelled, "Get that fucking heap of shit off the road!!"
Said GU came to a halt as soon as its driver's window was aligned with my own. The driver (who didn't happen to be Michael) just stared at me, pretty much like a bunny rabbit caught in the headlights. For a few seconds you could almost hear the gears spinning in his head: did he hear that right? I saw Michael sitting in the front passenger's seat, and he's pissing himself laughing.
The driver steps out of the Patrol and gets his breathalyser out, and after looking back at Michael who's still grinning, and listening to further dialogue between us, cottons on pretty quickly I'd say, from what happens next.
He gives me a breath test.
Barb mentions over the radio that the Datsun driver is being breathalysed. I yell back into the microphone that "It's NOT a fucking Datsun!!"
The other drivers are also breath tested, but of course the only thing that comes to light is that they indeed have breath and hence are alive. I think Barry was trying to play a musical tune during his test. Like I said before, I'm not so sure about Barry...
In all seriousness though, it's good to see breath testing being carried out in a remote area like this. I don't want Moreton to end up like Fraser Island to the north, where the backpacking morons have effectively ruined the place for those of us who are genuine 4WDers and want to enjoy it.
It's soon time to continue on our way, but not before getting Michael to give me a pose for the album.
We say our goodbyes to the Boys In Blue and soon we arrive at Kooringal. It's a sleepy little place but it was fairly busy (more than ten people) at the general store, and we buy some ice creams, which melt fairly quickly in this sort of heat, so lick fast. The ice creams, that is.
We're soon on the road again, and head towards the beach via a little track just a couple of hundred metres away from the general store. This leads us to the southern-most point on the island, and the views are truly spectacular. There are a couple of water crossings to contend with, the deepest one being after you pass the landing point for the vehicle ferry that shuttles between here and North Stradbroke Island.
It's nothing like the landing up at Comboyuro Point that we used though: just a stick in the sand and a 10m wide stretch of beach that's off-camber by about 10º that serves as the "highway". There was a Range Rover there, but it was hard to tell whether it was waiting for the ferry or had just simply broken down because it was British :)
After a little while we backtracked to town and took the road north to take us to Western Beach, where we were to continue past the mangrove flats and the sand hills that ran onto the track and made it difficult to get through at high tide.
The route up Western Beach is totally different in character to that of Eastern Beach. Whereas the latter is a clean run of relatively flat, open expanses of beach with adequate room left to drive on at high tide, the former is restricted by and large to a fairly narrow corridor of sand above the water line that seldom gets wider than a few vehicle widths. At high tide, it disappears altogether in places and then you can get into real trouble if you don't know what you're doing. Timing is everything if you want to get past here without any headaches.
The first thing that grabs your attention is how off-camber the driving surface is. You soon get used to leaning over to the left, as you can see in the photo here, and one thing that I noticed in particular is how incredibly chopped up some sections of the beach are. It makes driving over and along the ruts quite a challenge in smoothness at times, and I figure the beach must have seen a hell of a lot of traffic in recent days because this is the first time we've ever seen it this bad.
Before long, we reach the beginning of the mangrove flats. These are quite extensive and we soon stop for a while to take some photos. It's quite a contrast to the other side of the island, with the flats stretching from the narrow beach and reaching the waters of Moreton Bay quite some distance off to the west.
Out on the flats, MP gets distracted by crabs (the sea-going kind that is) and tries (somewhat unsuccessfully) to catch a juvenile (we saw its ID card and it was under 18) mud crab by hand. Others were exploring the wrecks on the beach. These wrecks are not the Tangalooma Wrecks, but the genuine article: vessels that came to grief ages ago, their husks embedded in the unforgiving sands forever, silently rusting away.
I'm not sure as to the history of these particular wrecks - perhaps Gus can enlighten me when I see him next time I'm up here again. The main one has a large boiler, which is still mostly in one piece. Considering that these hulks must have spent at least a century here (from the way they looked), they were obviously built to last.
We continue on towards Tangalooma, where there are several wrecks offshore, near the resort. These are scuttled vessels, sunk a couple of decades ago to provide shelter for boats and also to attract marine life to this artificial reef. It's a very popular spot for diving, but we'll visit this more closely another day. As the beach in front of the resort is closed to through traffic, we take the bypass road, and end up back on the beach again a short time later.
We continue on, and head for Cowan Cowan, which is a closed community (in other words, full of mega-rich businessmen, doctors, and dentists, who have built their hideaways here and don't want us common people desecrating their sanctum with our presence) and where we'll have to take the bypass road, as the beach in front of Cowan Cowan is closed to traffic. I can understand why the beach is closed in front of the resort since you've got guests using the resort's "front yard" as it were, but as far as I can tell with Cowan Cowan, it's just elitism.
Interestingly enough, I was told a couple of years ago by a mate who used to work on the island that Cowan Cowan served as the hiding place for witnesses during the Fitzgerald Enquiry, held to look into corruption in Queensland, back in 1989.
As we make our way north, the sight of literally tens of thousands of soldier crabs makes for an awesome spectacle. The surface of the beach appears to come alive. As we drive along, huge masses of crabs move off to safety, away from the vibrations of the approaching vehicles, and the visual effect is something like looking at a dense swarm of bees. From a distance, it looks like a black alien mass marching across the sand, but when you see these creatures close up, they are a beautiful shade of light blue, with cream patches on their sides. The speed at which the mob runs away from us is remarkable. A little farther up, we spot a dolphin frolicking in the clear waters, not more than fifty metres away from us.
We reach the Cowan Cowan bypass, and head on up the inland track. Once we get back onto the beach again, we're not too far from the barge landing point. Just south of where the barge lands is some more beach wreckage, but it's almost completely rusted away now, and it's hard to tell what kind of vessel(s) shipwrecked here, and how long ago.
As we approach Comboyuro Point, it's 1655 hours, and I remember that I'd better ring Gary, seeing as it's nearly 1800 hours Sydney time, and he'll be closing soon. Gary runs the auto parts store about two kilometres away from my place. He works seven days a week, from about 0900 to 1800, and he doesn't have much of a chance to get away from the shop, as you can imagine. Being my local supplier of things automotive, naturally he'd always know when I had a trip away coming up, as I'd be getting oils or filters or whatever.
I don't quite recall exactly how it started, but after I bought my first 4WD (the good old 60 series) back in August 2002, I'd always end up ringing him from my mobile every time I was away somewhere, and almost every one of those calls was when I was on a beach. I remember the first time I did this. I was at Station Creek, on the far north coast of NSW. I rang him, told him where I was, how nice it was out here, and asked if he could hear the ocean (I was standing knee-deep in the waves at the time and stomping about to make sure he could hear it). The torrent of expletives that issued forth at the top of his voice was a sight... err... sound, to behold. I was to find out weeks later from him that he had a store full of customers at the time, all of whom got very nervous when he started ranting and yelling abuse down the phone line, and one customer in fact backed out of the store, real fast.
I've rung Gary from a lot of places. The best ones were from the chair lift at Thredbo when it was half-way up the mountain ("Hey Gary it's bloody freezing up here but you should see the views!"), and on my way home from China's Guangdong Province, I stopped in Hong Kong for a day and called him from a restaurant where I was having dinner ("Hey Gary! Do you have any idea just how bloody good the Schezuan food is here in Tsim Sha Tsui? Not as good as back in the provinces but still, not bad for Hong Kong!").
In all cases the end result is a satisfying melting of the loudspeaker. So how could I not honour tradition? I dial the store's number.
"Acme* Automotive. Hello this is Gary how may I help you?"
(*Acme is not the real name of the business. It has been changed to protect the innocent, whoever they are.)
After a few seconds, MP dials Gary's mobile number on his phone (and I'm still connected to the store's number) and tells him how nice it is up here on the warm beach. It's been raining down there in Sydney hasn't it?
I can't reprint the conversation word for word, as Gary started ranting again (funny that) but I do recall something along the lines of his "getting pissed off in stereo!" and the conversation ending with his final salutation of "MONGRELS! SHIT HEADS! FUCK OFF!!"
Put another chalk mark on the mobile. And, dear and gentle readers, if you are under the impression that this is being mean, may I inform you that prior to starting up his automotive parts business, Gary was in actual fact a BANK MANAGER, so all I can say is that there is such a thing as karma, and the Universe has a way of getting even.
Soon afterwards, we're on our way again and head for the northern beach to see if we can find any suitable lagoons to swim in. The northern beach has a totally different character to all of the other beaches, having vast expanses of sand that almost makes it feel like you're driving in a desert during a wet season. As we drive along, we find that all of the lagoons that were so nice to swim in the last time we were here had either disappeared, or were much too shallow. We make a few creek crossings and stay on our easterly course, but nothing looks very promising, and dusk is rapidly approaching by now.
By 1740 hours, we decide to head back for camp. Turning south, we proceed into the mangrove flats that skirt the base of the sand dunes. As I'm driving through the mud near Five Hills, I spy something about a hundred metres off to my right. I radio to the others that I think I've found something, and that I'm going over to investigate. As we pull up, I see that it's a pelican, and it's sitting on the mud flats, alone. I get out of my truck and go over to it. It looks sick and I immediately get the impression that it's going to die soon.
The other vehicles arrive within a minute and park close by. MP comes over to me. We have a closer look at the pelican. It's absolutely covered in lice, and looks like it's been partially blinded, probably by the lice. It senses us, and in a futile gesture flaps its wings, once, but after that, it just sits in the mud, listlessly. It was obvious that the situation was serious.
Our first thought was to ring the Parks Service, but there was no way you could get any mobile coverage in this part of the island. The only possible mobile coverage is on the western side, and that was a very long way away. Tn comes over and makes the observation that the poor bird will probably drown when the tide comes into the mangroves later tonight. He was more than likely correct. The question arises as to what to do.
MP suggests that the best course of action would probably be to give it a swift blow to the head and kill it quickly, so that it didn't suffer any more. I mention that I have the HiLift on top of my roof rack, and that the standard can be removed and used as it's a very heavy iron bar, or we could use the shovel. Upon hearing this, t says she doesn't want to watch that, and in fact none of us did, but the bird was suffering. We try the radio, and after some effort manage to contact somebody on the mainland via the UHF Channel 6 repeater (having a commercial rig in the truck capable of pumping out 25 Watts can be handy at times), and give them our latitude and longitude from the GPS, as well as telling them we're in Five Hills. We ask them to phone the Parks Service, and we wait. After a while, a message comes back saying that they've handed over the information. We thank them, and eventually leave.
I know that nature takes its course and has been looking after itself for millions of years, yet I don't know whether it was right or wrong to leave it there, or to kill it, but we had to follow our collective conscience, I suppose. Let things take their course.
By the time we arrive at the end of Bulwer Road and hit the eastern side, it's dusk, and a full moon is rising. I stop to set up the tripod, and the other vehicles head off up to Blue Lagoon for a late swim. After getting a few shots, we head up to the Blue Lagoon campground (which is not in the same place as Blue Lagoon itself) to fill up one of the water containers. It's completely dark by the time we head back to camp and meet the others. We arrive at 2000 hours, and start dinner.
By 2200 hours, four of us decide to do some fishing. We load up the Gillig... err... the diesel GQ with the fishing gear, and head north. We end up near the end of the beach and set up. There's a little bit of action, but the strong southerly current drags your line sideways very quickly and very far, and makes it difficult for me to feel much on the line. I get a few nibbles but nothing hooks on. MP hooks up two whiting of decent enough size to eat, and that was basically it for the night. We arrive back at camp by 0030 hours, and MP goes down to the beach to clean and gut the fish. We have a quick shower back at camp at 0050, and ten minutes later, it's time to hit the sack.
Sunday, January 15:
I wake up at 0600 hours to a lightly overcast morning. The temperature has dropped since yesterday, but it's still more than pleasant. There's a light smattering of rain for a few minutes, and I'm thinking that today we'll be rained in, but by 0630 the sun comes out and although there a few more light sprinkles, the weather clears, and it looks like it's going to be a fine day.
It's dead quiet in the camp as everyone else is still asleep; the only activity is due to the crabs scuttling about, and I go and brush my teeth. MP awakens and comes over - we'll go fishing on the beachfront and see what we get. We try it but there's no action, so we decide to head to the southern end of the island and try our luck there.
We spend a couple of hours fishing the southern end but to no avail - we catch about seven or eight Great Trevally each, but they're too small to keep so it's catch and release. It's amazing how a fish that small can have a mouth big enough to chase a bait wrapped onto a 3/0 suicide. We pack up our gear and head back to camp. Along the way, an astonishing sight greets us. Just north of Long Point, for literally kilometres of sand stretching in front of us, thousands of cormorants pepper the beach, so much so that you cannot see the sand. The entire shoreline is black. As we approach to within a few hundred metres, countless birds take flight, revealing the sand underneath. The truck proceeds northwards, causing a ripple effect along the beach. It's a bit like a Mexican wave, and the birds head out to sea as we go past.
By 0930 hours, we're back at camp, but it's empty. During our absence, everybody else has gone off to the Tangalooma Wrecks. MP and I have a quick breakfast, and then grab the gas jet from MP's lantern. It was working fine the previous night, until MP had turned it off, and then later that night had found that it wouldn't run properly again. We discovered that the jet was damaged, so today we'll see if we can find a new one.
We're heading west along the Bulwer Road and were at about the halfway mark. You could just tell it must have been nearly 1030, because the frequent traffic coming the other way could only have meant that the barge had landed and that the weekend warriors were dispersing into the landscape. And I mean weekend warriors, not trained 4WDers or 4WDers with experience, because of the way most of them drove. Yes, there were some vehicles that passed by us that were properly kitted out and had done some bush travel before - you could tell that just by looking at them - but they were in the minority.
By and large, the oncoming traffic consisted of city 4WDs where the (inexperienced) drivers just didn't have a single bloody clue. They were either proper trucks (like Land Rovers etc.) or soft-roaders, but the thing they had in common was way too much speed for such a narrow (and often blind) track, and they were all running street rubber with full city tyre pressures. In other words, an accident waiting to happen. Several times, we encountered an oncoming vehicle (sometimes suddenly around a blind corner) that would have been doing at least 60 km/h. That might not sound like much, but even 30 km/h can be too fast in some places (the posted inland track speed limit is 30 km/h by the way) to retain control over your vehicle.
There was one clown we encountered in a blue soft-roader, when we were on the relatively wide, straight (but short) stretch a few kilometres out of Bulwer. He was barrelling straight towards us at what must have been at least 70 km/h, and when he saw the diesel GQ heading his way, panic braked. He went hard on full left lock at the same time, but his vehicle just kept going straight ahead, despite having the front wheels pointing 45º the other way. Of course, he had his tyres at full road pressure, so there was no way they could effectively bite into the walls of the wheel ruts he was travelling in to get the necessary traction to pull him up and out of the wheel ruts, and hence to safety.
Driving in wheel ruts is often the best way to drive a track. Somebody else has already compacted the sand/mud/dirt (whichever is applicable) you need to drive through (or across), and so has done a lot of the hard work for you. On sand, though, there's one factor that you need to be wary of: you'll more often than not sink into the sand a bit and leave a fairly deep rut behind. Driving in the wheel ruts is just like driving a slot car, except that the slot car is a hell of a lot bigger and weighs at least two tonnes. You can take your hands completely off the wheel, and the vehicle will quite happily steer itself along the ruts. Because the ruts are deep, it needs a bit of traction to bite into, and climb over, the wall of the rut in order to get out of it. Lowering your tyre pressures gets you that traction.
We, of course, had complete steering control as we had aired down from Minute One on the island, and MP just simply turned the wheel a little and swerved out of his way. As we watched him sail past, missing our bull bar by literally half a metre, we could see huge piles of sand building up in front of his tyres. By the time he was about five metres behind us, he had ploughed his way to a stop. A second later, the reversing lights come on, he's frantically spinning the rear wheels, sand's flying everywhere, and you just know he's bogged it. Big time. Must have automatic hubs, or he's got it in 2WD mode. Either way, he ain't going nowhere without someone giving him some help.
Gee, you know, suddenly we just couldn't quite remember how to use a snatch strap, and although I've done the advanced recovery course, I'd forgotten everything I learned, for some reason. Must have been the heat. MP and I looked at each other for about a nanosecond and thought, naahhh, let's just keep on going, which we did. This was one idiot we weren't going to lift a finger to get mobile again.
We soon get to the tackle store at Bulwer and get the gas jet sorted out - we buy an exact replacement and that makes MP happy as he can now have a working gas light again. We contact the others over the radio and arrange to meet up with them on the northern side of the Tangalooma Wrecks. After pausing to get a cold drink from the general store, we make our way south along Western Beach. Taking the Cowan Cowan bypass, we find an old Mitsubishi L300 van parked square across the road.
The driver had the engine cover open and was fiddling with something. After our recent experience, we just went around him and kept on going. After a few minutes we spot the police GU coming the other way, and of course our two vehicles pull up alongside each other and stop, as this seems to be a newly-forming tradition. We tell them about the clown in the blue soft-roader. Can't give them a plate because it wasn't wearing any, but they'll check it out. After all, the island's not that big. We also warn them about the L300 in case they go around the corner and collect him.
We soon arrive at the Tangalooma Wrecks and search for the other three trucks. We find them directly opposite the wrecks, and see that a shade camp's been set up by stringing some tarps between my truck and the Bundera. j's reading a book in the shade, and the others are swimming in close to the beach.
We spend a wonderful time in the warm, clear water, and four of the group go snorkeling around the wrecks, exploring underneath the surface. There's a very strong rip evident in the otherwise calm ocean, right up close to where the wrecks are. MP swims out towards one of the wrecks and before too long, he's been pulled so far north by the rip that he would have ended up in New Guinea, and he's a strong swimmer. By 1330 hours we're all packed, the tarps come down, and we head off to Bulwer to grab lunch before setting off to see the lighthouse on Cape Moreton.
We're in a bit of a rush to get to the hot food store (actually a caravan that's been converted into a kitchen/shop) as something tells me their closing time is 1400 hours, so when we round a curve on the Cowan Cowan bypass track and come across a vehicle blocking the road, our immediate instinct upon looking at the clock is to simply drive around him. However, the track is narrow, he's parked dead centre in it, and there's no possible way you can drive around him.
The vehicle? The very same L300 van we had seen earlier this morning! He tells us that he's got a flat battery and needs a jump start. He had a set of jumper leads, and I got a little sus about the van, because it seemed to hop around from place to place and then get stuck until someone stopped to help him. I reckon his alternator was shot and wasn't charging the system, so he was running total loss electrics, which meant that when the time came to hit the starter motor, nobody was home.
More out of a sense of urgency that the shop was going to close (no way was I going to miss out on a Moreton Monster Burger!), we immediately sprang into action. I radioed for the Bundera and the diesel 60 to reverse back down the road. This gave us enough space to get the diesel GQ to turn around 180º and then back itself up to the van and attach a snatch strap. We needed to do this as the engine is inside the driver's cabin, and the van was broken down on a section that wasn't wide enough to fit two vehicles side by side, so we were going to move it back by a few car lengths or so to a wider section of the track, where there would be enough room to do this. Meanwhile, I had taken my GQ right down to the end, past the diesel 60, and parked it to block the track. I then set up the rotating emergency light. You don't want anyone to barrel into the recovery, which would have been dangerous.
We pull the van back into the clearing, and I get the jumper leads out of my recovery box, as the ones the guy had looked a bit on the flimsy side. I radio for the Bundera and the diesel 60 to drive through, seeing as how there's now room to do so. I get back to the van and we hook it up and get it started. The sand is so hot, it's painful to walk on, but it's too far to walk back to my truck so I end up taking very quick, short steps.
After we unhook the van, we're back on the road post haste. We make it to the hot food place by 1355 hours, but needn't have worried about them closing up as they told us that closing time was 1700 today. Never mind, we were starving anyway.
By 1430 hours we're done, and it's time to go. The Bundera heads back for camp, and the rest of us go to the garage to get some more ice to put into the coolers, before setting off for Cape Moreton. We travel east along Bulwer Road and take the turnoff for North Point which runs past large grassy plains, another example of just how diverse this stunning environment is. Before long, the beach is not that far away, and as we exit the bush the track forks out into two branches. The right fork, the road I usually take, leads directly to the beach, but there are five very large water holes along a hundred-metre stretch of it. The left fork meanders away into some low scrub land, but you know that it will eventually hit the beach also.
We could have taken the left fork. But hey, read the plate on the front of the truck. I radioed the other two vehicles to stay put whilst we drove on to check out the water hole. It didn't look that deep, I thought perhaps thigh-level (no, I didn't get out and walk it, and will explain why later), so in we go in low first, and because it didn't look that deep, I didn't bother with the radiator blind. I knew the fan clutch was off anyway, so even if it did hit the water, there wasn't going to be any fan or radiator core damage to worry about.
So far, so good. Nice bow wave. We go in deeper, but it's a constant slope downwards. For a while, that is. After we're about half-way across, the front just nose-dives, and it's like you're on a roller coaster and you've crested the top of the loop and started your downward run. The truck plummets down, the entire bonnet gets completely submerged, and the water hits the base of the windscreen. Which, in a vehicle like this with a 50mm lift, is some seriously deep water. t starts screaming (I have no idea why), and then just as I'm realising how stunned I am, not at the fact that the truck's turned into a submarine, but that the engine is still running without a single stutter (my door mirror was in the water by now and I was sure the ignition should have died), the nose rises up and we climb out of the hole and onto the bank. The engine's still running fine, as if we had merely driven down the M5. Not a single misfire. Water is pouring out of the underbody.
Wow, I thought. Good truck.
I said to t, just as the colour was beginning to return to her face, "Wow. Good truck."
There was a fair bit of commotion going on in the other trucks whilst all this was going on. I was to find out later that jwl's response while she was watching from the diesel GQ was "OH, SHIT!!" as she was sure we had lost the truck. Tn later told me, when we were back at camp that night, "Dean, I normally follow you anywhere, but after what I saw, I just said to myself, 'Naahhh, I'll wait.'" MP told me that when the truck was climbing out, the water level was over the top of the spare tyre, which is mounted on the rear door. That means it was more than half-way up the rear windows! Hell, I should have stopped and watched the fish swim past. Unfortunately, we don't have any photos of this crossing, because everybody was too shocked as they were watching it, and I certainly wasn't going to do it again just for a photo shoot!
I love Moreton Island.
I got on the radio and suggested that MP check out the left fork, while I fitted the radiator blind to my truck. There were another four holes to go through, and we didn't have any choice anyway as we were parked in between Hole 1 and Hole 2, so you're going to get wet again no matter which way you go. I checked the depth of the second hole (at t's suggestion - I don't think she wanted to go through all that again - dunno why) and while it was only knee-deep where I was planning to place my wheels, I noticed a drop-off just half a metre to the right, and it was easily thigh-high, so I thought OK let's do it by the numbers this time!
While I'm fitting the blind, I hear t yelling out something about MP, and that he's going to cross over. I wonder what she's going on about, as we had agreed the rest of the convoy was going to take the other track. She says no, he's decided he's going to cross. I quickly got back to the radio and advised against doing so. For one thing, MP's vehicle, even though it's a diesel GQ Patrol, is standard ride height. I knew there was no way he was going to make it, but even if he did, that wouldn't be fair to Tn, whose diesel 60 series is bog standard and has no snorkel.
The other two vehicles take the left fork, and we cross over the second crossing. It's nowhere near as deep as the first. Just as we climb out, t looks behind and exclaims, "You've left the barn doors open!"
True enough, I had had a Blonde Moment and had driven all the way through with the doors open. The distraction of MP wanting to cross had made me forget all about the open doors as I was securing the blind to the front chassis mounts. Ooopsie. Mind you, not a drop of water came in, and not a scrap of paper fell out. I explained this by stating, "Hey I'm so smooth that I can get away with doing something like this. Don't try this at home, kids!"
Somewhere in the distance, a Bullshit Alarm sounded.
Barb and Barry had been able to listen to everything that had been going on, because even though they were travelling on a different road back to camp, they could still hear us as they were within radio receiving range.
Now to explain a little about that first crossing. Driver training tells you to always check out the depth. Sound advice. So why didn't I this time? Simple, really. In all seriousness, if this were a river crossing or something else that can be potentially dangerous, there's no way I would have done what I did, and that goes double if we were alone, without any support vehicles. But I figure, hey, it's just a water hole, it's static, and the worst thing that can happen is that the engine dies, you have to climb out the window, signal the diesel GQ parked 50 metres behind you to come up, grab the winch cable from it, attach it to the rear bar and winch it out. Big deal. Go ooops and carry on. But like I said, I wouldn't be so cavalier if the situation was potentially dangerous. In the sand here you can afford to have a bit of fun. Sure got a reaction.
What would be funny, or not, depending on your point of view, is if someone comes up the track later, sees the hole, sees the tyre tracks going in, sees the tyre tracks going out, and thinks to himself, "Hey, that can't be that bad. Somebody's gone through recently, there are his tracks, so it shouldn't be a problem!"
Splash! glub! glub! glub!
Anyway, moving right along, we did, and soon hit the beach. As I'm taking the radiator blind off, the other two trucks soon appear, having connected to the beach a few hundred metres further west. As I'm folding the blind away, they're chasing each other on the beach, driving in a big figure eight. Great. The Wiggles have just joined the Toyota Land Cruiser Club.
We continue along the beach and stop at its eastern-most point. There's no access around the point to the east side, but that's not the reason we're here. We get out our towels and climb the steps in the side of the hill. Descending down the other side, we reach Honeymoon Bay and go for a bit of a swim. The water is cooler, but it's still gorgeous.
We return to our vehicles and leave at 1630 for the lighthouse. Fifteen minutes later, we arrive at the small car park, and walk up the (rather steep) path to the lighthouse and take in the views.
If you look down the cliff face from the lighthouse towards the water, you can often see dugongs, turtles, and (in winter) whales. We did spy a couple of large sea turtles swimming not too far away from shore, and we spent quite some time looking around the grounds.
We leave at 1730 hours and make our way down the access track that connects to the northern-most end of the eastern beach. The drive down with the late afternoon sun coming over the hills was spectacular. By 1800 hours, we're back at camp, and we meet up with Barry and Barb.
The topic of the water crossing comes up, and Barb mentions that she's surprised that the Datsun managed to make it. I just snap back, "It's NOT a fucking DATSUN!"
A little while later, MP and jwl leave to go up to Blue Lagoon for an end-of-day swim, and Barry starts to light the camp fire at 1830.
I go to the truck and get out the resistor box I had obtained from the wreckers on Thursday. I start work on replacing the faulty unit. By 1900 hours, everyone's back in camp and dinner preparations are well under way. I end up finishing work on the truck just as night falls, and it's dinner time. MP cooks the whiting in the embers of the fire, and it's absolutely delicious! Succulent is an understatement. It's a leisurely dinner, and it's also our last night on the island.
The time has passed all too quickly, and you really need to spend a couple of weeks up here. By 2000 hours, the fire is going nicely, and a gentle glow envelops the camp. At around 2130 though, I decide to "assist" the exothermic combustion process by adding a larger mass of carbon-based combustible fuel stock. That's the politically-correct explanation. In pyromaniac speak, I piled on all of the bloody wood I could find and got one mother of a fire going.
This generated quite a bit of heat (funny, that), and several times, the ring of chairs moved farther and farther back from the fire (funny, that). Now that we had a nice fire going, it was time for... marsh mellows! Problem was, the fire was so hot that you couldn't get near it, and even if you did, a marsh mellow stick would probably just explode into so much kindling. That's the problem with these pyromaniacs.
What to do, what to do. Ka-ching! Idea!
I go over to my tent and grab a spare tent pole. I then go over to my tackle box, and get out a spare 300mm wire trace. I also get out a brand new 3/0 hook, and clip it onto the trace. The other end of the trace is then attached to the end of the pole, and presto! We can go marsh mellow fishing!
I go back to the fireside, sit in my chair, bait a marsh mellow onto the hook, and lower away. The first attempt was unsuccessful, as I lowered the marsh mellow too far, and it started smoking in about two seconds, then kind of exploded into non-existence. Perhaps the fire was a tad hot. Subsequent attempts were successful, however, and we had soon settled into a pattern of my warming the marsh mellow for about 1.50413 microseconds at an elevation of 1258 metres, then swinging the pole over to whomever was going to (very carefully) pluck the smoldering mass off the hook without impaling themselves. This worked quite well, and we only had one casualty: one marsh mellow turned into a molten blob and fell off the hook, screaming to its death in the flames of the mighty inferno below. Oh well, you can't win them all.
By 2230 hours it was time for bed for everyone else in the camp; I stayed up and watched the fire. At around 0100, I fired up the truck and made a nature call at my favourite spot, and that's where I found out that wild boars were still present on the island. We hadn't seen any this trip, but I spotted one now. He came over the dune and then suddenly changed direction and quickly disappeared.
Not my fault if the idiot decided to approach from downwind and without a gas mask.
I go to the facilities at Blue Lagoon by around 0200 and have a shower, then head off back to camp. It's now 0230 hours and time to hit the sack. All you can hear is the roar of the waves, the humming of the cicadas, and the odd little fart emanating from MP's tent.
Monday, January 16:
I'm woken up at 0615 hours by the heat. The tent's boiling, and I get out, to be greeted by the usual glorious morning view over the ocean. I'd like to check out Mirrapool this morning, as something final to do before packing up and leaving for home. Mirrapool is a lagoon at the southern end of the island, and we've never been there on previous trips, so now was a good opportunity. MP needs to add some diesel to the tank of his GQ, and we tell him we'll get in contact via radio and set off.
We leave at 0700 and drive down the deserted beach, seeing no vehicles at all along the way. It's at times like this you appreciate just how large the island is. To drive from one end of the beach to the other is over 40 kilometres and can take you nearly an hour. We arrive at the southern end and have a look around. We discover a network of tracks hidden inside the canopy and go exploring, by which time MP and jwl have arrived, and we radio them instructions on how to find us. We get very close to the lagoon, and end up at a point where you could walk the last couple of hundred metres and you'd be there, but it's all walking through swamp, and we don't need to see it that badly.
We leave to go back at 0800, and MP stops every here and there to pick up coconuts that have been washed up along the beach. By the time we'd reached camp, the phrase "you've got a lovely bunch of coconuts" came up but frankly we didn't want to find out. We have breakfast at 0830, after which, MP decides he's going to go and plant the coconuts in strategic locations around the camp, in the hope we'll have front shade trees in a few years. Hey, who knows? The next Getaway! expedition up here might end up being called Camp Coconut II.
Alas, the time has come for us to start packing up camp. The plan is to pack up, and then head over to the Tangalooma Wrecks for some final swim time, before heading up to Comboyuro Point and loading the trucks onto the barge for the trip back to the mainland at 1530 hours.
The next couple of hours is spent packing gear, pulling down tents, and loading trucks. The sand is, as usual, blisteringly hot to walk upon, so sandals and thongs are mandatory. The Bundera and diesel 60 finish at around 1100, so they're off and away. We finish an hour later, and at exactly 1200 hours, we bid farewell to the campground. There's nothing left but tyre tracks, which is as it should be. The diesel GQ is ahead of us by around ten minutes, and although we had tied our garbage bags to the roof with an occy strap, MP had tied his four to the bull bar. This didn't seem to be a good idea, and we found out that it wasn't, because as we were going along the Bulwer Road, we were stopped by the sight of a rather large bag sitting dead in the middle of the track. We picked it up and carried it outside the vehicle, contacting MP via radio and letting him know we've got one of his. He said they had lost another, but they knew it and stopped to retrieve it. They didn't know where the first one had fallen off. We said don't worry, I can give you the GPS coordinates for it any time you liked.
I also told him that I've finally found something that smelled more putrid than his farts. Hey, if a friend can't tell you that, who can?
We arrive at the refuse station on the outskirts of Bulwer and dump the bags into the appropriate containers. We then drive through Bulwer and head down the western side towards Tangalooma, arriving at the wrecks just on 1400 hours. The water is refreshing and just the thing this time of the afternoon. It's now 1415 hours and time to go to the facilities near the wrecks and have a quick shower to freshen up. Twenty minutes later, we're all set and head for Comboyuro Point. Our convoy makes quick time along the chopped-up sand.
Taking the Cowan Cowan bypass road, more evidence of how clueless some people are. As we encounter oncoming traffic, I make a hand signal, holding up however many fingers to indicate how many vehicles are following me. If someone does this, you know they're being followed by n vehicles, so you wait until they've gone past, and then you proceed. I indicated to I don't know how many oncoming vehicles, and let's face it, you only have a metre of space separating you as you go past, so they can plainly see you, and all they did was smile or nod or wave or whatever, but it was plainly obvious they didn't have a clue, because they just kept on going! The track behind is narrow, with no runoff area. It's exactly one vehicle wide. Tn is towing a camper trailer behind his diesel 60 series. When you go past me and drive head-on towards his truck, who do you think is going to be doing the reversing? It won't be the truck with the camper trailer, let me tell you. I eventually reached the stage where I was actually telling them as they went past me, as well as hand signaling, but it didn't do any good. I wish I had some Jethro Tull in the CD box - I would have been playing Thick As A Brick.
We approach the landing point to see that the barge has unloaded all its vehicles, and time was now being spent handling supplies that had come from the mainland. This is how all the stores get their stocks. As we had some time to kill, we lined all the vehicles and people up by the water and took a group shot. The self-timer beeps on the D70 and a memory is captured. It's now a little after 1500 hours, and time to get ready to board. We line the convoy up near the barge and wait for the loading process to start. A couple of vehicles get on, and we wait. After all, there's no rush.
A brand-new KIA Sportage soft-roader drives along the beach, and stops a few metres away from the end of the drawbridge. It spins the wheels, and it's stuck. Solid. He puts it into reverse, and all that happens is that the rear wheels spin and shoot buckets of sand into the air. The front wheels do nothing at all. Great, I think to myself, the idiot doesn't even have it in 4WD. As he's busy spinning the wheels, I wander over and ask him if he'd like a snatch. I was keen on getting him moving simply because he had totally blocked off any access to the barge and was holding everybody up. He just said that his 4WD wouldn't engage. I looked at his front hubs: they were automatic. I'm not familiar with the KIA, but it looked like it probably had those automatic hubs that disengage when you put it into reverse (and what a stupid idea that is). Either that, or he didn't have a clue what 4WD was and how to activate it. It was a brand spanking new vehicle, so I doubt it had suffered a mechanical failure.
I just walked away, while everybody got out of the KIA and commenced to push on the front of the car in a totally futile gesture. Five people didn't budge it a millimetre. What did they expect? It had dug itself in. By the time I returned to the convoy, the forklift that had been unloading supplies had come over and just simply shoved the KIA out of the way. And this is a big forklift, as high as a prime mover. God knows how much damage it did to the front bumper, but who cares? The way was now clear, and we loaded the trucks onto the barge.
It's time to go home.
We finally depart at 1530 hours, and exactly two hours later, we're back on the mainland, with its sealed roads. We head to the car park at the end of the peninsula and gather together to say our goodbyes. It's been a fantastic time for all concerned, and it's a pity that it's over, but life always has a habit of getting in the way. I perform the Ceremonial Dumping Of The Sand From The Floor Mat Onto The Road ritual, but you know, walking on a kilo of sand in a bitumen car park just doesn't quite feel the same.
MP, jwl, Barry, and Barb, are all leaving to head north this afternoon - their journey will see them heading up to Fraser Island on Wednesday. j is getting on a plane tomorrow to fly back to Canberra, Tn is going to meander home via New England and arrive a few days later. We're leaving for Coffs Harbour, and we'll be there by around 2300 hours, including stops, and the plan is to leave for Sydney on Tuesday morning, going via Crowdy Head on the mid-north coast, to do a little more beach work (good grief! More sand!) before hitting the highway and diving back into the suburban sprawl.
We say our final goodbyes, and the convoy disperses. For some time, we maintain radio contact as we drift apart, but after a while, the signal becomes patchy, breaking up here and there. The signal strength weakens and soon, the radio is silent.
We roll on into the night.
PS: Oh, and Barb, darling... IT'S NOT A FUCKING DATSUN!!!