The biggest trip ever – Canberra to QLD: Part 2

Continued from the previous post here.

Day 11: Hervey Bay, QLD to Fraser Island

After months of preparation and 1500km, we were finally ready to travel to Fraser Island. We were taking the River Heads ferry for a couple of reasons. It was 10 minutes from my parents house, it drops you off in the relative civilisation of the Kingfisher Resort, and so I wouldn’t have to worry about getting bogged like everyone else at the southern ferries at Inskip Point. It did mean that we had to travel across the island before reaching the relative safety of the hard sand on 75 Mile Beach along the eastern side of the island, but that should be okay, shouldn’t it?

We got up early on the 30th December 2017 and packed everything away in the van. Making sure we had essentials like booze, toilet paper, inflatable flamingos and bug spray, we set off for the ferry. Not wanting to be late during this busy season, we arrived an hour before we were supposed to set off. That gave us plenty of time to chat with the guy organising cars for the ferry. His exact words?

“You’re gonna struggle in that thing mate. It’s bloody dry over there and that means soft sand all through the middle of the island. Drop the pressures as much as possible, put it in 2nd gear and just gun it as much as you can. You’ll get bogged, but let off the gas when you do. Don’t dig yourself in. Good luck”

And with that, our optimistic guide left us alone with all the landcruisers and utes. Thanks for the words of encouragement mate.

The ferry heading over

We reversed onto the ferry without any damage to us or the ferry. Just a reminder to wind up your windows when you’re on a ferry – the salt spray has a tendency to get everywhere. We saw dolphins as we left the mainland behind, which we took as a good omen.

Fraser (from ferry)
Van on a ferry, could already use a clean

We landed at the resort, found a carpark and finished airing down the tyres. We found the exit from the resort and immediately started driving on the very soft sand through the centre of the island.

Now, literally anyone with a 4WD that has driven on sand will immediately tell you the correct and incorrect tyre pressure to set when travelling on sand. Even if you don’t ask them. For us, with newish wide tyres (Toyo Open Country II AT’s in 265/70/16), we set them to 20psi and left them like that the entire trip. Usual highway pressure is 38psi. That bagged them out quite a bit and gave us some room to move down lower if things got very soft or the engine/transmission were working too hard.

Driving on sand is strange, but it’s fairly predicable. You know you’re not suddenly going to get traction from buried rocks like with mud driving, which means you can anticipate how much throttle to use in most sections. I started in 2nd gear 4H with centre diff locked, but ended up going down low range for most of the driving on the soft sand in the middle of the island, manually selecting second or third gear as necessary. The extra torque suited the soft sand a lot better, and it made reversing to find a bypass easier when necessary, particularly when that bypass hadn’t been used in a while.

One of the better Fraser inland roads, nice and firm sand here
The signage could be better on the inland tracks.

We only passed one bogged vehicle during this section, a Toyota FJ Cruiser that had been forced to move off the road and got stuck in the soft sand in the bypass lane. We almost got stuck in a similar awkward situation, but managed to get out with a lot of back and forth movement. The sand wasn’t the issue for us, it was the open rear diff that meant no traction to the rear with one wheel up. A rear locker would be awesome for the van, but probably an unnecessary expense given how little we go proper offroading.

Tracks through the middle of the island are single lane, but dual direction. You’ll find yourself rounding a corner to find a convoy of four cars, and either you or they need to find an area to pull to the side of the road to wait for the opposite cars to come through. We did this a lot on the track out from Kingfisher Bay towards Lake McKenzie, so much so that when we found a turn off to another lake that no one was driving down, we took it immediately. This road to Lake Waddi was much less used and so we turned down there. It also went north, towards our planned campsites. Lake Waddi has a lookout about a 1.5km walk from the carpark, and was gorgeous.

Walking to Lake Waddi
Walking to Lake Waddi
Lake Waddi

But there was no time for a swim in the lake as the tide was coming in, and I didn’t want to have to drive on the beach during high tide. We quickly drove towards the beach but was held up by a very slow ute. No overtaking on single lane roads, but we managed all right with air conditioning and tunes pumping. This is probably the most technical part of the entire 4wding trip, as there were several washouts on this road that needed to be traversed very carefully. Fortunately we could see what the guy in front was doing to decide if he’d taken the right line or not. I was very happy for the vans extra lift, it made a huge difference on this section.

Soon, we arrived onto 75 Mile Beach (which, surprisingly, is actually 75mi/120km long). This is a very long and wide beach, perfect for driving on during low tide. The speed limit is 80km, but it’s so smooth you can often find yourself creeping up higher than that as you pay attention to the streams and soft sand sections, rather than the speedo. I drove in 3rd gear 4H with centre diff locked (keeping overdrive off), which kept the revs up in case you hit a soft patch. The beach is not really suited for swimming though, something that surprised us. The number one hazard is cars barrelling past and not seeing swimmers coming out of the ocean, but the ocean itself is choppy, with a lot of rips and (we’re told) sharks. We had a few swims, but found not past our knees. Even then, we found we both got bitten by sea mites or something. Leave the swimming at Fraser to the creeks and rivers.

Made it to the beach!

Travelling north, we came across a massive congregation of vehicles all parked around Eli Creek. This is one of the major draws for the island. It’s a very unusual creek and worth a visit if you can. The creek flows a tremendous amount of freezing cold fresh water into the ocean (something like 4 million litres an hour), and there’s a walkway to allow you to float down a section of the creek all the way to the ocean if necessary. The sand around the creek is very soft, beware. We saw a couple of bogged vehicles being helped here, but had no issues ourselves.

Inflatable swans tied to the roofs of vehicles never failed to delight ๐Ÿ™‚

After a quick dip in the creek, and conscious of the tide moving in, we headed north and stopped briefly at the Maheno shipwreck. This pile of rusting metal has been there since 1935 and is a great attraction for a quick stop. I appreciate that QLD Parks and Wildlife haven’t tried to fence it off from people – there’s a couple of signs asking you not to climb on it, and for the most part people were obeying them.

Maheno wreck
Maheno wreck with random people in front not obeying the ‘stay 3m away’ signs

It was now getting well into the afternoon, so we kept heading north looking for a camping space in Zone 6. I’d chosen that zone in July because it was close to most of the major attractions, but far enough north that the Brisbane/Gold Coast crew wouldn’t typically head that far up (in theory). It worked pretty well, because we found an amazing camping spot right on the beach. We quickly set up and went for a walk, where we found the No Camping sign pointing to our van.

It was a pretty nice spot though

Chucking everything back into the van, we headed further north and found a very secluded place to camp at the Guruman campsite. We proceeded to re-setup the awning and table/chairs, and then sat down for a well deserved beer and/or wine. Then another. Then a few more while the sun set. Dinner was the brilliant pasta dish we usually do most camping trips, and then there wasn’t much to do except keep drinking and listen to the waves crashing down a few metres away before heading to bed.

This wasn’t a bad spot though
Afternoon at the camp
Tucked away there in the dunes
Actually, it was a pretty good spot
Wine on the beach
Night time on Fraser

That would have been the end of the day, but we were woken up by the wind later that night. The wind was picking up and thumping one of the poles of our awning onto the top of the car. There was little chance it would blow away, but I bravely jumped out and balanced on the wheel to tighten down the awning for the rest of the night. When that didn’t work I put something padded underneath it to stop the thumping. And then a very good nights sleep was had.

Day 12 (New Years Eve): Fraser Island, QLD to Sunshine Coast, QLD (260km)

We woke up very early, having found out that while parking the van looking towards the ocean affords lovely views as you lay in bed, the sun tends to rise from the east which means it shines straight into the van from a very early hour. We may have been slightly hungover as well.

Bloody sun waking us up

We (very quietly) packed up the van, said goodbye to our campsite and headed south down the beach towards Eli Creek. This was just after high tide, so it was a lot more difficult to drive on the beach. You’re stuck on the soft dry sand for a lot of it, and other cars coming the other way seem to want you to be completely in the ocean with the amount of beach they took up. Still, it wasn’t long until was saw the wreck again and got some good photos there with waves crashing over it, then got to Eli. The creek was deserted compared with the previous day, but it filled up pretty quick. We got to park the van right on the creek and watch everyone sail past on the freezing water. Rosie attempted to cook breakfast there on the beach, but that didn’t work out so we had sandwiches. Did I mention the hangovers?

At about 10am the tide was out enough that we started heading back down south to eventually turn west and go inland. We wanted to take a different road this time, so we travelled all the way to Eurong Resort. Eurong has a bakery, so coffee and a pie were on the menu. Eurong also has some of the worst public toilets we’ve experienced in Australia. Shout out to the guy working on the 79 series Landcruiser in the Eurong carpark. I’m not sure what happened to you mate, but you had your turbo out sitting on the ground with a lot of important looking hoses and parts.

The road inland from Eurong was more of the same soft sand driving, but importantly one large section of it is one-way only, so no pulling to the side. It’s 33km’s from Eurong to Kingfisher resorts, and it took us about 1.5hrs. There’s a lot more water in this area of the island and it looks a lot more like rainforest in some parts. There was no damage to the van during this drive, but we did have a casuality: our rubbish bag tied to the rear wheel must have been shaken loose on the drive. Hopefully someone found it and is making use of it right now.

Rainforest feel at this end of the island.

We got to Kingfisher Resort with about a hour to kill before the ferry turned up at 2pm. I had the air compressor in the back ready to go for this moment to pump up the tyres again, but it turned out the service station at the resort has a compressor so we just used that one. They also have a high-volume fresh water washing hose for your vehicle, and considering there was no wait and some random gave me free tokens, I started hosing the underside of the van to clean off as much salt and sand as possible. A quick and disappointing lunch at the resort’s restaurant and then we were back on the ferry heading back to the mainland. We spotted several rain showers over the ocean as we traveled on the ferry.

So that was the van’s adventure on Fraser Island. No issues whatsoever with driving on the sand, plenty of clearance for the sand tracks and the suspension and brakes kept up very well with the rough stuff as well as the fast driving on the beach. We didn’t see any other Delica’s the entire time we were on the island, but there was a large range of vehicles out there. We got a few funny looks from people and a couple of guys gave the thumbs up, but apart from that the van was just another 4WD on the island. We did use a lot of fuel, but that was expected and fuel on the island was actually cheaper than the mainland at Kingfisher.

Reversing off the ferry, we headed to my parents place for a well deserved shower and final goodbye. We hit the road around 3pm, heading back south to the Sunshine Coast to attend a NYE party we’d been invited to earlier in the week with some old friends. Originally we’d booked and paid for three nights camping on the island, including NYE, but we figured with the folks in Hervey Bay full time we’ll end up on Fraser again sometime. Back on the road, the rain started bucketing down. We got a phone call about 10km down the road that I’d left my wallet behind, so back to the parents and then back on the road to rapidly worsening conditions.

We drove slowly and carefully out of the Hervey Bay area and onto the highway, and just before Gympie the storm hit fully. We were in 4WD, creeping along at 30km/h with hazards on. Quite a few cars had pulled over already, but there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the road so we kept going, determined to make it to the party. The one good thing about the storm was that I’m confident there was enough water going above and below the car to wash out any left over salt or sand on the car. It was better than any car wash.

Driving in the rain

After a quick stop at McDonalds for dinner (only place open), we got to our friends suburb, restocked our alcohol supplies and then crept around looking for the house. The storm had come through the Sunshine Coast earlier in the day and all the traffic lights and most of the streetlights were out. But we made it with the help of the GPS, and set up for an epic party and brilliant new years eve.

Day 13: Sunshine Coast, QLD (0km)

Party still going, finishing up around 10pm on the 1st Jan 2018. That’s a 30hr party for those that were there from the beginning. They don’t muck around in QLD!

Day 14: Sunshine Coast, QLD to Grafton, NSW (421km)

On the 2nd of Jan, we said goodbye to our gorgeous, generous and lovely hosts and headed down south. There’s always a lot of traffic between Brisbane and Sunshine Coast, and this day was no exception. We soon made it past both Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and crossed over the border back into NSW.

We had no plans for this day – we weren’t sure how long we would be on the road and we had until the 5th to return, so we were expecting a nice leisurely drive. The weather was still overcast with occasional rain, and most of the camping sites in caravan parks were booked out, so we booked a crappy motel in Grafton after driving as far as we could that day. We needed a good meal and some sleep – we got the sleep part done at least.

Day 15: Grafton, NSW to Canberra, ACT (886km)

We set out early, still heading south along the Pacific Motorway. We found major traffic in a few places bringing everything to a halt. Rosie had her movies though, so it wasn’t so bad. Rain continued for a lot of the morning, so we pulled into Coffs Harbour for a very nice breakfast. Back on the road with all the traffic, we slowly headed south, stopping in Woodburn for some lunch. Continuing south and marveling how the largest arterial highway in Australia still has traffic lights and 50km/r signs through a significant portion of it, we stopped just before Newcastle. Google Maps was telling us that there was a 1.5hr delay due to an accident on the A1 ahead of us, and traffic was banked up and not moving for more than 15km. We couldn’t find a good way around, the Hunter wine region only seems to make wine we don’t enjoy, so we headed east instead looking for a place to pull over and park to wait out the traffic in comfort instead. We found a lovely place to park the van in Stockton, put up the insulation over the windows to block out the sun and had a very well deserved 2hr nap.

We both woke up refreshed at about 5.30pm and ready to tackle the next leg. The traffic jam had cleared, so we had a clear run through Newcastle to the Pacific Highway down to Sydney. This is a very hilly area for those that aren’t familiar with the road between Newcastle and Sydney, but the van powered through very well, passing a lot of other cars and trucks in the slow lane.

We arrived into Sydney at about dinner time and decided we wanted Italian. We tried one restaurant nearby, but it was closed for the holidays (no mention on the website). We then tried to get back to a pizza place we saw on the way, but Sydney traffic wouldn’t let us merge so we ended up on the M2 heading south again. A quick scout on Google, pulled off the M7 into Quakers Hill and found an pizza place. But it looked dodgy and didn’t have a bathroom, so we ended up at the Quakers Inn at around 8.30pm. Turns out we made the right choice as the food was actually pretty good. Over dinner we discussed what to do. We were in Sydney, which as everyone knows is right next to Canberra. We could stay the night in the Western Suburbs of Sydney (not recommended), or we could continue down the road and make it back home easy as you like.

A quick and final fill up (number 9 on the trip, thirsty girl) and we set off down the Hume highway to Canberra and home. Rosie, bless her, decided during dinner that she was going to entertain me on the way home to keep me awake and alert. She achieved this for the most part, finishing almost the entire bottle of red, but towards the end she may have fallen asleep for a hour or so. So around midnight we drove into Canberra, pulled into our apartments parking space and went upstairs to sleep in our own bed for the first time in two weeks. The cat was actually very happy to see us and incredibly affectionate the first few nights. If you’ve ever met our cat you’ll know she’s a very aloof little creature that doesn’t tolerate people very much, even us, but turns out 2 weeks away brings out her loving side. It’s pretty much gone now – she hates everything again.

For one brief moment, she loved us

And that was the end of our epic adventure (ad-VAN-ture). All up, looking at our mileage log, our first fillup in Goulburn was at 89,770km. Our last fillup was in Sydney with 92,907km. That’s 3,137, plus another 400km for the last and first legs that weren’t recorded. 3,500km and we barely made it out of NSW. The van had absolutely no issues besides the air conditioning on the first day, and averaged about 13L per 100km. Not great, but better than some other 4WDs out there. The entire trip was epic – I couldn’t think of a better vehicle or partner-in-crime (Rosie) to take on a trip like this. You’ll notice we slept in the van a total of three times, and one of those was a nap, (#vanlife) so a veryย big thank you to everyone we stayed with on the way up and back down. You’re more than welcome to stay with us if you decide Canberra is a fun destination to head to.

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