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Timing is everything …

We’ve had a very busy couple of weeks – one of which we spent on Fraser Island – and as we learnt almost every day “timing is everything …”

We stayed at “The Wallace” caravan park in Maryborough for four nights – it was a really nice facility with very friendly and helpful staff. On the recommendation of Sheree, the lady at reception, we visited the Lamington Hotel across the road for a delicious Waygu Beef “Lammy Burger” the night we arrived and we also had a nice meal at the RSL Club one night. As we were going to be in Maryborough until the weekend Sheree also recommended we visit the Maryborough City Heart Markets and take a ride on the “Mary Ann” – both of which only run on Thursdays. Our first experience of “timing is everything” on this part of our trip …

After purchasing a vehicle access pass for Fraser Island, visiting the City Markets and buying some gel-filled hot/cold pads we can use as defacto hot water bottles we took a ride on the “Mary Ann” steam engine. The “Mary Ann” is a replica of the first steam engine built in Queensland in 1873 and is interesting in that it has a vertical boiler and a single cylinder vertical engine.

As the Friday was a regional public holiday we decided to take a drive to nearby Hervey Bay as we hadn’t been there since 2000. It was actually great to be there on a public holiday as there wasn’t much traffic around and we could still see and do all the things we wanted to do. We stopped for coffee at a really nice cafe on The Esplanade and on the spur of the moment I decided to order a “Dirty Chai” (it’s Chai with a shot of espresso) – even though I haven’t had one for quite some time it was the best “Dirty Chai” I’ve had in a long time!

After driving around for a bit we stopped in at the visitor information centre and saw a most magnificent sculpture of a humpback whale named “Nala” who has been visiting Hervey Bay each year since 1992. The sculpture, which is almost 12 metres high, was made by local artists who spent more than 400 hours carving almost 10 tonnes of local red ironbark timber to create Nala’s main body. In addition, more than 12 tonnes of marine grade stainless steel was used to form the frame and underbelly.

Having decided to get the ferry to Fraser Island from Inskip Point we left Maryborough on Saturday morning bound for Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point. As we wanted to visit a camping store in Gympie to purchase some pop-up silicon tea mugs we made sure we left Maryborough in plenty of time so that we could be there before they closed at 1230. Unfortunately a tree being felled on a farm about 10 kilometres from Gympie brought powerlines down across the Bruce Highway just before 1030 – and several motorists were extremely lucky not to be killed or seriously injured when the falling powerlines struck their vehicles although one driver reported that the roof rack on their car was ripped off – and we were stuck in a long queue of traffic with no opportunity to turn around and take a detour for more than 2 hours. That said, a driver who was stopped just behind us in the queue gave Ron some invaluable tips for driving along the beach and in the sand on Fraser Island (our previous sand driving experience was limited to one day on Stockton Beach near Newcastle in late February). Our second experience of “timing is everything” …

As the camping store we wanted to visit was closed by the time we arrived in Gympie we continued on to Rainbow Beach where we purchased a ticket for the ferry and refuelled before heading to the “SS Dorrigo” campsite at Inskip Point. Getting into the campsite gave us our first taste of negotiating soft sand with a camper trailer in tow – fortunately we had lowered the tyre pressure on all wheels to 20PSI as soon as we entered the campsite and despite a few challenging moments we managed to get to a camping site without getting bogged. Unfortunately we didn’t get much sleep that night as a strong wind blew all night long – I really hoped this wasn’t a sample of what to expect the following week while camping on Fraser Island …

As everyone who drives to and on Fraser Island knows the timings of the high and low tides determine when you can drive along the beaches, when you might have to use inland bypasses and, in some cases, when you can cross some of the many freshwater creeks that flow into the sea. Having checked the tide charts we worked out that we needed to get the ferry from Inskip Point at about 1100 so that we could drive along the beach around Hook Point *and* get across Eli Creek while the tide was still low on our way to the campground at Dundubara.

When we arrived at the Inskip Point beach entry, however, there was a Holden Jackaroo well and truly bogged in the soft sand in the left “lane” of the beach track (apparently the Jackaroo owner had driven out into the soft sand in 2WD and then tried unsuccessfully to engage 4WD after he got bogged). We lowered the tyre pressure to 18PSI and decided to wait until the left “lane” was clear before proceeding as I needed a clear run to the ferry loading point so as not to get bogged in the very soft sand – especially with the camper trailer in tow.

Another 4WD driver, I’ll call him “The Clueless Dude”, decided to try and extricate the Jackaroo – whose owner was a very unhappy chappy by now – and apart from almost having a head-on accident when he drove rather quickly onto the beach in the right “lane” of the beach track he also became bogged in the process. We lent “The Clueless Dude” our four brand new MaxTrax not knowing that he had no idea how to use them or really how to recover a bogged vehicle. The end result was that both his vehicle and the Jackaroo had to be rescued by yet another person (who fortunately *did* know what they were doing and convinced “The Clueless Dude” that attempting a recovery of his vehicle using the poorly fitted bullbar of his 4WD was *not* a good idea) and we ended up with two badly damaged MaxTrax (caused by “The Clueless Dude” spinning his tyres on the MaxTrax while simultaneously trying to do a snatch recovery on the Jackaroo). Not happy …

Anyway, despite all this I managed to get our FJ Cruiser and the Ultimate Camper through the very soft sand at both Inskip Point (I ended up using the right “lane” of the beach track to the ferry after more cars became bogged in the left “lane”) and Hook Point (the landing point on Fraser Island) without getting bogged and then all the way to the campground at Dundubara (about 90 minutes drive from Hook Point) without incident. Oh, and on the ferry crossing we met another Ultimate camper owner although he didn’t have his camper with him on this trip. Timing is everything …

To say we had a great time on Fraser Island is an understatement – it is a truly magnificent place and we were fortunate to have great daytime weather the whole time we were there although Mother Nature was a bit of a noisy hostess on a couple of nights – there was a large, noisy swell just off the coast one night and the following night the noise of strong winds blowing overhead made it difficult to get a good night’s rest. We also encountered very little traffic in either direction on any of our trips (which was a bonus as most of the roads we travelled are only a single lane width) and what we’d learnt about driving on sand on Stockton Beach was helpful. This was definitely a great time of year to be there both from the point of view of the weather and the lack of crowds. Timing is everything …

We travelled many of the beach and inland tracks – some of which had very soft sand – and in the process visited great places like the wreck of the “HMNZ Maheno”, Knifeblade Sandblow, Lake Allom, Boomerang Lakes, Indian Head, Champagne Pools (which was packed with tourists on our first visit and completely empty on our return visit later that same day), Orchid Beach, Sandy Cape, Central Station, Lake McKenzie, Valley of the Giants, Eli Creek, Red Canyon, The Pinnacles and Kirra Sandblow. We also saw dingoes walking, feeding and lounging on the beaches, a wonderful variety of birdlife and magnificent sea eagles fishing in the waves along the beach.

On our drive to Sandy Cape I did manage to get stuck in the very soft sand at the southern entry to the South Ngkala Rocks Bypass when I had to stop to give way to an oncoming vehicle – fortunately the driver of that vehicle was more than happy to drag me back out of the sand after which I had no trouble getting through to the other side. On our return trip later that day I had to stop again in this very challenging bypass – this time because an oncoming driver decided to stop on a crest of the single lane track to take a photo. Fortunately once the other vehicle had passed me I was able to get going again without any trouble although I had been concerned I would get stuck in the sand again.

One of the highlights of the trip was unexpectedly meeting up with the occupants of five other FJ Cruisers who were travelling together and had arrived on Fraser Island a few days before us. They were beach camping around Fraser Island but visited the campsite where we were staying one night and cooked up the most amazing meal using the free gas BBQs and also took advantage of the great hot showers in a new amenities block (there were also a few return visits for hot showers over the following days!). On their last night on Fraser Island we joined them for a meal at the bistro at Happy Valley – four of the five FJ Cruisers were from Melbourne (the other was from Sydney) and the drivers were planning to make the return journey of almost 2,000kms from Fraser Island over just two days …

On the day we were leaving Fraser Island there were two low tides – the first just after 0700 and the second just after 1800. As we wanted to return to Maryborough that day we decided to get the ferry on the morning low tide and to also try and reach Hook Point by 0800. As the trip from Dundubara to Hook Point was likely to take 75-90 minutes and sunrise was just before 0630 we decided to leave at first light. We packed as much as we could the previous night, got up at 0530 and were on the road just after 0600. We made good time along the beach and arrived at Hook Point just before 0730 – we even had time to stop along the way and witness a beautiful sunrise. Timing is everything …

Although I was the first vehicle (and the only one towing a trailer/caravan) onto the ferry the operator let another vehicle disembark first when we reached Inskip Point. I tried following this other vehicle, a diesel 4WD, along the left “lane” of the beach track but the driver kept slowing down unexpectedly (and for no apparent reason) and as the sand was very soft I knew the FJ Cruiser and Ultimate Camper would get bogged if I had to stop. In the end I gave up trying to follow this driver and powered past him using the right “lane” – I’m sure he wasn’t too impressed but I also don’t think he was aware of how his poor driving was impacting the drivers behind him.

After a quick stop in Rainbow Beach to reinflate the tyres, wash the bulk of the sand off the car and camper and for a yummy breakfast we headed for Maryborough via Gympie. Prior to leaving Fraser Island I had phoned the camping store in Gympie to confirm they had stock of the mugs I wanted and during the conversation I explained that we had tried to visit the store the previous weekend but had been unable to do so because of the downed powerlines. At this point the woman to whom I was speaking said she was aware of the incident and would give us a better price on the mugs – little did we expect when we arrived to buy the mugs that we would receive a discount of 25% – what a wonderful surprise!

We returned to “The Wallace” caravan park in Maryborough at about lunchtime on Saturday and spent the first hour or so catching up on our washing after which we decided to visit a local IGA store to buy some groceries. As we were leaving the store Ron noticed a man standing nearby who he thought he recognised as someone from Canberra – he was sure it was the father of a girl our daughter had been to school with. However I didn’t recognise him so we continued towards the car park and that’s when I saw it: an ACT registered vehicle with an extremely rare two digit numberplate. I then knew who the man was: he was the father of a girl our son started kindergarten with in Canberra 30 years ago and he and his wife used to live in the next suburb. We returned to chat with him and his very surprised wife joined us a short time later when she came out of a nearby chemist – it turns out they are on a caravan trip around Australia and left Canberra a week after we did. Timing is everything …

On Sunday I spent the morning thoroughly cleaning and washing the fibreglass inside the camper – it’s amazing how sand finds it’s way into every nook and cranny – while Ron washed the external awnings to try and remove various plant, bug and animal stains (although the bird footprints we think we acquired in Bunya Mountains seems to have become a permanent tattoo!). After taking some time out to see the movie “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” I then set about thoroughly washing all the Fraser Island sand off the FJ Cruiser prior to taking it through a carwash. The caravan park doesn’t actually have a carwash area but the manager was happy for me to wash it provided I didn’t make any boggy puddles.

I found a gravelled parking bay with an adjacent tap and decided it was the perfect spot as it would drain well and all the sand that washed off the car would disappear into the gravel. Not long after I had started washing the car one of the caravan park residents, Geoff, came over for a chat and to offer me the use of an underbody washing wand he’d picked up in his travels. Although I had a hose with a high pressure nozzle the underbody washing wand (which clicks onto a standard hose fitting) made the job of cleaning off all the sand so much easier and it was particularly useful for getting the sand out of the chassis rails – definitely something to add to the shopping list. Once again, timing is everything …

 

The car and the camper …

We had no real issues with the car or the camper during our stay on Fraser Island although only getting dappled light day after day in the campground (and no powered campsites) meant we couldn’t recharge the camper batteries using the solar panels. In the end we had to run the car for a few hours (only at idle speed) to recharge the batteries – fortunately an idling petrol engine is quiet compared to an idling diesel engine so it was barely noticeable and didn’t disturb nearby campers.

One of the best things we’ve bought for use when camping is C-Gear multi-mats – sand and dirt fall through the dual-layered mat to the ground beneath but cannot come back up through the mat and having these down significantly reduced the amount of sand we tracked into the camper from our very sandy campsite on Fraser Island.

Prior to leaving Fraser Island we talked about the need to thoroughly wash the car and camper when we returned to the mainland to remove as much sand and salt residue as possible. We knew there was a carwash at Rainbow Beach that offered a $15 underbody wash but some of the reviews we’ve read about this type of wash, and people we’ve spoken to, have indicated that it is not nearly as thorough as is necessary. I have to say that having spent almost an hour washing sand off and out of the FJ Cruiser with Geoff’s magic underbody washing wand, and having seen the underbody wash at the carwash in Rainbow Beach being used, I have to agree. With the use of the underbody washing wand I was able to flush sand out of the side chassis rails by putting the wand head into the various holes along the sides and bottom of the rails. I also used it to wash sand out of the radiator (I was surprised by just how much sand was caught in the radiator core fins) and to also wash out the channels on the underside of the bonnet. I probably haven’t got all the sand out but hopefully there isn’t enough left to cause any future problems. When I took the car to a nearby carwash for a final wash and rinse I also took the opportunity to vacuum out the car and I was surprised to find quite a bit of sand under the internal door trim panels and in the floor channels they covered – it’s amazing just how far into a vehicle sand can get!

Finally, prior to leaving Maryborough on Monday we got a wheel alignment done on the car – the steering wheel was slightly off centre and we figured it was a good idea given it was more than 6,000kms since it was last done and there’s been a lot of 4WDing done during that time.

 

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