Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fraser Island

By Kyla Covey

Day One: Travel Day
We had a long day of traveling from Heron Island. A late ferry, a long bus ride, a rushed dinner, another ferry ride, and finally a short bus ride up to our wilderness lodges. Everyone was for the most part eager to get to bed though some decided to have some new found spurt of energy that I could not understand. In any case, I was tired enough I fell asleep easily for the long day of studying up ahead.

Day Two: Study Day!
We did after all come to this island to study and take an exam, so the entirety of today was enveloped with said studying. After a tasty brekkie at the Dingo Bar the group split ways and settled around different parts of the resort to study for the day. The weather was thankfully dismal and not appealing which helped me stay concentrated; if it had been a beautiful sunny day, consumption of information would have easily been compromised due to the sunshine. Jasper and I decided to work in the loft of the reception building. It’s a beautiful open building with big windows, high ceilings, and places to sit everywhere with a mellow elevator-trance soundtrack playing the whole time. The loft was pleasantly removed from the rest of the building, but not too quiet to help keep other senses besides thinking stimulated.
Midmorning I decided that I could not go on studying before acquiring a cup of coffee, or more accurately an iced latte. I went to the café across the street from the main building. It was a tedious process, as I’ve learned that my drink must be ordered by ingredient and process rather than just the name of my drink.  Regardless, in the ordeal I chatted with an older couple who lives right across in mainland QLD who had just come over to have lunch on the island. Apparently if you own property (like they did) you can take the ferry for free.
I returned with a hot mocha for Jasper and we continued studying with little distraction. Occasionally a gaggle of young boys found their way up to our suspended study room. But, boys being boys quickly found something much cooler to run to and yell about. Coby, India, David, and Rachit were studying near a table down below. Occasionally our rhythm of productivity was distracted during snack time when Jasper’s sour skittles and my mixed nuts were instead used as projectiles to throw at Coby. I did not participate in this endeavor, for the record.
We continued going over every lecture until lunch, which occurred at the Sand Bar at some point between studying and studying. We had burgers of different sorts. Studying continued for everyone until 5:30pm when Jasper and I decided a break was necessary until after dinner where we’d be rejuvenated for another couple of hours.
We caught the next available shuttle up to the Dingo Bar, which didn’t offer its services until 6:15pm. So we figured we’d be a little late for dinner, and showing up at 6:30, no one was eating and we feared we had missed dinner entirely. Jasper asked Yueping who deceptively explained to us that we had missed dinner. We weren’t fooled for too long, dinner was at 6:30pm, phew! The group and I happily ate whatever was put in front of us. Different curry dishes satiated my palate and I was feeling revitalized and ready for studying round three. Most people retreated back to the room to relax for the rest of the night or group study there, but Jasper and I wandered back to reception and worked down in the main lobby area between the two restaurants for the last few hours. Having internet served to be a little distracting as we frequently found ourselves wanting to be productive in other topics. Along with studying, I also managed to continue the complicated process of planning my thesis for next semester and preparing for my senior year. Jasper likewise organized his future, schemed over fantasy baseball, and looked at silly videos. Eventually, we finished studying by 10pm for our efforts were no longer productive and the responses towards study questions were cynical, sarcastic, goofy, or just plainly unrelated; “What are characteristics of echinoderms?” I ask, “What’s it to you?” Jasper retorts.
I slept very well that night falling asleep to a lullaby of zooxanthallae, marsupials, and geologic evolution.

Day Three: Test Day!
This morning I had a nice hearty breakfast (cereal and peanut butter toast). We were then accidentally abandoned by our shuttle service and got to start our test day off with romping down to the conference center. The conference room was nice but the best part was giving us bottled water, it felt like a really official sort of shindig.
We took the marine exam first, having our tutor John’s knowledge and genuine soul still fresh in our minds. Everyone finished that exam with a sigh of relief and positivity, feeling confident with the way the exam went. We had an hour break where I sought out another cup o’ latte. Three espresso shots this time. Most people retreated poolside to soak up some rays while the sun was out between spurts of absolute downpours.
I did some more email work and itinerary planning for the following days after my trip in the hour break we had between the two exams. I know its not really relevant to the Fraser island criteria of my blog post, but at the same time, this blog is from my perspective and the only thing on my mind at Fraser was everything I’d be doing after the program. So, I will tell you my plans in a syncopated and non-exhaustive way; in one of those all-in-one-breath descriptions: Brisbane to Melbourne, there for a few days; then Hobart for a few days, and then Adelaide for a few days. Then I fly to Manila and explore the Philippines with a different group of twenty-somethings for a week and a bit. Then I fly back to Australia, meet my Grandpa in Darwin and over the next two weeks we drive down the west coast to Perth. After that, I fly back up to Singapore, meet my family there where we travel about Singapore and Indonesia. We settle though in Bali where I conclude my epic travels in the southern/eastern hemispheres before returning to the beautiful city of San Francisco in early June.
Anyways, let’s leave my dreamland for the time being, it’s time for exam number two. The next exam went smoothly enough though most of those I talked to agreed that the first exam had a cleaner feeling from start to finish. Regardless, we were done with the semester at that point!! (Minus the fact that I still had to write a blog post, harrumph.)
We had a celebratory Mexican buffet lunch. Though the attempt was thoughtful, and Mexican is after all my feel-good soul food, the buffet was mediocre to acceptable at best. I bought myself a glass of champagne to celebrate; others split some pints of beers, all of which was followed by a warm afternoon of do-nothings.
The sun was thoughtful enough to come out for the rest of the day. I skyped my parents which was another wonderful touch to the pleasantness of the day, and I ultimately ended up in the pool playing catch with a stolen foam ball with Jasper, Justin Gallen, and David. The ball, never fear, was indeed returned to its rightful owner.
This morning’s misfortunate happenstance with the shuttle resulted with our group being offered a free drink down at The Jetty, and free Segway rides. I watched the Segway riders from The Jetty and appreciated the sunset while chatting with my dear friends from the trip with a lingering bittersweet taste to the approaching end to the program. As the sun concluded its glow on this side of the world, we went back up the Dingo Bar for some pasta and pizza. After dinner our group celebrated in our lodge with some poker, music, laughter, wrestling, and love.

Day four: Tour Day and Return to Brizzy
Today was our day of departure, but prior to leaving this lovely island we needed to actually see it first. The inside of our resort’s reception and conference room hardly counts as visiting the beautiful and unique island (the largest sand island in the world!). Our 4x4 tour picked us up after breakfast. The name of the tour, however, should be loosely interpreted for we were merely in a bus with large wheels. The vehicle, despite its size was impressive in the rough terrain of the sandy roads. When we were told that the roads were rough, I don’t think anyone quite understood what roughness really implied. If you’ve been on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, it is sort of like that but far more exciting.

We left the paved roads of the resort and had a wild ride from there on out. Our first stop was at an absolutely beautiful perched lake in the midst of the island. One of twelve in the world, this lake had purifying freshwater. I relaxed on the soft sand with some enormous gold ants while much of the group played in the water. Throwing one another, chasing each other, and treading water made for an entertaining sight form my perspective. After an hour or so, we hustled back onto our radical rides, a little fearful of what roads lay ahead.

Our driver told us the interesting story of the local aboriginal people, the Butchulla’s origin story of the island and the dreaming importance that goes along with it. Despite his inaccuracies about the geologic formation of Australia, its ice ages, and the continent’s arrival to its current latitude, he did at least tell the aboriginal story quite well, (though giving his misinformation on other matters, who knows what the true case of the story is). The dreaming goes that a female spirit arrived to mainland Australia across from Fraser Island long ago and was so infatuated with the perfection of the country’s oasis that she wished to forever stay. However, a greater spirit explained that she cannot live in the human world for she was a spirit and must return to the spirit world. Using her womanly charm however, she convinced this greater spirit that she must stay. He agreed, but told her that she may not stay in spirit form and instead had to exist as something that exists in the human world. He told her to lie down in the water facing towards mainland Australia and he would turn her into an island. The lakes being her eyes, and the rivers to give her a voice (though, the driver pointed out that she must have been a soft spoken spirit for the creeks and rivers lack rocks and are therefore silent), the spirit blissfully now lays forever admiring the warm waters and gives her life to Fraser Island even today.

His story occupied us until our next stop, “Central Station”. A clearing within an oasis of rainforest foliage where a small town used to exist during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century logging days. No buildings exist due to the value of the timber the houses had been made out and everyone dismantled their houses and took them with to resell them as floorboards in mainland Australia. Our driver directed us towards our rainforest walk that we’d be taking along a silent freshwater river. We were warned of leeches and mozzies, but thankfully didn’t come across any. The walk was pleasant and only took about a half hour. On the other side, the buses were there to swoop us up and take us on another wild adventure to our next destination—lunch.

We arrived at another resort that was prepared to serve hundreds of people a tasty buffet style lunch. Our two buses were the first of many to arrive. We all ate eagerly for it seems that such rough roads work up quite the appetite. From there, we headed out to the official highway of Fraser Island, a 70 kilometer stretch of beach that runs all the way from north to south, the smoothest road we had been on too. The packed sand allowed us to cruise at an easy 80km and hour. We drove out until we had a brief advertising campaign sponsored by Tiger, a local pilot offering us a flight to the next stop rather than another bus ride. Eventually an old couple agreed, probably due to guilt of no one else accepting the $70 offer. They left the bus and we continued on our way to the Maheno shipwreck. 

We learned about the inept Captain Fraser, who was not only not a captain, but also had an impressive four shipwrecks on his résumé.  A few crewmates and his wife were stranded on the island on the way back from a rum drop in Sydney when he naively decided to navigate these northern seas at night and crashed into a reef. He tried to convince his crewmates to row 100km or so towards mainland Australia with his wife and himself in tow. Not long into their venture back towards Queensland, mutiny rightfully happened and Fraser and his wife were forced back to the island, promised to be rescued later on. The poor souls were unfortunately not very observant and didn’t realize the creeks and lakes in Fraser Island were freshwater and instead attempted to drink the salt water thus dehydrating and making themselves sick. They were forced to trade items with aboriginal inhabitants on the island to avoid being enslaved or killed. Eventually though, they ran out of bargain items and were taken in as slaves to a local mob. Fraser died there due to age and salt-water sickness where his wife was then essentially enslaved for a few months before a rescue crew sought to find her. Once rescued she quickly learned of her adventures were profitable, and being easily malleable due to no one else being able to verify her stories, they quickly became overly extravagant for a better story.

After visiting the colorfully rusted shipwreck, we retraced our path along the highway back to Eli’s Creek. We had a pleasant half hour to float down the creek multiple times and drink the freshwater straight from the creek. The water was swift and carried me easily above the sandy bottom. Our group eventually reunited for a family photo in the bright sun and warm water of Fraser Island. From there, we had a long bumpy ride back to the resort. Thankful for the seatbelts, certain parts of the road occasionally caused such extreme bouncing that we all sprung from our seats and hopped into the air, in the sitting position, repetitively. Perhaps fun, but only if one does not need to go to the bathroom, that certainly makes a bus ride like that much longer.

We were taken back to the main part of the resort where we had a little less than an hour before needing to board the ferry. We finished our time at Fraser by The Jetty bar again before loading ourselves onto the ferry for a sunset trip across the sandy strait towards Gladstone, Queensland.


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