As is so often the case the ocean presents wonderful things for us to see. This is the shell of a type of “hairy” sea urchin, sometimes called a sea mouse, that lives concealed in sand. They are extremely fragile, yet the ocean has treated this one kindly so that we may wonder at its beauty.
With three inquisitive young children there’s nothing better to keep them occupied that a few hours beachcombing on a remote beach.
The excitement of finding some fascinating creatures in rock pools, animal tracks on the sand, sea-bird eggs concealed immaculately by their coloured camouflage alone, would find us relentlessly exploring one beach after another. Sometimes we would find a sad carcass abandoned by the ocean, seals, crocodiles, turtles, sea-dragons, even a dolphin, but more often a treasure would left for us to marvel at, the chambered nautilus shells, colourful starfish, shark’s eggs and shipwrecks.
Unknown objects often had to be researched and extended the education process.
Collections were often converted into natural works of art too, a sea-shell Christmas tree, kids art projects for school, or just random creations.
Fifty Toes Walkabout kids love their nature but in some of the most remote places we visited they were horrified to find, what should have been pristine beaches, covered in rubbish. The rubbish primarily consisted of man-made plastics, ranging from thongs, toothbrushes, bottles and their caps, to cigarette lighters and the much more sinister ghost fishing nets. These nets float freely through the oceans, either dumped or lost by trawlers, often stretching for hundreds of metres, even kilometres sometimes. They catch anything above a certain size that comes in their path. When they finally wash ashore they cover the rocks like vast blankets.
Much of the debris we found originated from Asia or from passing ships, brought to our shores by prevailing winds.
Amongst the piles of rubbish it was not unusual to find dead animals, particularly birds and turtles that had either consumed too much plastic (as it is often mistaken for food in the water), or become entangled in ghost nets. Most upsetting was the discovery of a recently dead dolphin on one beach.
We like to leave places in a better state than when we arrived and the kids decided that they wanted to clean up the beaches. In Cape York obliging Parks and Wildlife rangers provided us with bags and within 30 minutes we had filled more than six sacks (as much as we could carry), with much more remaining. The same beach had had many tonnes of rubbish removed by a team only a couple of months prior.
In Cape Arnhem there was so much we decided to target specific items on 3 beaches. The first day yielded over 100 thongs, then the next day 331 cigarette lighters, again just the tip of the iceberg.
The kids had so many questions about the origins of the rubbish that it stimulated some interesting discussion, and hopefully it has made them more aware of the consequences of using “throwaway” plastics everyday. You can teach that in a classroom but the impact of hand-on experience is far greater.
The modern day settlement of Eucla lies half way across the Nullarbor Desert, 11km from the border of WA and SA. a few kilometers away, below the escarpment, advancing sand dunes have marched on the old telegraph station. Not far beyond, the remnants of a sturdy wooden jetty on the desolate beach, final fragments of a port established in the 1870’s, cling to their structure. The telegraph line followed shortly after in the same decade and the settlement became an important repeater station on the line between Albany and Adelaide.
Ironically, it was a plague of introduced rabbits in the 1890’s that ate all vegetation that led to destabilisation of the dunes that went on to engulf the settlement, that was relocated to the nearby escarpment.
Treachery Camp is a privately owned property a kilometre down an unsealed road from Seal Rocks. I think I’ve been going there for over 20 years now so the chance to have a quick weekend getaway was jumped at – a Dads and kids weekend.
Approximately 4 hours north of Sydney, Seal Rocks is a little village with caravan park, and general store, just north of the Myall Lakes National Park. Twenty years ago it was quite an adventure to get to but the improvements to the Pacific Highway in recent years, plus completion of a sealed road to Seal Rocks in the last two years have opened the area up to everyone.
Because of this the camp was busy, much busier than I was used to. We found a large spot near the billabong, in a forest of paperbark trees, which in prior years I would have avoided for an abundance of mosquitos. The billabong itself was barely a puddle left, and full of tiny fish, but the marks on the trunks of surrounding trees belied days when it was over 1m deep.
Camp went up, the boys went off exploring, the campfire started and Simo set a high standard with his curry for the first meal. The boys found sticks and the obligatory marshmallows over the campfire saw the night draw to a close.
First thing Nick braved the surf at Treachery beach but after breakfast we headed for the more protected waters at Seal Rocks where the boys swam, paddled and tired themselves out. A friendly Kookaburra visited my rear tyre and coughed up it’s equivalent of an owl pellet – full of beetle shells, leaving it on the tyre.
The big sand dune between camp and the beach is a huge draw card for the kids, as they run up and down in the heat of the sun. Some of them even got an introduction to sandboarding by a man who makes them, and soon enough the youngsters were speeding down the dunes extolling the virtues of the board.
The short walk to Treachery Head offers magnificent views back to Seal Rocks lighthouse, and Lighthouse beach to the north, with Treachery beach to the south. In calmer conditions in the past I have watched whales and dolphins playing in the waters just off the headland here.
I had heard dingos inhabited the area but had never seen one at Treachery before. Maybe it was because we were close to a place called Dingo Flats but we had a few visits by very wary dingos cruising past looking for an easy snack – none around six very active hungry boys! Then there was the obligatory snake sighting, a red-belly black snake cruised through the camp followed by the curious boys, careful to keep just enough distance to be safe.
And when they weren’t exploring the boys resorted to the irritating but totally harmless current craze of bottle flipping
I was surprised how crowded it was but even then our stay was pretty peaceful in the magical forest and all the mosquitos, it turned out, had moved to live in the toilet block! Still beautiful but changing fast.
As we drove back to the Pacific Highway we diverted the 5km to see the 400 year old Grandis tree, once claimed to be the tallest tree in NSW, but since exceeded by some remote tree back in the Blue Mountains.
As the weather deteriorates here in Sydney, with the arrival of winter imminent, our thoughts returned to those warmer places we visited last year as the temperatures started dropping. One of our favourites was a small eco-resort called Goombaragin, where we camped for a few days with two other families we had met on the road. Our hosts Cathy and John were very welcoming, showing us some of the local ways and putting on a communal campfire in the evenings for everyone. The area is magnificent to explore, and it is even safe to swim here from the beach. Heed the crocodile signs in this area though, particularly around the rivers and mangroves. It’s a rugged road from Broome but still relatively accessible if you drive carefully.
Look out for the Ardi festival around June, when many local artists from across the peninsula display their talents.
The following day saw us heading north to Sandy Cape, up past Indian Head, Waddy Point, through the cute settlement of Orchid Beach, before heading up the beach again. With the tide being quite high on the way up we had to briefly leave the beach at Ngkala Rocks taking a bypass track that squeezed us through the rocks. We spotted two more dingos on this trip and at Sandy Cape the road to the lighthouse was impassable due to the tide, so we took to foot to walk over the dunes to the Carree campsite. The tall sand dunes plummet to the seashore and the kids ran up and down in the hot sunshine whilst we watched. The lighthouse poked out from the trees several kilometers to the west of us but too far to walk in the heat.
On the return trip we visited the Champagne Pools, somewhat disappointing due to the fact that each pool had fifty backpackers wallowing in it, some of them stripping off and crushing snails to feed the fish, despite the “no collecting” signs.
When challenged one said he was with an Aboriginal who said it was ok to do so. Whilst indigenous people do have privileges to collect within National Parks, tourists don’t and when others started copying the marine life will soon be stripped and spoilt for the future. I found it surprising that the indigenous guide had allowed this, as most aboriginal people we have met consider themselves to be guardians of the land they occupy. In this case perhaps the lure of the dollar was more important than preservation of the environment.
We walked to the tips of Waddy Point and Indian head to look for sharks, turtles and more but returned disappointed.
On the return trip we headed east at Orchid Beach to visit Wathumba, a large estuarine area, with a wooded coastline and mangroves growing in the sand. This beautiful spot is notorious for sandflies but we didn’t witness many at all.
Another day, another excursion and we headed south to take in the Central Lakes drive. Out timing of the tide wasn’t good and when we arrived at Eli creek some thirty cars on both sides of the creek were awaiting the tide to abate. Some of the Tag-Along tours had fixed itineraries though and were not prepared to wait. The 4WD vehicles driven primarily by inexperienced backpackers nervously entered the water, sometimes to their leaders horror even taking a precarious passage over rocks. Whilst the water wasn’t too deep I was prepared to wait a bit longer rather than taking a brine rinse under the bonnet.
One vehicle stalled on the exit and couldn’t be restarted by the driver. Without a snorkel it looked like this could be the end of their day but the leader emerged from the back of his vehicle with a can of CYC spray and with a prolonged spray under the bonnet life was restored in the engine and off they drove.
As we crossed shortly after four guys were digging sand out from the wheels of a very bogged car near the front of the queue.
Once across the creek and past Yidney and Poyungan rocks along the beach the track heads inland and a short drive through the forest brings you to the Lake Wabby Lookout. The lake is easily accessible from here and despite the threats of a dark storm approaching we couldn’t resist. The water was surprising warm for the deepest lake on the island and with steep dunes plunging into the deep water it was a favourite with the kids.
Beyond that is another major attraction, Lake Mackenzie, whose brilliant white sandy shores and pale blue acidic water grace all the tourist brochures. To avoid crowds, a short walk along the beach, and over a few steps, brings you to a second beach. Still no sun but plenty of crystal clear warm water to swim in – irresistible. The drive continued past Lakes Birrabeen, Benaroon and Boomanjin, all picturesque and much less frequented by the crowds of tourists but time was flying and we had to drive back up the beach.
As the rusting wreckage of the Maheno emerged from the sea spray in the distance we knew were almost back at camp again where the kids needed to be woken up, having fallen asleep in the car, after another exhausting day on Fraser Island
After over a week’s unscheduled stay in Noosa it was time to revisit our last major 4WD challenge of our trip, Fraser Island.
Having visited twice previously the plan this time was to explore beyond the typical tourist attractions. Previous trips had been restricted to 3 days and had seen us staying on the south east side of the island exploring only half of one side of the island.
The ferry terminal at Inskip Point is a beach of soft sand 100m from the unsealed road. As we drove onto the beach the ferry had just departed, but as I accelerated across the beach the skipper must have seen us, reversed and returned to pick us up. The ferry was empty so we got our own personal ferry service which made it seem worthwhile considering the rather pricey cost for a 5 minute crossing. The deckhand joked that he would save us a place on our return trip in a week’s time.
We had timed the tides well and drove from Hook Point along the beach and up the eastern beach, some 65km to Yurru campsite, just north of Cathedral Beach camp. The beach is under normal road regulations with a speed limit of 80km but following recent rain the unwary can be caught out at this speed with washouts.
Despite being the largest sand island in the world, over 100km long and 20km wide, there is no shortage of static and flowing freshwater and the erosion of beach sand caused by creeks can cripple the suspension of even the most sturdy cars if hit too fast.
Driving up the beach we were treated to the sight of two inquisitive dingos, then as we approached the Eurong settlement six dingos including young pups were running around the vehicles of some fishermen. Nothing beats the traditional dingo welcome to Fraser island. A ban on dogs on the island has retained the pure-bred status for these dingos as inter-breeding often occurs back on the mainland.
Shortly before Yurru camp the majestic wreck of the Maheno emerged through the sea spray in the distance.
The Maheno sank in 1935, washed ashore in a cyclone, but sufficient remains make it an interesting stopping point for tourists. Original wooden decking still lines some of the wreck, even after exposure to daily tides and the occasional cyclone storms over the last eighty years.
On our first day a transmission warning light came on and when actions recommended by the car manual failed to rectify it we were in a bit of a quandary. It still drove so we chose to ignore it until we got off the island again!
With a very changeable and wet long range weather forecast we chose to explore as much as we could in the first two reasonable days.
The northern forests scenic drive took us initially to a lookout over Knifeblade sandblow where the tops of overrun treetops poked starkly out of the sand. Lake Allom, further inland offered a warm refreshing swim amongst the freshwater turtles. We then took a couple of tracks to explore the western coast, Awinya and Woralie creeks. With a prevailing easterly wind, it was nice to experience calm beaches with no surf on the western side of the island. The camp at Woralie was very attractive though the creek crossing was very deep and not one that we were prepared to attempt. We were half way across when I decided it needed to be waded and when the water reached my chest I was glad I hadn’t proceeded.
It was fun to watch a car coming the other way, without a snorkel, as the bow wave poured over the bonnet and up their windscreen.
We explored another track that headed towards Moon Point but not being the scheduled track resulted in many scratches and a nasty ding in the side of the car. To add insult to injury the last 7km to Moon Point were closed.
The track leads through magnificent forest, where mature trees dwarf the cars as they pass through. Giant Kauri trees give way to lower scrub and the outlook continually changes. The narrow roads are restricted to 30km and constantly keep the driver busy negotiating the way through natural obstacles and fallen trees can easily halt progress.
We had organised a catch up with my cousin and his partner at 1770, one of his favourite fishing and camping spots. As a special bonus my aunt was driving up with them too. Leaving the gem fields on the Capricorn Highway we very quickly arrived at the town of Comet, famous for the Leichhardt Dig Tree. In 1844 the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt marked a tree to indicate where his team had buried food and journals. Today a replica of the tree marks the point and made for a timely break.
We also passed a collection of holding rusting car frames by the side of the road.
Along the Capricorn Highway there is a novel technique to reduce driver fatigue.
Highway Trivia questions are posed on signs to ponder with answers displayed several kilometres down the road.
Whilst a great idea, the execution is poor as the questions don’t change, being fixed signs, and are destined to work only once.
The village of 1770 was built where James Cook landed for the second time on the HM Bark Endeavour in May (the first being Cooktown), although it was only renamed from Round Hill in 1970 to commemorate the bicentennial of the event. Situated on a peninsula facing the Eurimbula National Park and Bustard Bay, to the west, it was nice to be protected from the prevailing easterly winds we had been exposed to at coastal locations.
For us it was family time, catching up with my aunt, cousin and his better half. Hannah was keen to learn how to knit and my aunt patiently taught, then fixed dropped stitches time and time again as a woollen scarf grew by the day until complete. Xavier did what he loved, fossicking for treasures along the beach and Oscar and I joined my cousin fishing.
My aunt Myra had devoted so much effort preparing food for the weekend that she forgot to bring her bag packed with her clothes so the girls went off shopping. Unfortunately there are not many shops but suitable beach attire was found, and duly christened, with much mirth, as the “Sausage Dress” due to it being located on a rack next to the meat in the general store.
Myra treated us all to a trip on the famous pink LARC. These aluminium-hulled amphibious vehicles are LARC-V (Lighter, Amphibious Resupply, Cargo – 5 tons in weight) and were built in the 1950s in the USA. Our tour commenced with a 50m drive down the road then plunged into the river and across onto the beach on the Eurimbula NP side, where we were treated to a knowledgeable talk on the birdlife. The passion and local knowledge of our driver was welcome on a wet and overcast day, even the kids got to drive the LARC along the beach, sometimes even into the water.
Back at camp we relaxed and talked, caught up on news, and even took my cousin Geocaching. The weekend flew by and before we knew it we were packing up once again saying goodbyes until we were due to meet up again further south.
In a cruel and tragic twist, after such a beautiful weekend, my Aunt died on the return trip and our plans rapidly changed. Whilst feeling totally empty having been robbed of such a beautiful person so suddenly, we were lucky to have spent some great time with her, and our memories of that weekend will be cherished by us forever.