Families bond on Fraser Island
FAMILY time is so precious. Before you know it, the kids have grown up and moved on.
I can see I share this thought with a proud young mother as she and her newborn bond during playtime.
It doesn't matter that the maternal instincts I am observing belong to a southern humpback whale, weighing in at several tonnes, or that the calf staying closely by her side has a face only a mother could love.
My own motley crew is standing only a few metres away, onboard the Hervey Bay Whale Watch Quick Cat II, during our first whale-watching adventure.
And this is playtime for us, too.
The last time the family visited Fraser Island and Kingfisher Bay Resort our sons were aged four and one.
Where did those 16 years go?
Life was a lot simpler back then and family holidays were easy to plan.
Now, the "kids" are 20 and 17 with various work commitments, study, a girlfriend, and rock band gigs to factor into family time. We finally manage to find one weekend free to holiday together after almost a year of trying.
So the pressure is on to make it a good one.
Mind you, that's not hard on Fraser, given a backdrop of jaw-dropping scenery - from ancient forests and barren sand blows to uninterrupted stretches of white-sand beaches as far as the eye can see, more than 100 freshwater lakes ranging from crystal clear to those stained with red tannin from the tea trees, wildflowers of the wallum coastal heaths and majestic coloured-sand cliffs.
The creature comforts of Kingfisher Bay's four-star eco resort and the glorious school holiday weather are a bonus.
Like an onion, my layers of stress start peeling away the moment our eldest son takes the wheel for the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Maroochydore this Friday afternoon.
At the River Heads Shopping Village, we take advantage of the resort's security parking and hop on the free coach to the nearby vehicular ferry for the 3.30pm trip across the Great Sandy Straits.
About 50 minutes later, after a leisurely crossing viewed from the top deck of the ferry, we are on the resort passenger "train", snaking its way down the jetty to reception.
Within another 15 minutes, we have checked in and are checking out our hotel room view across the billabong and flowering banksias to the water and jetty.
We have the rest of the afternoon and night to ourselves to perhaps loll in the lagoon-style resort pool surrounded by pandanus palms, join a ranger-guided spotlighting tour, listen to the special free presentation by visiting amphibian expert Dr Jean-Marc Hero, or book in for dinner at the signature Seabelle Restaurant specialising in bush-tucker delights. But as we are spending our Saturday four-wheel-driving, we decide to take things a little easier.
We make our first and only priority the half-hour safety briefing in the village square complex at Aussie Trax.
Then, while the boys explore the resort, hubbie and I appreciate the masterpiece of colours at sunset over the water with drinks and a cheese platter at The Jetty Hut.
As the last kayakers of the day pull their craft into shore and the afternoon fishermen reel in what's left on their baited hooks, a lone dingo scouts the water's edge from the other side of the jetty to the point and back.
The boisterous party atmosphere under The Jetty Hut's waterfront pergola means the iconic Fraser Island animal goes largely unnoticed by the newfound tour group friends, champagne-
infused couples and excited wedding party guests.
As the mast lights appear on the yachts moored just offshore and the bar attendant shuts up the kiosk for the night, we are dragged kicking and screaming from our waterfront position by near-starving sons wanting dinner.
Across the roadway at The Sand Bar Bistro, after polishing off hearty plates of calamari and salad, catch of the day and chips, a meatlovers' pizza and steak burger, we are done for the day.
We retreat to our connecting rooms and fall asleep to the welcome silence.
The Aussie Trax Toyota Landcruiser 4WD wagon we take charge of, from after our resort buffet breakfast until dusk, is our passport to Fraser Island's beauty spots. Armed with the suggested driving itinerary, tidal information plus the pre-booked picnic hamper of goodies from the resort, we set out on our discovery tour.
We introduce the teenagers to the postcard-perfect Lake McKenzie with its stark white sand meeting the clear turquoise water of the rare perched lake.
The early morning visit means we have a section of the lake to ourselves before the busloads descend upon the shore for their own look at the beach consistently ranked among the top 10 in the world.
Boys will be boys, so the footy comes out for some spectacular diving marks in the cool waters, but I'm fairly certain they are taking in the magnitude of the lake, the peacefulness of the surrounding forest and special nature of this place created over thousands of years by wind, sand, rain and vegetation.
The characteristic screech of black cockatoos heralds our arrival at Central Station.
The former central Forestry Department station next to Wanggoolba Creek was the base for loggers and their families from 1920-59. The history of the controversial heavy logging of the island, the fight to have it stopped and the subsequent World Heritage Listing of Fraser may have been lost on the boys.
But they seemed to enjoy walking along the boardwalk by the creek's piccabeen palms and angiopteris fern with the world's largest fronds, straining their necks toward the canopy of huge satinay and brush box, and being amazed at the size of staghorns and other epiphytes growing strong by the picnic tables.
The beauty of self-driving on Fraser Island is the serenity.
Wind the windows down, turn the radio off and see the ferns glistening on the forest floor as sunlight streams through a break in the forest canopy. Watch the eagle soaring above Pile Valley's massive satinays, smell the eucalypt forest and hear the whipbird calling its mate as you head to the next stop.
After some souvenir shopping at Eurong, the clock ticks over to two hours after high tide to allow us a safe drive up the eastern side of the island, where we inspect:
Popular Eli Creek, where families can play in the shallows, walk along the boardwalks and float effortlessly in the current to the mouth of the creek which pumps 120million litres of freshwater into the sea daily.
The Maheno shipwreck, which was once part of the Union Steamship Company's trans-Tasman fleet which established a record time for the journey between Auckland and Sydney that stood for 25 years. After becoming a hospital ship in the First World War, transporting 16,000 soldiers from France to England, she was sold as scrap metal to Japan in 1935. But she struck cyclonic conditions on the trip to Japan, snapping her towrope and drifting to where she lies with only two of seven decks now visible above the sand.
The coloured sands forming towers and spires of The Pinnacles, north of Happy Valley.
After nine hours of sightseeing through inland roads and kilometres of beach, encountering wildlife from dingoes and lizards to osprey and migratory birds, through bumps, jolts, twists and turns, and staying ever-vigilant for rocks, cuttings, tree branches, and children, we are all exhausted but happy.
For perhaps the first time in the history of the world, two cool sons have been quite happy to hang out with their uncool parents.
We have experienced what playtime on Fraser Island can mean. And we're toying with the idea of returning in the near future - hopefully before having grandchildren in tow.
The writer was a guest of Kingfisher Bay Resort
GOOD TO KNOW ABOUT FRASER ISLAND
Fraser Island is Queensland's largest island and the sixth largest in Australia, covering 184,000ha and measuring about 123km long and 22km at its widest point.
As the world's largest sand island, it is continually growing.
The island was World Heritage Listed in 1992.
Sand has been accumulating for 750,000 years on the volcanic bedrock base and mycorrhizal fungi present in the sand allows plant life to grow - the only place in the world where this occurs.
As a result, rainforests can be found on soaring sand dunes on the island.
Visit Kingfisher Bay.