Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fraser Island, Hervey Bay and the big white Hummer

While living in Switzerland, before we had planned our next move to Sydney, our friend Pete mentioned that Fraser Island in Queensland was one of the most beautiful places he had ever visited. This piece of information stuck with me though we spent our first three year's worth of Australian holidays in other tourist destinations: the reef, the rock, Tassie, etc.
Sunset on the ferry

When this year's glorious five-day Easter/ANZAC holiday loomed near on the horizon, I remembered Fraser Island and grew excited about squeezing one more beach trip out of the season. By late April, Sydney's beaches are a bit cold for all but the most hardcore swimmers and surfers, but further up the Australian east coast in Queensland, the weather becomes warmer and more tropical.

Because the options for staying on Fraser Island are limited (you can stay at either of two resorts or camp), we booked in at a B&B in Hervey Bay, a sleepy seaside town that serves as the gateway to Fraser Island. I was initially disappointed that this meant that we'd only have one day in Fraser Island, but it ended up working out beautifully.

Fraser Island only has two resorts because it's extremely underdeveloped. In fact, it doesn't even have paved roads. Ferry travel from the mainland is expensive ($80 - $90/vehicle, one way) and restricted to cars with 4WD that can cope with the sand traps that pass for roads on Fraser Island. Obviously, we didn't want to deal with potentially getting a rental car stuck in the sand so we booked an all-day tour of the island that would include pick up and drop off from our accommodations.
Get the linens out for a morning tea in the rainforest

Mara, the helpful proprietor of our B&B, strongly recommended a luxury Hummer tour. Now, riding in a Hummer is something which ordinarily conflicts with my principles because they are known to be ecologically unfriendly. However, I rationalized this particular Hummer ride because I would enjoy it in a one-time tour through a place without real roads context as opposed to a daily, suburban housewife dropping kids off at school in a military vehicle context.

What really sold me on the Hummer tour was the individual attention it afforded. Other tours had up to thirty people, but ours had just four. That allowed us to stop at certain spots and hop back into the vehicle without waiting for 29 others to take their seats. The promise of a gourmet morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea didn't hurt either.

Our tour was fantastic and great weather made it all the better. I knew we were in luck when we saw two wild dingoes saunter past my side of the vehicle when we weren't ten minutes off the ferry. Fraser Island dingoes are known for being among the most pure in Australia (not crossbred with domestic dogs). We started the day with a walk in the rainforest and concluded it with a dip in Lake McKenzie, the clearest, cleanest body of water I've ever had the pleasure of swimming in.
Clear water at Lake McKenzie

It's funny that the premiere swimming attraction of an island is its lakes and not its beaches, but the beaches are kind of a dangerous place on Fraser Island. Because it doesn't have paved roads, the long, flat stretch of beach serves as its super highway and 4WD vehicles travel along it at a frightening clip. It's kind of sad that frolicking on the beach is ruined by the danger of oncoming cars. So, who exactly is traveling at 100K/hour on this otherwise isolated island? Bogans racing to their campsites, of course.

Yes, bogans are the other hazard of Fraser Island's beaches. Indeed, bogan campers, beer, campfires and largely un-patrolled "roads" do not a safe holiday make. I was happy to observe their daytime festivities from the comfort of the Hummer.
Note the sticker on the truck: "WHERE D PHUKRWE"

Mickey and I spent the rest of the holiday enjoying Hervey Bay and the surrounds. We took a road trip up the coast on Sunday and encountered some beautiful beaches, more bogans and delicious macadamia ice cream from a small roadside shop. On Monday we reminded ourselves why renting bikes always sounds better than it actually is: oh, the sore bums! Still, Hervey Bay has a fantastic esplanade for walks and enjoying the coast.

The highlight of the trip, though, was actually the meals we enjoyed at our B&B, Villa Cavour. The hosts Mara and Rocco once owned a restaurant in the mountainous Piedmont region of Italy and brought their talents to Australia almost a decade ago. We decided that home-cooked Italian food would be vastly superior to other Hervey Bay fare and boy, did that decision pay off.

Mara and Rocco asked that we decide at breakfast whether or not we would want dinner also. They offered us a lengthy menu, but we got a tad frustrated when we'd point to a menu item and Rocco would say, 'no, no, no.' He had an abridged menu in his mind that would have made a better basis for selection. Anyway, Rocco offered to make gluten free gnocchi so I was thrilled. The grilled vegetables that preceded it were cooked to perfection.
Can you see why we need this?

We were so pleased with this meal that we decided to take a private cooking class with Mara and Rocco the following evening. Rocco was absolutely fearless when it came to experimenting with gluten free flours to make gluten free pasta. I would have warily hunted online for the right combination of flours that make the most edible pasta, but Rocco simply swapped the all purpose flour for the generic gluten free variety and varied the amounts of water and egg until he reached a workable consistency. We haven't yet repeated the experiment at our house (partly because we now need a pasta roller), but I cannot express how exciting it was to eat fresh ravioli for the first time in years.

As with most trips, we'll likely remember the extremes: incomparable Italian food, the bumpy rides in the Hummer, the restorative properties of Lake McKenzie and its fine white sand, and the Jim Bean flags that the bogans used to mark their campsites.

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