Touring Australia’s environmental masterpiece
Mother Nature has a way of reminding us that she is in charge. Some reminders are horrible, such as hurricanes or tsunamis. Other wonders of nature are awe-strikingly beautiful, such as the Queensland area of Australia on Fraser Island. In fact, the aboriginal name for the island is “K’Gari,” which literally translates to “paradise.”
Fraser Island is made completely of sand, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at it. The land is lush and full of fresh-water lakes and forests. It is, in fact, the largest sand island in the world; and elevations may look like hills, but they’re not, they’re dunes. Sound weird? You’ve got to see it to believe it.
To really explore the island, take a private four-wheel-drive tour led by a park ranger. (If you’re lucky, your tour will be led by the head ranger.) Prior to 1991, many of the roads on the island were used by loggers. Thankfully, environmentalists put a stop to the logging.
Barreling through the forest, the first stop is the look-out point for the sand blow, a vast expanse of sand. (If you’ve got an active imagination, you might be able to make out the characters from “Star Wars” walking across this desert.) With vegetation all around you, it’s easy to forget that you are on an island of sand. The guide explains the abundance of vegetation despite fertile soil, saying that new sand with new nutrients blows in daily on the northern and southern currents. The sand is deposited here, and the plants absorb the nutrients to sustain themselves.
This is the first stop, and the guide offers tea and cookies – nothing like touring the forest in style. A heron pops by to check out our snacks and becomes the first of many bird sightings on this journey. Australia has approximately 700 species of birds, and nearly half of them live on Fraser Island.
The forest here is full of amazing plants and foliage. The squiggle gum tree is interesting because moths hatch under the bark, eat away at it, and leave squiggle marks behind. The paper bark doesn’t burn, so, it’s no wonder that it is used in food preparation here, such as bark-wrapped barramundi fish. You’ll also see hop, which is used to make beer, as well as a male and female wedding bush. They bloom only two weeks out of the year and are a good sign that spring is coming.
One side of the island boasts serene sandy beaches. The ocean is many shades of blue and turquoise while the surf is pretty rough – but there are no surfers here. The sand is so smooth; it appears to be a groomed beach. Closer inspection reveals tiny balls created by sand crabs that eat nutrients from the sand and dispel these little balls. The plants that grow in the sand are called salt bush – crispy like a green bean, natives use them for salt and water. They are a zesty addition to any salad.
Looking toward land from the surf, there are many freshwater springs streaming down like little rivers. There are more than 100 freshwater lakes that spring up all over this island, even as you are descending to the beach. Because the sand here is hard enough to contain the water, lakes are found in abundance.
The most famous lake here is Lake McKenzie. You’ve never seen such white sand. Some days, it’s full of backpackers from the local hostel who don’t seem to mind the cold temperature of the water. Swimming here is said to be medicinal, due to the water’s pH – great for the hair and skin.
After a long day of touring, guests head back to the only resort on the island, the Kingfisher Bay Resort. Everything at this resort revolves around one goal: to live at peace with nature. In fact, when you arrive via ferry, you can barely see the estate through all the greenery.
The whole resort is designed to be just like a Queenslander’s house, which means it’s elevated on poles for easy wind flow. The tin roof curves to resemble sand dunes, and all the rooms and villas have large porches, since most of the time in Queensland is spent outside.
Getting to your room is almost like traversing a tree house with the elevated walkways. Native plants growing inside are from the rainforest, and there is even a bird nesting in one of the trees. The raised ceilings evoke a nautical theme with stainless-steel beams holding the roof up like a ship’s mast and rigging. Classes are even held to educate guests about the environment. One such learning experience is the bush tucker class, which introduces guests to the native tastes of the island.
Step outside, look up and you have a chance to see the Southern Cross constellation. For thousands of years, it led people south. Tonight, it leads you to a great dinner.
Dinner is created using as many indigenous ingredients as possible. In fact, some of the items are grown on the property at the recycling center. Focusing on natural sustainability, the resort has a waste recycle center that combines waste with paper and feeds it to worms. Then, the compost is used to grow herbs. Continuing with the circle of life, the chef draws from this supply of herbs daily.
Kingfisher Bay Resort, Mainland Terminal, Buccaneer Drive, Urangan, Hervey Bay, 4655, www.kingfisherbay.com