Tag Archives: island

Fraser Island: On the Wild Side


It’s about time I finish up the posts about my trip to Australia all the way back in September…

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“Australia is invigorating, because you’re usually 10 meters from something that can kill you.”

This is how guide Peter Meyer began my two days on Fraser Island, the world’s biggest sand island, and UNESCO world Heritage site.  Peter regaled me and my fellow tour group members (who came from the US, Germany, and France) with Aussie legends and endless factoids about the island (and really about everything…did you know that wombats have square poop? Did you know that finding rare whale vomit on the beach can make you a millionaire?  Neither did I).  A nearly 15-year resident of the island, with seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm for the place he loves, Peter is also a professional photographer plus naturalist, snake handler (in keeping with Australian male stereotypes), and off-road vehicle driver, while leading tours.

Central Basin Lake.

Stunning Lake Mackenzie.

"Butterfly Lake"

Eli Creek.

Fraser is a massive sand island off the coast of Hervey Bay, Queensland, where I went whale watching.  A sand island?  That means–you guessed it–the island is made entirely of sand, no soil.  The coasts of the island of surrounded in stunning beaches (popular with fishermen, campers, and 4WDs, but not recommended for swimming thanks to riptides, sharks, and jellyfish), the interior of the island has sand-grown rainforests, migrating dunes, and gorgeous lakes with white sand beaches (no soil=pristine dirt-free lakes).



The roads on the island are made of sand, so all of the vehicles are 4WD.  It’s possible to rent them and drive around yourself, but I opted for a tour, as I was traveling alone.

75 mile highway from above.

Along the way we passed many an SUV stuck in the sand for hours.  The beach along the coast is known as the “75-mile Highway,” and is so popular with SUVs that there are actually speed limits posted.  Many of Fraser’s highlights lie along this coast–the shipwreck of the Moheno (a vessel washed up in 1935 en route to Japan), the “Indian Head” overlook, a good place for spotting whales and sharks in the ocean below, the “Pinnacles” colored sands, and some giant inland dunes, great for jumping and getting sunburnt.

But the real highlight of Fraser is its biodiversity.  In the tidal pools along the beach, you can see anemones, sea squirts, crabs, and other shallow water creatures.  Jellyfish and sea snakes wash up on the beach.  Inland, the dingo is king–there are strict protocol set up to dispose of trash to try to keep their human contact to a minimum.  Dingos cohabit with kookaburras, freshwater eels, goannas, and pythons (all of which I saw during the trip).  We saw so many animals on Fraser that I’ll even save those photos for another post.

Fraser colors: sea and sky.

What Peter said at the start of our trip was certainly true on Fraser.  Every time I turned around there was a giant lizard camoflaged underfoot, or a crab scuttling into the surf.  It was here that the preconceptions I had about Australia–of a slightly wild place, where bizarre animals live in every puddle, and people pick up snakes and drive off-road at full speed–held true.  Of course, the whole country is not about crocodile hunting and adventure seeking, but my time on Fraser Island allowed me to indulge that fantasy for a few days before discovering the more-refined city life in Sydney.

Final highlight: takeoff and landing from the beach.

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Trip to Bali Part 3: Nusa Lembongan

The car from Ubud dropped us off in Sanur, where we boarded a boat for an even smaller island that’s part of Bali, Nusa Lembongan (population about 7000).  We settled onto wooden planks in the bottom of the boat next to the other tourists for the one hour ride to the island.  Once on the other side, we waded the last few meters to the beach, where we were immediately approached for business, “Where are you staying?  Here, very expensive, how much you want to pay?”  Our would-be guide handed us a map (which would later prove to be not remotely to scale and nearly useless) and pointed to the side of the island.  “Cheaper here.”  We nodded thanks and tried to walk away, wanting to find a place to stay on our own.  “You need a motorbike?” our new friend called after.  “24 hours, 75,000 rupiah (about $8).”

A few minutes later, we were accepting the keys to the “Sunset I,” our (automatic!) motorbike for the next two days, and driving on the left side of the road for the first time.  In general, there are no cars on Nusa Lembongan (except a handful of trucks that must have come over on a boat), so no buses or taxis (or requests for “Transport?”), just motorbikes riding on the narrow roads along the beaches and through the mangrove forests.  Despite the fact that there are gorgeous white sand beaches with incredible surfing and diving all around the island, it’s not very touristy in general, because there are so many other incredible beaches to choose from on the main island of Bali.  There are restaurant-guesthouses lining the beach that faces the main island, but as soon as you venture off of this strip, it feels like the “real Bali.”  Temples, corrugated tin houses, and tarps with drying seaweed are everywhere.  If burning trash is the smell of Laos, the smell of Nusa Lembongan is seaweed.  Near the shore it seems like every single local house has seaweed outside, and we saw small boats coming in each morning filled with seaweed as well.  Apparently land farming isn’t very good on the island, so seaweed farming is a major part of the local economy.

We easily found a nice-looking place on the beach: Linda Bungalows, which boasted the “Best Food on the Beach” in their open-air cafe, and which I’m inclined to believe: fresh seafood and Western favorites like chicken parmesan and chili con carne (Mexican food is the one type that can’t really be found in Vientiane, so this was exciting).  After checking in, we decided to explore the island by motorbike, with the help of the useless little map.  The middle of the island is covered in forest, which opens up in places to small beaches, each with a charming name like “Dream Beach,” “Mushroom Beach,” and “Sunset Beach.”  Each is a little bit different–some are surrounded by cliffs, some have warung with food and drink, some are fine white sand and others are rocky, with lots of washed-up coral pieces.

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During our driving adventures, we decided to cross to an even smaller island, connected with a bridge.  As we started across, the wooden planks that formed the one way crossing rattled dubiously, and the gaps between them seemed to get larger and larger, until somewhere in the middle, almost four planks were missing, nearly the size of one of the bike wheels, and the only solution was to accelerate and not look down.  Once on the other side the motorbike trials just continued, as the roads became rougher, with huge potholes and unpaved sections, and dramatic vertical inclines and drops.  More than once it seemed like the bike wasn’t going to make it, but the trusty “Sunset I” pulled through every time.

The pace of life on the island seemed very relaxed.  “Chilled out” is one of Lonely Planet’s favorite phrases to describe places in Asia, and with no cars, and relatively few tourists, Lembongan  fits this description perfectly.  It seems like life just goes on exactly the same year-round–the temperatures don’t fluctuate much, tourists come in and out on daily shuttle boats, fish are caught and cleaned, seaweed is harvested and dried, the roosters crow as soon as the sun rises.  The two days that we spent on the island were so relaxed (well, except for a few hair-raising driving experiences).  On the last night, as we sat with a Bintang Beer on the porch of the bungalows watching the vivid sunset, and waiting for dinner time, the power suddenly went out.  But the tables were lit with candles, and the kitchen used gas, so the evening continued uninterrupted–a typically quiet Lembongan night of seafood, Bintang, and the sound of the tide.

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Nice and Bastia

the old port area of Nice

the old port area of Nice

I didn’t have many hours in Nice before I had to leave for Corsica, but I did get to walk around the vielle ville and port area some.  Josh: I saw some awesome yachts that I took photos of!  Nice seemed…well, nice (ahh, overused travel cliches).  It was fairly busy and urban though, which was not exactly the environment I was looking for after hours of hectic travel, but still interesting to explore.
I took the ferry in the afternoon to Bastia, Corsica, which is on the northeast side of the island, facing Tuscany in Italy.  The boat that took me there was more of a cruise ship, with multiple bars, restaurants, and game rooms, than what I would normally think of as a ferry.
view of Bastia from the citadel

view of Bastia from the citadel

Five hours later, I found myself in Bastia, the second-largest city in Corsica, with a population of 40,000.  Over the next 24 hours, I was able to get a good feel for the town, which was crumbling and delapidated at times, but in a charming, old-world sort of way.  Some of the buildings surrounding the port are still damaged from WWII.  I was able to check out all of the sights in Bastia on foot: several churches (including one that depicted a relief of one of the Bible’s lesser-known scenes: the circumcision of the baby Jesus), the old port, the citadel (which was once the capital when the island was ruled by Genoa), and the narrow cobblestoned streets that have tiny shops where stables used to be.

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