July 16, 2008

What I Did in My Holidays

Fraser Island - Part One
Paradise and pumpkin-heads

As I start these notes, I am sitting in the sun on the verandah of a beach house at the northern end of this fascinating island, watching humpback whales rear and splash about 2 km out to sea, while a pod of dolphins cruises closer to shore and a pair of whistling kites circles overhead. Not bad. Not too bad at all.
It's the largest sand island in the world, and is World Heritage listed for its geology, rainforests, perched lakes and wildlife. All this just a mile or two off the SE Queensland coast and only a couple of hundred kilometers from Brisbane.

There are no sealed roads, so to reach this small settlement we had to negotiate more than 120 km (70 miles) of soft beach sand that frequently threatened to bog our 4WDs as we dodged the incoming waves on one side and the driftwood on the other, not to mention other vehicles, fishermen, and the occasional aeroplane!  [You can see a commercial video of the drive here.]

In the last few days we've seen several wild dingoes, innumerable birds, a rusting shipwreck [video], immense sanddunes, volcanic headlands [video], sparkling clear rock pools, huge trees and tree ferns, and fast-flowing, ice-cold freshwater creeks [video].

When we first arrived at the house, every whale sighting was greeted with an excited rush to the verandah, followed by frantic directions to those who had not yet seen it: 
"Where? Where??" 
"Look, it's just above that smudgy bit of blue ocean, below the white streak, about halfway to the horizon in line with that tree. See it? There it is again!!" 
By day three, it was more like "Oh look, another whale." "Yeah." 
How quickly we become accustomed to such wonders. ;-)

The island has several hundred permanent and semi-permanent residents, almost all of them providing services for the thousands of visitors who come to stay in the campgrounds and short-term rental accommodation. The locals believe that some of these visitors exchange their heads for pumpkins on the barge from the mainland, and certainly we saw some breath-takingly stupid behaviour. Unfortunately, not only does such irresponsibility put the "pumpkin-heads" themselves at risk of injury or death (see Part Two), but it threatens many of the features which make this island so special.

For example, despite extensive advice, in the form of plentiful warning signs and a brochure given to every island visitor, tourists persist in treating the dingoes as stray pet dogs. Feeding them scraps and allowing children to run after them with squeals of delight causes the dingoes not only to rely on humans for their food, but to see the noisy small children as either a source of handouts or a threat to themselves and their puppies. Consequently they have been known to stalk, chase and even attack children and solitary adults. After each incident, the "offending" dingoes are of course put down. Large numbers of the island's dingoes have been killed in this way, as a direct result of people failing to observe all the rules and advice.
During our visit, we saw a wonderfully healthy and impressive male dingo trotting along a track near the village. He was obviously a very valuable source of genes for the dwindling population, but the ranger told us that this animal was marked for extermination, due to his recent tendency to chase children. As we turned the corner after seeing him, we saw three young children shrieking excitedly and running down to the track after their parents had pointed him out to them. The parents did not even watch where the kids went, let alone stop them from such irresponsible behaviour. Another nail in the dingo's coffin. So thoughtless, so sad, and so unnecessary.

But it's not only the vanishing dingo population which suffers from our selfish behaviour.
Running over exhausted and migrating seabirds on the beach, destroying protected nesting areas and marsupial burrows by going off the tracks, disobeying fishing rules, ignoring all the rules for disposal of rubbish, broken glass, and human waste - all these activities are slowly but surely destroying the island's wildlife. 
And remember, this is a World Heritage site - a special place, unique in all the world, which should be enjoyed, appreciated, and protected by all who visit.

Complete photo gallery here.
Continued in Part Two ...

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