It is customary for any local to wonder what it is that summons travellers to their home shores. As an Australian, I’ve often wondered what Australia’s pull was.
It doesn’t have the Hollywood glamour of the United States, the suavity of ancient European cities where Things happened, or the cultural novelty of any developing nation. Its cities, although among the ‘most liveable’ in the world, hardly stand out as tourist destinations.
Sure, Sydney has its Bridge and its Opera House, but it still competes with the Eiffel Tower (ooh la la), the Colosseum, the almighty Big Ben, and ol’ Lady Liberty, a movie-buff’s fave.
And my hometown, Melbourne? Ten points to any a foreigner who names a single point on our subdued skyline. Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide? Any takers. Oh no, Australia’s cities are loveable only after a lifetime’s steady romance.
Travelling domestically, however, reminds me what draws foreigners to this sunbaked land.
We may not be particularly culturally sophisticated, historically significant (I could mention that Australia is home to the oldest living Aboriginal culture in the world, going on 60,000 years, but few people seem interested in that), or (in)famously glamorous. But it can compete with the best when it comes to scenery.
But Australia’s got coastline. And a helluva lot of it. We have sandy beaches, stubborn cliffs, mangrove swamps, surf, bays, peninsulas, islands, reefs, and – OK, I’ll submit – some sharks and jellyfish. And Nemo.
And among the best of the best is Fraser Island, a UNESCO Heritage Site.
As an Aussie, Fraser Island is one of those places you grow up hearing about, but it wasn’t until I put a backpack on my back and a resolve into my heart that I finally got there.
As the world’s largest sand island, it’s touted as unmissable. And I rather have to agree.
Now a hint to backpackers: limited means of transport and limited funds can prevent the journey. Don’t let it. Fraser Island, it’s true, can only be navigated in a four-wheel drive, which generally means you must either hire one yourself or join a tour for about A$170. But it’s worth it if you follow Hint #2, which is…
Hint #2: Staying in hostels means you can often land yourself fancy little arrangements at half the cost you normally pay, should a tour not be filled by the night before departure. Which is how I snagged a half-price seat on one of those costly 4WD tours feeling smitten about the neat little deal I got for seizing an unmissable opportunity advertised at reception.
Why, you ask, is a 4WD so necessary? The main ‘highway’ from Noosa to the centre of Fraser Island is the beach.
At 8.30 A.M., I was staring at a decadently blue ocean as the tour guide navigated his way northbound through the fresh tidal dunes of Fraser Island.
We had already stopped to marvel at the multicoloured earthly stripes of rocks on Rainbow Beach, and paused to cross to the island by a sluggish ferry. There is, really, no other feasible way to travel. This island – which is at least four times the size of Singapore – is composed in its entirety of sand.
And what sand it is. It is Aryan-white, powder-smooth. It is such obliging, playful dust that you can roll about in it and stand up completely clean. Your feet sink into it with every step. The winds picked it up and twirls it around as it slips elegantly through your fingers. I have not met its comparison anywhere in the world.
Beside the sand, Fraser Island has the clearest and purest water around. Creek beds looked dried-up, or clouded with a strange maize-coloured substance settled on the surface. On closer inspection, the water is so transparent, you can see every nuance of the creek bed below. The water is imperceptible, but soft to the touch, caressing, and so warm.
Dingoes prowl around the vans, eager to nab a midday snack. Our barbecues are cooked in cordoned areas to prevent the predators’ access to our food. They howl longingly, slyly, on the sidelines.
We slumber on inland sandy beaches beside an immense lagoon and take nature walks surrounded by towering gums and pine trees. But I’ll spare you the details. It’s best you discover this treat for yourself. Or if you can’t do that, find what it is in your country that’s unmissable. And share it with me below.
Australia’s got plenty of other gorgeous places to see. Here are just a few below: