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Destinations

Family holiday ideas on Fraser Island

Bryce Corbett takes his wife and kids on a four-wheel driving and whale-watching adventure on Australia's Fraser Island.

Only on Fraser Island can the two concepts of "soft and rough" co-exist – and not, as it turns out, in an especially happy way.
That was the description given to the condition of the 'roads' on the world's biggest sand island the weekend we visited.
There had been no rain for almost six months, leaving the single-lane, sandy goat-tracks that criss-cross Fraser Island almost impassable.
"Be careful out there," a fellow early-morning coffee drinker had warned me earlier in the day as we sipped cappuccinos back at the Kingfisher Bay Resort. "There are a lot of people getting bogged."
But with the bravado of the truly ignorant, I had set out anyway – two kids strapped into their child seats in the back and an equally clueless wife next to me in the passenger seat of our gleaming new 4WD hire car, fresh off the barge from the mainland.
The drive from the Kingfisher Bay Resort to Lake Mackenzie is only 14 kilometres. And if the photos of this little patch of paradise are any indication, it's a journey well-worth making when visiting Fraser Island. But perhaps not when the roads are "soft and rough" and it's the first time you've ever attempted proper, off-road four-wheel driving.
No more than five kilometres beyond the sublimely tarred roads servicing the Kingfisher Bay Resort, we were bogged. Wheels spinning hopelessly, children delighted, wife looking expectantly.
"You are on the Kingfisher Bay Resort to Lake Mackenzie road," our spanking new Nokia Lumia phone handsets informed us. Fabulously accurate but spectacularly useless information, given our current predicament.
"You do know how to dig us out of a bog, don't you," asked my wife. "Of course," I replied, desperately trying to recall the explicit instructions that had been painstakingly passed on to me in the Sunshine Coast Airport carpark the morning before by a kindly young man from Noosa 2 Fraser 4WD. "How hard can it be?"
Pretty bloody hard, as it turns out. I tried the shovel, the tracks, the letting down of the tyres. To no avail. Turns out all it took was a Bob and his mate, Noel. They pulled up on the track behind us, took one look at the hapless city-slicker flailing about in the sand in front of them, hopped down out of their truck and within minutes, had us back on our way.
That it took a pair of arthritic seventy-five year olds to dig me out of my predicament did wonders for my self-esteem. And the esteem with which both my wife and children regarded me.
"Just flog her!" yelled Bob over the scream of our engine as the wheels gripped the plastic tracks he had dug into the path of our tyres and catapulted us forward.
We never did get to Lake Mackenzie that day. Bogged vehicles all along the track (most commonly belonging to gormless urban-types like myself) meant the roads were blocked.
And after inching our way precariously towards the lake for another kilometre or so, and watching as my three-year-old's child seat ricocheted across the back seat whilst negotiating pot-holes the size of a small canyon, it was decided we would return defeated: tail between our legs, back to the resort.
The 4WD we had so excitedly taken possession of in Maroochydore was not to get the workout we imagined – but it would come into its own later in the week (four-wheel driving on Noose's north shore was much more successful!).
Not that the kids were the least bit concerned. The Kingfisher Bay Resort, located on the western coast of Fraser Island, is tailor-made for the perfect family holiday.
Whale watching on Hervey bay and swimming in the Kingfisher Bay Resort swimming pool.
As any parent of small children will attest – you could take your kids to Paris and put them up in the swankiest hotel in the world or you could take them to a local caravan park with a pool and the caravan park would come up trumps. It's all about the pool.
From our comfortable family suite, with wide balconies looking across a lily-pad festooned lagoon to the ocean, the stroll to the pool took only three minutes. Two if you are small and prone to sprinting.
Heated, suitably shallow and populated with plenty of other chlorine-addled kids, the Kingfisher resort's pool is the focal point for families looking to run their kids ragged.
Sprawling across several acres, and featuring a range of accommodation that blends beautifully with its rainforest surroundings, the resort can comfortably accommodate more than 700 guests – but the best bit is, it never feels crowded.
From the casual dining Sand Bar (think pizzas, steaks and pastas) to the fine-dining Sea Belle, top quality nosh at the resort is easy to come by – no mean feat given that everything needs to be trucked and shipped in every day.
As a base for exploring Fraser Island, the Kingfisher Bay Resort is unrivalled. In the evenings, a steady stream of 4WDs form a convoy back into the resort, disgorging passengers aglow with excitement, keen to share whatever rough-road adventure that have had that day.
Tours also leave daily from the resort – into the interior of the island (even, yes, to the fabled Lake Mackenzie), and beyond to the vast stretch of beach along the east coast, where a day can easily be spent wending your way past shipwrecks, stunning freshwater lakes, packs of dingoes and idyllic coastal scenery.
Of course, no visit to this part of the world would be complete without a whale watching excursion. And with humpback populations enjoying a resurgence and the wide, blue harbour of Hervey Bay a favoured haven for birthing cows between the months of May to October, business is brisk.
Our whale-watching expedition took place in the afternoon, and as we cruised out of Hervey Bay marina aboard the Quick Cat II, we passed a flotilla of similarly-packed whale-watching boats bringing the morning shift back to dry land.
So plentiful are the whales in this part of the world, the tour operators have become cocky enough to all-but guarantee whale sightings. And ours certainly didn't disappoint.
The first time you see a whale's fin break the surface, followed by the sight of its fluke-shaped tail rising lazily, majestically from the sea in front of you, it takes your breath away.
Camera phones start clicking, iPad videos of black specks in the distance are duly recorded. To then watch as a mother and infant sidle up to your boat, turn sideways as they pass to take you in, and then disappear into the depths is a thrill incomparable.
But to be within twenty metres of a calf as it bursts vertically up out of the water, breaching so close by that you feel the spray as it crashes back into the sea, is to truly know you are alive.
The squeals of delight from the kids, their wide-eyed looks of wonder – it's worth the price of admission alone.
During four hours of whale-watching cruise (during which a more than passable lunch and afternoon tea were provided), we followed six or seven separate pods of whales – each more cheeky than the previous one.
The Nokia Lumia 625 phones, whose well-meaning GPS advice had proven superfluous on Fraser Island (through no fault of the device itself, it should be said), came into their own, capturing high-definition photo and video of our close encounters of the cetacean kind.
Wind-blown, sun-kissed and sated, we huddled together as a family for the trip back to Hervey Bay, staring at the horizon and reflecting on the marvel we had just witnessed.
The Corbett Clan travelled to Fraser Island and Hervey Bay courtesy of Tourism Australia and Nokia. Their ham-fisted attempts at wildlife photography were improved markedly by the new Nokia Lumia 625 handsets.
For information about:
Kingfisher Bay Resort, visit: www.kingfisherbay.com
Noosa 2 Fraser 4WD, visit: www.hire4wdnoosa.com.au
Hervey Bay Whale-Watching Tours, visit: www.herveybaywhalewatch.com.au

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