Four-wheel driving gets a bit of a bad rap when it comes to ‘female friendly’ holidays. But off-road trips are about so much more than mud, bugs and uncomfortable beds.
Recently, I travelled to Fraser Island for a girls’ weekend away hosted by Tourism Queensland, Kingfisher Bay Resort and the Australian Offroad Academy. While Editor Matt Raudonikis was slugging it in a swag across the Great Australian Bight, I was living a lavish life in a resort. It’s tough being a 4X4 journo sometimes.
This trip had one noticeable difference to our regular sojourns – it was an all-female cast. Goodbye swags, hole-in-the-ground-toilets and beer-stocked fridges; hello cocktails, girl-talk and packed-to-the-brim suitcases.
My holiday-alarm of tweeting birds sounded nice and early for what would be the first time of many on this trip – no time for sleep-ins, paradise was calling. I readied the Toyota FJ Cruiser (later dubbed the ‘Red Hornet’), and began the four-hour drive from Brisbane to River Heads, where the barge was waiting to collect our group: the ‘Foxy Moxies’. Before I knew it, my city life in Melbourne was just a distant memory.
As we approached Fraser Island, the sun was beating down on us from the clear azure sky and the crisp, blue waters sprinkled us from below. From a distance the coast looked like any other, but as we drew closer it became clear that this landscape was straight out of Monet’s sketchbook. I never doubted I was going to love Fraser Island, but nothing could prepare me for just how deep this love would grow.
We arrived at the beautiful Kingfisher Bay Resort to a gourmet ploughman’s lunch – no baked beans on a camp stove, I could get used to this. Before I had a chance to re-apply the lip-gloss, we were hauling canoes through soft sand to heave-ho them to a nearby creek. Picture this: a group of women looking like they’d just stepped out of a magazine with their immaculate hair, dewy make-up and smooth skin, elegantly gliding through the ocean in pure luxurious bliss… well, that’s what we thought we’d look like. Instead, it was more like an ocean bumper-car session, with wind-swept hair, screams and plenty of giggles. This was no Sex and the City holiday; we were here to find our moxie; a term once used to describe courage and grit.
From three-person vessels to sunset cruises, we ended our first night on the Quick Cat II with Hervey Bay Whale Watch. While there were no whales, the sunset certainly didn’t disappoint. The orange, red and pink sky clashed with the clear blue sea – even the dolphins didn’t want to miss it as they joined us to watch the sun recede behind the horizon. It was at this moment we all knew that Fraser Island was full of hidden treasures; it really lives up to the name K’gari (pronounced Gurri), which roughly translates to paradise, a name given to it by the Butchulla people – the traditional land owners.
Mother Nature didn’t hesitate to let us know how fortunate we were to arrive on this haven. As clouds and rain threatened the otherwise beautiful Queensland weather – adding to my Melbourne-body’s intolerance to humidity – a rainbow coloured the sky, ending ever so gracefully on the western shore. I guess this was nature’s way of showing us that the golden sands of Fraser fill the pot at the end of the rainbow.
But we didn’t travel all that way to clog Instagram feeds, it was time to replace sandals with driving boots and team up with Australian Offroad Academy to get our tyres dirty and learn the difference between high and low range. Let’s face it, what better way to learn the basics of off-road driving than on one of the world’s largest sandpits. As we drove to the training course, I wondered whether this weekend was going to turn into a scene out of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, only with a 4x4 dug to its axles instead of a Ferrari falling to its doom. I was wrong. With the aid of our super-instructors from Australian Offroad Academy, Dave and Brad, this group of women proved we can do anything, and we can do it in a pair of stilettos.
Before we knew it, we were driving the Crusty Cruiser (Land Cruiser 76), the Red Hornet (FJ Cruiser) and Princess (Prado), along the real tracks of Fraser. The convoy dodged and weaved through soft sand, ventured through fairy-like rainforests and hit 80km/h on 75 Mile Beach passing Eli Creek and the skeleton of the SS Maheno. Moxie wasn’t the only thing we were going to find on this trip, somewhere along the way, those who had questioned the fun of off-road driving found its real value – the hidden destinations at the end of the tracks.
Regular off-roaders will understand when I say that every trip comes with a magical, breath-taking moment when you reach a destination so beautiful, awe-inspiring and spectacular that your words fail you and all you can do is watch, feel and listen. It’s the type of place that keeps a piece of you long after you have left, and reminds you why you own a 4WD – to take you to places that make you wonder if there really is a heaven on earth.
Cue the group’s first destination: Lake McKenzie – white sand and sapphire blue water, the perfect colour scheme. Even the other tourist groups couldn’t distract me from the wonder of this lake. The water is fresh enough to drink, clear enough to see the colour of my nail polish, and charming enough to never want to leave.
I decided to trade in the tyres for a different kind of off-roading to end the girls’ weekend, and put my adrenaline in the hands of Larry from Aquavue Cafe Watersports. As a group of us arrived on the foreshore at Kingfisher Bay, four jet-skis sat bopping in the water. If driving around the island didn’t get our hearts racing, this was about to. A trip across to Pelican Bank – a sand bank just off the coast of the island – is one of those experiences you don’t forget in a hurry, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to do again. Though, I think my skills as a 4x4 journo are best kept to dry land.
Fraser Island is one of those places that touches your soul and changes you in a way very few destinations can. As I return to my life in the big smoke, I often find myself daydreaming about island life. It’s hard not to miss the feeling of soft sand engulfing my toes, or the fresh, cool water of the lakes lapping against my skin. Occasionally I’ll let my mind wander to the moments I stood surrounded by rainforests, with eucalypts curiously growing from marshmallow-soft sand.
That’s the thing about K’gari, it pushes boundaries and forces you to do the same. The enchantment of Fraser Island will steal your heart, and as you board the barge back to the real world, you can’t help but feel you are leaving a part of yourself behind.
So c’mon ladies, don’t wait for the boys. Pull on those trendy boots and flannelette overshirts and accelerate your way to paradise. Learning the difference between four-high and four-low will give you a whole new perspective on a girls’ weekend away.
Girls' only weekends with with Australian Offroad Academy
We know learning to 4WD can be intimidating, but it can also make for a great girls’ trip away. Dave Darmody and his crew at Australian Offroad Academy are running ‘Girls Got Grit’ weekends – you’ll learn all you need to know about 4WDing, without the hassle of trying to keep up with the boys. Prices start from $635 per person/twin share, all inclusive (barge, permit, meals, and accommodation). What better way to start your love of 4WDing and explore the stunning Fraser Island.
Kingfisher Bay Resort
We stayed at the beautiful Kingfisher Bay Resort, which sits on the sunset-side of Fraser Island overlooking the Great Sandy Strait. The Resort offers a range of accommodation including hotel rooms, and self-contained villas and houses. A variety of activities are also on offer. For more information, go to www.kingfisherbay.com
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