30 December 2014

Australia (Queensland) - Champagne Pools : The Toast of Fraser Island

Date of Exploration : 21 Nov 2014

What : Champagne Pools

Where : Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia

Landscape view of Fraser Island's Champagne Pools. Low tide exposes the volcanic rock fortress that created these incredible dipping holes right next to the gregarious ocean.

Just by its name alone, my enthusiasm to visit bubbled profusely with excitement. I can foresee getting high on an attraction whose christening conjures images of celebrations, good times, and epic fun.

When I finally arrived, however, my anticipation fizzled out. The Champagne Pools didn't look as delicious as the picture I had in my head. But that's because our visit coincided with low tide when the aquatic playground receded to just a sliver of seawater behind a rocky lip. Nevertheless, as I got closer to the water's edge, I became drunk on the unusual phenomenon where the tug-of-war between danger and tranquility are nowhere more apparent than here.

Azure seas and pretty powdery beaches are aplenty, but few could offer the natural thrill of soaking in a calm basin while being up close to waves crashing into rocks.

Our visit started with using the toilets and changing facilities on the hill (where the carpark is) before descending the steps to Champagne Pools. There are no sanitary amenities on the beach so better release when available.

Formidable waves constantly attempt to breach the rocky stronghold, creating many heart-stopping moments to behold.

Barnacles cement themselves onto the stone surfaces, making a barefoot trek into the outermost pool a test on balance and pain tolerance. Beach sandals, not slippers as they may get washed away, are highly recommended.

Flirting with danger... but it is actually rather safe as long as one stays within the protective rim.

Big splash! Welcome to a saltwater jacuzzi powered by nature.

Enough of splashing around? Then just chill on the beach. Some locals top off the experience by bringing along chilled champagne to sip while drinking in the seaside drama.

Is this what is meant by a rocky relationship? The grand view on the volcanic bedrock out into the vast Pacific Ocean is bound to rekindle romance. 

What you don't see in this photo is the schools of small marine fish swimming in this deeper inner pool. Loving it here at nature's handcrafted aquarium!

Albeit our visit ran into low tide, the Champagne Pools still impresses with its rare proposition of swimming at the edge where titans clash.

Incidentally, this is also the only place you can swim in the sea on Fraser Island as swimming anywhere else along the island's coastline is discouraged due to rough waves, strong under currents and the presence of sharks and stingers.

For an unforgettable experience on Fraser Island, the Champagne Pools definitely has it made.

This post has been made possible by Tourism Queensland Singapore and CTC Travel

29 December 2014

Australia (Queensland) - Lake Birrabeen : A Serene Slice of Paradise

Date of Exploration : 22 Nov 2014

What : Lake Birrabeen

Where : Fraser Island, Great Sandy National Park, Queensland, Australia
Escaping into the calm of a hidden heaven.
Peaceful, tranquil, and cut off from the world, Lake Birrabeen is a refuge inside a hideaway and my favouritest spot on Fraser Island. This place is mediation for the senses. Except for the few pesky horse flies that were emerging as summer approaches.

At least twice the size of the hor sin (Hokkien for 'housefly') back in Singapore, the Australian ones are not just bigger, but deliver a painful and nasty bite that felt like tiny bee stings. Plus, they are persistent in their pursuit for a blood meal and rather hard to kill. I shudder to think when summer is in full swing to the buzz of hundreds of these biters.

But the flies are only a minor bother worth putting up with for the smooth, pristine white sand and beautifully placid lakewater.

I'm jealous of this melaleuca tree which gets to enjoy this scenic lake everyday.
Fraser Island is home to around 100 natural lakes and depending on how they are formed, they can be grouped in one of 3 categories - perched lakes, barrage lakes, or window lakes.

Lake Birrabeen belongs to the perched lake category which came into being when dead plant sediments line the bottom of a raised sand crater. The lining forms a waterproof layer beneath the crater that prevents rainwater that fell in from seeping through the sand. Over time, the collected rainwater forms a lake with no water getting in or out except through rainfall and evaporation. As these lakes sit higher than other terrestrial water bodies and aquifers found locally, they are classified as "perched".

There are some 40 perched lakes concentrated on Fraser Island, which is half the number of such lakes known on our planet.

Panoramic view of Lake Birrabeen.
The most popular perched lake on Fraser Island is Lake McKenzie but Lake Birrabeen is equally stunning with the prized advantage of being a lot less crowded. Our visit on a late Monday morning met with only 3 other visitors. When they left, we had the whole lake to ourselves.

As the water is slightly acidic, few aquatic species can survive in the lake which should ease the nerves of people with thalassophobia (fear of the thought and sight of creatures in deep waters). Didn't see any fish when I swam in the lake but the best thing to do is just sit by the pristine shore and let stress dissolve away.

The lake beach is unbelievably white and clean.
Lake Birrabeen is surrounded by eucalyptus and melaleuca trees (tea tree) which impart a slight hint of medicinal fragrance to the air.
Numerous blackened shrubs stripped of leaves dot the shoreline masquerading as sea fans on a beach.

The bald and wiry shore side shrubs look very artistic against Lake Birrabeen's immaculate sand.

Came across these miniscule brilliant red rosettes buttoned onto the shore like furry embroidered flowers. I think they are a species of sundews, a carnivorous plant native to Queensland that produces a sticky liquid at the tip of tentacles sprouting from fleshy leaves. Lethal beauty.

Taking it slow is the way to go at Lake Birrabeen.
Nature's beauty box... apparently, the water-steeped humus of eucalyptus and tea tree leaves (the black stuff in the water) has a refining effect on the skin. Rub it onto skin, leave for 15 minutes and wash it off with a swim. Awesome!
Soaking in bliss that is at the level of divine!

While most visitors to Fraser Island would head over to Lake McKenzie, our guide from Sunset Safaris decided to show us Lake Birrabeen instead. And just like that, one of my most memorable moments of the trip was born.

Paradise does indeed reside on earth! 

This post has been made possible by Tourism Queensland Singapore and CTC Travel.

28 December 2014

Australia (Queensland) - Maheno Shipwreck : A Ghostly Sculpture by the Sea

Date of Exploration : 21 Nov 2014

What : SS Maheno Shipwreck

Where : 75-Mile Beach, Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia

Maheno Shipwreck, a must-see attraction on Fraser Island.
Built in 1904 in Scotland, the 122m SS Maheno had the honour of being the first triple-screw steamer ever built and also the earliest ship to cross the Pacific Ocean. Historical records tell of it being used as a trans-Tasman trading ocean liner and luxury passenger cruise before being converted into a floating hospital by the New Zealand government during World War 1 in 1915.

After 5 years of transporting injured soldiers to Australia and New Zealand, the Maheno returned to civilian charge but was subsequently decommissioned and sold to a Japanese shipping company in 1935 as the ship became obsolete. Its new owner intended to salvage usable parts before melting the vessel down to sell as scrap metal.

For safety reasons, refrain from getting too close to the shipwreck so a camera with a powerful zoom lens would be handy to snap close-up shots.
To fund Maheno's journey from Australia to Japan, its huge brass propellers were sold off and the ship was slated to be towed by a ship named Ottawa to Osaka, Japan. Unfortunately, a freak cyclone broke the link between the two ships and without propellers to regain its course, Maheno drifted ashore to Fraser Island.

After numerous failed attempts to refloat the ship, efforts to remove it was abandoned and the ship became one of the top sights on Fraser Island.

Maheno's collapsed stern. As time passes, the ruins disintegrate further while the sand slowly swallows up this once magnificent ship.

During World War 2, the Maheno served as a target for bombing practice. We were told that none of the 2,000 plus bombs dropped on it managed to get a hit.

A ghostly shell of the past. Maheno means "island" in the native Maori language of New Zealand. How befitting that its final resting place is by the beautiful coastline of Fraser Island.

The end is eerily beautiful with the Maheno Shipwreck.

I see a face.

Ashes to ashes, rust to dust.

When I first saw a photo of the Maheno Shipwreck, "Ghost Ship" came to mind and I was really excited to see it in person. While it is still impressive, the ship had sunken further into the sand and not as tall as the brochures depicted. It still makes for a interesting photography spot though and I would imagine that the wreck will serve as a unique foreground to frame a sunrise.

So before the Maheno disappears totally into the sand beneath it, make a date to see this accidental sculpture by the sea that became the centrepiece jewel of 75-Mile Beach.

This post has been made possible by Tourism Queensland Singapore and CTC Travel.
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