Day 3 awoke by turning over, splashing into the puddle pooled on either side of my roll mat, and realising that the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. Like every challenging bush experience, there's the sunny spell after the storm, and I swear I was high on life as I draped my belongings out on the tea trees strung along the shores of Lake Benaroon. You get wet, but you dry out, and packing everything into plastic bags had saved most of my belongings from a fate worse than drowning; the Swiss couple, however, hadn't been so lucky, as a dingo had come along at four in the morning and ripped a hole in their tent while looking for food, and I counted myself lucky that he hadn't decided to rip a hole in mine. Not that it would have made any difference to the general effectiveness of the bloody thing...
The sun, coupled with the clear breeze you get after a stormy night, made the day ripe for walking. The first two days had warmed up my muscles a bit, and on day 3 I took off with a spring in my step, still heading south. As trees crashed to the ground around me, losing branches that the storm had broken off the night before, I walked through more forest to Lake Boomanjin, the world's largest perched lake.
According to the blurb, a perched lake is formed when a saucer-shaped 'hard pad' of bonded mud, sand, rock and peat forms in a depression between sand dunes, and water collects there; at 200 hectares, Boomanjin is the biggest in the world. There's no doubt that it's a wonderful sight, which is why this was the site for the filming of the 1970s flick Eliza Fraser. A quick history lesson might be in order; in 1836 the brig Stirling Castle, commanded by Captain James Fraser, went down 300km north of Fraser Island, and the survivors made their way to Fraser Island. Among them was Eliza Fraser, the captain's wife, who managed to stay alive on the island until help came (unlike her husband, who died). In an entrepreneurial spirit not so common then but ubiquitous now, she wrote a book about her experiences, which became a best seller and ensured that the name Fraser Island stuck. Anyway, the film of the book was made at Lake Boomanjin, so now you know.
The area around the lake was eerie. Odd tannin-stained water trickled into the lake across the sand-flats, and the wind whistled spookily across the plains. As the sun scorched the sand and made the air shimmer gently in the distance, it reminded me of the opening and closing scenes of High Plains Drifter, when Clint Eastwood appears riding on horseback, ready to play his game of revenge on the town that stood idly by while he was murdered in the main street. The only things missing were tumbleweed and an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
After a brief lunch stop, I changed direction and followed the track out towards the beach, walking through more scribbly gum forests towards the east. Every hill I crested I'd get a tantalising glimpse of the sea in the distance, but water being water, it's impossible to tell how far away it is unless you have a reference point like surf or a ship... but I was in no hurry. The wind was playing tricks, too; forest walking is anything but quiet, and when the wind gets up in the canopy, it sounds like the sea, a motorway and a freshwater stream all piled into one. But when you finally hear the sea, it's unmistakable, and bursting out onto Seventy-Five Mile Beach down at Dilli Village (a fancy name for one of the commercial campgrounds) was an experience, believe me.
Seventy-Five Mile Beach
Going from closed canopy to a beach that stretches as far as the eye can see is a shock. The beach is very flat – when the tide goes out, it goes out a long way – and the sea is violent, to say the least (you don't swim off the east coast of Fraser Island, because if the rip tide doesn't get you, the sharks will). My walk had changed from beautiful bush to breathtaking beach, and it's this sort of contrast that makes Fraser Island such a great place for walking.
That night I camped 3km south of the village of Eurong, out on the eastern beach. My feet were in serious pain – 21.5km in a day with a still very heavy pack is a hard slog in anyone's book – but worst of all I had an area of raw skin on my left heel. Blisters I can handle, but when the sand gets down your socks and rubs the skin raw, you're in trouble. The problem is that the combination of hiker's high and a higher exertion rate kills the feeling of pain while you're exercising; we've all experienced the pain of stopping during a long walk and having the feeling seep back into your feet, and when I finally stopped to camp, I felt my feet for the first time that day. God, they hurt.
Camping on the beach, though, was something special. You can camp almost anywhere in the dunes along Seventy-Five Mile Beach, and pitching the tent between the small front dune and the larger secondary one meant I was protected from both sea breezes (easterlies) and land winds (westerlies), but there was enough breeze getting through to prevent dewfall. The sound of the surf and the total lack of people (if you ignore the 4WDs ploughing up and down the beach, which tend to stop at nightfall anyway) made for perfect bush camping.