Four by fouring Fraser Island

True or False: People called Keith are always weasely, irritating gits?

Now your instinct may well have been to blurt out ‘TRUE!’, citing either Keith Chegwin, Keith out of Keith and Orville, Keith Allen, Keith out of Boyzone (sometimes pronounced ‘Keet’), Keith Floyd or even all of the above as your evidence, and up until yesterday I would probably have agreed with you.

You’d have been wrong. In Rainbow Beach lives a man called Keith who is a 24 carat legend.

But let me start from the beginning.

A few days ago we started a 4wd trip round Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. The vehicles were enormous ten seater brutes which probably weighed about fifty tons, and me and the crew got into a group with six others, most of whom had difficult names to pronounce, due to three of them being Dutch and the other 3 Irish.

On the morning of our departure the drivers, namely Lewis, Sunny and Eanna were given the lowdown on how to tame our beast, with attention to tyre pressure on sand, which gears to use when in different types of sand, how to get it started and other things of that nature.

Our first day on the island we tried to get as far north as we could, and spent most of the day driving along the beach. We passed the Maheno wreck, which was washed ashore in a storm in the early 1900s and set up camp at a site about two thirds of the way up the island.

The next morning we got up at about 6am, just in time to see the sunrise over the Pacific. We’d been told by the guy hiring the vans out that there was a great place called Indian Head where you could see all sorts of sea life if you got there early enough.

We arrived there at about half past six, and climbed up the cliff to get a good view over the ocean. Within seconds of getting there we saw the puff of spray from a whales blowhole, and a minute or two later they were everywhere. They were mostly a couple of hundred metres away doing the familiar raising of tails and cresting of the water, but then Eanna and Sorcha (see, I said they had difficult names) spotted a pair of them much closer, literally 50 metres or so offshore. We all focused our attention on these two and one of them disappeared for a bit. I was just about to look away to see if I could spot anything else and she came flying out of the water and crashed onto her side, causing a huge splash. Wow. And here I was saying it was the dolphins that were the show-offs.

Later on we saw a turtle swimming round ponderously, seemingly in no rush to go anywhere, and a few dolphins swimming around feeding in a school of fish.

By the time anyone else turned up, we’d seen everything and it had all gone quiet for a while. We were the first ones up there and had the place to ourselves for at least half an hour. I recommend if you’re doing it to get there at first light. It’s well worth it.

Next up we went back to camp and met Andy and Michelle, who’d stayed behind as Michelle had sliced up her foot a treat whilst having a drunken swim in the Whitsundays. After a quick breakfast we headed over to a place called Lake McKenzie, which we’d heard was beautiful. We were not to be disappointed. The lake itself is crystal clear and in the middle of a forest. Due to the fact that Fraser Island is made of sand, this lake was freshwater, but had a beach. In fact, I can’t describe it well enough, so here’s a link to the photo.

After a slightly hairy drive back to camp, where we were racing against the setting sun and rising tide, we settled down for dinner and had a few VBs to celebrate having such a good day.

The next morning we were up early again as we had to catch the 2pm barge, and we wanted to visit a place we’d heard of called the Champagne Pools first. These were bubbling pools apparently a half hour walk away from where you park the car, so we left Andy at the car tending to Michelles foot and started walking. It soon became evident that the pools were about two hours walk away, so we turned back to find out Michelles foot had become all manky and infected under the dressing, and would need cleaning out and redressing properly before we could head off. This was just our first delay of the day. We were now at the very northern point of the island and had to get to the very southern point to catch the barge. We still had plenty of time, but wanted to visit a creek on the way back down, and stop somewhere else for lunch so there was no real time for any more delays.

After stopping at the creek for a half hour or so, we headed south. We wanted to get as much distance as possible behind us before we stopped for lunch, so we decided it was best to get to Eurong first, where we had seen a campsite with barbecues. This would mean we wouldn’t have to fire up the gas stove and get all the equipment down from the roofrack, as by now we were a bit pushed for time. We turned off at the right signpost and headed off down the little track. We soon realised this was a one-way road, and from our visit to the lake yesterday, knew that the junction to the adjacent road back to Eurong was 9km along some very tough terrain. Not good.

Off we head, bouncing about all over the place, until eventually we get to the turnoff. A small, ragged cheer comes from the guys in the back. This is soon stifled when a few hundred metres down this track Lewis says ‘What’s going on? I’ve lost power’.

Really not good.

We were stopped in the middle of a one-way track in a forest 9km from the beach, with the clock ticking against us to get the boat off the island and the car wouldn’t start. Apparently it felt as if it had run out of petrol, but the gauge was still showing we had some left. We decided the best course of action was to walk back up to the junction, as there were a couple of other turnoffs there, and flag someone down.

Me, Sunny, Lewis and Rose walked up to the junction and flagged down the first car we saw, ten or fifteen minutes later. Inside were an American tourist family who didn’t have any petrol, nor, as it turned out, any idea how to work a manual gearbox. The guy stalled it about 6 times in a row as they were trying to pull away.

The next vehicle we stopped was a Ranger Guide driving a tour bus full of people, who were heading down the road we were blocking. This was in no way embarrassing, I promise you.

We explained the situation to him and over the microphone he offered his passengers an alternative route. They were meant to be heading to Lake McKenzie and instead they were offered a walk in the woods. Thankfully they obliged, and he told us that he’d drop them off then come round and tow us out of the way.

We arrived back at the car to find everyone sat down on the bank having a nice little picnic. Hmm. We got them to pack up all the stuff in the quickest time possible and soon the ranger turned up with his tow rope, for which we were most grateful. He towed us about 500 metres down the track, to a junction where cars could pass us safely. We thanked him and waved him off, but were now stuck about 8.5 km from Eurong with a boat to catch about 50km away. (he told us the last one went at 4), so little had improved.

Myself, Sunny and Lewis decided we’d walk to Central Station (the very centre of Fraser Island), about a mile away from the car, to phone the mechanical support number in the handbook we’d been given. It now being 2pm, Rose hitched a lift back to Eurong to try to scrounge some fuel and hopefully a lift back to our car.

After paying about 10 bucks in the phone, explaining the problem and getting the guy to come out, we turned round and made the long walk back to the vehicle. He said he wouldn’t be with us until about an hour’s time, which would make it half past three. We realised we would never make the 4pm barge in time, and thought we were going to have to spend another night stranded on Fraser Island.

We trudged back and then spent a bit of time waiting around, kicking a football about and dodging passing cars, who slowed down to do a spot of rubbernecking at us.

Rose then pulled up in a car and out crawled three nasty looking guys with cans of VB and rollies stuck to their bottom lips. They wanted to fix the car for us and were going to give it a going over. We said no, we were getting someone qualified to come out and we wanted to prove that the dial still showed there was some fuel left in it. They demanded fifty bucks off us for wasting their time when they could have been out fixing other peoples cars. After a mild protest we paid up, just to get rid of them, seeing as how it was only five bucks each.

About five minutes after they left, an exact hour, to the minute, after the mechanic said he was going to be there, up pulled another car.

Out stepped Keith.

‘What’s wrong with ‘er then?’ he cried, striding purposefully over to the business end of the vehicle.

He put the key in the ignition, turned the key and the engine roared into life. Unbelievable. After all that, he just starts it first time, how thoroughly embarrassing. Thankfully, the engine spluttered out, so our blushes were spared somewhat. That is, until he gave his diagnosis:

‘She’s outta fuel guys. You’ve run her dry. Now lets get this tow rope on her and get out or we’ll miss the boat’

‘Miss the boat? We’re miles away, and the last one’s at four.’

‘Nah mate, it’s at five’

So off we went, me and a few others sitting in the broken vehicle (with Sunny doing a fine job of steering), a few sitting in the van with Keith as he hared off down the bumpy track in front of us.

We got to Eurong, and Keith told us to only put thirty bucks of diesel in, as it’s more expensive there than on the mainland.

He then fiddled about under the bonnet, apparently bleeding air out of the engine. The clock was still ticking down and our chances of getting the last boat off the island were diminishing.

We got back in, Sunny driving Keiths car and me riding shotgun in our Van with Keith. On the journey I had a bit of a chat with him and he turns out to be a really friendly guy, with loads of advice on what to do and see in Australia.

Our conversation is cut short when his phone rings…

‘Ben?’ he says (it’s his boss) ‘Nah mate, they still had plenty of fuel, it was an electrical problem……Nah, nah, not their fault at all…..Them? Yeah, they’re ok mate…..Nah, they’re not too upset with us….It happens…..OK mate, cheers…..OH! One other thing, can you ring the barge and get them to wait for us please?’ Then he hangs up.

‘Guys, I’ve just told him that it wasn’t your fault, and you didn’t run out of petrol, otherwise you’d be paying somewhere in the region of 400 dollars for the callout and refuelling my car and yours….Also…’ (at this point he leans forward on the dashboard and fiddles with it) ‘…I’ve just put your mileometer back by 100k, cos you were told that it runs out at 380. You had done 390, now you’ve only done 290. Also, the barge is going to wait there til 5.30 for us, so we won’t miss it’

Now it may have just been my imagination, or the lack of sleep, or perhaps a few grains of sand in my eyes, but I swear I saw a faint circle of light over his head.

We got to the barge at 5.25pm. Against all odds we’d made it. We filled up the tank to the brim when we got back to Rainbow beach and handed back the car. Later on that evening we went and found Keith and had a drink with him. As I said at the start of this little story, he’s a 24 carat legend.

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