“I’m sure we will see some there,” Carol, our Australian friend, assured us. She was referring to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island stretching 75 miles across, and to seeing Dingoes, Australia’s wild dogs that number around 200 on the island. These are considered some of the last of the “pure” Dingoes that had not cross bred with the country’s dogs. The numbers have declined in recent years and sightings have become rarer. But Carol was confident. “We’ve been there many times and have always seen some.”
Fraser Island not only has miles of beaches to drive but also sand roads cut into the island’s interior. To maneuver deep sand roads requires a four-wheel drive vehicle and Carol’s husband, Rob, had the perfect one – a Toyota Land Cruiser. These vehicles are popular in the outback of Australia and anywhere off the beaten path and Rob’s would serve us well driving on the island.
Before crossing to Fraser Island via the small Mantaray ferry, Rob pulled into a gas station to deflate his tires, a necessary adjustment for sand driving. The flatter the tire, the less the tire sinks into the soft sand. Driving straight is also encouraged to keep all front and back tires in the same rut but we would find it hard to resist an occasional wheelie.
When we arrived on the island, Rob took us on a spin on the nearly deserted beach, crisscrossing, speeding as if on a joyride. The 50 mph speed limit felt like 70. Rob offered the wheel to my friend, Mary Grace, and me. We took turns, concentrating on staying in the ruts over a small hill of sand, avoiding the driftwood, accelerating on the open areas, always keeping an eye out for a dingo.Soon, we turned onto a deep sand road into the island, passing through a tiny community with one restaurant, searching for Lake McKenzie. I hadn’t expected a rain forest in the sand with kauri pine trees dominating the landscape. The maze of roads was confusing with only occasional wooden signs pointing to different destinations. First stop at Central Station on the Wonggoolba Creek was to explore the deserted logging village, closed since the 1950s. Several other Land Cruisers had parked amongst the trees. Native Butchulla women used the creek area for birthing but were moved out by the timber industry. The Butchulla people only recently received their native title rights from the Australian Federal Court in 2014 for hunting and fishing on the island. We ate our picnic lunch in the company of sand monitors or goanas, very large lizards that hang out in tourist areas. No dingoes approached.
Our next stop, Lake McKenzie, is considered a “perched” lake, formed by organic matter that has hardened in a depressed area. It has the clearness of a mountain lake but with sandy shores and only 300 feet of altitude. Pushed by the need to return to the ferry landing in time for the last boat, we could only take a brief swim in the beautiful cold waters.
On our drive back through the dense forest of trees, we began to give Carol a hard time about not seeing any dingoes. “You promised,” we said. Dingoes are a feral dog and yet can be domesticized. But because of their reputation for common attacks on livestock and rare attacks on humans, we didn’t want to get too close. Due to the large number of visitors and small area, Fraser Island is the epicenter of attacks on humans, with the most recent one just a year ago at a campground. Fraser Island visitors are warned not to feed the dingoes as that brings them too close to human activity.
After breaking out onto the beach again, we were hurrying back to the ferry, when suddenly, Carol calls out, “there’s one!” And there it was, a lone dingo standing at the edge of the sand dunes, seemingly paying no attention to our quick stop, nor to the lowering of windows and cameras snapping away. It may have planned a quick trip into the water to catch a fish and the Land Cruiser stood in the way. Or it was looking for others in his pack. But after a short jaunt down the beach, it turned away and disappeared into the grasses.
There’s something incredibly exciting about unexpectedly encountering an animal in the wild. For just a moment, nature’s path crossed our civilized human path, this time giving us a glimpse of life as a dingo. As the dingo numbers decrease on Fraser Island, these encounters will diminish. But in the meantime, Carol smiled at us in triumph. “We always see one,” she said. And she was right.