The day starts at 4am as our phone alarms begin a crude duet. Our midnight bed visitor slumbers on as we dress in the dark, bleary-eyed from little sleep, tempted to crawl back under the sheets, but propelled on by thoughts of blue ocean and long beaches.
As tyres hit the soft sand of Fraser Island, clouds heavy with rain roll in from the sea and the beach disappears in a mist of sea spray. As we will soon find out, the Island’s moods are as mercurial as her offshore currents, changing at whim, keeping you guessing. Today, she is pensive. Contemplative. And instead of finding the rain inconvenient, it is calming.
That afternoon we chase seagulls, setting them in flight, scattering them to sea. Lachie whoops with delight. Troy fishes the dying light as the boy and I nap late, his little body curled into mine. Dinner is simple and bed is early.
We wake to wind whistling through the corroded sliding doors of our beach house. Where yesterday the island was contemplative, today she is wild and raging. The sea churns with whitecaps the size of small boats and trees lay-down under forceful gusts. We pack the car. After all, adventures are just as possible in inclement weather.
The beach is ours as we drive the long sandy strait. Streams of fresh water break from the land, cutting a path through the beach to their ocean home. We reach the largest on the island, Eli Creek. Typically thick with tourists, it is virtually empty today. In a jumper and bare feet Lachie races along the boardwalk, the glee of open space written across his beautiful face.
We follow the cool water as it snakes into the vegetation. Leaves are dropped from high and watched intently as they rush away with the current, destined for a salty greeting.
Lunch is eaten sheltered by the towering rocks of Indian Head, watching patient fisherman waiting for the ‘one’. Plans to climb the headland are abandoned and instead we venture south again. As the world’s largest sand island, the dense and colossal rainforest that populates its centre is surprising and magical by equal parts. Ancient trees reach to the sky from a foundation of sand. Relic ferns, the last of their kind, sprout from the creek at the bottom of the valley. In his boundless mind, Lachie jumps to touch the top of the towering trees. While his little legs fail him, in his imagination his fingers touch the leaves of the highest canopy.
Sun bursts briefly through the clouds as we walk the path to Pile Valley. Father and son find matching walking sticks. I click away, content behind the lens. And then the sky opens up. The rain falls in patches through the trees. I gather child and camera and run toward the car.
The next day the island is brighter, her mood not quite happy, but hopeful. We make early tracks inland. At Lake Mackenzie we dig holes by the waters edge, bury each others feet, and run races where Lachie is guaranteed to win at least every second one.
In the afternoon Troy fishes the still tumultuous ocean. We play on the beach nearby, dodging jellyfish, watching out for dingoes, observing the beauty of a soaring sea eagle. Walking the narrow bush path home we nearly stand on the tail end of a six foot king brown snake. My heart thumps with adrenalin as I clumsily yank Lachlan from the ground, moving away as quickly and as calmly as I can with such a thumping heart. That night I fall asleep with a whirl of ‘what ifs’ and mother guilt swirling through my head.
Finally, the day begins with sunshine. Endless, piercing sunshine, streaming through the windows. Today, the island is joyful. After an early morning sand-castle session the car is packed again, ready for a journey to the top of the island. We reach the Champagne Pools by late morning, the sun high and hot. When the tide is just right, the pools nestled below a headland, are flushed with sea water as waves crash over the rocks. And they are filled with fine, perfectly champagne-like, fizzing bubbles.
Today, the tide is just right. And the place is truly magical. Lachie explores the cracks and crevices of the pools, fishing out rocks and shell fragments, equally impressed by each new discovery. Nearby, swimmers yelp with a mixture of excitement and fear as an especially large wave rolls over their sun-flushed faces. On the way home we stop for ice-creams. The cold sweetness bliss in the heat of the afternoon.
In the late afternoon Lachlan and I read stories, draw pictures, talk. Troy battles a truly large fish for 30 anticipation-laden, sweat-inducing minutes. And then, the fisherman’s nightmare, the line snaps. That night he goes to sleep with a whirl of fishing ‘what ifs’ that I don’t even pretend to understand.
On our last day I am woken at dawn. Little fingers poke my eye, urging “get up mummy”. From our balcony we watch the sun rise slowly over sea. Everything is bathed in magical light. My boy’s hair glows a golden crown, his soft cheeks, a ripe peach. I forget my tiredness and being disgruntled at the early hour. Today the moon will eclipse the sun. We stare dangerously into the light, two pairs of sunglasses inadequate protection from the intense glare. We concede and watch, instead, on TV.
Troy spends the rest of the morning chasing the one that got away, knowing the futility of such an exercise but persisting regardless. Lachie and I join him on the beach until an overly audacious dingo steals the toddler water bottle from our bag. We retreat beyond the dingo fence, content to swim in the pool instead.
Bags are packed with little enthusiasm. The car is loaded. Necessities sorted.
And as we load on to the mainland-bound barge we bid a silent farewell to this beautiful, mercurial island, hopeful to return soon.