Fraser Island is absolute heaven. It is the biggest sand island on earth, containing a large rain forest and four freshwater lakes. One of them is home to Tee Tree Trees, which pollute the lake with its leaves. This turns the whole body of water a deep burgundy color, and infuses it with oils. These lakes are the only places people swim as the ocean around Fraser is a breeding ground for Bull and Tiger Sharks.
We had a crazy tour guide named Matt, who growing up, hunted kangaroo’s for lunch. He once shot a full-grown Roo and had to transport it on his motorcycle. He strapped it upright on the backseat; the cops pulled him over because the Kangaroo wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Matt drove us around in a four-wheel drive along the coast and in the jungle. It was…insane. Our heads were practically hitting the roof most of the time. It’s very difficult to drive on this 123km beach, as you have to time the waves just right and know the intricacies of the tide changes. At least one vehicle a week is lost on the coast. Our favorite section of the tour was a freshwater river called Eli that we got to swim in and drink from. The water tasted like it looked: clear. My boyfriend had the indecency to take a pee…downstream of people drinking.
We witnessed a vast variety of wildlife. A white bellied sea eagle flying around with a large fish in its talons, several dingoes, a large jellyfish, spiders, mud hoppers and frogs. We were also in very good company, and were treated to some intense tales from Matt over beers. He told us about his encounters with sharks.
Bull Sharks are the most aggressive out of the four "man eaters" (whites, tigers, and hammerheads). That’s four out of 340 types of sharks, the rest of which are generally considered harmless. They are extremely powerful animals that can even survive in freshwater rivers. There are many rivers in Australia and Africa that are out of bounds to swimmers because Bull Sharks are known to travel up them, eating everything in their path. They have also been spotted launching themselves onto the beach after ocean birds and seals. They are able to charge straight up at their pray from extreme depths in ambush. These are significantly powerful animals. Our tour guide’s friend, one of the top spear fisherman in the world, had a near death encounter with one of these beasts. He can free dive up to 40 meters; that’s holding your breath, under pressure, for about 3-4 minutes. He was at about 20 meters, on his way up, when a Bull Shark came out of nowhere and nailed him right in the stomach. It completely winded him, taking all the air out of his lungs. He said it took every bit of willpower and energy to make it to the surface. The shark swam away.
Our guide Matt also had a worrying encounter with a Bull Shark. It began attacking him for the fish he had just speared, eventually moving onto him. He had to kill it with three homemade explosive tips that he attaches to the end of his spear gun. He said it did not taste very good.
Matt told us that it’s the Tiger Sharks that are most frightening, as their behavior isn’t patterned, but extremely unpredictable. With a Bull Shark, at least you know what you are getting.
Tiger Sharks are third largest in size, following The Great White and Whale Shark. Along with Great Whites, Tiger Sharks have been documented to terrorize and bully full-grown whales for days, taking bites out of them and trying to exhaust them. People are beginning to believe this is one of the reasons whales beach themselves, and even after they are released back into the ocean, they do it again because the sharks wait for them in the water. This behavior has been seen from helicopters (often around Fraser as whales travel down past it with their young) and concluded from the bite marks and scars on deceased beached whales. This kind of behavior, along with attacks on man, is believed to be mostly due to the depleting fish resources of our oceans, which force large sharks who would typically be eating large fish, to look for other types of nourishment.
Tiger sharks had also left an impression on Matt. He was spear fishing with a buddy and they hadn’t caught anything. A Tiger shark appeared and swam around them for about a minute. It left them alone and disappeared, swimming past his friend into the ocean behind them. A few minutes later, he looks at his friend and begins to tell him something using hand signals. In midst of this, his friend goes pale, his eyes widen, his expression petrified. Matt turns around, seeing the Tiger shark swimming directly for him at full speed. He quickly whips around his spear gun, sticking in front of him to separate his body from the shark’s incoming jaws. The shark twists onto its side and sails by him, it’s white stomach flashing past his eyes like the white light you see after death hits you.
This prehistoric animal had actually stalked them, and made the effort to do a giant circle around the two friends, coming up to attack from the back. Not bad for a creature with one of the smallest brain to body ratios. Something that’s been evolving and adapting for 400 million years is not to be underestimated.
This was part of a huge Australian Gold Coast trip, and besides the horror stories, it was our favorite location.