Transport troubles on holiday

During our recent school holidays, I took two of my daughters on a hiking holiday to Fraser Island.  When we were there in 2008 with the 4WD and camper trailer, we said we should return to do the Great Walk.  Then we could see the sights we missed that were inaccessible to vehicles.  The trip was planned 6 months in advance, and in February I booked and paid for all the transport that would be required.
The plan was to drive from Tennant Creek to Adelaide, do some work on the car, then start the Fraser Island trip.  Flights were arranged between Adelaide and Brisbane, using Virgin Blue due to the cheap price.  This would connect with the Tilt Train from Brisbane to Maryborough West, and a coach to Hervey Bay.  A good night’s rest at the Palms Tourist Park would have us ready bright and early to catch the Fast Cat ferry to Fraser Island, and the Frasert Island Taxi from our landing at Kingfisher Bay to the start of our hike at Eli Creek on the eastern coast of the island.  Permits, fares, tickets and bookings were double checked and carefully recorded – for once I was not relying on luck to make everything come together.
On June 31st, we awoke at 4am  (after 3 hours sleep) and a friend drove us to Adelaide Airport to catch the 6am flight to Brisbane.  That was when the plan unravelled.  Our flight had been cancelled during the evening, yet we were not informed despite having given several forms of contact details to the airline.  No reason was given for the cancellation.  We had to change to a later flight, leaving at 8:50am, which meant we would miss our train from Brisbane.

Due to the lack of sleep, I wasn’t functioning too well, but somehow thought to ring Queensland Rail at 8am EST and change our tickets.  I also rang the caravan park to advise that we would be arriving late, but only got a grumpy caretaker who wasn’t in the office and who couldn’t help me.  I needed to ring back later, which would have to be while we were in Brisbane.  We arrived in Brisbane about 20 minutes after our original train had departed and had to then wait 2 1/2 hours for the next train.  Despite our exhaustion, we had to work out what hiking supplies to buy as we would now be arriving in Hervey Bay too late to go shopping as originally planned.  Using our iPhones, we navigated our way to a Woolworths store and stocked up on the food we would need, and obtained some first aid supplies from a pharmacy.  So far so good.

We found the platform for our train, locked our spare clothes and excess baggage in a locker for 6 days, and settled into our seats for the trip up to Hervey Bay.  About half an hour out of Brisbane, I finally remembered to ring the caravan park about our late arrival, only to be told abruptly that there was no late check-in and if we weren’t there by 6pm we were out of luck!  Since our coach was arriving in Hervey Bay at 10pm, it seemed rather unlikely that we would make it.  To add to the stress, my phone was almost flat by this time so I put it in flight mode to conserve battery while we were out of range of mobile coverage.  Unfortunately, this meant that I missed the return call from the caravan park office to suggest a solution to our dilemma.

We arrived in Hervey Bay just after 10pm and the coach delivered us to the front entrance of the Palms Tourist Park.  All was quiet.  No response to the door bell.  No answer on the mobile number. Great!  $100 down the drain, paid for a room we could not use.  The next hour was spent trudging around Hervey Bay looking for accommodation with late check-in, without success.  Finally, a concerned local Googled on his iPhone for hotels in the area with 24-hour check-in.  There was one, called Peppers Resort, about a half-hour walk from our location.  Just after midnight, we finally checked in to our room which cost us an extra $220, to get a few hours sleep.  We needed to be at Urangan Boat Harbour at 6:30am to catch the Fast Cat to Fraser Island.

Next morning, still very tired, we loaded up our backpacks and hiked to Urangan Boat Harbour.  There we found that the Fast Cat service had stopped operating two years previously.  Hmmmm, how come I purchased tickets online in February 2011??  It seems that the company still had a ferry leaving at 6:45am, but not from Urangan Boat Harbour, but from River Heads about 30 minutes down the coast.  That’s 30 minutes driving.  Our tickets clearly said Urangan Boat Harbour, but we were supposed to know to go to River Heads without having to be told.  One positive result of the stuff-up was that while waiting for the bus to take us to River Heads, we had time for a proper breakfast in a very nice cafe on the harbour.  A quick call to the Fraser Island Taxi enabled us to change our booking to suit our later arrival, so it seemed we were finally getting back on track.

Finally we boarded the Kingfisher Bay ferry for the trip to Fraser Island, and our tiredness began to be replaced by excitement.  As the island came into view, we were eager to start the hike we had planned for so long.  During the hour and a half 4WD taxi ride from Kingfisher Bay to Eli Creek, we chatted with the driver, who told us that the Great Walk was closed at the northern section due to flooding.  Just marvellous!!  We had travelled thousands of kilometres and endured a string of stuff-ups due to Virgin Blue’s abysmal customer service for the express purpose of doing the Great Walk.  No way, this is not happening!!  We had permits for the walk, and no-one had bothered to contact us about the closure, so we were doing it anyway.

As it turned out, no closure signs were in place, so we did the walk.  Yes the trail was flooded in places, but that added to the challenge and interest.  We were delighted with the 5 days we spent on Fraser Island, and walked a total of 98km with our backpacks.  Thanks to Virgin Blue, who we will never fly with again, it started off much more stressful and more expensive than it should have, but even so, it was worth it all.  Would we go again?  Definitely!!  Maybe better planning next time, with a backup plan in case things go wrong.  But this was our first hiking trip, so we learned from it.

Now where shall we go next? …

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