Wednesday, January 03, 2007

An awfully big adventure

While I was at my uncle's, he lent me one of his spare vehicles (he's a mechanic, so always has a fair few of them hanging round the yard). He's got a 4-wheel drive Daihatsu Rocky, which is 20 years old and a bit of an institution with his family. As fate would have it, a couple of hours north of Brisbane is Fraser island - a 100km long island, entirely made of sand where the only vehicles allowed are 4-wheel drives. It seemed like fate was pointing me in this direction...

So I headed north up the Sunshine Coast, and discovered how to catch the ferry over to Fraser Island. So at the beach, I pulled over and set the Rocky to 4-wheel drive and drove onto the sand - my very first off-road experience. It lasted about 30 seconds before I got trapped! After enthusiastically (but pointlessly) revving the engine for two minutes, a very helpful Aussie came over to help me. His first question: "Have you let the air out of your tyres?". Me: "No. Why would I do that !?!"

Apparently it's kind of necessary, so after he got his 9 year-old son to let the air out the Rocky cut through the sand like a knife through butter. Note - always be wary of relying on good Samaritans. Everywhere I went on the island, someone felt compelled to tell me that my tyres were too low (especially an obnoxious South African boy who I had to force myself not to give a good hard clip around the ears).

Anyhow, I can heartedly recommend 4-wheel driving on sand. Bombing down deserted beaches, skirting the waves and scattering bird life. Heading inland up impossibly slopes, all the time bouncing up and down like a kid at the fairground. All in all, I had a great time indulging some repressed boy-racer instincts.

My second day on Fraser Island was a different kettle of fish. After setting out early. I headed north up the main beach but after an hour had to pull over as I had come to where one of the streams fed into the sea, and as it was high tide it was too deep to pass. If I waited until low-tide it would be easy to pass, but how long would that be? How deep would be not too deep?

So I stood at the side of the creek, looking and waiting, and watched as a couple of 4-wheel drive trucks managed to get through (just). So with a rush of blood to the head, I decided to give it a go myself. I got in the car, headed down the beach to give myself a bit of a run-up and drove towards the creek.

You've probably guessed that I didn't make it. Perhaps I went too fast and created too much of a bow wave. Perhaps I timed it wrong and got hit by an incoming wave. In retrospect, perhaps the other vehicles were significantly bigger than mine. And certainly I should have waited for the water to get lower. So the engine cut out half way through the creek, smoke rises from the bonnet, the Rocky starts to sink in the wet sand and suddenly the deserted beach is full of people running towards me. (Where did they come from, and why do most of them seem more interested in taking photos rather than helping out?).

I waded out with my tow-rope and another helpful Aussie bloke pulled me with his 4-wheel drive. I didn't know this at the time but experienced 4-wheel drivers were convinced that unless I was towed out quickly the Rocky would bob out into the open sea. Thankfully I got back onto the land, although it took 3-4 minutes for all the water to pour out when I opened the car door. Seriously! There was a hell of a lot of water in the car. The whole bonnet of the 4-wheel drive was under water - I must have ended up in 4-5 foot of water.

So - what next?. My new friend Shaun (the one who towed me out) gave me a lift to the nearest resort where we telephoned the only mechanic on the island. The less than helpful gentleman was unwilling to leave his workshop but gave instructions on how to get a diesel engine started again. My friend Shaun was keen to have a go at getting me started again, and as I know nothing about engines I was happy for him to try. Sadly, the lazy mechanic hadn't been too exact with his instructions so as it turned out Shaun was fiddling about with entirely the wrong part of the engine. (Another lesson in relying on enthusiastic but amateur good Samaritans)

So I went back to the nearest resort with the intention of hassling the mechanic to come and help me out, but this proved to be a mission impossible. The rangers and resort staff were pretty convinced that as it was now the afternoon he would be blind drunk and I'd be best off looking elsewhere. So I tracked down a general odd-job man, who knew what he was doing and it took him 20 minutes to get the water out of the engine and to get the Rocky going again. It's quite dramatic to see the water shooting out at hundreds of miles per hours - 100 years ago you could have sold tickets for people to watch.

So I sped off, and spent the afternoon driving round the Island, stopping off to see a few sights relieved that I had dodged the bullet. I thought I'd stop to get a bit more fuel for the journey off the island, and catch the last ferry. But my luck had run out, and this time the poor old Rocky refused to start (this is when I nearly assaulted the obnoxious South African boy, so you can see he didn't choose the best of times to approach me).

My odd-job friend came and had a look, but this time he proved unable to help me out. As salt water had got into the engine and dried out, there were now tiny grains of salt coating the electrics, which were going to cause trouble and there was nothing that could be done. I would have to stay another night, get a jump start in the morning and drive back to Brisbane without stopping the engine. Which is what I did - discovering from some of the resort staff, and various people coming up to me, that I had been the talk of the island all-day long.

Obviously I felt like a right twat. Part of the family mythology was that the Rocky was indestructible, and had survived hell and high water (this time the high water was literal). I had had it 48 hours and had fucked it up completely. I got back to Brisbane, where I told my uncle that I'd had a bit of an accident and that the car was pretty damaged. I don't think he believed me at first, but even when he worked out that I must have been in a hell of a lot of water it didn't seem to affect him much. Thankfully not much fazes Uncle Dougie, and he's convinced that he'll get it going again...


At 11:10 am, Anonymous Sheila said...

That's all very well but you have not said what you did on Xmas day. Did you have the barbie on the beach? And please don't file any more stories about getting cars stuck in remote islands at the other end of the world, it's too worrying for us stuck here with just our little AA cards for security.

Glad to see you doing all that walking - will I be able to drag you up the Cheviots when you get back?

Happy New Year to you and all possums everywhere.


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