Kim M Horwood
Warning: Contents May Be Epic
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
It all started with the BCF voucher the kids bought Mr Ed for Father’s Day.
I suggested they buy a Bunnings voucher. There is a significant difference between the two. Allow me to demonstrate:
Scenario #1 (Bunnings Voucher): “Oh wow, you finished the reno downstairs that you started the last time Broncos were in the finals!”
Scenario #2 (BCF Voucher): “Oh wow, you bought another fishing rod!”
“I bought a new fishing rod!” Mr Ed said two weeks later, “And I booked us a holiday next week on Fraser Island!”
“Oh wow,” I said, “Can we afford that? Is it a house or a unit?”
“Hell no, we can’t afford a house,” Mr Ed laughed, on account of he’s been unemployed for 2 months, “We’re going camping!”
We haven’t camped in a while, mostly because I hate it. I was remembering back to camping trips with the kids – sand in my bed, ants in my corn flakes, my food floating in melted ice. Nowadays there’s the issue of walking my menopausal bladder more than three metres to a toilet. Not to mention the horrors of Fraser Island – I was terrified of getting bogged, or being taken by dingoes, or eaten by sharks, and of spiders that were so big you have to dig a hole after you kill one, to hide the body from Rangers because the whole place is World Heritage Listed.
Before I knew it, the Pajero was on the Manta Ray Barge heading to a campsite on the largest sand island in the world. We’d booked coincidentally at the same campground some of my rello’s frequent every September.
Coming off the barge, we were greeted by a dingo on the beach. “No, you hardly ever see dingoes,” my sister had said, “And 4-wheel-driving on the beach is easy!”
Take it from me, 4WDing is not 'easy'. We hit soft sand because the tide was high, particularly at a place called Hook Point where there was only a Pajero sized space between the sand bank and the Coral Sea. I was trying to distract myself with the beauty of Fraser, the colour of that ocean and birds I’d never seen before, when Mr Ed hit a mound in the sand that turned out to be a tree trunk. Everything in the car became airborne and when it all came crashing down it packed a few inches tighter – me included. I was worried about the old girl. No, not me, the Pajero, considering she’s 16 in human years. God only knows what that is in Pajero years!
Our camping destination would take almost 3 hours driving time, which surprised me. I always imagined islands to be small, like those newspaper cartoons where a bearded castaway is standing on a sand mound beside a single palm tree, while a cruise ship is passing and he’s waving it on because it’s branded with the name ‘Ruby Princess’.
The 2-way radio Mr Ed bought off a guy on Marketplace, came to life with static, my nephew’s voice cheering he’d spotted “big white Migaloo”. There were worse nicknames for the Pajero than Australia’s best-known albino humpback. Besides, our ‘Migaloo’ had found her herd and was now galloping beside Hilux’s, Navara’s and ‘Cruisers – Land Cruisers that is. Once you’re a part of the herd, it’s not cool to use the full breed name anymore.
With camp site erected, my sister gave me the toilet-block low-down.
“Showers are $2 for 3 minutes, try to get shower no.1 because the others are just a dribble and remember to tap the toilet roll holders for spiders before you sit”. I mostly entered those toilets with fists clenched under my chin so my brain could channel all concentration to my eyes. Releasing a hand to bang the toilet roll holder took adventurous bravery or blind stupidity because when I thought about it, did I want to know if there was a spider in there?
No spiders. Day 1 was done.
Day 2 was about 4WD tracks, driving through creeks, brown with tea tree, and whale watching at Platypus Bay. No sightings of Migaloo – she was on the sand with an awning pulled from her side, failing to shield me from sunburn in places I’d forgotten the sunscreen, like my face and decolletage. Which is the fancy word I love to use for that space creased by the weight of sagging boobs.
Day 3, Mr Ed woke with a fright. On the sandy pillow beside him, my head looked like it had been in a nuclear blast with burning red face and wiry hair fluffed like steel-wool. (Sorry ‘Toni & Guy’, your Texturising Spray did not give me beachy waves as claimed. Expect an email from me.) Luckily Day 3 was only for fishing.
By Day 4, I understood why they made bumper stickers that read, ‘I Got Bogged at Ngkala Rocks’. I’d seen them at the Orchid Beach shop on Day 3 when we bought my grandbaby his first tourist t-shirt. We’d shouted ourselves fish and chips that day because Mr Ed couldn’t catch that elusive tailor he’d been hunting. (He went back out later that afternoon and caught a 45cm tailor and 26cm dart that we ate for dinner. Thank you for your sacrifice Mr Tailor and Mr Dart.)
Anyway, crossing Ngkala Rocks was akin to crossing a war torn battlefield, a landscape eroded by wind, waves and wheels, that you hoped wouldn’t swallow you whole. I’d already been pummeled by menopause, so how bad could it be.
At the track’s entrance around Ngkala’s coffee rocks, 4WD’s had started to queue because the Rangers’ vehicle was bogged. You would think this would be a warning to other drivers, but not the 4WD herd. This just made the challenge more inviting.
After the Ranger was pulled out, vehicles began the slow climb. The track started, up and over sand compacted between rock, then down into a cut-out filled with seawater up to our headlights; up and around the next hill was tougher with soft loose sand swallowing our tyres. We were grateful for the Cruiser in front – friends hooked up a snatch-strap and yanked us out.
It was a snippet of adventure that had me embracing our place in the herd. After running the Ngkala gauntlet, we spent a glorious day amongst white sand dunes, cooking chicken on the Weber loaded into the back of the Pajero, and taking wee-walks with my sister in bushland full of dingo tracks while wielding a stick as a warning to any stalking us.
I’d climbed on hands and feet to the top of sand dunes, looking down on waters known for green turtles. My niece spotted one lingering in shallows so blue I was almost tempted to go swimming. Almost. Sandy Cape was magnificent. Our trip home, not so magnificent.
Coming back over Ngkala Rocks, we were stuck again in that same soft sand, now chopped up by herds of 4WD’s that had also answered the call to Sandy Cape.
This time it was like quicksand and not even the Cruiser could pull us out. After digging, laying recovery tracks and more digging by nephews and new friends, Mr Ed freed the Pajero by reversing out which all but tore off the bash plate underneath.
Then we had to tackle Ngkala again. This time Mr Ed took a run up from the beach, hitting the sand at full pelt, the Pajero sliding out on a 90-degree corner, bouncing and rocking over the track, revs peaking. Inside the car was like a washing machine, fishing rods flying, Weber bouncing, the dashboard tissue box hitting me in the chest. In this moment I understood the purpose of all those handles inside our Pajero, as I braced. Still, I have random bruises in spots I can’t explain. As a PA and writer, the only adrenalin rush I know is a closing deadline. The adrenalin rush from our 4WD-ing adventure, was sure to cause irreparable damage to my heart, only it was instantly repaired by the elation of finding I was not dead at the end of it.
On the other side, we stopped, got out, jumped up and down a few times, cheering for ourselves before continuing back to camp.
Unfortunately, the Pajero was not as excited as we were. She suddenly lost power, blowing clouds of smoke from her rear pipe. Our big white Migaloo was beached as bro.
My brother-in-law’s Hilux had to tow us, we limped all the way back to camp. After the suggestion we may have cracked a piston, Mr Ed and I cried ourselves to sleep.
Two days later, the Pajero sulked all the way to the barge under tow from the Hilux, on and off the other end. We found a lovely young mechanic at Rainbow Beach Service Centre, who diagnosed our Pajero had only blown a valve – a part that may be difficult to find for our old girl.
I’m not sure how one usually determines if a car is male or female, but I can confirm that our Pajero is female. I’m certain of that because I’ve also blown a valve or two… or four, like when I gave birth, a few times while I was peri-menopausal, and again when my husband lost his job. I can relate, which is why I gave the Pajero’s undercarriage a gentle hose-out when we got home. She deserved some TLC.
Now that Mr Ed has some time on his hands, he’ll be hunting Pajero valves instead of tailor. Migaloo will hit the beaches again soon, but for now I’m nursing her wilting ego after being hauled onto a tow-truck home to Brisbane.
Following the sunburn, my aging skin now has a tan that my 18-year-old self would be jealous of. Thanks to the sun and stress I also have 4 cold sores, a record for me. Plus, I can never again be accused of being a Princess. While packing up camp, my brother-in-law discovered a scorpion under our tent, to which he declared, “You can’t be a real princess, otherwise you would have felt it!”
We are enormously grateful to so many. Not only for helping us, but also for our adventures.
I’ve learnt, you must find your herd, because you can’t do epic things with basic people. And our holiday was epic.
P.S. Seriously, HUGE thanks to Leanne, Neal, Jason, Michael, Amy, Mum, Dad, Kathy, Terry, Shaun, and Kat, for their generosity and kindness. And to Deb and Paul for pulling over to pick us up from Rainbow Beach – that was our first-time hitch-hiking.
P.P.S. Go to my Facebook page for the video of our epic run through Ngkala Rocks.