Trekking Through Coloured Sands

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that I had lost my debit card while on a 16 mile hike (well, actually, 15 miles), and I said I would describe that day in more detail. Here is my story:

Right now, I’m Cairns, Queensland, but about 17 hours south of here is a sleepy town called Rainbow Beach. Rainbow Beach earned its name due to an Aboriginal myth, which says that Yiningie, a god represented by a rainbow, protected a woman from an evil spirit. Yiningie died in the battle, and his shattered body spread across the cliffs, coloring the sands. For this reason, the multicolored cliffs just south of Rainbow Beach are called “Coloured Sands”.

Anyways, back to me. I’m the most important character in this story, after all. Haha. On Wednesday, March 27, 2013, I arrived at Rainbow Beach and camped out on the nearby peninsula, Inskip Point. Inskip Point is one of two places (the other is Hervey Bay) where you can access Fraser Island, whether you book a guided tour or drive your own 4×4 there. For those of you who don’t know, Fraser Island is the northern section of Great Sandy National Park and is the largest sand island in the world.

I had booked a Fraser Island tour for Friday, so on Thursday, I had a whole day to kill. I drove to the nearby Rainbow Beach information center and asked about trails, where I could photograph wildlife. The staff suggested a trail through the Cooloola section of Great Sandy National Park to a lighthouse at Double Island Point. The trail to the lighthouse is 15.5 kilometers, which is about 9.6 miles, so if you factor in the trip back, the total hike to and from the lighthouse is 31 kilometers or about 19.3 miles.

The distance seemed serious, but I shrugged and decided to “give it a go”. After all, the day was still young (about 12:30pm), and I could probably tackle it in a few hours, and I really wanted to photograph that lighthouse, too!

‘And, besides,’ I thought, ‘kilometers are a greater number than miles, so 31 kilometers can’t be as bad as they seem.’

I stopped at my van and ate lunch. Then, I stuffed a couple bottles of water in my pack and left the Rainbow Beach information center. I plunged into the forest and was immediately reminded of home. If not for the eucalyptus trees (and the occasional lace monitor scurrying into the bush or up a tree), I would’ve thought I was in Newport News Park or First Landing State Park.

The forest portion of the trail to Double Island Point.

Overwhelmed by the forest’s familiarity, I let down my guard. I forgot that I was on the hilly coast of eastern Australia and not the flat coastal plains of the eastern United States, and therefore, I assumed the terrain would be flat. As I proceeded, I realized this was not true. The terrain was very hilly, and the trail had many steep drops and inclines. A few times, I had to grind my boots against the ground to keep myself from sliding down the trail. A leisurely hike became a tremendous chore, and with every step, I resented the forest. Hours passed, and I wasn’t even looking for wildlife anymore. I just wanted to get out of those horrid woods.

Worst of all, I hadn’t seen anyone on the forest trail. Nobody coming from the lighthouse. Nobody going to the lighthouse. Just me. Earlier, I had heard a couple faint voices some distance behind me, but they must’ve either turned back or taken the nearby (and shorter) path to Carlo Sandblow. When I had heard them behind me, I wished they’d go away because I didn’t want them to scare off any critters. Now, I wanted them back.

Several hours in, I decided to check my cell phone to see how far 31 kilometers was in miles. I converted the distance: 19.262507. Shit. This was a bad idea. Still, I had set out to photograph that lighthouse, and I was gonna do it, Goddammit. I trudged on.

The trees cast longer and longer shadows, and I was wondering when I would reach (or, at least, see) the ocean. Every now-and-then, I heard a rushing sound, perhaps waves, but I had a hunch that it was the wind. Cursed woods. I had to get out of there before nightfall.

You see, Australia’s well known for its dangerous critters, and eastern Queensland is home to some of the worst: death adders, taipans, brown snakes, tiger snakes. During the day (and from a safe distance), I would be thrilled to find and photograph these awesome animals. But, during the night (and without a flashlight, no less), I would not be thrilled to find them. Considering how much time the forest hike had eaten up so far, I knew I would be hiking back in the dark.

Then, I thought about the beach. The previous night, at Inskip Point, the sky was clear, and the moon lit up the whole beach.

‘If I don’t get back before it gets really dark,’ I thought, ‘tonight’s moon should light my way. And the beach is straight and flat.’ I nodded at my own suggestions. ‘Yes, I will do that. I will go back along the beach’

Finally, after much more walking, I emerged from the woods and found a restroom. I’d been rationing my water as best as I could, but I was hoping to acquire more at the restroom’s faucet (you’d gotta do what you’ve gotta do). However, in many places, Australia is quite dry and water is a precious commodity. Australian toilets are specially designed to conserve water. Faucets are designed to conserve water. Even urinals (which are basically troughs with a sponge a drains inside) are designed to conserve water. Thus, I was not too surprised when I went to the sink and saw this sign:

Don’t Drink the Water.

Like many restroom faucets in Australia, the water is recycled, which means it’s treated sewage. You can use it to wash your hands, boots, whatever. But don’t put it anywhere near your mouth. Well, no water for me.

‘I’ll be fine,’ I thought. ‘I’m at the beach now.’ (The restroom is between the forest and the beach.) ‘The sun will be setting, and the walk will be easy.’ I glanced at a nearby marker that read “Double Island Point Lighthouse 3.4 kilometres —>”. ‘Nope. Screw that lighthouse. Not worth the effort.’

So, I turned left and stepped out onto the beach. I arrived just in time to see the tail end of a Landcruiser, humming up the shore (and away from me) in a hurry. Soon, it was out of sight.

I turned to the ocean–the Coral Sea. Out on the water, a crimson catamaran sailed along the coast, but it was quite far from me. I do not even think the crew knew I was there. They were probably drunk.

I stared at the sand. Here and there, a few footprints intermingled with tire tracks, but there were no people around. Not even one. Once again, I was alone.


I mostly enjoy solitude, but this time, I had a terrible feeling. This solitude was not the peaceful, energizing kind. This solitude was ominous and unsettling, and it grated my soul.

Yet, I shrugged off this feeling and started up the beach. The surf was strong, and the waves were creeping rather close, but the sand was still wet higher up, where the waves had not touched, and I assumed the tide was receding.

‘Everything will be fine,’ I thought and chugged my last bottle of water.

I trudged along, following the footprints in the sand. Surely, they’d lead me back.

Behind me, I heard a rock tumble down a hillside, and I immediately turned around. High up on the hill, a lace monitor (Australians call them “goannas”) prowled, looking for food. I’d seen many of the big lizards before, but the afternoon light was right on this one. Ideal for photography. I raised my 150-500mm Sigma lens and snapped several shots.

The lace monitor on the hill.

‘Well,’ I finally have some wildlife shots for today,’ I mused. ‘He’s right up on the hill, too. Maybe this hike was worthwhile after all.’

Then, I realized that these huge hills paralleled the beach for as far as I could see. The hills were steep and covered in roots, bushes, and trees. They were also quite colorful, and they were flecked with red, brown, white, tan, cream, and numerous other colored sands. These were the Coloured Sands. The final resting place of the rainbow god.

Despite their beauty, unless you are a goanna or a bird (or have some decent climbing equipment), you could not climb the Coloured Sands. If the tide came in, I would not be able to escape the beach. The beach only exists at low tide. At high tide, the water rises up to the Coloured Sands. This was nothing like the U.S. east coast.

Then, as I reached a narrow strip of beach ahead, I noticed the tide WAS coming in. The surf was creeping higher and higher. I climbed over a fallen tree, splashing my Blundstone boots into the rising surf.

Thankfully, these narrow patches were few and far in between, although that did not relieve my troubled mind. These waters were shark infested. Bull sharks actively roamed the tidal zone and rivers; tiger sharks had been caught just offshore; and white pointers (another name for great whites) had been spotted close to shore. As if that wasn’t bad enough, these shark species are the three most dangerous sharks in the world…and they were all patrolling these waters, perhaps mere feet (or inches) from my position.

As the sun began to sink behind the hills, I glanced at the sea. Sharks are always around, but they are most active at dawn, dusk, and night because those are their primary feeding hours. This did not bode well for an inept naked ape stumbling around through knee deep water. Easy prey for one of the ocean’s most ancient and feared predators.

‘I need to get the hell off this beach,’ I thought. Compared to this, those horrid woods were Candyland. ‘Snakes? I was worried about snakes? I haven’t even SEEN a snake, since I arrived over two weeks ago. I should’ve just hiked to Carlo Sandblow.’

I began to panic. I pulled out my phone and dialed 000, the Australian emergency number, and asked for the police. The dispatcher redirected me to Rainbow Beach Police. An Aussie fellow on the other end of the line inquired about my situation, and I explained everything.

“I reckon you’ll be alright,” he said. “Just keep on walking up the beach. There are some stairs up near Carlo Sandblow.”

I thanked him and apologized for calling. I felt a little better now. I had been walking for quite some time, and I was pretty sure I was close to Carlo Sandblow. Yet, the tide seemed to be rising faster now, as if the sea was alive and could hear me. Perhaps, the evil spirit had returned. Without the rainbow god, no one could stop him. I was his next victim.

The sun flicked out like a flame burning through the last piece of wick. But darkness did not consume me. The moon was out, as I had predicted (well, assumed, really), and there were no clouds. Had I been less stressed, I would’ve said, “This is beautiful”. Romantic walks on moonlit beaches would never be the same.

I’ll admit, I’m not as religious as I used to be, but that night, I clasped my cross. Had the moon been shrouded, I don’t know what I would’ve done.

I pushed onwards. I had no choice. The woods were far behind me, and the tide had blocked my way back anyhow, but Carlo Sandblow was not far ahead. Or so I thought. After slogging for another hour, I realized I was not as close to Carlo Sandblow as I’d assumed.

I had left the Coloured Sands behind, and there were now huge, white sandy dunes in their place, but no sign of Carlo Sandblow (I hadn’t visited it yet, so I wasn’t sure what it looked like) or stairs. This was not good.

On the stretches ahead, the beach had practically disappeared, and only slippery rocks remained. Cautiously, I crossed them, my heavy camera around my neck, my big Sigma lens around my shoulder, and my tripod and pack on my back. Aside from the obvious physical dangers, if I slipped or lost my balance, I’d tumble into the water carrying thousands of dollars of electronic equipment.

Once I’d reached another patch of beach that hadn’t disappeared (yet), I decided to follow some footprints up the dunes and attempt to climb them. The going was slow, but I managed to make it halfway up. I climbed up even farther, after stowing my camera and lens in my bag, but I soon reached a particularly steep point that I could not scale. I had nothing to grab (to hoist mysefl up), aside from thin, brittle roots that could not hold my weight, and the dune was too steep to dig my feet in.

Defeated, I made my way back down. I was parched and wished I still had some water. I kept imagining drinking big 1.5 litre (that’s how Aussies spell it) bottles of crisp, ice cold water. But those fantasies quickly dissipated when I lost my grip on my backpack, containing all of my photography equipment, and watched it slide down the dune, dropping somewhere on the beach. Quickly, I grabbed the rest of my belongings and slid down after it.

On the beach again, I found my bag, which had–fortunately–not slid into the ocean. Now, I began to run. Well, sprint. Encumbered by all of my heavy equipment, I could only manage short bursts. I made some progress, but I stopped once I realized I was only hastening my dehydration.

Ahead, another section of slippery, surf-washed rocks waited. I clutched my bag and tripod dearly. The evil spirit probably wanted my camera. Perhaps, he was a photographer and couldn’t afford the equipment himself. Well, he wasn’t going to get it. As the sea receded, I carefully weaved through the rocks, determined to escape this damned beach. 

Suddenly, a surprise wave rushed up past my knees, splashing over the bottom of my pack, where my cameras and lenses were stored. Remembering that water + electronics = bad, I headed back up into the dunes. Footprints lead up that way, so I followed them. I tried scaling another dune, but that one was no more climbable than the previous one.

More footprints went around the dunes, and I traced them up into an immense sandblow, which turned out to be Carlo Blow. Then, around the corner, I found the stairs. The stairs that the policeman had told me about I-don’t-know-how-many-hours-ago. Sanctuary, at last.

I hopped the rail onto the stairs and thumped up them. Then, once I’d reached the road at the top, I fell flat on my back and lay on the asphalt. Sand and seawater caked my body, and I looked as if I’d been wandering the wilderness for days, not hours. In fact, my exhaustion was so great that, when I checked my wallet, saw my soggy passport, and noticed my one and only debit card was missing (probably slipped out while I was running to escape the tide), I hardly shrugged. I was just happy to be alive. And have my photography equipment intact! The evil spirit had failed.

So that’s the story of how I lost my bank card. I’ll explain what I did after that in my next blog post. Cheers!

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