Four-wheel driving on a beach is a thrilling but potentially risky activity - just ask those in the know around South East Queensland's famous Rainbow Beach.
Rainbow Beach is a gateway to Fraser Island, attracting a sizeable portion of the eventual visitors to the world’s largest sand island. The sheer volume of four-wheel driving visitors around Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island has typically resulted in incident rates that are higher than most places where beach driving is common, the nature of which are almost always avoidable.
Jessica Haring is on the frontline of the battle against ‘driver error’, working in 4WD hire at the Rainbow Beach Adventure Centre.
“Skylarking, figure eight driving, climbing sand dunes, doughnuts - they all end in tears,” Jessica says.
“Impact derived damage is the most common kind of damage our hire vehicles are prone to, and speed is often the culprit.”
Working in 4WD hire means Jessica is often dealing with the uninitiated, though she insists that the perils of beach driving around Fraser and surrounds are real for all-comers.
“Fraser Island does not discriminate. Even the most experienced can fall victim to changing conditions and a lack of concentration.”
“The general rule of thumb is to navigate beaches two-and-a-half hours either side of the low tide and in reverse avoid beach driving two-and-a-half hours either side of the high tide. This means that the low tidal beach window will vary between 4-6 hours at a time, depending on the height of the tides on the day, where a high tide will vary between one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half metres”
This observation is truer still in Rainbow Beach, where there’s an obstacle lying in wait for unsuspecting vehicles that aren’t alert to the danger: Mudlo Rocks.
Situated south of the Rainbow Beach Township, Mudlo Rocks are famous for claiming vehicles, oftentimes those driving along the beach from Double Island Point. Victims’ vehicles get stuck driving over the rocks or attempting to go around them, and encroaching tides happily devour vehicles within the blink of an eye. So common are vehicle drownings that those in the know call vehicles that get caught ‘stickers’.
Cassie Head is one of those people, and to prove it she runs Rock Report Rainbow Beach, a Facebook page dedicated to sharing information about the conditions and dangers surrounding Rainbow Beach’s famed rocks (with ‘4x4 fails’ aplenty).
“I think the biggest attribution to ‘stuckers’ is not respecting the tides and a ‘She'll be right mate,’ mentality,” Cassie says.
According to www.cooloola.org.au, between 2000-2010 almost 400 vehicles perished underneath the waves and sand around Mudlo Rocks, which equates to a stunning rate of almost a vehicle a week. Such is the carnage at a busy time like Easter, bystanders will bring chairs and eskys to sit and watch the damage unfold, because it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
“The event that sticks with me was Easter 2012. We had 5 vehicles get stuck and subsequently lost. The one I had the most involvement with was when a guy got himself stuck from bad driving, and a good Samaritan who stopped to help ended up losing his vehicle too, which was not insured. The tow truck could not get the vehicle out when it came to remove it and it is still there under the sand.”
The lesson as Cassie and Jessica agree is to respect the tides and be knowledgeable about what conditions can be expected. When planning to drive on any beach, know what you’re getting into and plan your trip around the tides; not to mention ensuring you know proper sand driving technique. Though as Cassie tells us, when it comes to somewhere as potentially troublesome as Rainbow Beach, there are some additional laws to abide by.
“The other unwritten rule is if you have not let your tyres down and get bogged, most people won't help you. Also, if someone does help you, a six-pack is the minimum payment. You must use your own snatch strap and not expect your helper to use theirs!”
However, there’s the potential upside of social media fame if you do end up being one of the unlucky (or foolish) four-wheel drivers to lose their car to Mudlo Rocks and its partner in crime, the ocean.
“Don't take risks… or you will find yourself having images (of your vehicle) being laughed at on the Rock Report!” says Cassie.