Townsville and Magnetic Islands, 7th October
Today is officially one month since we stepped on Australian soil and we plan to celebrate it suitably. We wake up in the same place as yesterday - the camping-hostel in Airlie Beach. We pack up, as usual, take the bag from the fridge in the communal kitchen and set off. We’ve decided to travel the road to Townsville in one go so we can see it all today and go straight to Cairns tomorrow. Hurray! Three and a half hours driving Bertie without stopping!
We arrive in Townsville shortly after 1 pm and get straight to Castle Hill Lookout. The coastal city is flat with the exception of this hill that is sticking out from its centre. Unfortunately for the locals, it is 14 metres too short and that doesn’t allow for Castle Hill to be considered a mountain. 3 years ago Nic and I made the mistake of climbing the hill in Nafplio by foot when we travelled for two weeks in Greece (before this trip that one was the impressive one). Well, this time we will not be tricked and we will go up in the car. Thirsty for water and fresh air we jump out of Bertie! We even manage to water the local bees, gathered around the water fountain in anticipation.
Maybe it isn’t a mountain but the view compensates for that flaw - a 360-degree view over Townsville and the nearby islands. And the lookout spot isn’t just the one either. Therefore, we circle all of them to collect all the angles. The stadium, the marina, houses, the ocean and Magnetic Island. Beauty!
Back down in town, we are looking for lunch but everything is closed. Hm… it’s a Monday today, why is nothing working? Well, at least the supermarket is - for olives, hummus, marinated artichoke and fresh artisan bread. Just about to sit down on a bench to eat and Nic realised that if we don’t get on the ferry for Magnetic island in 12 minutes we will have to wait for 2 hours. I don’t know much about the island but Nic mentions wild koalas and feeding rock wallabies at sunset. Well, we will need as much time there as we can get. Everything goes back into the backpack and we rush to the harbour. Nic is parking while I buy tickets and at the last minute we sit down on the ferry. Phew!
We reach the island starving so we decide not to get on the bus towards the centre of the island yet but instead to sit down and eat in the shade. Well, that was a mistake! Though a delicious mistake … Naturally, the schedule for the bus matches that of the ferry. Meaning that those two hours we tried to take advantage of are now again an issue. And, of course, it turns out today is a bank holiday - everything is closed (ah, that explains some things). They are celebrating the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II as part of the Commonwealth. And now what? Plus the day is way too hot for walking around without a shade …
We discuss our options with the woman at the harbour and decide to risk it and walk to Arcadia, one of the villages on the islands From there we can try and catch the bus. Not that it is more regular there but at least we won’t waste precious time and will see a bit more.
Magnetic Island is unofficially one of the neighbourhoods of Townsville. At 52 km2 over 2,000 people live there and 800 koalas - a good ratio if you ask me. The name of the island is unusual and for that we can thank … ? You guessed that right! Captain James Cook - this is the last time I mention him, I promise! When he sailed the Queensland waters for the first time in 1770 the ship compass was affected and the Captain explained there were magnetic waves coming from the land. Well, many experiments have been undertaken around the islands in the last 250 years and no such fields have been registered. I guess the compass was due a service …
The path from the ferry harbour at Nelly Bay to Arcadia is a new installation. 2 kilometres unbelievable views towards the ocean beaches. And it took us just 15 minutes to walk it - the woman scared us unnecessarily that we will die of heat and dehydration. That is typical here - on all signs, timing is always overestimated. In the Bulgarian mountains when you a sign saying “2 hours to which-ever chalet” you multiply that by 1.5 to get the actual time. Here it is the opposite - for two kilometres it will say 45 minutes walking. Everywhere is the same, which does give you the feelings of super-human-abilities when you finish it in a third of the time.
We get there in 15 minutes meaning there is still quite the wait for the bus. The stop is right next to a hotel complex and we quickly find ourselves with a coke in hand. Great, however, something is eating me away. Is this why we gave all that money for the ferry - to sit and drink coke!? No, we are walking to the next stop.
The day is hot indeed! And at some point, we miss the turnoff onto the pedestrian path and end up walking the road on a steep slope which even on today’s bank holiday is plenty busy. But no need to despair - after all, 800 koalas live here. This is basically our last chance to see them in the wild because in four days we will be leaving straight West through the savanna highway and the koalas only like the East coast. Now or never - watch very carefully (I will say this only once)!
The bus we’ve been waiting for all this time passes us on the road but there are no hard feelings as we are almost there. We have decided to go on the Forts Walk where the grey fluffballs are most often seen according to the Great Internet. During the 2nd World War Magnetic Island was a military base and an important defence point which is why the hill has battle forts - hence, Forts Walk.
Every cell of mine is in anticipation. Where are they? Is that a koala or a rock? What about that - a koala or a branch? Do you hear something moving over there? It’s not a koala, it’s a kangaroo! Can you imagine how far we’ve gone to be disappointed seeing a wild kangaroo!? At about halfway we pass a woman and she, obviously seeing the impatience in our eyes, explains that she has already seen 6. Just a little further to the right. Oooooh! 10 minutes later we are still at a loss and start to totally despair. But we see a group of people to the right. And there!
A fluffy koala cuddled high up in the eucalyptus branches. And not just that! She is not alone. In her arms there is a joey, cuddled into mum. Completely taken over by happiness we take as many pictures as we can! The good thing about the lazy koalas is that they aren’t easily frightened and almost nothing can move them. They just lay there watching you from above. “What’s so special for you to gather all around me?” We don’t stay long because now we are recharged on hope and want to see many more! At least 6 - like that woman.
We continue on the path and observe, but we are not alone. In front of us are two women accompanied by an unforgettable friend - a wonderful red-blue parrot on their shoulder (like the ones we took pictures of in the Blue Mountains). The owner lives on the island and is even a ranger in the National Park. Therefore, the 2-year-old Navis (that’s the parrot’s name) regularly goes on walks around the island on a little leash. It is unbelievable how most people class only cats and dogs as pets. And yet there are crazy ones too that won’t fit in a box and walk around with parrots, ferrets or lizards (yes, I have seen those too!).
We reach the top. Unfortunately, the rest of the path doesn’t offer any more koala meetings. But the views from the former battle forts are impressive, especially the look to the West towards the continent. Plus the sun is at the perfect angle at the moment.
On the way back we stop once again at the mum and joey which are still blissfully asleep in the same eucalyptus and on the path through the forest we find another koala! Fortunately for us, although looking at us grumpily, this fluff is much lower down so we can see him up close. Oh, what a cutie! If you have never seen a koala in real life I can describe it to you very easily. They look just like their stuffed toy counterparts would look like. If you didn’t know it was alive you wouldn’t think it - they are too perfect and cute.
Unwillingly we walk away from the grumpy koala as we still have feeding wallabies on the list. We finally get on the infamous bus and get off at the hotel complex. That’s the spot for the rock wallabies. We arrive right at sunset and opposite us the sky is in the middle of transitioning from a Tequila Sunset cocktail to a dark ale - from magenta, through yellow, blue towards black.
The wallabies are jumping around on the vertical cliffs. They are just small kangaroos and because of the way they are moving on the rocks with their long tails they remind me of huge rats - cute rats (like Remy from Disney’s Ratatouille). To begin with, the animals are scared and don’t come close. Is that what we came for? What have we brought you carrots for? But we find the perfect brave group which, one by one, get down to get a piece of carrot from our hands. They hold our hands so not to move, some even let you pet them. If you have a carrot - it’s okay.
The experience is so recharging and amazing that the German next to us, who so far was only observing us, is now asking us to share some carrot with him. And then to take some pictures. But of course! Everyone deserves to feel this nice. There are few things in life more unforgettable than when a wild animal trusts you. To let you be almost one with Mother Nature.
Naturally, the bus that dropped us off is the only one within the hour so we will wait with a beer in the hotel bar. Enough time to get our thoughts together and to realise what a perfect day we’ve had again. The island might not be magnetic from physics processes or social activities, but its animals are extra magnetic. Okay, I’m ready for the next island!
Vassya (and Nic)