May 24-27th, 2018
Koalas, Hikes, and Snorkeling
After breakfast and tucking away our big backpacks, we squished the two of us, plus two small backpacks, and a bag of food on one of the motorcycles and headed over to the ferry terminal. We squeezed in next to the other families, backpackers, and delivery trucks on the barge and enjoyed a forty minute ride over to Magnetic Island.
The island is only 20 sq miles and home to roughly 2,000 permanent residents, but filled with things to do. Our hostel, the Bungalow Bay Koala Sanctuary, was near Horseshoe Bay and the surrounding beach and hiking trails.
The first day, we strolled past all the cafes and shops and trekked on a trail that went past Balding Bay, Radical Bay, and Arthur Bay through jungle patches and evergreen pines. The little coves looked almost untouched, as if we were the first to discover them amidst the boulders and trees.
The hostel was overrun by an American school group of nineteen year olds. It was bizarre hearing American accents dominating the room, but instead of feeling homesick, it made me cringe a bit since they were stereotypically loud. On one of the hostel event forms, it asked you to fill in what country you were from. OF COURSE a girl in the group wrote Texas as her country (face palm).
On the bright side, we met a father and son motorcycling together and were in awe of his journey. The son had biked all the way from Austria to Australia, through places like Iran and Pakistan and Southeast Asia. It was inspiring since this is one of my life dreams but I’d never met someone that had actually done it.
It was interesting seeing how the locals lived on the island, just like on mainland but on a smaller scale. I ran past children waiting for the school bus each morning and imagined what it’d be like living in such a magical place. Real estate is pretty cheap, but you’re stuck paying for the high cost of gasoline and groceries to be imported.
One of the highlights of the island is the Fort Trail, which is a winding dirt path through the remains of an old WW2 fort. The military used this as a lookout point for enemy ships, so naturally, it offered stunning views of the surrounding island, Townsville, and the open ocean. This fort didn’t see too much action escape for a few close calls with the Japanese, so I can imagine the soldiers lived a pretty sweet life on the island.
At one point on the path, a cluster of people were gathered around a tree and looking up. As we neared, I squealed when I realized it was a snoozing koala, only a few feet away. The koala could not care less about the people and just kept stretching and napping while we stood gawking at him for the longest time. I spotted another one in a nearby tree and gushed over the cuddly sweet face and little tufts of hair coming from the ears. I left more than satisfied after seeing one in the wild, and then saw another one further down the path!
We were kicking ourselves for not bringing the DSLR camera with us to capture the cuteness, so we went back out after lunch with the camera. On the way, we stopped at Wallaby Way (No P. Shermans here, sadly :P). In a clump of eucalyptus trees, we saw a mother koala with a little baby on her back and I lost all composure and melted into a googley eyed fan girl. It was the cutest thing imaginable. We spotted another sleepy koala in the tree next to hers, and then another one! And another one! We kept seeing more and more and ended the day with seeing ten koalas!
The next day, we decided to take a stab at snorkeling here since there’s supposed to be great reefs, fish, and shipwrecks. Equipped with snorkels, fins, goggles, stinger suits, and a laminated “snorkel trail” map, we felt prepared. I slipped into the suit (which had mittens so I didn’t have to touch fish!! :D), and waded into the choppy water of Geoffrey Bay down the old ferry landing. It turns out today had south easterly winds, which blew any chances of water clarity. We bobbed out to the first buoy along the trail and looked down. I couldn’t even see my own neon orange fins, let alone a coral reef or sunken WW2 airplane propeller. We struggled against the waves to the next buoy but had the same bad luck and decided to call it quits. At least the photo of me in my suit was worth it.
In addition to running, hiking, and snorkeling, we spent time cruising along the winding roads on the motorbike. It was easy to cover the expanse of the island, even though some of the roads were dirt. It’s funny driving around the island because you see hundreds of adults playing Malibu Barbie in these tiny pink rental cars. I think they were all made over twenty years ago, which I feel like makes them the old school version of the Smart Car.
The dirt roads took us through the jungle paths and past swamps and remote bungalows until we popped out on the other side at West Point. This side of the island was populated by three homes and a camper van, yet had one of the most spectacular views Townsville and the bay. Magnetic Island seemed like the perfect place for people that wanted to be in the remote nature in the depths of the island jungle, yet stay connected to city life at only forty minutes away from Townsville.
At the end of our three days, we drove along the winding hill roads one more time, taking in the views of the beaches and bays at every crest. Just before hopping on the ferry, we road down to Geoffrey Bay to say hi to the rock wallabys. There were a handful of them hanging out on the large boulders, patiently waiting for tourists to come feed them. They’ve been so conditioned to expect food, that they’re not afraid at all and can even be a bit greedy. They were pretty cute though.
After the ferry ride back to mainland, we caught one more glimpse of the island from the top of the Castle Hill Lookout in Townsville. Getting to the top was no small feat, however, as we took a wrong turn, Byron almost tipped the bike at the top of a steep hill, I got stuck on a rock making a turn, Byron’s backpack fell off, and we couldn’t upright the bike from the kickstand because of the steep incline, all while sweating buckets inside my jacket. BUT despite these challenges, we made it to the top and the view was well worth it.
Accommodation: Bungalow Bay YHA, $29 per night
Snorkel Gear & Map: $17
Towel Rental: $2
Op Shop Sweatshirt: $5 (Yes, I regret shipping my own sweatshirt home thinking it was going to be warmer)