I’ve always had this picture that there is always beautiful weather in Australia. Obviously, this image has been rudely wiped from my mind, having spent three months living and working in Melbourne, where the city tagline is ‘four seasons in one day’ but that’s fine. Naively, I thought that anything north of Brisbane would be hot all year round. And for the most part, that is true. It’s just that I hadn’t really thought about the fact that it’s a tropical climate. And in the tropics, you get rain. A lot of rain. We saw some of this rain whilst enjoying the sights and wonders of Magnetic Island.
Turns out, transport around the Island is a bit of a mission. There is one public bus service that goes from the north to the south where there are a couple of quaint townships. Up in the north you have Horseshoe Bay and in the south, there’s Nelly Bay which is where the ferry docks for access to and from the Island and where our hostel was. All the rest of it is either National Park, only accessible by 4WD, or complete bushland.
Therefore, the thing to do in Maggie Island, as it’s affectionately coined by locals and backpackers alike, is hire a car to see all the hidden spots around. After the driving on Fraser Island, I was quite happy to drive whatever vehicle (hark at her… suddenly an expert driver!) and so we teamed up with our East Coast shadows, Ella and Flo, and split the cost between four, even though it was only Helen and I doing any driving. The choice was between a ‘Barbie car’ or a 4WD. Since we’d been told that you can’t get around unless you had a car that had some serious suspension and a half-decent engine, we opted for the 4WD. Plus, none of us were particularly fussed about driving around in a little pastel-coloured car that looked like a toy and sounded like it struggled to carry 2 passengers along a flat road, let alone any terrain with an actual gradient! My only regret is that we got an open-top car. It would have been so much more comfortable in the torrential rain with a roof over our heads.
Not that we had much of a choice in the matter. When we got to the car hire company, the guy we met was covering for a friend of his who’d had to “go to the mainland” for something or other. He fumbled his way through the health and safety stuff, and got us to fill out some paperwork, popped out back to grab a set of keys and then told us to follow him out into the open air where the cars were waiting for us. There were two groups at this point and it was literally luck of the draw. Both cars were manual and looked like they’d seen better days. Our only instructions were to make sure we cover the car up at night with the cover they provided in the tiniest boot you ever did see. Also, very nicely, they said that if we return the car re-fuelled up, they’d drop us off at the ferry terminal. So far, so good.
On the first day with the car, having picked up our snorkel gear from all over the island (Ella and Flo were staying at a hostel up at the north of the island and we were at the south. For a story about poor customer service in true British style send me a message; I’ll be all too happy to regale you the story!) we checked a map (we didn’t use GPS here!) and headed in the direction of Florence Bay. We got into our stinger-suits on the beach, flippers and all, and an old man called up to us and waved us a bit further down the stretch of pebble-beach. He looked like a seasoned snorkel-master with his yellow swimming shorts, no sign of a stinger-suit, so we followed his advice, backing out of the water so as not to get sand stuck in our flippers. I tell you something… it is a pain in the butt walking about on sand with flippers on! Helen’s top tip for walking in flippers…? Walk backwards. Once we moved over a bit, we did see some fish and other stuff, but compared to the Whitsundays, visibility was rubbish and it wasn’t really much to write home about. Apart from a baby black tip shark. The water couldn’t have been much more than waist deep and this little dude was swimming about. He didn’t stick around for long though, and neither did we.
We headed off to another area, on the hunt for rock wallabies. We came armed with some pellet food for them and followed the signs to Arcadia. I pulled up in this weird little layby on the side of the road with some steps going up and in hindsight, I think this may have been a residential driveway, but there we were, debating on whether the road goes that much further or not, we saw this cute little wallaby with a joey in her pouch, just hanging out on the steps. She was a little jumpy, but after a little while she was quite happy to eat from our hands, Thierry included.
I was the last one, having taken photos for everyone else, and as I sat down next to her, she bounded off down into the bush. I tried to follow her but she was pretty nimble and had probably eaten her fill. We got back into the car and carried on around the corner where there was a whole carpark full of Barbie cars, what with Arcadia being one of the only places you could actually get to in one of those monstrosities. There were so many people there trying to tempt the wallabies with all sorts of foodstuffs from bananas to carrots. We ventured a little bit further into this little cave type area and there were a group of three girls huddled around not one, but two little rock wallabies and a little joey! We asked if I could just grab a quick picture and then we got on our way to Westpoint, which is THE spot to be for the sunset.
The drive to Westpoint was eventful. It was one of the roads that we’d been warned about. When we first got onto the road, it didn’t seem all that bad, we were zooming along at the national speed limit, no dramas, as they say in Aussie-land. Then the road just ends. There’s a sign that says something along the lines of “4WD only past this point” and it turns into a dirt track. Still good, a few minor bumps here and there. Then the bumps turn into signposted dips with a 10km/h limit and then there are craters in the road. It transpires that the quality of the seats varied quite considerably from driver to front passenger to backseat. I was more than happy in the driver’s seat! The rest of the girls though… well, it was always going to be a bumpy ride. One good thing though, Flo had checked out how long it was supposed to take, and then tagged on an extra 20 minutes just so we wouldn’t be late, so whilst we were gearing up for an hour-long drive, we made it in little over 35 minutes!
When we got there, the sky looked ominous but beautiful. It was a hundred versions of grey, from murky lilac to gun metal and everything in between, but then it broke with a streak of bright blue and a band of white light on the horizon where we could see the sun dipping away. We used this as the background for some epic ‘jumping in the sand’ silhouette pictures. Very artistic. Problem was, that by the time I got Thierry out of his precious little bag in my handbag, the parting in the clouds got smaller and smaller but the heavens literally opened and we got drenched. So, you get to see us, but not him.
We called it a day when the rain wouldn’t let up, and jumped into our car. You know, that open-top car I was talking about? Yeah, there was already a pool of rainwater in the backseat, but we were only getting more wet, so we just got on with it. Helen took this drive because she struggled with her back on the way there, and successfully manoeuvred us from Westpoint, along the road with the potholes the size of small ponds, through the bat-filled trees in the dimming light. The rain was relentless. Photo-taking opportunities were minimal! Sitting in the front seat, we at least had the windscreen to protect us from the worst of it, and I was incredibly grateful.
We had heard there was a fantastic Mexican restaurant up in Horseshoe Bay, so we drove the girls back to their hostel to put some dry clothes on and then set off in search of some jalapeños and copious amounts of melted cheese. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be though, because just as the rain cleared up and we got back into the car, just as we were leaving the carpark, we heard a yell from behind us. Some friends of ours had just returned from the town only to find that everything was closed! It wasn’t even 7:30 yet, but whether it was due to the rain or just the fact that they don’t get much business, all of the eateries around town closed super-early. All they had for us to eat at the hostel was pizza and cheesy garlic bread, so at least we got our cheese-fix in!
Needless to say, it was a quiet night, but that’s fine because we had a fairly early start in the morning, to go right on back to that hostel again to the animal sanctuary; it was finally time to get that all-important picture with a koala. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been much of an animal lover. It may have something to do with my allergies, or as I discovered out in Laos over a year ago (wow…that’s gone fast!) that I’m kind of a bit scared of animals. I popped a couple of antihistamines, just in case I started getting a tickly nose and red streaming eyes complete with a sneezing fit when I had a koala attached to me, because that would make a disgusting picture, and it wouldn’t be too pleasant for the koala either.
It turns out though, that I managed to put away my dislike for animals for the morning, so I could hold and get pictures with a whole bunch of the little critters. Having said that, the snake was a pretty long one, and there were a few reptiles that I decided against holding. My personal favourite was the red-tailed black cockatoo, who likes to give a little kiss provided you’re holding a seed between your lips! He also gets his crest up when he’s having fun or if he likes you, and check this out! I was the only one in the group who he did that for. This could mean one of a few things:
- He fancied the smell of my pheromones
- He kinda liked me
- He likes shirts, and I was wearing a ¾ length one
Either way, I kinda liked him too.
The rest of the morning was spent traipsing back and forth across the island with all our luggage in tow, dropping it and our friends at the ferry terminal and getting the car back in time to catch our ferry. And guess what? It rained again. One thing that I can attest to now is that I genuinely am now happy to drive any type of car, dodgy gearbox and all, and I have a new-found love of driving barefoot. You see, whilst it had rained a lot, it was still pretty warm so we lived in out flip flops. I can’t tell you how dangerous it is to drive in wet slippery flip flops. So much easier to go without. Plus, it all adds to the experience… after all, if you’re careful, a bit of wet weather never hurt anyone before.