When I was torn awake by my alarm, I was in two minds whether to get up or not. Staying in a hostel dorm there was almost an obligation to get up having probably woken my roommates up at the same time as myself. But when I’d made the decision the night before to get up early to hike back up Castle Hill at the back of Townsville at sunrise, I hadn’t given consideration for a wave of tiredness and laziness that swam over me at stupid o’clock in the morning. In the end, after some silent deliberation, I hauled myself up and took off towards the hiking trail. It certainly wasn’t a drive for exercise, merely a want to make up for the poor lighting of the night before, but as it transpired the rising sunlight created even more shadows than the falling sunlight had done the night before, and although there were plenty of people on the trail as well as me, it felt a little pointless. Nevertheless, it was a good wake-up for me.
After a quick shower and change, I made my way to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry to Magnetic Island. This was one of my must-dos on my trip and it is a popular place to go amongst locals and tourists. I’d done a lot of reading about what to see and how to see it, and had a plan in place to optimise coverage. It was a smooth sailing across, watching Townsville grow smaller behind us. Sailing into the quaint harbour of Nelly Bay, I was quick to hop on the bus to head to Horseshoe Bay, the largest bay and settlement on the north side of the island. It was a surprisingly hilly drive through the bush to get there, but before long I found myself stepping out at a stunning expanse of beach with a little local market taking place. It was a Sunday morning and there were plenty of people milling about. I bought a locally handmade bag as I perused the stalls before cutting down to the sand and walking barefoot along it.
It was already very hot, and I was sweating early on as I ploughed the soft sand near the surf. A few other people were out doing the same thing, but the distant end of the beach was almost empty in comparison to the section near the village, and the sand quality changed as the bay curved, making it exceptionally hard work to get traction. It was tiring, and eventually I decided I had walked enough, turning back just shy of the boulders at the far end. In some places in the world, I get the sense of innocence, and either naively or rightly assume that the people there are honest. Knowing I would be doubling back, I had left my belongings some way back along the beach unattended, and they had thankfully been left untouched. Collecting them again, I headed into the village to get some supplies and some lunch. It was a little early to eat, but I was going to be away from the main settlements for some time, and I didn’t want to go hungry.
The east coast of Magnetic Island is littered with bays that are linked either by road or by walking track. Ever keen to get around on my own two feet, I planned on spending the rest of the day hiking down the coast back towards Nelly Bay. I had a bus ticket for sections if needed, but I was sure I’d make it back in time for the ferry on my own merit. Rejoining the beach at Horseshoe Bay, the eastern end of the beach had a sign pointing into the bush leading to both Balding Bay and Radical Bay. The shade of the bush was welcome, but I was dreaming about going snorkelling later in the day in one of the recommended snorkelling spots on the island. When the turn-off to Balding Bay came, I took it to pick my way through a mix of rocks and undergrowth, and was surprised to come across a sign stating it was a nudist beach. Undeterred, I kept going, committing to the long track down to the beach, and when I came out onto the sand, I was very glad I had. This relatively small bay was beautiful, quiet and the sea looked calm and inviting.
I was quick to spot that it was indeed a nudist beach. To my right I could see some naked people in the water, and a few others hiding out in the shade created by some boulders. They all looked to be in their 60s, but to my left there were a couple around my age who were unashamedly sunbathing in the nude. I’m not particularly prudish, but whilst I’ve skinny-dipped in the past, I’ve never openly partaken in nudism. I wasn’t the only one clothed, with a few others arriving after me that didn’t strip off. There really weren’t many people around, and after mulling it over, I decided that the temperature was too hot, and the water so inviting that a swim was on the cards. I had my swimming togs with me, but figured that as I was at a nudist beach, I might as well join in: when in Rome, and all that. So after stripping off, I strode into the water as confidently as I could. I don’t think there has ever been as perfect sea swimming conditions as there were in that bay. The temperature of the water couldn’t have been more perfect if it tried, the sea was calm, the waves not too large, and there was nothing in the water brushing against my skin to creep me out. It was bliss.
I could have happily stayed in that water all day were it not for the awareness that there was so much I wanted to see, and whilst I’d been in the water, more and more people had arrived at the beach, all of whom remained clothed. A group of young women in their early 20s sat near my stuff and I was acutely aware of the need to walk almost right up to them to get my clothes. I sat low in the water for a while, until I mustered up the confidence to strut naked back up the beach towards them. As I came out of the water, one of the older nudists made a beeline for me. I assume my decision to join in the nudist movement had drawn his attention to me, but suddenly sandwiched between an older naked man and a group of clothed younger women, I felt awkward and quickly started pulling my clothes on, still dripping wet. I think travelling is an extraordinary insight into different people’s lives and I’ve met all sorts of interesting and crazy people over the years. The exchange that took place between myself and the naked man was one of those bizarre situations that can only happen when you take yourself out of your comfort zone. His actions as we spoke made me rather uncomfortable at the time, but now it is one of those funny travel stories that are shared amongst friends.
It was time to move on, and after backtracking to the main trail I continued through the bush speckled with boulders to Radical Bay, an altogether busier beach due to having road access. There were many people swimming, but after the quiet of Balding Bay, I wasn’t fussed about spending much time here. Leading from the back of the bay, the access road cut through bush until a parking bay denoted the access to Florence Bay. This rather large bay meant that the people were spread out enough as to feel quiet and secluded. Families were snorkelling in the water at one end and I toyed with the idea of going in too. I’d read that the next bay round the coast was the best for snorkelling so despite the temptation to get back in the water here, I decided to hold off, instead sitting on the beach for a while enjoying the sunshine and the view.
From here, I had to continue on the road which was of a poor quality. It was interesting watching some of the people negotiate the deep ruts and potholes in their little hire cars as I trudged up the hill. The bus had had to climb over a ridge to reach Horseshoe Bay so I’d known a climb was inevitable but in the tropical heat I was conscious not to exert myself too much in case I induced heat stroke. At the brow of the hill though was a gorgeous view down over Arthur Bay. I was eager to get down to it and get in the water, and carefully picked my way down the guttered and potholed hillside. There were many people here, and I had to find a hidey hole to change into my togs before getting in the water.
With my snorkel gear, I stuck my head in the water and was quick to spot a weird looking creature in the water. I don’t know what it is called but I’ve seen them on a wildlife documentary before. I was sure they were harmless but the way they moved in the water creeped me out a little and I was quick to move away from it. A second one was spotted so still I moved on. All of a sudden I felt a stinging sensation on my elbow and I swung round in a panic. Although it was out of season, I’d been told so much about the venomous stingers that can be found in Queensland’s waters, and with the stinging sensation building up, I flung myself out of the water. I gave a warning to a woman swimming nearby and she commented that her partner had just been stung too. His leg had a large red mark on it and he asked me how concerned he should be. By now the sting had reached its peak, and although the sorest jellyfish sting I’d ever received, it wasn’t excruciating so I assumed we’d be okay. Just to be sure, I located a group of locals to confirm my conclusion. It was disappointing though, as having held out for this bay after reading about it, I now wished I’d spent more time swimming in any of the previous bays I’d been to.
The road eventually climbed back up hill to the main road that transects the island. Just a little from here was one of the main walks on the island which cuts across the hill top to the Forts, the remnants of World War II outposts and lookouts. It was later than I’d planned on being there, and most other people were on their way out. I passed under colourful rainbow lorikeets and with the help of others on the trail I spotted a mother and baby koala hanging out near the track. It was a little disappointing to see some tourists climbing into the trees to stick their camera close up to the baby. There was plenty of viewing points along the walk, and amongst the trees in places, signs noted historical sites of interest. A third koala was spotted further along, and finally at a peak, a circular track loops up and around to give a variety of viewing points over the island. In Queensland with no daylight savings, the sun sets early in the evening, so by now the shadows were growing long and the temperature was finally beginning to drop a little. I took my time wandering around the circuit before rejoining the main track to return to the main road. All 3 koalas had not budged and I stopped to look at them all again on the way back.
It was now very clear that there was no way I could walk back to Nelly Bay in time to catch the evening ferry. I decided to catch the bus down the hill to Geoffrey Bay where rock wallabies reportedly came out at sunset to graze on the grass. There was a little wait for the bus, and with the sun falling out of the sky fast, it was already well into dusk when I got off. The best rock wallaby viewing spot was down a road to nowhere, and conscious of the advancing time, I made the decision to forego it, and just follow the coast back to Nelly Bay. The place was deserted as I trudged the length of the beach. I would have liked to have seen it in the daytime, but there just wasn’t enough hours in the Queensland day to cover all of Magnetic Island. At the far end, a boardwalk led round the headland to Nelly Bay, and now in the pitch black, I became aware of fruit bats flying overhead.
Once in Nelly Bay, it was just a matter of grabbing some dinner. On route to a pizza house that was at the back of the village, I came across a couple of what I’m pretty sure were bustards. They are strange looking birds: their bodies the size of a cat, on long stilts and with evil-looking eyes and a sharp beak. They ran scared from me and I couldn’t get a photograph of them. I got my pizza to go and ate it back at the ferry terminal. It was eerie and quiet with no-one else around. Eventually in the darkness, the ferry’s lights appeared out of nowhere, growing larger as the ferry drew into the harbour. Suddenly a flurry of people emerged and we packed onto the boat ready to return to the mainland. Exhausted, I was grateful to sit down. Magnetic Island hadn’t disappointed and although I’d run out of time, I’d had a fabulous day.
Back in Townsville, I took a detour to get some much-needed ice cream. Even in the total darkness, there was still a good bit of warmth in the air. By the time I reached the hostel, my feet were terribly swollen. I was eager to sleep though as in my life there is no rest for the wicked. Never one for taking it easy on holiday, I had an early rise the next morning to catch the bus north. The Queensland adventure wasn’t over yet.