From our inland excursion to visit the lava tubes at Undara, we drove south-east along empty to roads to Townsville via Greenvale, a much needed fuel stop, and Charters Towers, a town that arose following gold finds in the creek beds there in the 1870s. Unfortunately we did not stop here due to time constraints, but if we had we would have visited the Venus Gold Battery – nothing to do with electricity, this is a huge ore battering and processing mill that was in operation for a century.
In Townsville we booked into a council run caravan park – an oportunity for mains power (the only way to keep our laptop charged) and the usual facilities. During the evening at this site, we booked ourselves ferry tickets to Magnetic Island, so named by Captain James Cook as it affected his ship’s compass as he sailed past.
Koala bears were introduced to the island in the 1930s and it is now home to over 800 of them – so in addition to promises of amazing scenery, beaches and snorkelling, this was one of our reasons for heading over there. The interactive map below allows you to explore the island.
We had booked onto an early ferry which required a 6:30am wake up call. This wasn’t entirely necessary on account of the hundreds of cockatoos that squawked noisily in the palm trees nearby. Such pretty birds make such an ugly sound! The ferry sailing takes only 20 minutes with SeaLink and we arrived in Nelly Bay at 8am. We’d booked ferry tickets that included bus travel on the island and managed to hop on a waiting bus immediately after disembarking from the ferry. Alighting at the ‘Forts’ car park, we headed up the Forts Walk track. This 4km walk is apparently the best way to see Koalas. They are most active at dawn and dusk, so our early start gave us some hope of seeing them active, and with few other people around.
We headed into the bush a little before locating our first Koala. They find themselves a comfy place at a fork in a branch and sleep pretty much all day (typically at least 18 hours). This is apparently because of the long digestion time of eucalyptus leaves which are low in nutrients. Our tramping around (and chattering kids) woke this individual who looked at us disdainfully before deciding we were no threat and dozing off again.
In total we came accross four Koalas, one with a baby clinging on tightly and well hidden from view. Our last find was quite low down in his tree, and so we got a lovely clear photo.
The Forts Walk entailed a few sightly uphill sections to get to forts or viewpoints, but nothing that phased the kids, and there were fantastic views of some of the bays below helped by lovely sunny weather. The lookout posts, gun emplacements and other buildings and ruins that comprise the forts here are remnants from WWII built by both local and American soldiers in 1943.
It is possible to extend this walk on to Radical Bay, North of the forts, and then west to Horseshoe Bay, but we did it as a circular walk back to the car park to maximise our Koala viewing opportunity, and keep it shorter for the kids.
We walked from the Forts car park to Arthur Bay – about 1.5 kms downhill, where we spent a couple of hours, having lunch sat on some rocks. I managed some snorkelling here, made awkward by a small swell but enjoyable nonetheless. There was quite an abundance and variety of fish and coral. Had the sea been calm, I think the kids would have wanted to come in too, but they were happy playing in the sand as usual and made friends with a little girl from another family
Back up at the bus stop, we took the next available bus to Horseshoe Bay, and this was completely different – sheltered from the wind with fine, squeaky sand and flat calm sea.
We relaxed here for a couple of hours and enjoyed some ice creams before jumping back on the bus, alighting at Geoffrey Bay to see the Rock Wallabies that hang out there. We were not disappointed; a few people were already there hand-feeding them carrots which they seem to love…
Getting back to the Ferry terminal was touch and go – a lot of people were waiting for the bus and it was late arriving. We had to run onto the ferry with only 2 or 3 minutes to spare, and got back shortly before sunset. A truckstop just south of Townsville was our stop for the night.