Monday, 1 December 2014

Koala-ty Time ~ Part 1

A major tourist destination near to Townsville – just off the coast in fact, and visible from the town if you can see out to sea – is Magnetic Island, or Maggie as it’s known locally. 

Magnetic Island, viewed from Castle Hill, Townsville.

It’s really easy to get to Maggie as several ferry companies take foot passengers over, with plenty of sailings every day. We wanted to take the car with us though, so we used FantaSea’s car ferry to make the 25 minute journey to the island.

After a very fuss-free journey, we disembarked at the small Nelly Bay terminal on Maggie, and turned right towards Geoffrey Bay where we were staying for a couple of nights.

Maggie has very few roads, so it’s pretty much impossible to get lost there. All of the routes are serviced by buses too, that make stops at all the visitor sites – including the start/end points of walking trails where they meet the roads. If you want more independence though, you can hire a variety of vehicles – cars, topless cars, mini mokes, or scooters – to get around by yourself.

The main reason for visiting Maggie is that it has the largest colony of wild koalas in Australia!!! Very exciting!! What I hadn’t realised however, is that there are also rock wallabies there. I hadn’t heard of rock wallabies before, until my husband told me. The lady who he had booked our accommodation through had told him about them, saying they were like small wallabies. I must say, this description does not do justice to just how DAMN CUTE they are!!!!

The little self-catering place that we stayed in is sited on a dead-end road, and I wanted to see what was at the end of the road. Carrying on down, we found an old no-longer-used boat terminal. On the roof of an open-sided passenger shelter there was a big sign about rock wallabies, asking visitors not to feed them but also listing foods that are safe for them, just in case people refuse to leave them alone. I was pretty excited at discovering that we were in the right place for seeing rock wallabies, as I’d had no idea how we would find them. Then Adam gave me a nudge, and pointed out of the car window. Sat there looking right at us was a cute, furry, fubsy little rock wallaby!! I really was taken aback by how small and fluffy it was. A funny reaction, but when I experience extreme cuteness my eyes start watering a bit. This rock wallaby was soooooo cute and I was so excited at seeing it that not only were my eyes watering, but I ended up making some little squeaky noises too – needless to say, Adam was quite amused and teased me about it quite a lot!

Having discovered that rock wallabies were so near to where we were staying, I obviously wandered down there to see them pretty often. It turned out that there were loads of them – or ‘heaps’ of them, as we say here in Australia! They are fairly comfortable around people too, so long as you move gently and are quiet, and don’t try to bother them. It was great to just sit there amongst these little creatures, you could even see the baby ones when they poked their heads out of their mum’s pouches!

One evening we went down to see the rock wallabies, and there were several other people down there feeding the animals carrots and grapes etc. This had emboldened the rock wallabies, so as we wondered over to see them they would come right up to you to investigate whether or not you had any food for them- so awesome! One of the young wallabies, up on a rock bringing it closer to my height, was having a really good explore of me and snuffling around my hands and camera. I was really chuffed when it rubbed against my hands – I wouldn’t have tried to cuddle one as they are wild animals so it would have distressed them, but I was very happy that it had (sort of) cuddled me!

Having arrived in the morning and unloaded our food supplies into the fridge, we then had a whole day of exploring ahead of us – starting with a good Aussie breakfast! (We had been told we could get breakfast at the ferry terminal after checking in, but this wasn’t the case). We tried to find a café in Arcadia, the little town area near to where we were staying, but the café was closed so we had to move on. Continuing along the road in the same direction as we had started out, we carried on around the island and got to Horseshoe Bay. Another little town – all of the towns on Maggie are little – this one is a bit more touristy, and therefore has some cafés, bars and shops to explore.

After popping into a local shop – I got a hat, and Adam got some new flip-flops (thongs!) – we then went next door to a café called Nourish. Offering wholesome fresh food, fruit smoothies and good coffee, it seemed like our kind of place. It did not disappoint, and became a regular spot for us to get an iced coffee or a snack during the few days we were on Maggie.

Fuelled up, caffeinated and refreshed, we decided to walk one of the trails on the island. From Horseshoe Bay there is a trail that leads up through eucalyptus trees and across to a couple of other beaches. In café Nourish, we were right next to the start of this trail, and knowing that koalas live off eucalyptus this seemed like a good place to begin if we wanted to spot this iconic Aussie wildlife!

It was about 11.30am by now, so the day was getting quite hot. The trees provided spares shade so I was really glad of my new hat. Keeping an eye out for any snakes or other dangerous wildlife, we climbed the hill and walked deeper into the eucalyptus forest. The trail was well marked and maintained, and so was easy to follow, and we passed a few people along the way. One couple coming from the other direction stopped to say g’day, and informed us that there was a koala in tree near the path a hundred metres or so further along. I could feel the adrenalin pumping at the thought of my first encounter with a koala, and the further we walked the more nervous I felt that maybe we would miss it, or it might have moved away so we wouldn’t spot it… No worries though! Some way further along, the koala was easily seen – down on the ground by now as it was clearly in the process of swapping trees. 

Apparently it was a strange time of day for a koala to be active – they sleep a lot, and especially during this hotter part of the day, but I was very happy to have seen such a great view of a wild koala! I had expected to maybe see a little grey koala bum in the distance. A proper close-up view of a koala was far beyond my expectations!

Eventually Adam managed to tear me away from the koala, and we continued along the trail. It really was hot now, and despite having plenty of water, my head was thumping with even the minor exertion of walking up the hill. At the top, the trail split so you could follow it to two different beaches. Walking towards the first beach, I felt that I wouldn’t be at all comfortable to walk back up the steep path for the return leg, so we followed it a short way until the descent became steeper and then turned back. We reasoned that we are in the lucky position of being able to return easily when the weather is a little cooler, and so there was no point spoiling things this time around :)

We did the same with the path to the other beach, following it along until it became steeper, and then turning back. This time we continued all the way back to Horseshoe Bay, stopping along the way when we passed the koala again. He got on the move when we were watching him this time, staggering along the ground like a little drunken creature, stumbling and tripping over branches and falling into tree trunks. It was so funny to watch! After a few false starts, eventually he found a tree he liked the look of. Sitting down at the base of the tree he wrapped his arms and legs around it. I thought he would climb up, but clearly he felt too dozy to attempt that and instead he just sat on the ground, hugging the tree. Very cute!! Once I again I didn’t want to leave, but Adam was gasping for an iced coffee and in need of lunch, so I reluctantly left the sleepy koala to head back to the little town.

 More koalas still to come, but this post is getting quite long enough :)

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