Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Magnetic Island

[Kyle]From Bait Reef next up was the twenty-seven and a half hour sail to Magnetic island, tucked into the big crook in Australia's northeast coast.

Sunset while the Spinnaker was still whole

The sail was just lovely. We had clear skies and just enough wind to keep us moving at a respectable speed behind our favorite spinnaker. As we neared the island in the morning of our second day, the wind came forward a bit and increased. Since we were almost there, we decided to bring in the sail early and switch to jib for the last few miles.

We had held out too long. One of the upper panels had come apart at the seams, so now there was a doormat-sized hole up there. Our poor spinnaker is old and is starting to show signs of stretch and seam weakening, it has been repaired several times and has several patches. It looks like we will have to think more seriously about replacing it with a proper new one.

Rounding the corner into Horseshoe Bay, we found a large anchorage filled with almost twenty other boats. The Bay is bisected by yellow buoys delineating the border between the jet ski area and the non-jet ski area (anchorage). This was in the hopes of maintaining the peace between the two disparate factions. It only semi worked. The rental craft launch from the beach on the anchorage side and have to go through the anchorage to get to “their” area. About two-thirds of them do it at high speed, which is annoying, but at least they aren't using the anchored boats as a slalom/training course. We were also lucky that tourism was still pretty much non-existent, so we were only in danger of being slammed into by amateurs three or four times a day. That was also the number of times a day that the guy behind us 'mowed his lawn'. He seems to have fashioned a generator out of an old, unmuffled lawnmower engine and he likes to leave the lights on all night.

After our arrival, we had a short nap and then went ashore to orient ourselves. Horseshoe Bay has 484 permanent residents. On the waterfront were two guest houses, three restaurants (still serving takeaway only), a couple of pubs (still closed, but cleaning like mad for their imminent reopening) and a couple of cafes.

Meeting up with some of the locals

We met up with Nicholas and his family at the picnic tables on the beach. Nicki is the developer of the Zulu Waterways app, one of our best sources of cruising info (local information for world wide anchorages and ports). Maryanne had offered a few technical suggestions and Nicky was eager (or polite enough :-)) to hear them and learn how the app was being used by “real cruisers”. Nicki Introduced us to Jon Bom, a long time live-a-board who sails a large Pearl Lugger along with his wife Iris and the famous 'Scuppers' the sea goose (who even has his own book and facebook page)

When we were done, we took a short walk on one of the island's many trails, This one just basically looped along the beach and then around the back of the main waterfront. It wove us around giant boulders and through little micro-jungles.

On the path, we got to see our first wildlife. (Mom's gonna love this) - It was a snake. Magnetic Island's resident snake is the Common Death Adder, presumably because if one bites you, you will have a common death. I take it that almost no one in Australia lives to a ripe old age. This is one of those snakes that gives you twenty-five minutes after it bites you to get to the ER for some antivenin. That's if you lie as still as possible and wrap the affected appendage tightly to keep your lymphatic system from moving the venom towards your heart. If you don't deal well with suspense, running away will shorten the wait to about fifty steps. The one we saw was pretty small and was tucked up next to a rock on the side of the path. Maryanne walked right past it and I had to call her back so she could get a good look at it. She stayed on her side of it, though, which really limited her use as a human shield. We both stayed well out of striking range and the snake never moved even a little. It was a good reminder; always, ALWAYS watch where you put your hands and feet. If you want to see scenery, stop, then look around.

Exploring the trails at the east end of Horseshoe Bay
Did you spot the Common Death Adder?

The next day, we stopped at a cafe for some takeout lunch and headed out of town on the trail to adjacent Radical Bay. We didn't spot any Death Adders, but Maryanne found a large hairy spider(what we think is a Queensland Whistling Tarantula) waiting on a boulder, presumably ready to pounce on us. They are big (apparently this is the largest spider in Australia). This one was about two-thirds USA tarantula size. The rumor is that they are soft, but since they could have also been named the Common Death Spider, we decided not to see.

After huffing and puffing our way over the intervening ridge, we descended the other side to Radical Bay. This place is crazy pretty, with blinding white sand and sky blue water with a backdrop of giant boulders. It reminded us very much of The Baths on Virgin Gorda. They also had coconut palms, so we were able to forage for our first coconuts in months.

Radical Bay Beach and surrounds

We continued on in a big loop to Florence Bay on the East side of the island. On the path, we passed through a tunnel of foliage, which dissolved into thousands of fluttering Blue Tiger Butterflies as we went through. The beach at the end was even more impressive than the last, with a wide expanse of hard, flat sand bookended by photogenically placed boulders.

Magical Kingdom of Butterflies (Blue Tiger Butterflies)

Florence Bay

From there, it was a steep climb up the back side of the Fort Trail to the old military emplacements at the top. The views from up there were strategic, but also very nice. We ate our lunch and headed back down toward the boat. Along the way, we passed a couple of ladies who told us there was a koala in a tree just around the corner. Magnetic Island has the most northerly wild koalas in the world.

Fort Trail & Loop - WWII Ruins, Stunning Scenery & KOALAS!

They weren't kidding. The little guy was dozing off his lunch in the crotch of a tree right at eye height. Even standing right next to him, it was all he could do to open his eyes for a second. We left him to it and found another, slightly more alert one a little further along. Well that was nice!

Even further still, we spotted a few of the island's Rock Wallabies disappearing into the bush at our approach. We caught just a glimpse, but we needn't have worried. There were whole fields of them in the outskirts of Horseshoe Bay at the end of our hike. We also got to see a small flock of Black Cockatoos to go along with the island's ubiquitous Sulfur-Crested ones and the ever-present Rainbow Lorikeets.

And the day ended wtih a spectacular sunset...

The next day, we decided to do the steeper and more remote half of the Fort Trail on the way to the island's main village of Nelly Bay. We started with the boardwalk Lagoon Walkway in Horseshoe Bay. As we began climing there were a couple of good viewpoints, but no sign of wildlife other that one tarantula and a snake trail in the dust crossing a road.

From the Lagoon Walkway in Horseshoe Bay we made our way over the hill
Did you spot the spider?

And eventually on to Arcadia and the main town of Nelly Bay

In town, we found water to refill our long empty bottles and, even better, a store that sold ice cream bars. We also found the main grocery store (an IGA), opposite the ferry stop. We topped up on a few things there. We decided we had had enough walking for the day and to spring for the bus ride home. While we were waiting, we had a walk around the marina. There, we spotted Coraboree, another American boat we met in Bundaberg when we were both trying to figure out what to do about our visas.

We stopped for a while to commiserate a bit about how we were all glad to be in Australia right now. The George Floyd protests had just started and America looked like it was disintegrating like a sand castle in a rising tide.

We spent the next couple of days glued to the news while trying to pull ourselves away for our own sanity. In the end, we decided we needed to get out and walked to the remote, far end of the island.

The Esplanade Banyans, and beautiful Jetty at Picnic Bay

To make it a bit easier, we took the bus to the end of the line at Picnic Bay. Picnic Bay is lovely, but at the early hour, and Covid19, was mostly shut. We then set out on the eight kilometer walk to the West Point, the far end of the road (no rental cars allowed). We made a point of taking every side trail that wasn't marked “Private”, but still found little other than hot pavement and shadeless heat. It was still nice to stretch our legs, get some fresh air and have time for long, meandering conversations. On our return, we made a point of walking past Picnic Bay all of the way back to the bus stop at Nelly Bay before getting the bus home. That way, we could say we walked the whole way between Horseshoe Bay and West Point, even if we didn't do it all in one day.

Bats and Birds as we take the trail to Picnic bay lookout

A brief stop at the far West Point

Returned to Picnic bay for the Hawkings Bay Walking Track

We both really liked Magnetic Island. Maryanne especially kept comparing it to Lord Howe Island, only cheaper and more accessible. Well, perhaps, but Lord Howe has neither mosquitoes nor any animal with “Death” in the name, so I still give them the edge.

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