Andrea: Waking up at 4:30 in a hostel in a party town in Australia is an interesting experience. I guess 'interesting' isn't the right word, but our roommate came home about the time our alarm went off so the normal wake up from a drunken roomie coming in at an ungodly hour was actually convenient this time. We got up and packed and left for our 30 minute walk to catch our first Oz Experience bus. The bus was coming at 6:15 and we didn't want take any chances so we left at 5:10. The night before we had noticed that the hostel wasn't in the best area and that there were people living in trees in the local park. So, we were a bit apprehensive to walk with our huge backpacks in the dark. However, we are too damn cheap to splash out for a cab so we had to walk. We arrived very early and made ourselves peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. Our bus pulled up and a bald man in a khaki shirt/shorts ensemble jumped out and loaded our bags. On the minibus someone had obviously thought it was a good idea to give our driver, 'Squirtle' was his name, a microphone. I did not agree with this decision. The 6 hour bus ride continued with Squirtle on the microphone telling jokes about Australia, playing joke songs about Australia, telling racist jokes about Australia and genuinely just not paying attention to the road while driving. Oz Experience has just been taken over by Greyhound so there is a lot of confusion about timetables, buses, etc. He was constantly on the phone trying to find answers for us and keep us updated. Again, taking his attention from the road. By the end of the trip, though, we actually felt sorry for him because he knew nothing about this takeover either and didn't know what would happen to his job. The entire situation, from the bad jokes to his newfound unemployment, was difficult to watch.
Magnetic Island, or Maggie as the locals call it, is a 20 minute ferry ride from Townsville. It's called Magnetic Island because when Captain James Cook first sailed past it his compass didn't work properly. Even to this day the iron deposits around the island still affect navigational tools. The locals call it Maggie because it looks like the baby from 'The Simpsons' from an aerial view. Or, it's just a shorter version of Magnetic. These are both my own theories--they have yet to be confirmed. We stayed at a backpackers right on the beach that is centered around a bar. We stayed in an 8 bed, A-frame building with only one other girl.
The next day we explored the island. Most people rent a scooter or car to explore, but we spotted a good opportunity to try to walk off all the bread, peanut butter and pasta we've been eating. The Fort Walk was supposed to be the best walk to spot koalas in the wild. We asked the girl at the desk how long it would take to walk to the start of the Fort Walk and she looked at us, hesitated and said an hour and 15 laughing while chuckling. OK, that doesn't sound so bad. We set off around midday (not smart. Very hot) and walked along the road almost the whole way, heads up looking in trees for koalas the whole time. We found a parallel path through the trees and continued our tree top search. At one point I stopped to scan the trees and as I went to start walking again I looked down and saw a funny-looking stick. 'That stick looks like a snake...Ahhhhh snake!' It slithered away and it was tiny, but I know full well that 9 out of 10 of the world's deadliest snakes live in Australia and I don't know what they all look like so it was a bit scarier than it normally would have been. After that the koala spotting took a back seat and my eyes were glued to the ground looking for snakes. We saw a few big lizards and large insects, but, as my mom will be thrilled to read, no more snakes.
We got to the start of the Fort Walk and we were already exhausted from getting there! The 'hour and 15 minutes' we were told was really an hour and 45 minutes and it was blazing. The Fort Walk was 4km return, but we walked it very slowly looking for koalas and asking every person walking toward us whether they had seen them. Our bus driver had said this was the second best place to see koalas in the wild after the Great Ocean Road and we were frustrated that we hadn't seen any yet! The first couple we asked said they had seen three koalas. There was hope! Then we asked another group and they gave us very detailed directions for finding the koala they saw. Koalas sleep for 20 hours a day so the chances of it being there when we got there were pretty good. The guy told us we would see a big rock where the road splits and there would be carpet. We thought surely he had translated that incorrectly (he wasn't a native English speaker) and we didn't know what to expect. At every big rock we looked around to determine what could count as a split in the road and searched desperately for koalas. This is why the 4 km walk took us almost 2 hours. We were getting worried that we would be the only people to not see a koala when we saw something. 'I think it's just another lump in the tree,' I told Vern after I spotted it so he wouldn't get his hopes up. Then, the lump moved! 'Koala!' I screamed and Vern came running. We traversed a hill and some shrubs to get closer and admired the sleepy little guy from close up. He was awake and kept turning his head to pose for our photos. He was so cute! This was the first koala I'd seen in person, but I felt like I knew him from all of his stuffed animal cousins. These guys were made to be stuffed animals! I so wanted to pluck him from the tree for a cuddle, but then I got a good look at his claws and decided against it. We just snapped about 25 photos and some videos and left him alone. That was the climax of the Fort Walk, but we decided to see the forts anyway. In 1942 Townsville became a military base and the forts were built on Magnetic Island to spot aircraft with two huge searchlights. The view from the forts was spectacular, but the forts themselves were just concrete buildings. With ladders. The walk back was much quicker since we weren't tripping over our feet while staring at the tops of trees looking for koalas. On the way back to town we spotted a scarecrow massacre on someone's front lawn. There were little scarecrows flopped all over a jungle gym and one standing over them, victorious. It was a bit strange, especially since there wasn't a farm in sight! We returned to the hostel exhausted from walking a quarter of the island in one day (half if you count the return trip!).
The next day the plan was to relax on the beach and read and swim. The plan was scuppered, though, because box jellyfish had just been spotted on that beach so it wasn't safe to swim without a stinger suit. We opted for loungers in the middle of the complex in walking distance to the pool. It was a great day of reading and relaxing. The only time we weren't relaxed is when we saw a massive possum jump out from behind a tree and then me jump 5 feet in the air, a bit startled. That was the first possum we'd seen...alive that is.