When I was in Cairns, I found myself at loose ends. I couldn’t get anyone in town to fix my camera, and since warranties are “region specific,” apparently, I’d have to pay to have it fixed anywhere in Australia because I’d bought it in the States. The cheapest–though also the most convoluted–option ended up being shipping the camera to my parents, and having them ship it to the factory in the States.
Anyway, I sat out some inclement weather in town and pondered how to continue. I’d spent a lot of time planning how to get to Alice Springs and then to Cairns, but there all my plans stopped. And now here I was, stopped in Cairns (pronounced “cans,” no “r”).
I went to a bus company office and asked them what they recommended. My enthusiastic sales agent had all sorts of suggestions, some of which I’d never heard of before, but was intrigued by (like the Daintree), and others which I’d learned through the travelers’ grapevine were totally worth splurging on (like the Whitsundays and Fraser Island). We put together a package and an ambitious itinerary, and suddenly I was on my way again.
After the Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef, I got on a bus and headed south down the east coast of Queensland. The first stop was Townsville, which has a few sights of its own, but is also a launching pad for people visiting Magnetic Island, a short ferry ride away.
I joined plenty of other backpackers on that ferry, and we all milled around once we landed on Maggie (as Australians call Magnetic Island), searching for signage that wasn’t there to tell us how to get to our hostel. Eventually, a bus pulled up and the driver, who must do this every day, clearly called out that he was headed to Base Backpackers, so we all paid him and piled on.
This was the first of a few rural buses I’d take in Australia. They’re usually nice coaches, with the cushioned seats fit for long treks; I’m used to the CTA buses, and seeing these swank buses used for local transportation made me do a double take. But I guess if your local transportation is going to take 40 minutes through backcountry roads, it might as well be in comfort. (We’ll skip over the part where you can easily sit on a bus for 40 minutes in Chicago and not go more than 5 miles.)
The Base Backpackers franchise is known for being a place to get a cheap room and cheap drinks. I didn’t realize this was the hostel I was booked into (one of the reasons I never book with tours), and had I known it was this one, I probably would’ve changed my mind. But since I was there, I figured, hey, I haven’t partied at all since I got to this country two weeks ago. If the hostel bar will be playing loud music til midnight anyway, I might as well join in. So I had a great first night there, making friends at the beachside bar, playing ridiculous bar games, and watching the moon rise over the ocean.
The next day, I had a lie-in and then journaled down on the deck, and sunbathed and swam down on the beach. The sun was bright, a slight breeze kept me from getting too hot, and the guy at reception was playing classic rock over the loudspeakers. Perfect.
Later that afternoon, I joined my roommate on the other side of the island, to do the Forts Walk. Apparently, wild koalas are plentiful in this area of the island, but we didn’t see any. Instead, we did a surprisingly athletic climb up a hill to see remnants of the fort that the military built here back in World War II.
If the Japanese were going to attack Australia, there were several key places they’d hit, and Townsville, with its large shipping industry and port, was one of them. Magnetic Island was the perfect place to set up a lookout. (In fact, Australia was attacked in WWII; Darwin was bombed in 1942 and 1943. Also, some subs slipped into Sydney Harbour, you may remember.) The fort hasn’t been kept up, and it’s amazing to see how much nature takes back in just 60 years.
Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures from the walk, because the camera I was using while mine was in transit to the States started to act up. My roommate on the trip promised to email me the photos, but that never happened. Foolishly, I gave her my email but never got hers, and she’s not on Facebook, so I have to consider those photos lost. Live and learn.
But it was a great walk, with a 360 degree view from the top of the hill, and the hilly island spread out below us. Afterward, we took the bus back to the hostel, and the indefatigable young hostelers partied again that night, while I went straight to bed. Partying two nights in a row is beyond me now, but hey, if you party it up right the first time, that’s okay.