Days 265 – 277 (Feb 21st – March 5th) Magnetic Island, Mackay and Rocky, the sequel….

We arrived early enough in Townsville to take the ferry over to Magnetic Island the same day although the weather was telling us it might not be the most sensible option. The flat-bottomed barge over was not ideal in the rough seas although the views of the encroaching storm were quite impressive

We found our motel in Arcadia Bay easily enough, the owner having left the keys out for us as we were arriving after 5pm. It turns out we were the only ones staying and the place looked like it had been abandoned as many of the rooms had their doors open. Our room overlooked the pool and the beach but the window frames were filthy, the tv remote didn’t have batteries and the bathroom floor was always wet. On the positive side we were right next to a pub and the bed was comfortable. The next day it was raining and despite our lack of enthusiasm we drove over to Horseshoe Bay, located at the northern end of the island, and then to Picnic Bay at the southern end of the island, and took some photos after which we returned to the motel to track down the owners before they could leave again. Picnic Bay is famous as the 1st day tripper destination of the mainland Aussies for a picnic in 1856 or thereabouts. The first family made their fortune by providing picnics, then later accommodation and transport while still exploring and making their way on this beautiful but rugged island.

They were very nice and provided some batteries and agreed to return a nights money as we’d decided to leave the next day, after the world famous toad racing which, quite fortuitously, took place weekly in the pub next to our hotel. This event is to raise funds for the lifeguard station in Arcadia Bay and is very well attended. The organisers turn up with a bucket of toads and it’s up to the skill and judgement of those watching to choose and invest in the most lively toad able to run in a straight line in order to win the AUS$120 prize money. Sadly, our AUS$30 investment failed to impress the purple-ribboned toad who’s probably still sitting in the centre circle now…

Magnetic Island is quite exceptional as being one of the few places where death adders thrive as they have an abundance of skinks to eat. They have never had to rely on the cane toad which is toxic to snakes and has decimated the species across a lot of the mainland. They are remarkable in they do not move very far but use their tail to impersonate an insect and then comes the deadly bite to unsuspecting skinks! Luckily we didn’t see one as to tread on one could live up to their name. Magnetic Island was disappointing in so much that it has a reputation for being a beautiful island but this depends very much on the weather being nice and things being open. We left the island, having decided to stay for a few days in Mackay, halfway to Rocky.

The drive from Townsville to Mackay was dominated by huge sugar plantations and enlivened only by the floppy giant mango, a sad reminder of how things used to be, in the town of Bowen

Mackay is a wealthy town, dominated by sugar, which has a reputation for having a number of art deco buildings on wide boulevards. We stopped there as it was approximately halfway to Rocky and had some decent places to stay and eat. Also, we were hoping to escape the rain further north. The ladies in the tourist office were as friendly as anywhere else and gave us a few things to do. These included a trip north of the river to look from the boat ramp at Dolphins Heads as, one of them claimed, her and her husband often saw crocs up the river. Apparently several large crocs have been removed from the area but smaller ones were around. Not on this particular day, sadly. We carried on to Lamberts Lookout on Slade Point from where the queues of ships waiting to collect consignments of coal wait to be called in and filled up.

The sign revealed a number of familiar names

Continuing down the coast we reached Lamberts Beach. Entering a public convenience there was movement in the toilet bowl, initially thought to be a toad, but which proved to be a snake, rolled up and looking very agitated. The lifeguard called in for a snake-catcher only to be told no-one was available until after the weekend so she was instructed to close the conveniences until then. In the meantime (bear with me ..) the husband of someone else who’d arrived as this was going on (and who kept snakes as a hobby) turned up and, equipped with a stick and a beer can, proceeded to search the 3 cubicles, only to find nothing. We didn’t wait around long enough to see what happened next but it certainly spiced up the afternoon. Retracing our steps we stopped at the Kommo Toera Trail, a stunning area of wetland habitat

The road from Mackay to Rocky goes through a featureless landscape and, given the high death toll on Australian roads the authorities have tried to make drivers aware of the dangers of driving whilst tired

Firstly, there are a variety of signs which suggest taking a break

Secondly, there are occasionally quiz questions

And then there’s the play on commonly asked questions whilst driving with children

Rockhampton is a sprawling town, although the centre is focussed on the Fitzroy river, and gives the impression of being a rough place with wide boulevards and unattractive buildings. Yet, dig a bit deeper and the place has some redeeming features with a fantastic botanical garden and free zoo, the river itself which is re-inventing itself as a barramundi fishing destination and the historical centre, which has some fine old buildings. We stayed in an apartment on the 11th floor overlooking the town and facing west so useful for capturing the occasional dramatic sunset.

At the base of our tower were a few restaurants with an almost Brisbane-like feel to them

One evening we took a sunset cruise on the river which confirmed in Australia one is never far from the countryside as within minutes we could have been anywhere

The next day, we walked out from our place along the river on a heritage walk which has a number of the original buildings from when Rocky was first established as a gold town (one of the biggest gold mines in Australia is just down the road at Mount Morgan). Copper mining and beef production also contributed to the wealth of the town.

Tali and Helen went shooting at the local clay club and we had a great time. Really friendly people, bar bbq, snacks and so cheap compared to England. On the way there we saw numerous sporting facilities from Olympic size swimming pools, tennis courts, football, soccer and rugby pitches. No excuses for not getting out (except the heat).

Followed by bugs at Tali’s place

And a sunny return to Mount Archer, with views over the city and neighbouring countryside

Finally, we cooked a roast at our place featuring Tali’s speciality

Time to leave. Sad not to see Tali for so long but happy that she’s doing so well and enjoying the Australian lifestyle.