The East Coast: Magnetic Island

It was the worst best day ever.

Zombies in Townsville

I woke up feeling (and hoping) like my skin was coming off. The after-effects of sunstroke and being bitten head to toe by sandflies had me in an all-consuming state of discomfort.
Sandflies were sent to Earth to punish us for our sins. They never stop itching. Multiple times overnight I awoke to burning, itching, and bleeding legs from scratching my sunburnt shins in my sleep. Pretty much all you can do is sit on your hands and try not to cry.
We made two rookie mistakes on Whitehaven Beach.
  1. Using zero bug spray
  2. Accidentally going on a 14km hike in blazing sun with 500ml of water and no extra sunscreen.
Now we paid for those mistakes.
I’d never felt so grateful to stay in someone’s house – with blessed air conditioning and a shower to soothe our angry skin.
We were in Townsville, so as soon as we began driving in the sun, the itching and burning returned. This began a desperate search for a pharmacy, and relief. Of course Google Maps chose today to tell lies about where the pharmacy was actually located. Worst day ever.
If you’ve had sunstroke, you know how much of a wreck it makes you. Reaction time is slower and everything feels like so much work. Attempting to alleviate the sunburn, we’d coated ourselves in aloe vera and lotion, which aggravated the bites but soothed the skin. Couple with our moaning about not finding the pharmacy immediately, we were basically two glossy zombies in downtown Townsville. Worst day ever.
Finally we found the pharmacy. An employee recommended we get either antihistamines, an anti-itch gel or a spray called “Stingose“. We bought all three. Excited for the prospect of relief, we tore into the packages as soon as we left the shop.
For the record, Stingose over anti-itch gel leaves adorable opaque blobs on your legs, but the combination works. Briefly. Re-application is key. We got some odd looks, popping pills with patchy legs, but the absence of itching was well worth it.
Upon returning to a more human-like state, hunger set in.
You know the days that Google Maps seems to actively screw you over? This was one of those days. The first two cafes we tried weren’t open. The third one we tried took ages to find, because the entrance was in a back-alley parking lot. I probably would’ve eaten anything by then, but that breakfast still stands as one of the best I’ve ever had.
If you go to Townsville, go to The Balcony. You’re welcome.
They serve a regular bacon and eggs breakfast, but with a “bacon chop”. Imagine a steak, made of double-smoked bacon. Crispy, salty, savoury bad for you goodness. It was the shining highlight in an awful morning.
Our base needs now met, it was time to think about how to fill an unplanned day. Driving straight to Cairns wasn’t appealing, nor was downtown Townsville. Last night’s host had recommended we go to Magnetic Island for the day. The ferry wasn’t too expensive, so why not?

The Townsville (Mis)Adventure

Time for more rookie mistakes, and they all stem from doing no research. To save money on the ferry ticket, we left the car behind. Most of the ‘cool’ stuff is on the other side of the island from the ferry terminal. sย to rent convertible Jeeps to tour around in, but they were way out of our price range. We had no idea what we were doing. All I knew about Magnetic Island was that someone told me there were lorikeets and wallabies to see up close.
By the time we figured out there was an hourly bus going in our desired direction, it was pulling out of the station. We began walking instead. The blood blisters on my feet throbbed, and I felt pretty bitter towards Maggie. Worst day ever.
A little grocery store was along our way, so we stopped to get snacks for ourselves and the wallabies. As we paid for our apples and carrots, the clerk said, “I hope these aren’t for the wallabies, backpackers always spend way too much on them!”. We told her they were for our hummus, it was a half-truth and she knew it. I wonder how much profit that little business makes just on overpriced produce for marsupials.
Despite overcharging us for fruit, the clerk did make up for it by offering to call us a cab. I think she could tell by our sunburns that we probably wouldn’t make it to the other side of the island by walking.
There might be just one single cab driver on Magnetic Island. It was lucky we got a hold of him, it was barely past 2 PM and we were his last ride of the day. The cab driver must have had big plans for the afternoon; he barreled along the road, tossing us around in the back. Maybe he was feeling a bit murderous because we’d interrupted his trip home. Regardless, it was a terrifying ride.

Feedingย the Lorikeets

Around 4pm on Magnetic Island, the hostel called Bungalow Bay Koala Village lets you feed some lorikeets. We arrived half an hour early, and didn’t see a sign, so we just wandered the property looking for parrots. We found the hostel kitchen, laundry, and a nest of those weird birds that hate me, before realizing a crowd had gathered at the entrance.


Magnetic Island Day Trip
These guys always make growly bird-noises at me.
You will hear the lorikeets before you see them. A handful of them is noisy, a flock of them excited for food is deafening. An employe arrived with a bucket of slop, milk-soaked bread and seeds, everyone got a splashy handful. It looks like its meant for pigs but the parrots go nuts for it.
A hundred screaming rainbows descended on the crowd, landing on everyone’s heads, arms and shoulders for a bite of the muck. Children were either laughing or crying. It was a colourful riot, and I was having a great time – the day’s hiccups forgotten.
The chaos only lasts about ten minutes. As soon as the birds realise there is no more food, they vanish, as does the crowd.

Making Friends with Rock Wallabies

To get to the wallabies before sundown, we had to hop on the Magnetic Island bus. Mr. Cabdriver had made it clear there would be no more pickups. Walking down the street in the late afternoon sun, reliving the parrot excitement, I stopped and froze. A little ball of brown spikes was cutting across our path.
An echidna! I’ve never been so excited to see a wild animal (except maybe the koala). It didn’t care that we were there. It showed no fear or stress, it just kept trundling along its path. I was struggling to stay calm and contain myself. Best day ever
I don’t remember the bus ride, I was floating when we got to the rock wallaby colony. They blend in so well with their home you almost don’t see them until they move. And they can move! They’re so quick. And adorable. Best day ever.
We missed our planned ferry because I was having too good a time with them. For the record, there is literally nothing open past 7pm around the Magnetic Island ferry terminal. We split a bottle of the L&P to try and stave off hunger. (This kicked off a long love affair with L&P).
The best part of the day came when we realised it was 8:30PM and we still had a four-hour drive to Cairns. Great planning. Sometimes spontaneous adventures leave you hanging.

Comets and Car Explosions

The second-best part of the day was when we had to stop the car to check out the smoke coming out from under the hood. It was nearing midnight and we were forty minutes between towns with nothing but sugarcane fields on either side of the road. The cap of the water tank had popped off and the car was overheating. Worst day ever.
As James refilled the water tank from our drinking supply, I sat in the car, looking at the crops illuminated by the stars. A shooting star, bigger than any I’d ever seen before, ripped across the sky, a flaming red tail behind it. It lit up the field below. I’d like to thank our little Corolla for almost blowing up, or I may have missed that comet. Best day ever.
After many regular stops to top up the water tank, we made it to our caravan park in Cairns at about 2AM. The owner had taped our reservation information to the gate so we could still get it. We set up the tent for the last time and collapsed inside, still scratching a bit.
It was the worst best day ever.

Have you ever had a worst best day ever? Let me know in the comments below!


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20 Comment

  1. Truly! Amazing photographs and a nice post.

    1. Thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed it ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Heather Lovering says: Reply

        Awesome, love the pics of the wildlife. They look so tame, do they ever bite? Btw know exactly what you are talking about when you describe the shooting star followed by the huge streak of fire following behind, happened on one of my stargazing nights approx 7 yrs ago. It was one of those magnificent wonders a person has to see for themselves, just jaw dropping. Enough said. Waiting for your next adventure to be shared, thx so very much โค๏ธโค๏ธ B safe…….

  2. Gina says: Reply

    Sorry to hear about all the craziness of the sandflies and sunburn! Sometimes as travelers we have to make rookie mistakes to realize we’re not invincible and that we should always stay on guard! The Lorikeets and other animals you fed are adorable and they look like they love those healthy treats!

  3. Love this post! I was so hooked from beginning to end. ๐Ÿ™‚ It definitely sounds like the worst best day ever, that comet made a whole lot of difference.

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      It felt like the only way to properly sum it all up, that’s for sure. Glad you enjoyed the post! Hope your future travels run much smoother.

  4. Maggie says: Reply

    All that wildlife, how awesome to see! Love your photos. Sometimes the worst experiences turn into the best!

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      It really was a great surprise for us! I guess it goes to show that there’s always a silver lining somewhere ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. When it goes wrong, then it goes wrong – right?! However, in the end you had fun and enjoyed the day as much as you could. Those kangaroos are just adorable!

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      Haha that’s exactly how it goes! (more often than I care to admit) it did indeed end up being a great day, much helped by the critters on the island.

  6. I feel you on the sunstroke! Ugh! I had a similar experience after accidentally biking 100 km around the Cambodia countryside. Looks like the rest of the trip was fun, though. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      That sounds like an awesome trip! Minus the sun stroke of course. I was lucky and didn’t have it too severely, hope yours wasn’t tooh bad either.

  7. I loved Maggie when we were there a few years ago. I have to agree sand flies are the scourge of the earth. Last time I was swarmed it took me three days to recover. Great photos too ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      As much as I would never wish that on anyone…I’m glad I’m not the only one who has such passionate feelings about those little jerks! Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I absolutely LOVED reading this! You have a great way with words that had me hooked from start to finish! Have you ever thought of putting together a book of your travels? i know I’d eat that up in a second!! Great, great piece!

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m working towards improving my writing and storytelling skills so that truly means so much to me I hadn’t ever thought of writing a book before, but maybe I’ll look into it one day!

  9. Soraya says: Reply

    Oh my goodness! Sandflies are the worst! I hope it’s all doing much better. I love your photos from your trip to Magnetic Island. The feeding of the Lorikeets looks fun and so amazing you got to see an Enchida…in the wild!

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      They took about a sold week of itching before the bites died back a bit. It wasn’t pretty. I’m glad you liked the post! I had no idea until recently how hard it can be to see an echinda in the wild, so I feel really lucky thanks for reading!

  10. Ahh I loved Magnetic Island! We never made it to the lorikeets though as a cyclone made us evacuate the island pretty hastily ๐Ÿ™

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      Oh wow! That’s a quick turn of events. It seems like a lot of trips to Maggie have some interesting stories involved.

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