Maggie Island

The first of a few belated posts due to a lack of good internet connection/lying in the sun too much…

Magnetic Island is a small tropical paradise just off the Queensland coast from Townsville. Yep, I’ve finally left Cairns only a month later than planned (for which I hold my current scuba diving addiction to be mostly responsible). A short Greyhound bus journey later (well, six hours and a viewing of ‘What Women Want’ which was very amusing) followed by a cab and Helen, Patrick and myself were on the ferry heading across to the island. We stayed at the Travellers hostel in Picnic Bay which is only of note due to having a large crocodile in the eating area – fenced off most likely to prevent drunken backpackers from harassing it more than to stop it escaping since it was so fat. Can’t say I can recommend Travellers as a hostel, but we were being too lazy to move to Coconuts which is a more hippy style place located on a beach and probably where I would recommend.

My first day on the island was actually off the island – as I got up at 6 to head out to the Yongala wreck courtesy of Adrenalin Dive. The SS Yongala, which sank in 1911, is located a fair way out from the shore and so can only be dived with good conditions. Fortune smiled on my diving trip (for a change!) and the seas were almost flat with a clear sunny day. After a few hours at sea we moored to the bow of the wreck which starts 15m down, continuing to 28m – we all kitted up (my first dive in full length suit due to the cold) and jumped in following the line along the surface before we started to descend…

As soon as we got under the water’s surface the wreck could be seen the water was so clear that day. A dark, long shadow surround by the shimmering clouds of fish of varying sizes. As we descended hand over hand down the rope following our guide the shape could be made out more clearly – encrusted with huge amounts of mostly soft, purple coral. Leaving the rope we dropped down below the bow of the boat under which large fish sheltered. In fact the whole boat is surrounded by so many fish you just stop seeing them after a while. We swam along the wreck looking at various parts such as the fin, mast and storerooms amongst other things. At the bow of the boat a huge grouper sits watching – this is the more ‘friendly’ grouper as opposed to ‘grumpy’ the grouper who is called that because he once attacked a diver who’d taken too many photos of him with a flash in his face (he stuck the whole diver’s head in his mouth and sucked off the diver’s mask – leaving a huge ‘hicky’ on his neck – from then on he was called grumpy). At this point my air started to run out so I headed back down the other side of the wreck to do my two safety stops hanging on the descent line. Below us what looked like hundreds of sharks just lying on the bottom of the sea turned out to be kingfish which are very similar indeed. All this time I’d been taking truckloads of photos as I’ve finally invested in a waterproof case for my digital camera.

Surfacing I could hardly stop from grinning inanely, the dive was so good. Back at the boat everyone was chatting away and none of us could wait for the next dive. When it finally came we all jumped in again only to find that the conditions had completely changed underwater – with no surface sign for this. Whereas before there had been no current and 20-30m of visibility, now there was a strong current away from our descent line and visibility had dropped to 10m with lots of sediment. Still saw lots – the highlights this time were a large hawksbill turtle munching away on the boat’s surface and a bull ray with a three metre wingspan, an amazing sight as it flew over us – its huge eyes flicking around. Coming back to the surface the current was so strong all of us had to hang onto the line with both hands to avoid being swept away. All good fun though and everyone was so psyched on the way back to the island.

The rest of the maggie island trip was going to be hard pressed to beat that first day but it made a valient attempt. We hired a moke to drive around in and hiked up to the forts, seeing wild koalas asleep in the trees on the way with amazing views from the top of the old WWII emplacements. The next day we hired bikes and cycled up to the north west point on the island for more beach walking. The whole island is pretty quiet and extremely beautiful – with protected park on most of it. When our time came to get on the ferry and head on down to Airlie Beach I was in two minds – the temptation to stay was huge but figured ought to keep moving south otherwise I’ll never get out of Queensland!

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