I arrived in Townsville quite late and so stayed at the backpackers above the Transit Centre. It's not a bad place to stay, though a bit impersonal, and the coaches can be rather noisy outside the window in the morning.
My plan was to go to Magnetic Island for a few days and then come back and go diving with Dive Bell on the wreck of the Yongala. The Yongala is one of the best dives in Australia and lies in about 30m. Several operators go there, but the reason I chose Dive Bell is because they are an IANTD/TDI school and a commercial school. I was quite looking forward to extended bottom times and using rich mixes of nitrox for decompression. I'd also carried around three sets of regs for six weeks just for the dives on the Yongala. So, as you can imagine, I was very disappointed when I called in and was told that the trip was off due to lack of interest. I decided to spend four days on Magnetic Island and then do a two day Yongala trip with Sun City Watersports. I wasn't going to get the bottom time I'd been looking forward to, but it was better than nothing.
Magnetic Island is a small island just off the coast at Townsville. It was named by Captain Cook, because he thought his compass stopped working when he went past the island. In actual fact, the island isn't magnetic at all, but the name has stuck. Most of the island is National Park. Mt Cook rises up in the centre of the island and there are a number of bays with rocky headlands.
I decided to stay at Horseshoe Bay at a place called "Geoff's Place". This was advertised as a "party place" and I chose it because I didn't want to stay anywhere too quiet. Unfortunately, they had embarrassing bar games every night and they were more or less compulsory. At around 7pm they would give everyone a lottery ticket. If your number came out of the hat, you had to do some sort of forfeit. For example one guy had to put an ice lolly through his flies, sit down in a chair, and pretend to be Bill Clinton whilst a woman got on her knees and licked it. After the forfeit, you got to spin a wheel and win a prize. The best prize was a free drink. The worst one was a swim in the pool in your clothes.
Unsurprisingly, we used to go down the local pub just before the tickets got handed out. Then, when the pub shut at the ridiculously early time of 10pm, we would return to Geoff's Place, the evening games having already been safely concluded.
Horseshoe Bay was fairly quiet apart from Geoff's Place. There was the pub, a couple of shops and a takeaway that shut around 6pm. Magnetic Island is popular with day-trippers, so it's quite busy during the day and dead at night. The only other entertainment option was to go to a nightclub in Nelly Bay. Buses were provided to take you there and bring you back. I went once. It only cost A$3 to get in and the drinks were reasonably priced. The music was the usual Aussie disco fare. i.e. mostly 80s with the obligatory Abba numbers.
The accommodation at Geoff's Place consisted of A-frame huts on stilts. I had one to myself, though they could sleep up to four people as long as they were exceedingly good friends. I don't know where you would put your luggage though. Mine was full with just my stuff.
There is some diving to be had around Magnetic Island. The visibility isn't generally that good and is often less than 10m. There are a couple of wrecks and some reef dives, though they tend to be shallow. Since I was planning to do the Yongala, I decided to give my sinuses a rest and not do any diving there. In fact, I had a very lazy four days on Maggie Island and spent most of it lazing in the sun, recovering from the somewhat hectic pace of my first week in Australia. I did go for a walk to the next bay, Balding Bay. Although it's only about a mile's walk, it's quite steep and quite hard work when the temperature's in the low thirties. It is a very picturesque bay though and is supposed to be a naturist beach. Whether this is official I don't know, but most people had their clothes on there. I know I did.
Towards the end of the week, the wind started to blow. It got as high as 30km/h and it became obvious that I wasn't going to go diving at the weekend. Sun City cancelled the dives because of the weather. The Yongala site is particularly badly affected by strong winds, so cancellations are not uncommon. I was glad that Sun City have a policy of cancelling rather than taking people to some other site. I didn't really want to do an indifferent couple of dives on a sheltered reef somewhere. Sun City's phone no. is (07) 4771 6527. Pro Dive Townsville also go out to the Yongala. Their number is (07) 4721 1760.
So I decided to head south and leave the Yongala for another year. I decided not to stop at Airlie Beach this time, having spent some time there the previous year, and headed straight for Hervey Bay, gateway to Fraser Island.
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