Monday, 17 September 2018

Magnetic Island - Radical Bay

A mere 8kms off the Townsville coastline lies the picturesque Magnetic Island. A place where, according to Captain Cook, one's compass may fail. Regardless of the allegation, modern technology, along with the iconic view of Castle Hill, obliterate any navigational issues.

The island herself, nicknamed Maggie, is a top holiday destination for both tourists and Townsville locals. For this trip we had a couple of locals—old schoolmates of mine, Ben and Jake—come along for a day trip.

A day to Maggie begins with a comfortable ferry ride. You can purchase a coffee, or a clean pack of chips, while indulging in various tidbits of information that tease the coming day.

Once you reach the island, you can catch a bus, plan a walk, or rent a car. Given we had but a day to cram in as much as possible, we opted for a beastly Kia to transport us across the island.

After some top-tier IGA breakfast and a leisurely cruise around the island, we decided to go for a snorkel at Radical Bay. I mean, with a name like that, how can one resist the venture? Ironically, the roads in were 4WD only, and our little bubble wasn't up for the task. Instead, we parked up in Horseshoe Bay, slung our gear over our shoulders, and climbed the overland track to get our Radical on!

The bay, which was quite radical, was well worth the trip. Jeni and I also decided, that if we were ever to bring Rocky to the island, we would camp here next time. Crystal clear waters lapped up against clean sand. Great, grey boulders lined the sides of the bay. The water was more than inviting.

On with fins and snorkel! The first thing we found were a school of good-sized dart fish. They were well curious of our splashing about! We weaved in and out of the old reef. Sadly, much of the coral was past its expiry. However, there were still plenty of healthy marine life living in the bay.

We swam up and down each side of the bay, really enjoying all it had to offer. After a quick rest on the beach, we gazed at the hill that separated us from our car—and a refreshing ale—then started our return climb.

After another cruise around the western side of Maggie Island, it was Picnic Bay we decided as our next destination. Not for a picnic, as its name may suggest, but for a beer. The Sports Bar was a welcome location after our morning's exertions. With bellies rumbling, we found ourselves ordering some tucker too.

The wind picked up, so did the waves. As we sat at the bar, we decided against embarking on another watery adventure. Choosing instead a couple more sneaky beverages.

Despite not getting back in the water, our refreshments gave us an extra wind of energy. We embarked upon one final stroll around the coastline before returning the rental Kia and jumping back on the ferry.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Sweet Days, Hot Nights Festival, Home Hill, QLD

Home Hill is a small country town in the Burdekin Shire, 1.5 hours south of Townsville. We were in the area house sitting. The area's main agricultural trade is sugar cane. The street we were staying was the first as you came into town, and thus, across the road from us were acres and acres of sugar cane. Our stay in this area coincided with a festival called Sweet Days, Hot nights, that went over a couple of days in the beginning June. It included the first fire of the sugar cane harvest season, and hand cane-cutting championships.
Burdekin shire is one of the few places left in Australia that still burn the sugar cane before harvesting. They do this because of the ample water in the region which makes the sugar cane too leafy to harvest efficiently. Every year, not only are the sugar mills billowing with smoke, but paddocks are too. The paddock is lit on fire the evening before harvesting when winds have eased, and the temperature not as hot. Because there is so much ash in the air, locals refer to it as black/ Burdekin snow.
The first fire for this year was kicked off at the Sweet Days, Hot Night Festival on the Wednesday night. For us who had never been up close to a burning cane field, it was incredible to watch, and feel the intense heat that got generated from the fire. We were only 10-20 meters away! Once it had died off, the fire fighters put the rest of the smouldering out. 
On this night was also 'The BUUURNING MAAAAAAAAN' (The Burning Man). I had to write it like this because the commentator/ Burdekin Shire Mayor on the night kept saying it loudly and drawn out like this every time. It was a sculpture of a person made from hay, straw, and sugar cane. The idea of it was that you write your troubles on a piece of paper and stick the paper to it. Then, when it got lit up, your troubles went away. The Burning Man was inspired by an American version of the same thing. Farmers use it to bring good luck to the coming harvest. I am saying all this, but am simply quoting the Mayor. With much of Australia in drought, many farmers can only wish that it was as simple as a burning man, or doing a rain dance. My heart truly goes out to them.
Three days later on Saturday came the second part of the festival; the Hand Cane-Cutting Championships. As mentioned previously, the cane fields are usually burnt the day before harvesting. Tractors and machinery are much tougher in the heat when it comes to the next day. The fields may still be hot, but they can handle it. People's hands and bodies are not so tough. The first fire was the fields in which the hand cane-cutting would occur, so it had to be cooled off for a few days first. There were many divisions throughout the day such as women, men, and older men. Later in the day, the winners from the heats and divisions, (not women as they had their own competition), competed against each other. Not surprisingly, the older divisions, (50+), obliterated the younger ones, (below 35). Farm machinery has not been around for all that long. The oldies had a far greater stamina than the younger blokes. Not very often that happens! They can remember times-a-past where the farmer would get grumpy, and sometimes dock pay, for every inch or centimetre the stalk was cut higher than the ground. They were neat in presentation of how the sugar cane was laid on the ground in piles.
If you are in Home Hill, Ayr, or anywhere else in the Burdekin Shire towards the end of May, beginning of June, I would recommend visiting the Sweet Days, Hot Nights Festival. It brings an insight to the agricultural background of the area, and an insight to the past of how Australia used to harvest its sugar.
Happy Travels
 - Jeni

Monday, 20 August 2018

Ravenswood and Burdekin Dam

Between Ayr and Charters Towers lies the sleepy mining town of Ravenswood. After the gold rush in the mid-1800's, folks flocked to this area in search of the precious metal. By the early 1900's Ravenswood became a flourishing town.

Today, the place is a shadow of its glory years. There are still a few mines running, and the town thrives on winter tourism. Of the 48 hotels that once quenched the thirst of many a miner, only the Imperial and the Railway remain.

There's a small museum set up and a little town garden, but it's the heritage-listed relics of the past that are of the most interest to tourists. Old chimneys, brickwork, and other structures from the mills and processing plants can be found in and around the town.

A bit further south from the town is Burdekin Falls Dam. While this dam isn't the most impressive Australia has to offer, it's integral for supplying water to most the regions crops. Due to all the rain before our visit, the dam was overflowing. When it is not overflowing, you can drive across the dam.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Eungella: Platypus Splash

Situated not far west of Mackay, Eungella is a beautiful chunk of national park highlands. Our previous visit was in 2013, but venturing back up the hill again was just as good as the first time.

This year we decided to head a bit further out, to Eungella Dam. There's quite a bit of rural farmland between the classic rainforest location and the dam. That said, the dam was a great place to camp. Plenty of space to stretch out, and a top spot for highland lake fishing.

Before our visit, Cyclone Iris had been trying her best to kick up a stink in the north of Queensland. While she failed to get too worked up, her tantrum did send storms rippling along the east coast. The sunny days that proceed such weather generally brings the forests to life. Well, when we were heading out to the dam, we saw much of this life. In the form of what seemed to be a locust plague!

They were everywhere, swarms of large grasshoppers. Birds and reptiles were out and about getting their fill! Fortunately, one side of the campground was rather windy, keeping most of the 'hoppers at bay. One of the photos—beneath this post on the left—looks like a dodgy shot of the ground. If you blow up the image and look at all those leaves—well, what appears to be leaves—you shall see thousands of grasshoppers!

The bottom of the food chain flourishing is not such a bad thing. Not at all! It means that the critters hanging out on a higher rung are more active too! And, when we went on one of the short strolls through platypus territory, we saw one of the 'duck-beaked water-moles' splashing about, foraging for food without a care in the world! This was pretty rad. We had seen them in the wild a couple of times, but never so active and repeatedly easy to spot!

We made sure to snap a couple of pics, and I've added a little YouTube clip below for those who've never seen a platypus in the wild.