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