I came to Magnetic Island to achieve two purposes: 1) see koalas and 2) check out coastal Australia without having to face the resort towns of the Gold Coast. On the first, I have succeeded quite spectacularly. On the second, my luck has been mixed, which I’ll get to later.
On my first day on Maggy Island, I set off to find the koalas. Based on the recommendation of every Maggy guidebook and individual I talked to, I headed to the other side of the island to do the “Forts Walk,” where I was guaranteed good views of both the island and koalas. I had assumed they would be elusive and difficult to find. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my assumption was false. While I only saw 3.5 koalas, they were relatively easy to spot since all they do is curl up on tree branches. I was fortunate enough to see two single adults, and one baby koala loafing on a small branch with her mom watching from a neighboring grown up branch.
Near the start of the trail to cuteness, there’s a plaque detailing the history of the koalas on the island. (Side note: I have never seen as many plaques or trail signs as I have in Australia. They describe everything, much to my delight.) Apparently, in the 1930s, someone official was worried about the decline in koala habitat in Australia and decided that Magnetic Island was a good place to introduce and protect the species. This worked surprisingly well (unlike most stories of biological introduction in Aus); the koalas have become established, with little impact, at least according to the signs, on the local fauna. Recent estimates have the population at around 800 individuals. As I was absorbing this information, I remembered my own brief foray into koala management: As an undergraduate, my roommates and I had a running joke that we should kick one of us out and get a koala. I don’t remember where this idea came from or why it persisted for so long. We knew that logically having a koala would be awful: they sleep for 20 hours a day, eat for 2 hours, and don’t like humans for the other 2 (I know from experience that human-hating is a full-time job and can easily take 2 hours of solid concentration). Looking at the koalas on Maggy, who seem incredibly mellow and unperturbed by humans, I’m inclined to think that we would have been very happy to have a koala in Chicago and perhaps could have established a North American population, but the cost to remodel the building to allow for a grove of eucalyptus trees would have been astronomical.
The hike that I took to find koalas also goes through the ruins of a World War II fort. I don’t know if Australia is obsessed with World War II or if I accidentally added places of military significance to my itinerary. I’m inclined to think it’s a combination. WWII was the first time Australia faced a serious threat of external invasion–they had even drawn up evacuation plans that would have given the Japanese everything but the southeastern coastal cities–so it clearly holds a significance here lost on the US. I also tend to visit places with good vantage points, which would make them valuable military bases. Anyway, both during my walk in Manly and my walk here in Maggy to see koalas, my trail led me through the remnants of a WWII fort. In Maggy, in particular, I found two things interesting: 1) US troops were apparently stationed here and 2) no one ever died here except a palm tree, according to my shuttle driver at least.
Feeling full of wildlife and military knowledge I didn’t know I was looking for, I headed to find a quiet beach. Maggy Island is 20 square miles, of which 50% is a national park. There are four towns and one main road. Sadly, the road doesn’t run in a circle, but in a line as it cuts between the two parcels of parkland. Each town obviously has its own beach, including where I’m staying in Nelly Bay. However, there are also several coves within the national park that can be reached by foot or four-wheel drive vehicles. As I was already in the park to see koalas, I hiked down to Florence Bay, a relatively quiet cove to spend the rest of my afternoon reading and swimming in the relatively warm pacific.