Townsville, Sunday 2 to Wednesday 5 June 2019

Shortly after 2:00 pm on Sunday, we checked into the Townsville Lakes Caravan Park, which has ensuites available for all powered sites. It is next to a lake which has a concrete path around most of it for walking Dexter.

Castle Town Shopping World was almost next door, so Ian walked to Woolworths to buy some groceries. We were very tired, had leftovers for dinner. We cracked a pawpaw (papaya) we got from John, and it was delicious.

Dexter had his first walk around the lake on Monday morning. We had leftover spaghetti bolognaise on toast for breakfast to make more space in our fridge.

The need to fix the awning has become quite urgent as we travel up the Queensland coast. We drove to the Jayco dealership in Townsville enquiring about repair opportunities for Matilda. They were not interested as they were fully booked up for several weeks. There was nobody available to even look at the awning to see if it was a 5 minute job to fix. In Cairns it was the same situation. Our first opportunity to get a Jayco dealer to look at the awning would be at Mt Isa, and if not there, then Darwin. What appalling “service”, or total lack of it! Hard to believe that a business that sells recreational vehicles with “service” centres around Australia does not cater for people that need service as they are travelling.

John told us that Artie’s Music in Townsville had a baritone ukulele with guitar tuning. Ian had never seen one, and was keen to rectify that. So, we found the shop and Ian went in to enquire. He learned that the baritone uke could be set up with guitar strings or normal uke strings. There was also a bass uke with very fat strings. Very interesting music shop! He came out with some rubber plectrums, or picks, which John also mentioned was available, and some felt plectrums. We then had lunch at nearby Subway, which was out of convenience.

As Katie’s hearing aid batteries stock was running low, we headed for the Townsville branch of National Hearing Care, with which Katie has a battery supply contract. Soon she was stocked up for enough batteries to last another month or two. She also took the opportunity to buy a new pyjama set as her current pyjamas were damaged by one of the caravan park laundries.

In 1978, Ian was at Monash University planning a postgraduate geological research project on Heard and McDonald Islands, in the Southern Indian Ocean. The last geologist to visit Heard Island was Jon Stephenson from James Cook University in Townsville. In November that year, Ian took coaches from Sydney to Townsville to meet Professor Stephenson. He stayed one night in the Youth Hostel on nearby Magnetic Island, and the following day hired a Mini Moke and drove around the island with three other young people. Ian was keen to go back to Magnetic Island for a look. To our surprise, you can still hire a Mini Moke 41 years later. So, for Tuesday we planned to leave Dexter in nearby doggie daycare, take the passenger ferry to Magnetic Island, hire a Moke, and explore the tropical island again.

On Monday afternoon, while playing Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl on his uke along with Cynthia Lin’s video just outside the motorhome, Ian was invited to perform later in the week at a charity barbecue. Unfortunately, we were planning to be in Port Douglas during the barbecue, but he was humbled at the offer. We had takeaway pizza and a Hershey cookie from Pizza Hut that evening for dinner.

We woke up early on Tuesday in preparation for our trip to Magnetic Island. The weather was mild with sunny patches and cool breeze. After Dexter’s morning walk, we drove to Doptopia Retreat, a doggie daycare centre inside Green Cross Vet, just about a kilometre away from our caravan park. Dexter was very excited, but he was unaware that he would have a hydrobath from Dogtopia before we picked him up – Dexter hates baths!

Dogtopia Retreat

We drove to Breakwater Terminal, parked Matilda and bought concessional tickets for the SealLink ferry to Magnetic Island. The lady behind the counter was most helpful, and checked that our Moke that we booked yesterday was going to be available.

For its residents, Magnetic Island features a relaxed tropical lifestyle with quiet secluded beaches. Two thirds of the island are National Park, and the island is home to northern Australia’s largest colony of koalas living in the wild.

Sealink Ferry to Magnetic Island

The ferry from Townsville to Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island did not take long. When we arrived at Tropical Topless Car Rentals, our Mini Moke was around the back having a new battery installed. Katie was quietly excited when they entered the car hiring place believing that one of the topless brightly coloured minis will be their hired car! Ian was overjoyed when the Moke was eventually brought around to the front of the office, but Katie was less impressed when she saw a dark blue chassis on 4 small wheels, without doors or roof, only a speedo for a dashboard, and a skinny steering wheel. It rattled when the engine was started, and changing gears without crunching was a challenge, especially Reverse gear. Katie had not seen a Mini Moke before!

Ian in, or rather on, his 1980 Californian Mini Moke
Other mini topless cars–Katie’s preferred choice

Our vehicle was a 1980 Californian model, so it would not be the one that Ian drove in 1978. It was one of the last Mokes made in Australia (production ceased in 1981), and has had its original 1275 cc engine replaced with the standard one litre version. It was not cheap–$110 to hire for the day—but it was worth it for the nostalgic experience. Getting on board was a little trickier than Ian remembered from 1978.

We drove initially to Horseshoe Bay at the northern end of the island where we had breakfast of lovely coffee and banana bread at Adele’s Cafe. We met a talkative couple who were selling their house at Horseshoe Bay for $1.6 million. It had been on the market for a while. Ian saw a FOR SALE notice for a yacht for $78,000, which was more affordable, and started having thoughts of selling Matilda. Suitably caffeinated, we walked around and photographed the bay and the Moke.

Adele’s Cafe
Horseshoe Bay on a brilliant day

We then drove to Picnic Bay at the southern end of the island. The Picnic Bay Jetty is heritage listed and is an impressive structure. This is where Ian would have landed from the ferry in 1978, although there have been too many years since then for Ian to remember the details. Since then, a new ferry terminal has been built at Nelly Bay.

Picnic Bay Jetty
Is this really a problem?

Well established fig trees at Picnic Bay

Our next drive was back to Nelly Bay, where we settled down at SOS (Stuffed on Seafood) for a delicious lunch of crumbed Spanish Mackerel, chips and salad for Ian, and seafood chowder for Katie. Ian also tasted some Tropical Coast Pale Ale, which is brewed in Townsville.

Spanish Mackerel and seafood chowder
The local brew

We checked out the Island Living Centre which sells a broad range of unusual goods from old jewellery, antique clocks, second-hand furniture and crafts. Ian bought a pair of polaroid sunnies to use when he is wearing contact lenses.

Feeling energetic after lunch, we walked along Gabul Way from the Ferry Terminal at Nelly Bay to Geoffrey Bay. The mostly elevated walkway was a recent construction. Gabul refers to the local Aboriginal Dreaming story of how the islands off the Townsville coast were formed. According to the Dreaming, Gabul was a giant carpet python who carved the landscape while travelling from Herbert River through the Palm Island Group, up Ross River, and coming to rest at Magnetic Island. Gabul’s head can still be seen in the Arcadia headland.

Gabul Way

Geoffrey Bay is where scientists discovered in 1981 that many coral species reproduce on the same few nights. We also observed interesting circular, probably algal, structures in the shallow water, reminiscent of stromatolites.

Geoffrey Bay with circular algal structures, looking north to the Arcadia headland—Gabul’s head?

We drove back to Picnic Bay for Ian to have a Wild Yak at the pub while thinking about our top day on Magnetic Island. We then drove back to Nelly Bay, returned the Moke, and boarded the 5:10pm Sealink ferry back to Townsville.

We picked up Dexter from Dogtopia, still damp from his hydrobath. We were given a health report and a behaviour report on Dexter—his behaviour was reported to be Grreat!! We also were given a paw print painting by Dexter that showed about the same level of artistic talent as his dad, i.e. minimal. Dexter received a parting gift of a dog biscuit. We were delighted that they had taken such good care of our boy for the day, and we would not hesitate to recommend Dogtopia in Townsville.

Dexter’s paw print painting

We both had had a top adventure on Magnetic Island. Ian felt 23 years old again while driving the Mini Moke. Katie had mixed feelings–during her whole time on the Moke ride, she hung on tightly with both hands as if she was riding on the back of our motorcycle—but she was pleased to have had and survived the experience!

We went shopping at Woolies and filled up with fuel before returning to the caravan park. We ate leftover pizza, Hershey cookie, and pawpaw for dinner, prepared for an early departure the next morning, and had another early night.

On Wednesday, Dexter had another walk around the lake, including a short time off-lead to chase sticks. We were able to get away at 8:30 am, which was fairly early for us. We still had to arrange accommodation for Dexter while we were staying in our next destination—Port Douglas.