I got to start this week with an amazing adventure on Maggie Island and today I ended the week back there again. Getting to explore Maggie twice in the same week is so amazing! Today, I explored below sea level and saw incredible creatures.
This morning, with our snorkel gear stuffed into our backpacks along with sandwiches for lunch that were already surely squished, Lawrence and I caught the 8:30am ferry to Maggie Island. Since I have a JCU Student Association membership, I get buy-one-get-one-free ferry tickets. So, it ended up costing us only $11 each for a round trip ticket to the island. Once we got off the ferry, we hiked our way over to Geoffrey Bay while the tide was still high.
Once we got to the old ferry terminal, we hid our bags behind some rocks and donned our goggles and fins. As we did so, we met a traveler from England who had also come to snorkel at the bay. Geoffrey Bay is a great place to start off exploring the world below the water at Maggie Island because there is a snorkel trail set up. From local shops, you can pick up a laminated snorkel card that has a little map. Or, you can do as Lawrence and I did and just jump on in and start swimming to the buoys that mark destinations along the trail.
Now, I must say that I was a little bit weary of jumping right into the water. Growing up on the cold-side of the Pacific Coast, I learned through personal experience that the water is always super cold, and I was always taught to not go running into the ocean for a swim because you never know when a wave may scoop you off your feet and take you away. But, here it is different. While you still have to be sure that you are snorkeling at high tide so you don’t scrap a knee, the reefs off the coast prevent big waves from coming into the bays. After convincing myself that the water would be a lot warmer as well, we counted to three and plunged on in.
My first sight underwater was not exactly what I expected it to be; it was quite murky and since it was overcast, the sun was not helping light the water. But, that really didn’t matter much because, having no previous snorkeling experience to compare this to, it was the best I had ever seen. As soon as we started swimming, I tried hard to focus my eyes past the dust and see what was living on the benthos. Lawrence pointed out a large urchin for me, which was the first thing I really saw.
As we swam towards a buoy, I started to see all of the life that surrounded me. I immediately wished I had some way to document what I was seeing to share with all of you. I saw hard corals and soft corals, which is as far as I can ID them currently. I also saw reef fish of so many colors and sizes. As I turned my head at any given time, a bright color would catch my eye. One mound coral that I saw was bright blue, like nothing I had ever seen before.
The farther I swam, the more life there was below me and surrounding me. At one of the buoys I saw giant clams! They much bigger than I could wrap my arms around. Once I got my confidence up a bit, I began to duck-dive down to take a closer look at everything I could see.
There were fish living among the corals that were quite territorial and would come towards you defensively if you got too close. There were schools of fish that I found myself literally swimming along with. There were bright purple corals and peach-colored corals. But it was not just what I could see that amazed me; it was also what I could hear. Through the water I could hear all sorts of crackles and crunches, sounds that are hard to describe. If I say it sounded like corals and barnacles, can you imagine what that sounds like? The best way that I can describe it is by saying that it sounded alive.
Once in a while, Lawrence and I would show each other things to come check out. Two other buoys marked a ship wreck and an old World War II propeller that have both become artificial reefs encrusted with life.
After about an hour of snorkeling, I looked at Lawrence and saw his teeth were chattering. For him, this is winter weather, so he was getting a bit chilly, and he has gone snorkeling plenty of times with much better visibility. We decided to work our way back towards the shore, but I did so much slower than he, because for me, this is summer weather and I did not want to leave. By this point, after spending about an hour and a half snorkeling, I was really feeling like the Little Mermaid.
As I was meandering my way back, I heard a girl call out my name. Now, I am used to crossing paths with people I know around my home town or college campus, but it’s not often that you bump into someone you know while snorkeling in Australia, so I was surprised to hear someone call out to me. It was actually our friend, JaHyun, who had come on a later ferry to meet up with us.
Once we gathered our things and patted ourselves dry, we headed to the bus stop with our fingers crossed that it would be coming soon. But, no such luck. It was not coming for another hour. We were hoping to make it across the island to Horseshoe Bay right at low tide so we could explore the tidal flats. I was thinking there was no other option but to wait when Lawrence suggested we try hitch hiking, because why not, right? Now, let me put the disclaimer out here and say that I was not hitch hiking alone, I was with two other friends, and we were all in agreement of only riding with someone we were all comfortable with.
So, we stuck out our thumbs; well, I was hiding behind both of them a bit because I felt completely silly trying to hitch hike, again it is something I was always taught not to do back in the States. Right away two cars passed us by. Then, we were shocked when only a couple minutes after starting, a car came to a stop next to us. We hurried on over and piled in. A nice lady named Gwen asked us where we were headed. “To Horseshoe!” we all said. It was a bit past her house, but she said she could still take us. I could not believe our luck and her generosity in picking us up. We chatted on the drive about where we were all from, if she usually picks people up (she said usually the girls if she has time), and about her life on the island. Once she dropped us off, we thanked her so, so much and headed to the bay to follow the tide out.
We all three scattered out along the tidal flat. Wearing our water shoes was a must because there are all sorts of poisonous things that we could have stepped on. Once again Lawrence was looking for an octopus. I was looking for anything interesting, really. The farther out we followed the tide, the more corals became exposed. I was able to take some photos of a few things that I saw while snorkeling, which was exciting.
Around 2pm my stomach was really reminding me that I had a squished sandwich to dig out of my bag and eat. I headed back to where our bags and blankets were to take a sit and admire the view. Sitting in the sun and watching the waves was super relaxing. It had me feeling a bit sleepy, actually. Then, the next thing I knew, I was waking up from a doze and had no idea what time it was. It turns out, about only half an hour had gone by, but it still caught me by surprise. I headed back out to the flats to see what JaHyun and Lawrence had found while I was gone.
As I approached, they both had their cameras out, which meant they had something really neat. It turned out to be a puffer fish, which was pretty neat. But personally, I was more impressed with the giant sea cucumber right next to them!
As we followed the tide back up the shore, we decided that we would try to hitch-hike our way back towards the ferry terminal. We had to wait a bit longer to get picked up this time, but when a car did pull over, it was a really sweet older couple. Once we told them where we are all from and what we are up to here in AU, they asked us if we had seen any wild koalas on the island yet. We said not yet, but that we were looking forward to seeing some eventually. To our surprise, eventually came immediately! They took us on a mini detour and pointed out koala bears in the trees to us. I told them that back at home, my family goes for drives to look for deer, and here I was in AU going for a drive looking for koala bears! They pulled off the road in a neighborhood and lead us around a group of eucalyptus trees where they showed us a wild mother and baby joey koala bear! It was amazing to watch them both so high up in a tree that was swaying in the breeze.
We made it the rest of the way across the island shortly after our wonderful detour from two very generous Aussies. Once we said goodbye to them, I said good bye to Lawrence and JaHyun. They both were staying at Maggie for a while longer, but I was headed back to Townsville to check out the Strand Ephemera art show. But, I still had to get from Alma Bay to the Ferry terminal. In the end, I had to actually run part of the way. I made it on the ferry with just a couple of minutes to spare, thankfully.
It sure was amazing to finally go snorkeling and see wild koalas for the first time today! Although visibility was not crystal clear in the water, being that I have nothing to compare it to, I can for certain say that this was the best day of snorkeling that I have ever had! And I sure am looking forward to having many more adventures below the sea. Before I leave AU, I really hope to find Nemo somewhere down there!