Animal Encounters on Magnetic Island

Views over secluded bays from the forts walk on Magnetic Island

Walking along the dusty tracks over the rocky hills I peered upwards and saw the grey bundle of fur hidden up in the eucalyptus trees that overlooked a small crescent bay of golden sand lapped by the turquoise waters.

I inched closer to the eucalyptus tree, trying to be careful so as not to scare him or wake him from his sleep, but the cute, furry, grey koala hardly stirred or noticed my presence as he dozed in the tree under the midday sun, asleep after a feast on the eucalyptus leaves. 

A koala dozes in the eucalyptus trees

Koala bears are marsupials native to Australia and live in eucalyptus woodlands. They mainly eat eucalyptus leaves, and because these have limited nutritional content, koalas are mostly sedentary and can sleep for up to 20 hours a day. 

Koalas are not social animals and are usually found on their own, only socialising with other koalas at birth and during mating. It is often said that koala smell but it is only the males that have scent glands on their chests to mark their presence and females do not have a distinct smell. Koalas do not have many natural predators but are threatened by diseases like Chlamydia and also bush fires and droughts.

Too cute! A baby koala cuddles up to its mother

Continuing along the track takes you up to the 2nd world war concrete forts that perch onto of the rocky outcrops of Magnetic Island. I kept my eyes focused on the trees, spotting out other grey balls of furry koalas dozing in the sun.

Magnetic Island is only about 20 km or a half hour ferry ride away from Townsville on North Queensland’s east coast. The name comes from the apparent ‘magnetic’ effect that the island had on Captian Cook’s compass when he was exploring the coast of Australia in 1770. 

Horseshoe Bay on beautiful Magnetic Island

Over half of this 22km wide mountainous island is national park and contains abundant wildlife including one of Australia’s largest concentrations of wild koalas. The foliage is also not what you would expect from a tropical island and is dominated by rocky granite boulders, eucalyptus and pine trees but this is a good place to get back to nature with scenic bush walks to secluded bays and good wildlife spotting.

Holding a small saltwater crocodile at the wildlife park at YHA Bungalow Bay

Staying at the cute A frame bungalows in the tranquil, leafy, kookaburra filled grounds of Bungalow Bay YHA in Horseshoe bay gave us even more animal encounters as there was a wildlife sanctuary on site. Here we learned about and got up close to crocodiles, lizards, echidnas, cockatoos, snakes, and even the classic aussie experience of cuddling a koala.

Cuddling a koala at Bungalow Bay

After this we set out to find some more animals in the wild and ventured down to the rocks near the beach at Geoffrey bay. When we first approached we saw the baby rock wallabies scurrying away to hide in the safety of their mother’s pouches.

A baby rock wallaby hides in its mothers pouch

However, once they saw we had some tasty pieces of apple the adult rock wallabies hopped out from amongst the rocks, like a cross between a kangaroo, a rabbit and a mouse, they hopped up to us confidently and standing on their back legs took the pieces of apple from our hands and holding them with their little front paws nibbled away.

Once the rock wallabies saw we had apples they became braver and took the apple out of our hands

Whilst Magnetic Island has numerous bush walks, coves and beaches to discover and wildlife to encounter, the highlight of my stay was to make a long burning dream of mine come true – to horse ride on the beach.

First we rode, western style, through the dry bush land, along dusty tracks and through forests and scorched fields.

Horse riding through the bush

After about an hour we emerged from the bush, rode over a sand dune and took in the golden beach and turquoise shoreline of horseshoe bay stretching around in front of us. Taking in the fresh sea breeze as the afternoon sun glittered on the waves we rode placidly along the beach as the horses plodded softly through the dazzling sand.

Riding along the beach at Horseshoe Bay

We found a sheltered place between the bush and the beach and jumped off our horses for a moment to take off the saddles and strip down to our swim wear. After jumping back on the horses hair felt very soft under my bare legs and we went slowly at first into the water.

As we got deeper the waves rolled over the horses back, sometimes gently and sometimes roughly, splashing both the horse and I and almost unseating me. I laughed and shrieked out loud, as I grabbed onto the mane to avoid a dunking and regain balance as we splashed around.

Riding bareback on horses in the sea is a magical experience

I could feel the magic connection to the horse underneath me as he moved slowly and surely through the water. As we moved further out to sea and the water became deeper the movement changed from a walking stride and became lighter as the horse lifted and started paddling and swimming.

We continued like this for about half an hour striding through the water, paddling, swimming and splashing, as the sun started to lower in the sky behind us producing dazzling glittery shadows on the water. We followed the line of the crescent shaped bay around until we emerged from the water, wet, hairy, salty and sandy but extremely happy. The highlight of all my animal encounters on Magnetic Island and a dream come true.

Wet and happy after swimming with horses

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