After boozing it down the east coast, GEMMA PRICE flees to Magnetic Island to detox and experience koala porn.
You know when you’ve been on it for three days and your eyes feel like red, hot, curried marbles, your mouth tastes like you’ve been swallowing carpet and your head is a rumbling, throbbing bellow of protest until even the slight sound of a cockroach farting inflicts spasmodic blades of pain? I’d been there before (as I’m sure we all have), but it’s when you start to wake bright and breezy and only get a headache when you don’t have a drink that you really need to worry.
After being honest with myself and admitting that four litres of wine really should last more than 36 hours, I decided to escape the mainland to that little secluded haven off Townsville’s shores – Magnetic Island, or “maggie” to those already familiar with her charms.
If a party girl like Kate Moss can pull the plug on her hedonistic lifestyle, I was sure I could manage it for a few days.
The ferry ride over was a very relaxing start, and like all good rehab centres, I was cut off from the outside world on my arrival – no mobile reception meant no booze-soaked invites to the nearest bar. So far, so good.
I was a little worried when I saw the colourful laminates tiling the hostel walls, but rather than advertising the typical Mr & Mrs Backpacker get-your-kit-off-and-dance-on-tables-and-we-might-give-you-a-five-dollar-jug-of beer-type shenanigans, the activities on offer were more relaxing in nature. (For the record, I’ve never danced naked on tables. No siree, not me, not me. Never ever. Ever.)
And a particular picture caught my eye – it showed the same boggly-eyed people grinning inanely at brightly coloured fish that I’d seen adorning PADI course posters all up the coast, but diving had always been a completely impractical idea. The thought of trying to cope with breathing apparatus and bobbing about in the sea after a night of hardcore liver rotting had always been laughable, but since I was going to be bone-dry for a couple of days, I decided to sign up.
At first, I found the whole breathing underwater thing a bit freaky. I was used to holding my breath when venturing beneath the waves, and the rubbery air that I was sucking in felt alien and likely to run out any second. For the first day I grappled with the rising panic that my next gasp would yield nothing and my weighted body would slowly sink to a watery grave at the bottom of the practice pool. But of course, it was never going to happen.
After having a few quiet words with myself, by day two I was getting used to the gear and I began to trust the regulator. Apparently, you could vomit into it and still draw fresh air with each breath, so it turns out I could’ve done the PADI course hung over after all.
Initial weirdness over, soon I was lazily propelling myself along, weightless and without a care in the world. And I’m sure my twinkly-eyed Swedish diving instructor might have helped my cause along a little too. He was very, er… reassuring. Mmmm, yes.
Dentists and other purveyors of pain like fish tanks because they’re very soothing, but that’s nothing compared to immersing yourself in the ocean and seeing the world on Nemo’s level – trust me on this. If you’ve never donned a wetsuit, then I’d say do it as soon as you get the chance. And not just for some kinky antics requiring rubbery lycra either. (Dave and Billy in Cairns, you know this means you.)
And it felt pretty good to leave the dive shop clutching a card printed with a bad photo and my official ticket to the underwater world. My friends always said I’d get certified one day, so I guess this was one occasion they were right.
Newly dewy-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was ready for some more of this thing called relaxation, and on the advice of another chill-ite, I decided to go horse riding along the beach.
I’d ridden a bit when I was younger, so the prospect of sitting atop a four-legged streak of barely controlled madness wasn’t too disconcerting. And once we were underway, it was actually pretty cool. Bit bouncy and sore on the old arse, but the scenery was lovely and we saw quite a few kangaroos dozing in the bushes as they hid from the searing gaze of the sun.
Splashing over the sand and into the waves really was pretty therapeutic, and I reckon the horses were glad for the cool water too. I just kept hoping there were no sharks in the vicinity with a taste for French cuisine…
Once back on dry land, and two legs again, I lunched al fresco at one of the eateries on the beach, and then took myself off exploring to soak up the natural beauty of the area.
Maggie Island is covered in national parks and fringed by gorgeous beaches, and someone at the hostel told me if you venture up to West Point at the tip of the island, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get the stretch to yourself. He was right – it was amazing.
I lay on the sand for a couple of hours, savouring the sense of solitude and tranquility that is so rare on the east coast, and then decided to hit the hiking trail – namely the popular Forts Walk for its spectacular 360 degree island views and the chance to spot some furry bottoms in the branches.
Again, on the east coast that could mean anything – possibly involving some drunken Greek guy who has friends with an intriguing sense of humour and too much time on their hands – but I was reliably informed that Maggie has one of the largest koala populations in Australia and there was a good chance of spying some snoozing in the branches.
Getting back to nature seemed like the perfect compliment to my wholesome, sun-drenched recuperation, so I was thrilled when I came across a bleary-eyed fluffball at shoulder height alongside the path.
There were already some Germans there who’d clearly been snapping away for a while, so it wasn’t surprising when the koala half-climbed, half-fell out of the branches and wobbily lumbered away and into another tree.
My disappointment that the cuddly pin up had ambled off before I could take a decent shot was quickly replaced by shock at what happened next.
The tree that our camera-shy friend had chosen was already occupied, and as she (we know she was indeed a she because of what happened next) slowly inched her way up to the top, she was met with a carnal welcome so ferocious I could only gawp in bemused horror.
Have you ever seen two koalas mating? It’s not pretty – cute and cuddly they aint. Forget any images of lethargic, fluffy-eared embraces, and imagine if you will, a gonorrhea-riddled serial rapist violently grabbing his target, clamping his jaw around her neck and going at it hammer and tongs.
The roaring and screaming could give any psychological shock therapy a run for its money, and although it wasn’t quite A Clockwork Orange, it wasn’t far off.
Not exactly the relaxing David Attenborough-esque ending to my rehab retreat, but it was an experience. And what really impressed me was the way the Germans quick-thinkingly whipped out their camcorders and made their own (possibly a world first?) rudimentary koala porn; probably available in all very bad video stores soon. Shocking stuff.
With thanks to: http://www.maggiesbeachhouse.com.au[Maggie’s Beach House] Freephone: 1800 001 554; http://www.divemagneticisland.com[Pleasure Divers], Ph: (07) 4778 5788,; Blueys Horseshoe Ranch, Ph: (07) 4778 5109, http://www.ozexperience.com[Oz Experience] Ph: 1300 654 604,.