Far North Queensland Adventures – Part 3 – snorkelling and sunsets…..

Here is the final instalment of our May trip up to FNQ. Those who have read Part 1 will remember the torrential rain of Townsville, and finally in Part 2 sunshine on Magnetic Island and plenty of wildlife. So what did we get up to on our last few days on Maggie, before heading back to cold Canberra? Plenty more time in the water, snorkels galore, rock wallabies, hikes and sunsets….

Sunday 15 May…..

With the bad weather seeemingly finally well behind us, it was another warm and glorious start to the day so we took to the pool for an early morning dip.

Sunday snorkels…..

With the weather improving, we were hoping the snorkelling visibility was also on the way up, so we had a plan for a day with many snorkels. We had now learnt that the tide made a huge difference to most of the snorkelling sites on Magnetic Island, so had tried to plan our snorkels around the tides.

First up it was back to the Nelly Bay snorkel trail to try again with the kids. We were down there about 9am and the sun was glorious.

Everyone including Zinnia was keen to go in. We made it out to the snorkel trail bouys but the tide was still a little high for the kids to see much with the still improving visibility. Nonetheless we had a good half an hour wander and then decided to head back to the house for some food and try again for when the tide was lower in a couple of hours.

With the snorkel trail only about half a kilometre from the house it was a quick trip back down, and again the beach was deserted. The tide was definitely now low, so low that we could see many rocks above the water!

It certainly made it easier to see things, unfortunately it also made it near impossible to get Zinnia out far enough as she had to float over the top of the coral, which was rather close to the surface, even the bigger kids were struggling. We took it in turns to attempt to get the kids out to the deeper areas while Zinnia agreed to look for fish in the shallows with the other adult.

After awhile, with the tide continuing to go out, it was near impossible to get over the rocks and coral safely, so we determined we needed to be a couple of hours either side of low tide and decided to try a different site. We hadn’t yet snorkelled at Geoffrey Bay, where the other marked snorkel trail is.

Geoffrey Bay

The Geoffrey Bay snorkel trail starts about a kilometre off the beach, which is a decent swim out. The dive shop had recommended we start from the old boat ramp near the rock wallabies, which is a difficult entry, but puts you right near the trail. When we arrived at Geoffrey Bay, the tide was still well and truly out and there was sand almost all the way out to the trail. We figured we’d go for a walk out and see how far we could get before we decided on where to snorkel.

The kids were fascinated with the cool patterns left in the squelchy sand. There were plenty of rock pools on the way out so we had plenty of time to spot small fish and coral without even getting wet!

We also spotted some of the rays circling and plenty of fish hiding in corals.

As Anto went to investigate the best spot to get into the snorkel trail, the kids and I wandered through the shallows and back towards the car to get the snorkel gear.

They had a wonderful time running around the bay. Little specks in the distance as Zinnia and I found fish…..

We drove around the boat ramp and it was decided we could all manage to get into the trail with only a little bit of scrambling down rocks. It turns out it wasn’t too hard at all, and easy access to the snorkel trail, where we explored for almost 40 minutes. The visibility wasn’t the greatest but there were plenty of big fish. Zinnia was getting rather confident with her floating and was demanding I ‘let her go’ which about 300m offshore I wasn’t keen on!

Once we had enough it was back out and a quick visit to the rock wallabies who live right near the boat ramp.

We had the pre-purchased wallaby pellets with us and the wallabies certainly know what those little white paper bags contain! They were soon eating out of the kids hands.

Apparently, the kids were not yet done with being wet, or in lycra, and we had determined that the tide at Nelly Bay should be just about right for getting the best views of the coral and fish. We had long since given up on keeping the car dry or sand free, so jumped in and headed back to Nelly Bay to head out for one last snorkel of the day.

Nelly Bay ….. take 3 for the day!

It was now about 4.45pm and indeed the tide was perfect, we could float over the top of the coral and not get snagged and the visibility was the best we’d seen yet. Not perfect but it was much clearer. After about 15 minutes the kids all decided they were in fact tired, so elected to play on the beach and in the shallows while Anto and I took it in turns for a fast snorkel out to the buoys and back. Despite the almost perfect conditions, we quickly lost light so after a day almost entirely in wet lycra, headed back to the house for a dip in the pool to wash off the sand, and watch the sunset from our balcony. Tired but full of snorkelling adventures and tales of pretty fish…..

Monday 16 May….. a hike to Picnic Bay!

It was our last full day on Maggie and we still had so much we wanted to do. More snorkelling was definitely on the agenda but the tides were too high in the morning, so we’d decided we’d get ourselves hot and sweaty with a hike from our house in Nelly Bay over to Picnic Bay. We’d driven a few times but the walking trail looked interesting.

We set off around 8.30am and the older two trotted along as Zinnia and Anto wandered behind.

It didn’t take us long to walk down past our Nelly Bay snorkelling spot and yep, the tide was definitely too high to see much, so up the hill we went!

The views were pretty stunning, but that sun was already hot!

Zinnia was doing a great job on the hills and before long we made it to the top and had a short but steep descent on some large stairs which were hard work on little legs!

We were definitely all hot and sweaty by the time we reached Picnic Bay, and we’d promised morning tea. Alas nothing was open! It appeared that on Mondays (at least in non-tourist season) none of the cafes or shops were open. Something we’d failed to check as generally everything was open in Nelly Bay.

So, it was a quick visit to the jetty and then we had to convince the kids to walk back over the hill, with only the mum-packed snacks, and water, and we’d go to the cafe in Nelly Bay.

The hill wasn’t all that much fun on the way back up, especially as Zinnia was getting a bit weary and wanted to ride on my back in the ergo. A good workout for the quads up those stairs!

She was a bit tuckered out from all the snorkelling and sunshine and decided to have a bit of a nap on my back as we were heading back down into Nelly Bay.

We convinced the kids it was more efficient to keep walking all the way into Nelly Bay and to Scallywags cafe, than to divert past the house and pick up the car. They agreed on the promise of cold drinks. We were all now rather drenched in sweat, particularly those of us carrying napping toddlers!

Feeling more refreshed after some cold drinks we had to walk back to the house. Zinnia, now full of sugar was happy to trot along again. We made it back having walked a little over 8km for the morning, although it felt like more in the sun!

We’d worked up an appetite so it was lunch on the deck, and then a quick change into the lycra and jumping in the car to hopefully catch the optimum tide at Nelly Bay.

The visibility was definitely the best yet and the tide was about perfect so we enjoyed a great snorkel before the tide started getting too low.

There is seemingly very little window between it being low enough to float over the bommies and it getting too low to safely navigate over the coral.

It was our last day we could snorkel, as the gear needed to be washed out and packed up that night. Now the visibility was finally good we wanted to take advantage. The next suitable tide level at Nelly and Geoffrey Bays was going to be after dark, so Anto voted we try Arthur Bay again. The first days snorkelling at Arthur Bay was promising but the viz hadn’t been good so another go seemed like a good plan.

The only issue was the hike in and out, as there is no car access. We were already wet and sandy so we voted for just getting in the car and going as is. With a little added bribery of an icecream purchased at Arcadia on the way through. The kids were now used to spending all day in wet lycra, and although Zinnia was rather tired she wasn’t giving up on snorkels yet….

Icecreams purchased and consumed, we arrived at the carpark near the start of the Forts Walk. When we attempted this snorkel site a couple of days earlier we’d taken a backpack full of the snorkel gear to assist with the steep walk in. Today’s improptu decision meant we were already in wet and sandy lycra suits, and had no backpack so we had to hike the 1km in carrying gear, with a tired toddler and squelchy dive boots full of water. There is nothing we wouldn’t do for a good snorkel though!

Given the difficulty getting to this site, there were again very few people. It was another stunning day and the water looked rather clear. The tide was out much further than the previous attempt, and with the increased visibility it was hands down the best snorkel of the trip. We could have spent hours exploring the bommies, and plenty of the coral was very close to the surface with lots of fish – big and little to see.

Soren, with his minimal body fat, unfortunately got tired rather quickly, as did Zinnia….. so it was back to tag-teaming adults with Astrid, who lasted marginally longer.

Anto and I could have kept going, but did alternate solo snorkels while the other hung out with the kids in the shallows. Wishing we didn’t have to drag ourselves away, but very aware that we had 1 km uphill hike back out, with tired and sandy kids!

We were now well and truly sick of being in wet lycra and the trudge up the hill with all our gear wasn’t fun, but the thought of a hot shower and no more sand was definitely motivating.

Picnic Bay sunsets

After getting out of the wet stinger suits, and rinsing off the sand in the pool it was time for hot showers and a quick snack. I was keen on catching the sunset at Picnic Bay, as we hadn’t yet managed to get there, and our last night was already upon us.

Back in the car, but now at least dry, and it was back driving past our Nelly Bay snorkelling spot and following the same route we had walked earlier that morning. The views from up the hill were again good but it was much easier in the car than walking!

We made it down to Picnic Bay and headed over to the jetty. It is definitely a great spot to watch the sun set.

It was clear enough to see all the way over to Townsville and the water colour changed constantly as the sun slipped below the horizon.

We weren’t the only ones out on the jetty, it’s a popular spot to watch the sunset, and also a popular fishing spot.

Earlier in the trip we were starting to doubt we’d ever get decent weather, but we were in the end blessed with quite a few days of sunshine, warmth and tropical views. Definitely worth waiting for after the many times this holiday had been rescheduled!

As the sun finally dipped below the horizon we said goodbye to Picnic Bay and headed back to the car and our house for some dinner, and then inevitable packing up that seems to come with every trip.

Tuesday 17 May – the adventure wasn’t over yet…..

Our ferry back to Townsville was booked for 10am so we had a little bit of time in the morning before needing to be at the dock. Despite the adults being up way too late packing and tidying, the last minute packing and cleaning up always seems to take forever!

After we got to a state of controlled chaos, I rounded the kids up into the pool for a last swim so Anto could get everything sorted without their interference.

We enjoyed our last swim in the warm before it was back to Canberra and indoor pools!

We were somehow running on schedule (or so we thought) and had the car packed and the kids sorted in plenty of time for one last visit to the rock wallabies at Geoffrey Bay. It is only a short drive from there back to the ferry dock, and the left over wallaby pellets were burning a hole in the kids pockets.

Those wallabies were not going to disappoint and we found plenty to feed and admire.

They are cute little critters, and not particularly shy! Even with not quiet children….

We were lucky enough to see several with joey’s in their pouches. Every now and then you’d see a head or foot poke out ūüôā Spot the joeys in the pictures!

We eventually had to drag the kids away as there was a ferry to catch….. It was hard watching people off for their morning snorkel as we had all our gear packed up in the car while the water looked beautiful and inviting. It meant the kids had to plot another snorkelling holiday soon.

Farewell Maggie…..

After a short line up in the car, we were driving onto the ferry and given it was a much nicer day than our trip over, we agreed to the kids request to head upstairs, rather than sit inside.

Today there were no warnings about rough crossings and we were off and cruising for the 40 minute trip back to Townsville.

It was certainly more idyllic than the trip over. Just to remind you that this is all we saw on the way over…….

This time we could see both Magnetic Island for the whole trip and the Townsville port. The ocean was also calm and beautiful, not choppy and grey!

Before we knew it, we were pulling into the dock in Townsville and it was back to the car…..

Castle Hill take 2…..

With what we thought was plenty of time before our 1.30pm flight out of Townsville, we decided to take a very quick detour up Castle Hill on the way to the airport. When we’d visited a week earlier we ended up with storms and couldn’t see much. Today was picture perfect, so a quick drive up it was.

We didn’t have time to do all the walks around, but a quick wander up to a couple of the lookouts and today we could actually see Townsville laid out below us and all the way back to Magnetic Island!

…. and then it all went pear-shaped!

We were right on schedule driving along, about 5 minutes out from the airport when Anto’s phone rang. It was Virgin calling to ask whether we were still travelling today, as our plane was sitting on the tarmac waiting for us! We thought we had over 2 hours still to take-off so were somewhat confused.

It turns out that the flight schedule had changed several days earlier and we hadn’t seen the notification from Amex who we’d booked the flights through. With limited internet coverage on Maggie we’d missed the change when checking in.

With very little we could do at this point as there was no way we’d get to the airport, get the car dropped off, bags checked and on the plane in time, we had to cross our fingers and hope for the best.

The Virgin ground staff were great but there was little they could do as the flights were booked through a third party. This meant a lot of phone calls for Anto, and eventually having to rebook new flights and greater than the cost of the original return ones. All very grumpy we had a fair bit of time to kill in the airport as the new flights were later than our originally scheduled one. Eventually on the plane the kids settled in and entertained themselves and had some rest during the 2 hours to Brisbane.

The day unfortunately didn’t improve dramatically from there. Despite being late taking off, we still made it to Brisbane in what would have been just enough time to get the original connecting flight to Canberra. We had cancelled it and rebooked a much later one, not wanting another missed flight and another rebooking fee.


Then to add insult to injury our now 3 hour wait into Brisbane turned into an even longer 4 + hours as the aircraft was delayed coming in from Perth. We did manage to sample every food and drink option in the lounge during our lengthy stay, as well as doing an online High School orientation session for Astrid. We were all well and truly ready to get on that plane though by 9pm!

The exhausted big kids napped most of the way back to Canberra. Miss Zinnia just powered on though, talking non-stop the whole way. Excited about her trip and not going to give up the last minutes of her holiday.

After a rather eventful and expensive end to the holiday, we were glad to get home, it was rapidly approaching 11pm and the kids did not take much convincing to get to bed!


Aside from the last day dramas, and way more rain than we had hoped for, it was a nice break. Definitely not enough snorkelling for everyone’s liking due to the weather not cooperating for the first half of the trip, but great to see somewhere different . Everyone is already planning our next adventure, and for the first time in 2.5 years it will be overseas!!!

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