Near the start of our trip we had decided that if we were going to spend our first Christmas away from home in Australia, we were going to make it as different from our usual Christmas as possible. That meant that we wanted a hot Christmas, near the ocean, and we did not want to be working. That’s when we decided to look for housesitting opportunities in Queensland. We joined Happy House Sitters (happyhousesitters.com.au) and started to browse all opportunities in sunny Queensland.
Although at the time we joined the website was pretty primal, we found a lovely couple that lived up near Townsville, QLD with an amazing ad that boasted a large outdoor swimming pool with an artificial waterfall, close to the beach, a park and groceries. They also had their lovely dogs (a boxer and a red border collie) featured in their photos. It looked like such an amazing tropical paradise, we had to apply! Lucky for us, with no references in the country and fairly minimal housesitting experience, we managed to secure the house sitter position!
We flew up mid-December from Melbourne after our lovely flying / video editing adventures and were picked up from the Townsville Airport by our wonderful hostess Kate. We drove over to the house and met the whole gang! Kate’s husband Rob was a Canadian as well and they were headed south to Geelong to visit relatives for Christmas. Their house was full of pets including:
Tyson the goofy boxer dog. Getting up in age, he still loved to chase after flying frisbees and wander through the local park. He was quite reactive with other dogs (except for his adoptive sister of course) so we had to be mindful of that. He is a lovable oaf!
Zebiya the energetic border collie, was named such since she was adopted at a time when Rob was overseas fighting in the Middle East and her name means beautiful in “Dari” I believe.
Jarna the little three-legged muted calico cat, such a sweet little girl who loved to bask in the sun.
Monster a fluffy grey tabby mix cat who often acted more like a dog than a cat. He loved to go out for walks in the neighbourhood, although wasn’t always good at making friends with local felines.
Cody the Galah. We didn’t exactly hit it off right away and unfortunately I didn’t feel overly comfortable with parrots at the best of times, so our relationship was, well, strained.
We loved their place, a spacious 3 bedroom single floor home with a very large, fully fenced yard. Have I mentioned the pool? That was our favourite part. It was very humid and hot while we were there (as we had hoped it would be) so we spent a LOT of time in the pool. We had a good routine for our days which included lots of eating and walks with the dogs. The beach was nice but not amazing so we spent most of our time swimming at the house. That was probably for the best, since we had heard from others later in our trip that Saltwater Crocs sometimes travelled down those beaches!
We were fortunate enough to be able to use their vehicle for a few day trips during our stay. The first trip we took was out to Bowling Green Bay National Park (https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/bowling-green-bay/) , which I had read was a protected area for dugongs. Although upon reading further, I realized that much of the park was restricted natural areas that did not allow public access (which is great), however, it also meant that our hopes of seeing a dugong were dashed. We ended up beginning a hike along the Alligator Falls track which we knew was around 17km and we were prepared to only hike part of the trail. We found it very plain and lacking in wildlife, although we were there during the dry season and the stream beds were empty. We only walked for our around 4 or 5 km before turning back.
The second trip we took was to visit Paluma Range National Park to see the Little Crystal Creek falls. We went in the afternoon when it was a bit less busy although the watering hole was packed. It was nice to be able to hike in the shade where it was a bit cooler. The road was not great and two way traffic was a bit treacherous along the poorly maintained road, but it was worth the drive. After we had arrived back, we discovered that the Paluma Ranges were an excellent location to spot Riflebirds. Opportunity missed…
The last trip we ventured on was to visit Magnetic Island, known by locals as Maggie Island. If you aren’t already aware, Aussies refuse to say words with more than two syllables, hence why no one every actually called me Amanda, it usually turned into Mandy. I digress. To get to Magnetic Island, we drove down to Townsville and parked in the ferry terminal lot. We disembarked the ferry and arrived at around 7:00 am, purposely planned to avoid some of the heat and to start our search for the koalas (it is estimated that 800 koalas call Maggie home).
I had read online that the Fort Walk was the best place to spot them, and so we boarded a bus and began our hike. The entire route took 2.5 hours to complete and the heat was relentless. Most disappointing of all was that we didn’t spot a single koala! There were at least, interesting stops along the way to learn about the history of the island and view some of the WWII fortifications that are still relatively intact.
After the long slog, we were ready for the beach! The island has around 23 beaches but some are only accessible by boat. We had mapped out a route that would allow us to walk and essentially “beach hop” for the afternoon. We started at Arthur’s Beach and quickly donned our “stinger suits”. As you can see in the photo, these are about the sexiest swimwear a couple of foreigners can muster. Having no interest in being attacked by jellyfish, it was worth the hit to my ego.
We were pleasantly surprised by the snorkelling at Arthur’s Beach, and spotted butterfly fish, beaked coral fish, and angelfish, among others.
We then headed off in search of the next beach oasis, Florence Bay. Definitely worth the short hike, we encountered some amazing marine fauna, including two small sharks! We were also fortunate enough to follow around a rather large box fish as well!
Another hike through the jungle brought us to Radical Bay. Although the name is rad, the snorkelling was pretty terrible. The visibility was very low and after consulting our map, noticed that the next two beaches were lacking reef. In an effort to ensure we spent our time wisely, we hiked past those beaches to get all the way down to Horseshoe Bay.
I regretted that decision immensely. It was a gruelling trek through the scorching heat and primarily uphill for the 1.6 km. In my heat induced stupor, the only sane thing to do was buy gelato at the local shop. I decided to get a black cherry gelato milkshake. That was the most delicious thing I have ever had in my entire life. No word of a lie. I still dream of that shake on hot days.
By that time, we had recovered enough to board the bus to Arcadia to begin our search for the rock wallabies. The guidebook had mentioned that they were easy to spot at the old ferry terminal, where “you can hand feed them fruit”. We found the location where they should have been, since there were very clear signs that said NOT to feed the wallabies, however, they were nowhere to be found! We were pretty disappointed. Bad luck with wildlife on our part, but I think that had we stayed for more than just the day, and timed it a bit better, we may have had better luck with spotting the local wildlife.
Near the end of the housesit, we discovered that the air conditioning in one of the rooms had accidentally been left on (for days) and was leaking all over their carpet! We quickly turned it off and called to let them know about the disaster. They were super chill about it and got a friend of theirs to come over with a carpet washer that we used to try and get all the water out of the carpet. It was pretty futile, and took over a day, but in the end it did in fact dry (although around 1/3 of their whole bedroom carpet was discoloured). It was pretty disastrous. Although, we had also messed up the pool when we realized we hadn’t been adding enough chlorine and the whole thing ended up vibrant green! Thankfully after a major chlorine dump, it returned to it’s beautiful, blue self..
Although there were many mishaps, we had an amazing time housesitting. To have the freedom to explore an area, but also have a nice, comfortable place to stay was priceless. Not to mention, having the company of the dogs as well as a giant pool to cool off in? Perfection! And our Christmas was as un-Canadian as possible, with a beautiful sunny day, 35+ degree weather and nowhere to be! We even managed to FaceTime / Skype our families back home and still make it into the family photos!