I think we’re staying in the nicest place I’ve ever been to.

After two weeks of hopping hostels, we made it to Magnetic Island, and our first Air Bnb of the trip so far.

If they’re all like that, I’m very keen to explore the option again.

We stayed in this amazing raised wooden hut, located about twenty metres from the sea, with the loveliest hosts possible. Julie met us off the ferry and gave us a lift home, and took us out in her boat for some tubing that afternoon – as an apology for there being workmen around during our stay!

We could definitely get used to this. Although our bums were more than a little bit tender after a beating on the water in an inflatable rubber ring.

After we left Cairns we spent quite a few days just chilling out along the coast. Our first stop was Mission Beach. We unwittingly booked a hostel in nearby Wongaling rather than Mission – and while North Mission is a pretty quiet place, Wongaling is like three houses and a campsite. However, the hostel was right near the Greyhound bus stop, the local supermarket AND the bottle shop, so we didn’t complain too much. They also ran a free shuttle bus every few hours to North Mission.

In North Mission we had our first swim in the actual sea since we’ve been in Australia. Finally, out of croc territory! We also bore witness to the setup of a beach wedding (leading to questions such as how do you avoid getting sand all over your wedding dress?), and had our first meal out of the trip: FISH AND CHIPS! Barramundi, Australia’s answer to cod, was delicious, and we made sure to ask beforehand whether it ‘looks like a fish’ for Phea’s sake (it doesn’t).

There was a bit of an incident on the first night in our hostel: our first real encounter with Australian wildlife. We were all getting ready to go out for dinner. Phea and Annie were doing their make up on their respective bunk beds while I sat there twiddling my thumbs and making inane comments.

Then suddenly, out from behind Phea’s pillow crawled an Aragog-like creature, vile and huge and terrifying. I couldn’t respond with words but my jaw dropped and I let out some sort of strangled sound. Phea took one look at my expression and leapt from the bed to cower in the corner of the room. I swiftly followed. Poor Annie was left on the top bunk, confused and a little bit frightened at something she couldn’t see on the bunk beneath her. Phea and I stood and gibbered for a while, before I ran down to reception to plead for someone to come and save us.

Our rescuer was less than impressed with our evident terror. He proclaimed the spider a ‘baby’, and said he’d seen one three times the size of it only the other day.

Whatever.

I’d still rather not have a huntsman spider clambering about my bedsheets – even if it is only a baby.

Anyway, that evening we were happily reunited with Meg and Andy, our pals from Port Douglas, and spent some time at their campsite before heading to one of North Mission’s (three) bars for happy hour. Once we had nursed our $3 drinks for an unreasonable amount of time, the barman took pity on us (because I told him we were poor), and got us another round in for free. People are so nice to us.

The next day was a very important day for Phea: it was our first washing day. Considering that she is usually a wash-your-pjs-every-two-days kind of gal, this grubby backpacking thing has at times been a real challenge, and her ecstasy at finally getting to wear clean clothes again was paramount.

We spent a very relaxed morning by the pool waiting for our washing to dry (joy of joys!), and then headed to the beach for a swim. Unfortunately our sea time was cut short by a minor jellyfish sting on Annie’s part (we think it might have been a Blubber, which makes the whole thing a lot funnier), so we went back to the hostel sharpish.

That night we got treated to a free barbecue by the hostel (with veggie burgers and everything!), and then drank ourselves silly on delicious $13 goon by the beach with a new pal. The drinking on the beach idea perhaps did not live up to romanticised expectations (it was dark and quite cold), but on the plus side we did get to see some shooting stars, so on balance it was a pretty good night.

The next day we departed for Townsville, which is the stepping off point for Magnetic Island. Townsville is by all accounts dismissed as rubbish by most backpackers. However, we actually had a great time there – and I liked it a lot more than Cairns. In Townsville for the first time it felt like we were in a place where people actually lived – not just where people went on holiday or to make various trips. People would jog past us along the esplanade as though that was part of their daily routine, and the streets felt busier and more alive than pretty much any other place we’ve been so far.

We stayed at a place called the Rambutan, which was an odd mixture of backpacker hostel and luxury hotel. At first I was very unimpressed with it, because though they advertised a free shuttle bus on their website, it transpired wasn’t actually running that day, and also had to be booked in advance. So we got to the bus stop and then found out we had to walk.

Life turned into a bit of a fiasco after that. We got a map from someone inside the ferry terminal, and luckily it wasn’t very far, so off we went with a new mate in tow, who had been waiting for an hour for the non-existent shuttle bus. However, we’d lugged our wine along with us from Mission Beach, and the box split within 100m of the bus stop. The bag fell on the floor, and unwilling to sacrifice our hard earned dollars, I shoved it into my bag for the rest of the way.

After we traipsed our way there we had to pay about $40 each in deposits for various things (linen, cutlery and crockery, a fridge locker, and a room key) – it evidently wasn’t very backpacker-aware. We were then shown into the tiniest 8-bed hostel room I’ve ever seen, with probably just enough floor space for either 8 bags or 8 people but certainly not both. There was one light which did not illuminate the room, and some German boys had taped the blind shut (or ‘fixed it’, as they called it).

Luckily we played the damsels in distress card extremely well, and got a free upgrade to a six-bed dorm which we ended up having to ourselves the whole time! The manager was brill. Praise to Annie and Phea for being politely disappointed where I would have been disgruntled and angry (I volunteered to stay and look after the bags while they went to ask about the room: a sensible decision I think).

So after that we had a lovely stay there, albeit feeling somewhat as though we’d wandered off the street and stumbled into the wrong place – it was very upmarket compared to what we are used to. Living up to the backpacker stereotype, we snuck the goon bag into the kitchen where it proceeded to leak all over our stuff, and then transferred it, still dripping, to our room. So obviously we had to drink it that night.

I have never seen Phea so distressed as the night we drank that wine in our room. You would have thought we had just robbed a bank, the way she jumped at small noises and cowered away from the windows every time someone walked past. It tasted, she said, of deceit.

Nonetheless, the bag gradually depleted, and we got more and more daft and giggly as the night went on. We were having such a good time that it was midnight before we even emerged from a hostel room, and though the hotel bar was deathly quiet, we decided to venture out anyway and see what was going on in the city.

Absolutely nothing was going on.

We went down the road to a place recommended in the Lonely Planet, to find all of six people in there, on some sort of staff party. It was definitely one of the stranger nights of my life. We got chatting to a guy from the work party, who offered such nuggets of wisdom as ‘You should go to Byron Bay’ (probably one of the most famous places on the East Coast of Australia – no shit), and even went so far as to write his ‘insider’ recommendations into Annie’s phone.

It was a bizarre night, but really good fun. We suffered for it slightly the next day, but we had nothing much planned anyway.

We decided that we should probably move away from the hotel pool that evening, so went to the local saltwater lagoon (they seem to have a lot of these in Australia), and then decided to climb Castle Hill for a view of the sunset.

I would not recommend climbing Castle Hill in a wet bikini, beach dress and flip flops.

sunset on Castle Hill, ,Townsville

We wandered up the road trying to find the right path, and it gradually dawned on us that this might be more strenuous than expected, when we kept being overtaken by people sporting lycra and trainers. We soldiered on though, and did eventually make it to the top in time for sunset.

The way down was a bit hairy given our footwear: my broken Birkenstocks threatened my imminent death every time we went over a rocky few steps. However, we made it to the bottom unscathed and went home for dinner and an early night. No more wine for us, thank you very much.

And now we’ve made it here to paradise. As I write this, cockatoos are rustling about in a tree off to my left, and the parrots that we fed yesterday are making a right racket as they chase each other around our open air dining room. Palm trees and the sea surround us, here in our little wooden hut on an island in the Coral Sea.