On this day back in 1985 I was enjoying a tropical paradise.

The main road south from Cairns has mountains inland and coast on the other side. At times we climbed the hills and had views of the islands, such as Hinchinbrook. I wandered around Townsville before I got the ferry to Magnetic Island, forty minutes offshore.

The permanent population of the island is just two hundred people. Some commute to Townsville for work and the older kids commute for school.

Everyone at the island hostel was very friendly. I had a great day sharing a hired mini moke beach buggy. We drove up to Radical Bay, a small curved beach, warm sea, lovely sand, a few boats anchored offshore. We had a barbecue at the beach side pub, overlooking the water. There were lots of parrots and lorikeets in the trees. All very tropical.

After lunch and a swim, we drove around to Horseshoe Bay and Rocky Bay, more swimming and relaxing on the beach and on the rocks. We then travelled back via as many dead end dirt roads as we could find. We broke a few rules with the dirt roads, with an extra passenger, we drove on the beach and had the top down. But oh what a fun day with fellow travelers.

I was surprised by the number of Aussie’s who openly talked about and smoked dope. It’s easy to get hold of. Apparently it was $100 per ounce on the island, but nearer $300 down in Sydney. This was not something I came across in my UK life and it would be another few decades before I tried it for myself.

There was a life savers carnival on at one of the beaches. They were swimming in the sea as each beach had nets to keep out the jelly fish and sharks.

I spent another day on the island, a peaceful day to myself, exploring by bus and walking along the beach at Arcadia, then back at Picnic Bay, sitting on the end of the jetty just watching the world go by and writing a few post cards.

I left my tropical retreat and headed down the coast to Mackay. We drove through more sugar cane country, some cattle, past a couple of big cane factories and on via Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour with views across to the Whitsunday Islands.

Mackay is another nice town, wide streets with palm trees along them. The town is on a river estuary but with beaches near by. My next stop was Rockhampton as we passed through gum tree forests and a landscape drier than up north. There were no views of the coast on this journey as the “coast road” is actually 50 kms inland.

The reason for stopping in Rockhampton was to get across to Great Keppel Island the following morning. A huge catamaran took us over to the island. It could take up to four hundred passengers. As well as being the island ferry, it did cruises around the island, stopping at an underwater observatory where we saw corals and tropical fish in the seas. We anchored and went swimming in one of the secluded beaches, we did boom net riding off the side of the catamaran. Sitting in the net, partially in the sea as the boat sailed along, brilliant fun.

The island was quiet and peaceful, with a small resort, hostel, camp ground, restaurant and two bars. As with previous hostels, there was a good crowd of travellers, easy to get along with. A couple of girls were playing scrabble in Dutch.

The down side of the island was the mosquitos that bombarded everyone at night. Other creatures that I didn’t mind were the tiny lizards, ghekkos, that were rather cute.  The fresh fruit here in Queensland was delicious, pawpaw, various melons, mango and pineapple.