The little red hire car was low to the ground and topless, with tires that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a bicycle. There were no doors, and when I swung into the passenger seat the whole car groaned as if I were an elephant.
It was everything I’d hoped it would be.
To be clear: on Magnetic Island, you do not need to rent a car. The public bus system is excellent and cheap – I think it costs about $7 for a day pass. There is one main road running from Picnic Bay in the south to Horseshoe Bay in the north; it is 10km long.
But when I saw the tiny cars in a tourist brochure I had my heart set on cruising around in one for the day. One phone call to Isle Hire and 77 dollars later, the deal was done. The man there called it a Barbie car and that was an accurate description.
“What happens if it rains, anyway?” I asked, just before we drove away from the shop.
“Just hope it doesn’t rain,” he laughed.
The sun shone and the clouds floated past as we putted up the hills, awed by the vast ocean views. It was magic. I felt like I was in a happy version of MarioKart where no one was trying to chuck shells at you. Every time we passed another car like ours, we shared a knowing wave with the occupants.
Turning the steering wheel was a lesson in power steering appreciation, but it was worth the strain. She didn’t get up to high speeds, but there was no need to go fast on the island anyway.
“My mate used to have one of these when I was young,” Jared remembered. “We used to pick it up and move it so he’d have to go looking for it after school.”
Fortunately, the other tourists and residents of Maggie didn’t try the same trick on us.
We stopped at Alma Bay for a swim, then chugged towards the 4km Forts Walk in the hope of seeing some koalas. The island was used as an observation point and artillery during the war because of its proximity to Townsville, a significant military base.
Now it’s a peaceful koala haven. I lost count of how many koalas I saw, plunked into the crevices of tree branches, but each sighting was just as exciting as the last. They’re so pleasingly fuzzy and sleepy and popple-like and Australian.
And then there were the views.
In the interest of our budget (rental car $$ = self-catering), we picked up a lunch of pasta, mashed potatoes, and peanut brittle from the Foodworks deli then took our little picnic down to Picnic Bay.
I could have stayed on Magnetic Island for days, driving up and down that road in that car, but obviously we didn’t. At the end of the day we handed back the keys so someone else could take little red for a spin, and we got back on the ferry to the mainland.