Walkabout island is truly Magnetic
Fondly called Maggie, this World Heritage-listed island has 23 beaches and its own Mt Cook,
The girl behind the hire car desk at Townsville airport has never been to Magnetic Island. This is much the same as an Aucklander never having ventured to Waiheke: possible but incredible. ‘‘I get horribly seasick, it just wouldn’t be worth it,’’ she said. ‘‘I’d spoil it for everyone else,’’ she added nobly.
It’s a scant 25 minutes on the ferry, crossing a smooth stretch of the turquoise Coral Sea before arriving at what everyone back in town fondly calls Maggie. It’s a World Heritage-listed triangle of 52 square kilometres, over half of it National Park, with 23 sandy beaches, its own Mt Cook (497m) and only 35km of road. Sadly, just 10 of those are sealed and available for use in the dinky little topless Suzukis for hire on the island, but it’s still a fun way to get around.
There were plenty of people wandering the island’s 25km of walking tracks who had come from a lot further away than Townsville airport – Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Holland – and they all had one thing on their minds.
‘‘Have you seen any koalas?’’ we were asked in a number of accents as we followed the most popular track to the remains of wartime defence posts.
Maggie has been called the koala capital of Australia, and the forts walk is said to have the highest density of koalas on the island, but those people wandering along with their eyes on the branches of the eucalyptus trees were disappointed on two counts: today there were none to be seen and, while they were looking for koalas, they had missed some splendid scenery.
The see-through bush of gum trees and the island’s signature and sculptural hoop pines is punctuated by ancient, weathered granite rocks, their edges smoothly rounded and dusted with bright orange lichen.
At the north-east corner of the island, strategically-located outcrops are surmounted by gun emplacements, a watch tower and a command post.
There is such a glorious view over Florence and Arthur bays, and Palm Island on the horizon that it was fully worth all our nervous sideways jumps along the way, caused by lizards rustling in the dead leaves beside the path.
The sign at the start of the track giving more detail than we cared to know about the local death adder hadn’t helped with this.
Back at pretty Alma Bay, a neat curve of sand bounded by artistic piles of huge granite boulders at each end, there was another wake-up call for wussy visitors.
Wading waist-deep parallel to the beach, only his head free of thick neoprene, a surf life-saver was performing one of his daily stinger sweeps, dragging a fine-mesh net through the water to check for the presence of jellyfish.
It’s a summer’s end job, the sea thankfully free of them at the height of the season and, as he poked through the results of his sieving, he reported another negative result.
He was more cagey about the possible presence of saltwater crocodiles, however: ‘‘No one’s ever reported crocs on Maggie,’’ he said carefully. ‘‘It’s the wrong sort of habitat: they’d only ever be passing through.’’
As reassurances go, it was less than convincing and, if we hadn’t had another option, we’d have headed for the netted sections of beach for a swim.
Staying at Peppers on Blue resort, however, we had at our disposal the only swimming pool I’ve encountered that requires exploration.
It’s so long that it disappears around a corner. It would have been the perfect place to wallow in the warmth of the late afternoon, watching swallows swoop and dip over the surface of the water. It would have been, but we had our own private plunge pool outside our suite, where the only irritation was discovering that Kindles and water are an awkward combination.
With a population of 2000, including many commuters, and a regular tide of visitors rolling in and out, the main settlement of Nelly Bay is well supplied with shops and places to eat, but we had no need to venture out.
The restaurant at Peppers served us delicious food that night on a terrace, invisible ropes tapping gently on masts in the marina below, the black sky above sprinkled with stars.
Foolish hire car girl, it would be worth a little seasickness.
Picnic Bay is one of many picturesque bays around Magnetic Island.
The command post at the north-east corner of the island.
The view from the wartime gun emplacement at Maggie’s Florence Bay.