Walk­a­bout is­land is truly Mag­netic

Fondly called Mag­gie, this World Her­itage-listed is­land has 23 beaches and its own Mt Cook,

Sunday Star-Times - - Escape Australia - writes Pamela Wade. The writer was hosted by Tourism Queens­land.

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.

PHO­TOS: PAMELA WADE

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.

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