Welcome to part two of my mini-break to Townsville and Magnetic Island last week.
Magnetic Island – or Maggie as it’s known to the locals – is an easy 20-minute ferry ride from Townsville and has a casual, laidback vibe that makes you feel immediately at home.
It reminded me of my beloved childhood holidays in Hawks Nest at my grandparents’ house.
There are two fancy resorts at the Magnetic Island Marina – Peppers Blue and the Mercure Grand. We booked three nights at Peppers Blue, in a large, comfortable room with a king-sized bed and lounge area with TV, which was handy as Magnetic Island is pretty quiet after dark.
Most accommodation on the island is either modest holiday houses and apartments, plus there’s a camping ground at Horseshoe Bay.
Our balcony overlooked the ferry terminal carpark, which initially seemed a bit meh but actually turned out to be fun, DD was obsessed with watching the ferries come and go.
It was perfectly located to the main bus stop, the IGA supermarket and bottle shop was across the road and there were a few handy spots to pick up a morning coffee.
There was also a picturesque hotel bar area on the wharf for enjoying happy hour drinks.
The only thing the marina lacked was diversity of dining options. Our hotel had a fancy restaurant with $49 steaks on the menu or there was a popular fish and chip joint across the road.
Everywhere else was a bit of a trek. A pizza joint would go off like a frog in a sock in Nelly Bay.
We crammed a lot into our three days on the island. The highlights included:
Snorkelling at the Florence Bay reef, which was filled with darting tropical fish, giant clams, a few beautiful coral bommies and flashes of purple hard coral. Fortunately there were no scary box jellyfish or those deadly little irukandji to be seen, as they are usually only around from October to May. We were still a bit nervy though, so didn’t snorkel for too long.
I would have liked to return to Florence Bay to explore the reef more, but it was a bit of a trek to get there and we ran out of time.
We also enjoyed a few bush walks, including hiking through a black boy forest, checking out the amazing views and koala spotting at the Forts lookout. Magnetic Island has one of the largest native populations of koalas in Queensland.
Getting up close with rock wallabies at sunset at Geoffrey Bay was amazing. They love sitting on the warm rocks and being fed carrots by visitors – although we went empty handed because feeding them isn’t encouraged. The wallabies were so curious and clambered within centimeters of us.
Going on a stunning sunset cruise on a yacht called The Pilgrim was our favourite adventure of the trip. The yacht departed from the marina next to our hotel and we relaxed on bean bags on the deck, sipping organic Tamburlaine wines and eating superb local Gallo macadamia cheese.
I excitedly told the passengers and crew that my friend Michele designed the labels on the wine – they were very impressed!
It was glorious to be out on the ocean with DD as the sun dipped behind the hills and turned the sky purple and pink in the fading light.
If you don’t manage a Pilgrim cruise you can still try the divine macadamia cheese during your stay – its’s sold at the deli attached to the petrol station in Arcadia.
My big tips for a trip to Magnetic Island:
Pack walking shoes – it’s an active holiday destination rather than a lying on the beach one – although you can do that too! Most hiking trails are well maintained and offer superb scenery. Many of the best beaches – such as Arthur Bay and Florence Bay – are only accessible on foot through a fair stretch of bushland.
Don’t hire a car as it is very expensive and not necessary. We booked one for a day and it was a waste of money as there were very limited places it could travel due to a lot of spots being inaccessible without a 4WD – our car hire place didn’t allow any of its vehicles to go off road.
Catch the bus – the service is frequent, friendly and cheap at around $7 for a day ticket. Just remember to bring small denominations of cash with you as its the only way to purchase your tickets from the driver.
(I could have done without them asking if we were concession fares though …)
Book your boat excursions in advance. We didn’t and virtually everything was totally booked out – we were lucky to fluke two spots on The Pilgrim, but we missed out on doing a day snorkelling trip.
Plan your restaurant meals. We went on many wild goose chases – restaurants that were billed as being open were shut due to illness, staffing issues, running out of food or other unexplained reasons.
Our last dinner on a Tuesday night saw us trawl back and forth across the island seeking somewhere to eat before finally heading to the Arcadia Hotel for $15 steak night with hundreds of other hungry people and waiting 90 minutes for our dinner to arrive from the overwhelmed kitchen.
Call ahead to restaurants to save yourself a wasted trip.
Overall the food that we ate during our time on Magnetic Island wasn’t memorable. We had an old-fashioned prawn curry at SOS Seafood Cafe that DD enjoyed and the crab cakes at the Arcadia Hotel brought back happy memories of the fish patties at my Nan’s place.
I’d have loved to try the Sri Lankan curry van at the old golf course, but it was only open on Friday and Saturday nights. We went to the vegan dosa van in Nelly Bay, but they sold out just as we arrived; while a friend recommended outdoor Mexican joint Man Friday, but it was shut the whole time we were there.
The lack of dining options didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for Magnetic Island. We had a lovely, relaxed getaway and ran out of time to tick everything off my list for the visit. I missed out on a swim at Alma Bay – which is patrolled and has gentle waves – and I would have loved to climb to Sail Rock in Picnic Bay to watch the sunset.
But all too soon it was time to return to the mainland.
After docking, we caught a cab from the ferry terminal with our luggage to Longboard, which is located on The Strand in Townsville. It was the perfect spot for a farewell lunch by the sea, looking out across the sparkling water at Magnetic Island.
Longboard was very cool, all bright colours and funky decor. The menu is fun too, with a Tex Mex flavour – ribs, soft tacos and burgers.
We sipped ciders and supped on grilled fish tacos before making our way reluctantly back to the airport and the real world.
As we waited for our plane to depart we were already planning our next trip to Townsville – we loved our winter escape there … not sure how we’d handle a humid summer one though!
Song of the day: Rod Stewart “Maggie May”