On a day with a clear blue sky and a warm breeze, my sister Jacky and I caught the ferry to Magnetic Island.
Magnetic Island is roughly 7km by 5km, with 25km of walking tracks and several beaches and little bays, accompanied by lush and colourful vegetation. The name of the island came about because of the apparent “magnetic” effect it had on the ship’s compass of Captain Cook as he passed the island when sailing up the east coast of Australia in 1770.
I was surprised to hear that Magnetic Island has about 2000 residents spread among its four small villages on the eastern side, while the west coast is mainly national park.
We sat outside on the deck during the 20 minute (smooth, thankfully) trip over to the island, looking forward to a leisurely day, having purchased a “hop-on hop-off” bus ticket instead of hiring a scooter or beach buggy. It proved to be a good decision as the buses were on time and comfortable with the drivers helpful and informative.
The villages from south to north are Picnic Bay, Nelly Bay, Arcadia and Horseshoe Bay. Nelly Bay is currently in the middle of a large redevelopment involving high-end residential and tourism facilities right on the water. And that’s where the ferry docks.
Most budget travellers appear to stay in Arcadia and Horseshoe Bay, which mainly cater to the (younger?) pub-going and jetskiing tourists.
The arrival terminal at Nelly Bay is very modern and the buses were waiting there to transport willing tourists around the island. We headed for Picnic Bay (which was the original ferry destination).
Picnic Bay had a netted swimming area but first of all, we sat and enjoyed a coffee with some of the locals at a cafe in a nice shady courtyard. Originally a small but busy shopping mall, the area was fairly deserted, although the surrounding walkway to the beach offered some seating and plenty of large trees and decorative plants. The vegetation here was truly glorious!
We made our way to the little Museum which was thankfully air-conditioned, as it was now starting to heat up outside. Stories about the early settlers were set out around the small rooms which made interesting reading.
Afterwards, we sat down underneath the old school house building in the shade, and talked to two of the local ladies who volunteer at the museum, and learned more about life on Magnetic Island. “You can either keep to yourself, or join plenty of groups” Jeanette told us.
Either way, it seems there is a great little community on the island who are active in many areas. Swimming at Picnic Bay was pleasant, despite having to sprint (!) over the very hot sand to the water. The water was warm but refreshing.
There is a bus about every 40 minutes, so we decided to head for Horseshoe Bay next. The little villages are very picturesque while the tropical vegetation provides colour everywhere. There were quite a lot of places I would have liked to get off the bus and look around, however since we were only there for the day, we decided to just stop at the main spots.
As expected, Horseshoe Bay was quite touristy and there were lots of shops and cafes. We had lunch then decided to have another swim in the sea, although it was quite choppy, being on the other side of the island. And the water was actually a lot warmer as well. There was a large surf club building where it appeared a lot of young people were staying and there was actually a surf patrol on the beach here.
Not many people were swimming but we enjoyed a short dip despite the quite large surf.
You can take your car onto the island but I’m glad I decided not to, as besides the added cost, for a day trip it isn’t really necessary as the buses are so good.
All in all, it was a fantastic day visiting an island which I had first heard about many years ago.