Just twenty minutes by ferry from northern Queensland’s Townsville, across Cleveland Bay lies the tropical paradise (and Townsville suburb) of Magnetic Island. Named after an incident where Captain Cook’s navigational instruments went on the blink, there’s (sadly) nothing actually magnetic about the place but there’s still plenty of attraction.
The foot passenger ferry is packed with day trippers both young and ancient, with hordes of backpackers either seeking or fleeing the tranquility. Locals are more likely to take the alternative car ferry. As you approach it the Island resembles the sort of remote hideout where the secret Thunderbirds (retro puppet TV show) base might be: dense tropical forest vegetation blanketing steep slopes, dotted with numerous rocky outcrops from a volcanic past.
As soon as you set foot on land at Nelly Bay you feel island life. No high rise. Shops at a premium- a post office, a pie stall, an op (charity) shop, a discrete hotel, a pizza place, the obligatory hippy bar, arty gift shop, the marina, a mobile library stop (like a bus stop – but for books). Travel is easy; the (one) bus meets you off the ferry and takes you either to Picnic Bay (popular in Victorian times for… picnics) or the to largest settlement Horseshoe Bay (shaped like… you get the picture).
Swimming is ill advised from November to May on account of stinging jellyfish but in June the only hazard on the beach is being hit on the head by a falling coconut. It feels like Maui (Hawaii) but without the commercialisation or crowds, or being America. Magnetic Island is a perfect haven to just chill out, dive the (Great Barrier) Reef, explore the national park, visit Australia’s largest koala colony, see rock wallabies cavorting on boulders, spot dozens of species of birdlife, and be back in Townsville in time for happy hour at one of the many raucous Flinders Street pubs.
It’s the tropics, so it’s not always tranquil. Cyclone season is November to April, as you are reminded on reaching the port at Nelly Bay, but in the winter months (June – August) the island is balmy and blissful.