Magnetic Island: What Captain Cook Missed

Road Trip Diaries # 12

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Townsville Wharf

After three days of soaking up the glitz of Townsville and spending two nights in a fancy hotel, which were the first and the last for the whole duration of our road trip, we finally got reunited with our camper van and were looking forward to get back into the bush, seeing more wildlife, and simply get away from the hubbub of the city.

Instead of driving further up the east coast of North Queensland, we decided to take a detour to Magnetic Island, a curious triangular-shaped island just 8 kilometres off the coast of Townsville. It was only half an hour away by ferry and although it boasts stunning beaches and scenic walks, it was mainly the chance of seeing koalas in the wild that fuelled our desire to explore this island.

 

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After an early check out from Aquarius Hotel, we set off excitedly to the wharf and queued for boarding in our camper van, along with other vehicles belonging to tourists and residents who live and work on Magnetic Island. It wasn’t cheap but we reckoned we could save more by taking the van with us since we wouldn’t have to worry about accommodation and transport around the island.

Now, I wasn’t sure why Captain Cook skipped this island while exploring Australia but he sure missed out a lot of good stuff here. When he discovered the island back in 1770, he believed that it had a magnetic force that caused his ship’s compass to go berserk as he sailed by; hence, he named it Magnetic Island. However later tests proved that he was wrong and the island’s magnetic charm is probably the only force visitors should worry about because they might find themselves enthralled by its spell and decide not to leave.

 

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Fantasea Ferry

And I’m sure even Captain Cook, if he were alive today, would find this little island as interesting as we did. We discovered heaps of great places and there were lots of “firsts” for me, which made it even more memorable.

 

Seeing My First Nude Beach

After docking at the ferry terminal at Nelly Bay, we didn’t waste any time and set off right away to explore the villages. On the way to Picnic Bay, we chanced upon some backpackers on rented motorbikes taking pictures beside the road. The spot turned out to be a lookout for a gorgeous stretch of beach, which was apparently an unofficial nude beach. Curious and bemused, Charles and I scurried down to the beach. Upon reaching it, and with me wearing leggings, a jacket, and basically all wrapped-up in clothes, we saw two sunbathers in all their naked glory. On the way back, a busload of Japanese tourists pulled over at the lookout and I watched  in amusement as they posed for the camera with the proverbial peace sign.

 

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Our first stopover

 

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Unofficial nudist beach at Magnetic Island

 

A Lovely Stroll at Picnic Bay

It was almost noontime when we reached Picnic Bay located at the southern tip of the island. There were less tourists here and the beachfront was more laid back. Some shops had closed down and been abandoned after the ferry terminal was transferred to Nelly Bay. It kinda had the feel of a once magical town that has since lost its grandeur, but it was still a charming place in which to hang out . We met a Pinoy couple from Melbourne who was on holidays in sunny Queensland trying to escape the cold winter down south for a few days. After checking out the beach and exploring the small shops along the rustic esplanade , we had a break from our usual DIY sandwich for lunch and had tried some quiche in one of the restaurants.

 

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A stroll along the beach and the esplanade

 

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Charles playing around with the rows of strangler figs along the esplanade

 

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Picnic Bay Jetty

 

Off to the Lookout

Full and quite rested, we did a short hike to Hawkings Point Lookout after lunch. Half an hour’s walk was rewarded with another spectacular vista well worthy of our effort – a panorama of the surrounding bay and a birds eye view of Picnic Bay’s beachfront and jetty stretched out below us.

 

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Half an hour walk revealed a sweeping view of the surrounding bay

 

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Top View of the Nude Beach

 

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Picnic Bay from Hawkings Point Lookout

 

My First Big Waves at Arcadia Village

From Picnic Bay, we drove north along the coast and stopped at Alma Bay – a pretty  cove, with grassy hills and a sheltered beach. The waves here were quite rough and strong and were the first big waves I had seen during this road trip. I almost envied the people who live in this lovely beach village, but unlike the beaches in the Philippines where you can swim all year round, there are times in the year in Queensland and other parts of Australia when the beaches are unsafe for swimming because deadly jellyfish swarm in the waters. During the stinger season yellow flags mark the areas safe for swimming.

 

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The water may look so inviting but it was way too cold for me.

 

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I wouldn’t mind living in this tiny beach village and wake up to this view everyday.

 

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Now, if only it was warm all year round like the tropical beaches of the Philippines.

 

A Strange Stream

From Arcadia village, we drove all the way to the north coast of the island to checkout Horseshoe Bay. The beach was pretty popular and it sure lived up to its name as the water-sports capital of the island, with jet skis, sea kayaking, paragliding and other water sports all on offer. The beachfront was bustling with visitors filling up the pubs, cafes and shops, but after a glass of Aussie beer and some hot chips, we left the frenetic atmosphere and went to check out a walking trail nearby. It was quite different from the usual bush walks with well-marked trails we had previously done. The path was sandy and surrounded by mangrove trees and then we had to scramble over boulders and do some bush-bashing (which was actually kind of fun).  It was this pinkish stream with a pungent smell that kept us from heading back to the beach.


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Layers of colorful rings surround the boulders of rock on the pinkish water.

 

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A curious onlooker


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Hunting for Rock Wallabies

Following the pinkish water, we emerged in a clearing with a view of a different beach and layers of granite rock not far away. It was like a different world again. While investigating further the layers of coloured rings staining the rocks we spotted a rock wallaby and followed it hoping to see some more.

 

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We scrambled over these beautiful granite rocks after spotting a wallaby.


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Rock wallaby

 

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It was gone by the time we got to the top

 

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But at least we got to see this

 

Detour at Florence and Arthur Bay

We drove farther away from Horseshoe Bay and stopped by two more lookouts. Arthur Bay  was just a few meters away from the road so we decided to have a look. It has lovely pine trees lining its shore and it is somewhat secluded and more private than the other beaches on the island. The view here reminded me of Horseshoe Bay in Bowen.


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At this point, this view seemed to be a common fare

 

At Last, Camping Time Again!

Finally, after a whole day of “eat, bushwalk and drive”,  we checked in at Bungalow Bay Camping Grounds to camp for the next 3 days.  It was the first camping ground we had visited where backpackers outnumbered the gray nomads. The atmosphere was lively which reminded us of our days spent at Airlie Beach. It happened to be ladies night at the bar so we ended the night with a drink before crashing in our sorely missed mobile home.

 

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There seemed to be more backpackers at Bungalow Bay than gray nomads.

 

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Our neighbour at the camping ground

 

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Preparing stir-fry veggies for dinner

So there you go Captain Cook,  a few of the wonderful sights you missed at Magnetic Island, and that was just the first day!

 

(This is part of our 6-week North Queensland Road Trip Series, which took place July- August 2010)

Australian Road Trip 101: A Vantastic Beginning
Road Trip Diaries # 1 – An Encounter with the Strangest Animal in the World
Road Trip Diaries # 2 – Of Strangler Figs, Leeches and Long Holidays
Road Trip Diaries # 3 - Exploring Finch Hatton Gorge
Road Trip Diaries # 4 – Cape Hillsborough: On Bush Walks Beach Strolls and Star Gazing
Road Trip Diaries # 5 – Cape Hillsborough: Sunrise and Wild Kangaroos
Road Trip Diaries # 6 – Airlie Beach: Beaches Babes and Backpackers
Road Trip Diaries # 7 – Ocean Rafting to the Whitsundays
Road Trip Diaries # 8 – Unexpected Encounters
Road Trip Diaries # 9 – Exploring Bowenwood
Road Trip Diaries # 10 – Townsville: Finding Nemo and the Sunken Pandora
Road Trip Diaries # 11 – A Visit at the Billabong Sanctuary and Castle Hill

 


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