Our next big stop on the east coast Australia road trip was Magnetic Island, or Maggie Island as it’s affectionately known. It’s famous for being one of the sunniest places in Australia, and also has wild koalas and great beaches. It’s a must-stop on the backpacker trail.
We arrived in Townsville after only one real stop from Airlie Beach. It was Bowen, and well, sorry Bowen, but I wasn’t a huge fan.
Bowen is fairly well known on the backpacker circuit as being a great place to complete farm work (anyone who wants to extend their visa for a second year must undertake 88 days of farm work to be eligible) and I know several people who lived there and had great things to say about it.
The main problem I had with it was there’s nothing really… there. It actually has the potential to be a lovely little mix of seaside and agricultural town, but there’s nothing to support it. The streets have no character, there were no cute pubs or cafés to entice you in like so many other small towns in Australia. I don’t mean to offend you, Bowen, but the only redeeming feature of the town is the murals (which are actually quite cool).
Then we got out of the actual town to one of the most popular beaches, Horseshoe Bay, and suddenly I got it.
Feeling a bit more inspired, we decided to take the short hike up to the nearby viewpoint, and that was well worth it too (we had gone to another viewpoint on arrival to Bowen, and although the weather probably didn’t help, it had been a bit disappointing).
So that was Bowen, and it turned out to be a very pretty stop after all.
Onwards, then, to Townsville, where we wouldn’t be spending a great deal of time, but using it as a base to get to Magnetic Island.
Our first stop was a drive up to Castle Hill for this pretty awesome view over Magnetic Island itself. We hadn’t realised just how close Maggie is to the town – the ferry takes less than half an hour!
We headed down to the Strand (esplanade) for lunch and a nice stroll along by the sea, and to be honest, we felt we had seen everything we wanted to see in T-ville.
It can be pretty though – and I’m glad we got to see it like that, because the next day, we woke up to clouds and rain.
I had been reading a brochure on Magnetic Island which began with “there aren’t many places in the world that almost guarantee a sunny day, but Magnetic Island is one of them.”
Our first day was virtually a write off, but we did decide to have a look around and somehow ended up walking about 12km from Nelly Bay past Geoffrey Bay to Alma Bay and back. There are an awful lot of bays to explore on the island! I climbed a massive rock and we ate some really nice pies from a bakery. It would have been really nice on a sunny day.
Not really the experience you expect from Maggie Island, but there you go. We had dinner at the hostel (which wasn’t even that cheap) but it was accompanied by a free welcome drink, so that was something.
Our hostel was really cool too – the dorms are in little beach bungalows!
Thankfully, the next morning was glorious.
It was like the previous day hadn’t happened. You could even see Townsville! (Yes, you’re right, it’s not very far away – but the weather really had been that bad!)
Taking advantage of the good weather, we set out to do the main activity we wanted to do on Maggie: the WW2 Forts Walk.
WW2 Forts Walk – and koalas!
The forts walk is one of the most popular hiking tracks on the island and combines fantastic views in all directions, over the sea and the island, with history from the war including gun emplacements, observation towers and barracks.
I was completely distracted by any of this, however, when Ash spotted a group of people in the bushes. Curious to see what was going on, I was faced with this adorable little bundle of fluff.
I could have stopped walking there and then and just spent the rest of the day with this guy.
Magnetic Island is actually home to one of the largest populations of koalas in Australia, and it’s one of the few places they are thriving due to little in the way of threats. It seems that you’re almost guaranteed to see one (much like sunshine is almost guaranteed…), particularly on this trail. So if you want to see a wild koala, definitely think about coming here!!
But we had to move on (although I did pop in and see him again on the way back down!!). We then spotted another one further up the trail, but high up in a tree so you could only really see its bum. I just can’t believe how up close we got with this other one! Obviously I took pictures from a reasonable distance with zoom, I didn’t get all up in his grill. But he seemed really nonchalant with people around him.
There are loads of places you can go on this trail. There are old kitchens and medical areas and other barracks, as well as two gun emplacements and several towers. In true Queensland style, the weather was absolutely sweltering, so we did decide to leave out some of the detours.
There are plenty of places you can stop for a view, however.
Once we got to the top, it felt like it was going to be a long way down. When we finally reached the bus stop, we discovered that we had missed one by five minutes and there wouldn’t be another one for an hour. So we decided to go in the other direction instead, to Horseshoe Bay. (Eagle-eyed readers may notice that this is the second Horseshoe Bay we’ve visited in this post!)
I’m glad we had the little inconvenience. Horseshoe Bay is where most people go, and for good reason. It’s where the koala sanctuary is, it’s where a lot of the activities are based, and it’s beautiful.
Unfortunately we couldn’t spend too much time here because we needed to get back in time for our ferry, including picking our bags up from the hostel on the other side of the island. So we didn’t opt for fish & chips because the queue was massive (good old school holidays) but we did manage to sneak some delicious ice cream. A healthy lunch, right?
If it hadn’t been for the wash-out on our first day, I’d say we were there for the perfect amount of time for what we wanted out of the trip. Instead, I left feeling like I wish we’d had more time – apart from anything else, we actually wanted to use one of the days to relax by the pool.
Magnetic Island was definitely a highlight of the east coast – if not for the weather, then definitely for the koalas and the views!
We visited Magnetic Island on the FantaSea ferry for $26 return. The most popular company seems to be SeaLink as it’s the fastest and most frequent service, however it costs an extra $6 return and only saves you 10-15 minutes. FantaSea also offers free overnight parking, despite being a car ferry, whereas SeaLink charges a fee and is a passenger-only ferry.
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Want to read more about our east coast Australia road trip? Here are some of the highlights:
⭐ Driving On Beaches And Swimming In Lakes On Fraser Island
⭐ All Aboard The Freight Train: Sailing The Whitsundays
⭐ Spotting Wildlife In Mackay: Platypuses & Kangaroos At Sunrise
⭐ Surrounding Cairns: Beaches, Rainforests & Waterfalls
⭐ Cairns And Snorkelling The Great Barrier Reef
⭐ Starting Our Australian East Coast Road Trip In Noosa
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