Attracted To Maggie

This island has long become established as a holiday destination

Magnetic Island is one of the most easily accessible islands of the Great Barrier Reef, only 8 km from Townsville in Cleveland Bay, but it’s not your clichéd tropical island paradise. Sure, it has pristine sandy beaches lapped by brilliant turquoise waters brimming with neon-painted marine life, all bathed in tropical Queensland sunshine, but Maggie (as she’s affectionately known) has many features that set her well apart from the palm-fringed coral atolls that are most people’s idea of an island getaway. And she has character, forged by a history that began way before tourists ever alighted on her shores. On a six-week road trip down the Queensland coast from Cairns, we stopped for six days in Townsville – the largest city and de facto Capital of the North – devoting an entire day to the happy task of exploring Maggie’s attractions.

Somewhere on the road south of Mission Beach we left the ‘Wet Tropics’ and entered a drier, more savanna-like climate. Although geographically tropical, Townsville’s topography creates a ‘rain shadow’ that yields much lower rainfall than areas immediately to the north and south, and has a winter dry season with very little rain and lots of sunshine. Even in mid-November, when we stepped out of the car at Rowes Bay Caravan Park (Townsville), we were greeted by a balmy trade wind off the bay, rather than the cloying, sauna-like humidity we had waded through since Cairns.

It must be acknowledged, however, that the region is very much subject to the impact of tropical cyclones. The Bureau of Meteorology database records that, between 1934 and 2000, 15 cyclones tracked within 50 km of Townsville, one of the worst being Category 3 TC Althea in December 1971, which damaged or destroyed 90% of the houses on Magnetic Island. Even ex-tropical cyclones can prove destructive. In January 1998, ex-TC Sid dumped 549mm of rain in a 24-hour period, causing flash flooding and a landslide on the island that destroyed one car, damaged a resort and left massive boulders perched precariously above houses and roads.

Nevertheless, over the years Magnetic Island’s resident population has grown to around 2,200 and become something of a satellite suburb of Townsville, connected by the Sealink ferry service that sails 19 times each day between the city’s Breakwater Terminal and the Nelly Bay marina. On the morning of our excursion to the island, we caught the 7.45 am ferry for the 20-minute crossing of Cleveland Bay, which was a picture of placid perfection barely ruffled by a light sea breeze. The imposing pink granite monolith of Castle Hill (300m) behind the city quickly diminished astern, to be replaced ahead by the equally impressive emerald-clad bulk of Mt Cook (494m) rising in the centre of the island.

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