By Shane Boocock
What do reef sharks, dust flies, idyllic beaches, a colony of wild wallabies, big race yachts and Mini Mokes have in common? You’ll find more than enough of them on Magnetic Island, one of North Queensland’s best known playgrounds.
It was 4.05pm on Friday afternoon and the ferry was about to depart. Girls in school uniform licking ice cream sat in the shade. Out on the back deck, bare-chested schoolboys strutted their stuff in the sunshine. Backpackers from Europe flooded the inner cabin as two middle aged-women struggled to get their mountain bikes on deck. Finally a local band dumped speakers on the back deck in anticipation of the biggest night of the year – the Full Moon Rising Party. Welcome to Magnetic Island.
Part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, Magnetic Island is known as a continental island, eight kilometres north east of Townsville. Once part of the mainland coastal hills, the island is noted for its striking landscape featuring massive granite boulders, aboriginal history, hoop pines, stunning sandy beaches and fringing coral reefs, and its diverse wildlife.
The island is characterised by the fact that it has an island community with a resident population of about 2,500. Two thirds of the island is protected National Park, making it worth the extra effort to visit this slice of paradise.
Forty nine boats had entered the biggest event on the island’s calendar, the Sunferries Magnetic Island Race Week. It takes place the first week on September every year and, in only its third year, is growing in popularity.
By mid-morning of the first race, with a roast beef sandwich in one hand and a ‘stubby’ in the other, I watched from the spectator boat as yachts of all shapes, size and age waited for the one-minute gun to be fired and then they were off, their masts bending like reeds in a gale. ??Watching the fleet make their way to the first marker, I pondered on how many shipwrecks were scattered off the coastline around the island, reflecting the local maritime history that has seen vessels such as coastal traders, passenger ships, and mail boats run aground or sunk since Europeans first settled the island in 1876.
On my free day I hired a Mini Moke, the island’s most popular form of transport that seems to say everything about the place. With old-fashioned drum brakes, a thin steering wheel, and gears that collide when changing down, it was a fun way to get around. For the adventurous, there are hidden snokelling beaches, kayak tours, a cache of friendly koalas, hidden WWII gun emplacements and enough walking tracks to satisfy any ardent outdoor hiker.
This is one place that will draw you back time and again – if only to zip around the island in a rattling old Mini Moke..