Although it turned out the Cookie Monster was wrong about the compass thing, over the years Magnetic Island has developed a powerful magnetic force over backpackers. And it’s easy to see why backpackers love “Maggie”, as the locals affectionately know her. The luscious, tropical playground is a convenient 20 minute ferry ride from Townsville and home to the largest population of koalas in northern Australia.

Special forces

However, the species that first caught the attention of my buddy Amina and I was a pack of overzealous locals. Their babbling filled the local bus and it was immediately clear how happy they were to live on the island. They were the lucky ones. After helping us find our luggage, which had bounced off somewhere, they went on their merry way to the island’s RSL (hmm… perhaps the locals were just pissed!).

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Either way, Maggie was gorgeous. The air was scented with eucalyptus and bouncy, green pillows of bush stretched for as far as the eye could see. One of the island’s claims to fame is that it has 320 days of sunshine a year. If you happen to visit when the sun isn’t shining then that’s down to bad karma and you should probably think about becoming a nicer person. We (obviously!) were blessed with blue skies and toasty crumpet weather.

Arriving at our hostel, we were not only greeted by the staff but also by a dazzling array of butterflies, a flock of parakeets, a possum waving its tail coquettishly at us and a host of golden daffodils (okay, scrap the daffodils – that was me getting carried away with Willy Wordsworth – but the rest is true).

Although we could have admired the wildlife of our hostel for hours, we were desperate to explore the rest of the island. Fortunately for us, with over 25km of walking tracks Maggie is a great place for bushwalking.

Even lazy people are catered for with shorter, less intense walks. So off we stumbled to the Forts Walk, which we had been told was an hour and a half walk with great elevated views of the island.

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“Look! Look! Look!” cried Amina. “What? Where? What?” I replied. “Up there,” Amina said, pointing majestically towards a tree in the distance. As I looked high up into the eucalyptus tree I spotted the furry butt of a koala.

We both quickly scampered through some bush to get a closer look. It may not have been doing much but it was amazing to see the “icon of Australia” in the wild (fair dinkum, some may say).

In the evening we toasted our successful koala bear experience with a few too many drinks in the lively Base Backpackers bar. Our visit may not have coincided with one of the infamous Full Moon Parties but the atmosphere was electric and the party spirit contagious. The rest… is history.

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Morning glory

“Whoop de whoop,” were the first words I yelled the next morning. Rather different from my usual, “Fuck off morning and go shoot yourself in the face.” Not many things can get me bouncing out of bed, but jet skiing is one of them. 

We hired the jet ski from nearby Horseshoe Bay and after learning how to make it fly, we were off. Amina had kindly let me drive first because I was so god damn excited. As we raced past the empty beach and rocky headland I put my hand down on the throttle… “Where did that wave come from?” I thought. But it was too late. Amina and I sailed through the air at a million miles per hour, slapping the water hard as we entered the deep blue. Unfortunately, Amina had the additional pleasure of me landing on top of her. A lot of spluttering later, I decided it was best to let Amina drive.

Following our near death experience we settled on a calmer activity next – a tour around the Bungalow Bay Koala Village. Our guide Tony was ridiculously knowledgeable about… well, everything, and he told us a bucket load of facts about each creature we came across.

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First, we were introduced to the newest member of the Bungalow Bay family. Wombalina was a wombat fresh off the boat from Tasmania. She said a groggy hello before quickly retiring to her air-conditioned pad. Disregarding the fragile newbie Wombalina, the tour was very interactive and we were allowed to hold the animals we met; koalas, lizards, snakes and crocodiles (if you wanted to that is, and if you didn’t, Tony did a great job of talking you into it!) As a snake wound its way around me and Amina, I thought, “What a special moment this is.” It could only have been better if the snake had been a trouser snake… 


Feeling the pull

It’s silly to visit Maggie and not have a venture under sea level. And as falling off a jet ski didn’t quite qualify, we spent the afternoon snorkelling in Arthur Bay. Snorkelling is great. It has all the perks of an aquarium minus the glass (which is definitely an advantage unless you meet a great white on your travels…).

Holding Amina’s hand we slowly worked our way out to sea. Strangely enough the fish we met on the way seemed to follow us and at one point it was difficult to see a way through the fish. “Aren’t they meant to be scared of us?” I asked Amina. But she didn’t reply because she was underwater, you durrf. 

%TNT Magazine% snorkelling magnetic island

“Whoop de whoop!” Yes, mornings were good in Maggie. This time we had a champagne breakfast with pancakes, lamb loins, eggs, sausages (basically the whole she-bang) waiting for us. It was even better than that though. Whilst we were eating we would be introduced to some more of the island’s wildlife.

Along with the usual suspects from the day before, we also met the cockatoos and had a more detailed look at Wombalina (who looked very happy and settled, you’ll be pleased to know). As I admired her blubbery belly I wondered how many more sausages it would take for my gut to look like that. Two or three should do it… 

It was sadly time to leave our little Maggie and her animal children behind. As I walked onto the boat I felt a pull at the back of my left leg, something was tugging me back onto the island… 

Perhaps, Cook had been right about the magnetic force after all… 

The damage and the details: Return ferries to Magnetic Island cost $29 (Ph: 07 4726 0800, ); Beds at Bungalow Bay Koala Village (Ph: 07 4778 5577) cost from $28 a night; the hostel’s wildlife tour costs $17 (with backpacker card); jet ski hire costs from $80 for half an hour.


Phtotos: Getty