Magnetic Island is firmly in the Australian tropics, reached via ferry ($33 return, plus $2 for an all-day unlimited buss pass – definitely recommended, as the same thing costs $7 on the island) from Townsville – about 220 miles (350km) south of Cairns. It’s a great destination for tourists and backpackers, and provided an R&R stop on my way north.
Townsville has little to recommend it, and I wouldn’t advise stopping here for longer than it takes to transfer across to Maggie Island. There are a few tourist-friendly attractions, like an aquarium, but there’s a lot more to see and do a short boat trip away.
My Bruce Cobber Greyhound pass gave me a free night’s stay at Base hostel, about a 30 minute bus ride from the ferry terminal. Buses are synched to the ferry schedule, so there’ll always be one waiting when you disembark. I was short on funds by this time, but those who have some spare cash can hire a ‘Barbie car’ ($60). These bright pink (or white with pink highlights – either way, you’re clearly not driving a Mustang) vehicles can be seen zipping around everywhere on the island.
Despite lacking a functioning can opener (I had to get creative with a knife and a big rock), Base was one of the best places I stayed in Oz. The location on the seafront is fantastic, and guests can stay in thatched, six-person beach huts.
The target market is definitely young travellers; the open-sided bar has events every night, including Australia’s only Full Moon Party. I spent my one night there playing Bar Wars with Joen, from my Whitsundays boat (several of us turned up at the same place), and friends. This was, effectively, an excuse to get as many people as possible as naked as possible, via games (including musical chairs). Shout-out to the guys who refused to chicken out at losing their boxers, and made creative use of a bucket and spade.
As well as drinking (let’s face it, that’s popular everywhere), most of the visitors to Maggie go and see the rock wallabies. A colony of these tiny marsupials lives on a rocky point near Arcadia. They’re tame enough that they’ll come and eat from your hand, and they love banana peel and carrots. I went up there with two Finnish girls staying in the same hut, and got some seed mix from an old man in a wheelchair who’s there every day. He’ll hand feed to anyone who asks, and knows everything about the wallabies!
For the active traveller, I’d recommend the Forts walk, which goes around the ruins of World War bunkers on the rocky hills in the middle of the island. Normally this would take a couple of hours, but I had to power through to make the 3pm ferry, and did it in one. I haven’t sweated so much since climbing Moon Hill in Yangshuo! If you have the time, though, there are a lot of signs to read and sights to see. Be mindful of snakes while walking, though – I nearly trod on one; luckily just a (relatively) harmless tree snake.
Back across the sea in Townsville I caught my final Greyhound of the trip, which took me north to Cairns and the last stop of my travels.