Updated: Nov 22, 2020
There are few things in life more guaranteed to disappoint than going back to a fond childhood memory. So I took a mighty risk going back to Magnetic Island. Where is this magic island, you might well ask? Answer: it's a 25 minute ferry ride (about 8 kilometres) from the tropical city of Townsville in the north of Queensland, Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is not far away.
A bit of background first. My father was born in Townsville, and my mother was brought up there. They met in Townsville. So ... no Townsville, no me. Add to that the fact that one of the most prominent firms of solicitors in Townsville today is Wilson, Ryan and Grose (my great-grandfather). Then there was my Uncle Archie who was quite a figure in Townsville. He played the bass drum in the Returned Servicemen's League (RSL) band, so the annual Anzac Day march strode out to Uncle Archie's beat.
Where does Magnetic Island come into all this? Well, way back in the 1950s my brother Doug and I went there. We were passengers in an old Holden car driven by my Mum and Uncle Archie. At the time my family lived on a pineapple farm a bit north of Brisbane, so the whole drive from the pineapple farm near Nambour to Townsville, a bit over 1200 kilometres or 750 miles on unmade country roads, took four days. We stopped overnight in Bundaberg, Rockhampton and Mackay before finally reaching the Promised Land of Townsville.
7 November update. Brother Doug has reminded me that our stately progress up the east coast of Queensland was much interrupted by Uncle Archie. Every time we hit a town (and they were about 80 km apart in those days) Uncle Archie would announce that he wouldn't be entirely sorry to have a beer. This process tended to be a bit protracted, because Archie would return to the car after a long delay announcing that he had been held up by an encounter with an 'old mate' in the bar. While it was certainly true that Archie had a lot of friends, it stretched credulity to suggest that he had an old mate in every bar between Nambour and Townsville.
Back to the story. Townsville turned out to be the promised land we were expecting, with coconut palms lining the Esplanade opposite the graceful old colonial Queens Hotel where we stayed. But the major treat turned out to be Magnetic Island, which had been a favourite of my Mum's since her childhood.
In those days the only place to stay on the island was in a bay called Arcadia. From memory we ate in a communal dining room while we slept in wooden cabins scattered among the trees back from the bay. So what would the island be like now? I feared the worst ... horrible multi-storey holiday hotels with casinos, maybe? Or crowded beaches, discos, fun fairs and loud music everywhere?
The happy answer turned out to be quite different. The island is largely undeveloped. It has a permanent population of 2335. Most of it is just wild bush, with a few villages along the east coast. More than half of the island's 52 square kilometres has been designated as a national park, and the park claims the largest population of wild koala bears in the world. The beaches are excellent with not much surf but with crystal blue water and stout netting to discourage the sharks. The photo at the top of this entry shows the beach at Arcadia Bay.
The beach report below is for Alma Bay on 29 February 2020. Alma Bay is the next beach along from Arcadia. The only sour note is the matter of 'stingers' ... otherwise known as box jellyfish. As Bill Bryson has brilliantly written, large numbers of Australian animals are out to kill you. Just think of sharks, snakes, crocodiles and spiders. Or click on the link 'AUSTRALIA IN PICTURES' on this web site.
Even the jellyfish have to be reckoned with. In the last 137 years the marine stinger has accounted for 80 fatalities in Australia. It has to be taken seriously. Each day the beaches of Magnetic Island are 'dragged' for stingers and, as you can see, the 29 February drag was 'clear', and the stinger risk was assessed as 'moderate'. Don't be put off by any of this. You'll emerge from Magnetic Island unscathed and unstung as long as you stick with the rules. Meanwhile if your idea of a good time is no discos, no casinos, no high rise resort hotels but just crystal water and uncrowded golden sand, Magnetic Island is for you. On the other hand, if you prefer somewhere livelier, they tell me Benidorm is great.