12th Mar 2012 12:41am | By Joanna Tilley
When Captain Cook rocked up on Magnetic Island in 1700 he noticed that his compasses went a bit mental. He was so convinced the island had a magnetic force that interfered with his navigation, he quickly named the island after his assumption.
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.
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!).
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.
“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.