Magnetic Island - Walks and Kayaking


We left Cape Hillsborough after three days of almost continuous rain and drove to Townsville in a steady rain as well. Hence, you can imagine our joy to see the sun rise the next morning. Our main purpose for being here was to visit Magnetic Island, a large continental island a few kilometres off the coast. Firstly, we needed to get organised for the four days camping there, so a couple of nights in Townsville itself was in order.

Panorama of Townsville from Castle Hill

Magnetic Island from our apartment in Townsville

Part of that was some continuing calf muscle rehab for the fair Nello. Cape Pallarenda, just to the north seemed a good place for this, with a little bit of walking on the flat, some gentle climbing and descending, some beach-walking and some rock-hopping. That should give the calf a good workout.

Townsville and Castle Hill from Cape Pallarenda

Looking across the Coral Sea to the Palm Islands

Thus, we started off from the old Quarantine Station in Pallarenda Conservation Park, following the Graves Circuit, detouring up the Forts Track, with its old WW2 gun emplacements to guard Townsville from any Japanese invasion, down on to Shelley Beach and back over the rocky outcrop between it and the track start - only 5 km, but jam-packed with beautiful views of the coast line and the distant skyline of Townsville and Castle Hill. I really am finding myself impressed by the coastal landscapes of Queensland.

Radar unit on Cape Pallarenda

View from the old artillery bunker on the cape

On Shelley Beach

The rocky shore of the cape

Part of the old Quarantine Station

The next morning, laden up with all our gear and food supplies, we caught the car-ferry from Townsville to Magnetic Island and, on landing, drove over the narrow winding road to Horseshoe Bay. Here we pitched the tent in a shady setting at the only campground on the island. It would be our home for the next four nights.

The night had been cold (a double sleeping bag night in tropical Queensland ??), but with a clear blue sky and light winds, today was the perfect day for kayaking. After a lazy breakfast, we drove down to Horseshoe Bay and inflated the kayak.

The sun was glistening on the water and the yachts in the bay hung loosely off their moorings. Already lots of people (it is the school holidays) were basking in the sun on the main beach. Our plan, however, was to visit some of the less accessible and less crowded beaches on this north-east corner of Magnetic Island.

The sheltered waters of Horseshoe Bay

Setting out, we paddled across the smooth water and between the moored yachts. Our heading was towards the rocks lining the shore of the tree-covered promontory that protects the bay from the dominant south-easterly winds. Not that it mattered today - there was very little wind.

Setting out in the kayak ......

.... past White Lady Beach ....

... and on to the granite boulders of The Point

We followed the rocks around to The Point, cutting between the boulder-strewn spur and a couple of off-shore rocks. A fishing boat rocked gently nearby, lines taut in the water. We rounded the point of The Point to head south-east, following this beautiful stretch of coast, granite boulders strewn along the shore, hoop pines and trees of the dry tropics covering the steep slopes behind them.

The granite fringed shore of Magnetic Island

Heading past Balding Bay ....

.... and then Radical Bay

Rounding the next point, we could see two patches of sand ahead, separated by another boulder-built promontory. We were looking at the beaches of Balding Bay and Radical Bay, both inaccessible by road.

It seemed too early to stop now, so we crossed further out sea to reach the next rocky point, guarding the eastern end of Radical Bay. Ahead lay the intricate jumble of off-shore boulders that marked Orchard Rocks. We paddled on in between the rocks and the shore far enough to take a peak around the next corner and see the mainland, its horizon shaped by the hazy blue ranges that back Townsville.

View across to the mainland

This seemed a good point to turn around - the swell was becoming a bit stronger as we entered less-sheltered waters and with our main objective of the two hidden bays now behind us. Turning back, we paddled around the seaward-side of Orchard Rocks before making a line for the hidden entry of Radical Bay. What an entry - Radical Bay has a long stretch of golden sand framed by rocky outcrops and backed by the green tapestry of the granitic hill behind.

Orchard Rocks

Boulders guarding the entrance to Radical Bay

Snack break at Radical Bay

We pulled in to the beach with its beautifully clear water and fine sand. The big question - do we have lunch and a swim here or do we wait until Balding Bay. Balding Bay was beckoning and we opted for it. After a short rest stop, we paddled quickly around the granite boulders that separate the two bays to land there. It was a good choice - the beach here, tucked between granite outcrops, was smaller, more intimate and with only a few people scattered about. Its clear waters were a great place to swim.

The sweeping curve of the beach at Balding Bay

View from the far end of Balding Bay

Lunch over, we headed off again to retrace our outward journey back to Horseshoe Bay - the rock-lined shore losing none of it impressiveness second time around.

Time to head back

A brief stop at White Lady Beach

Magnetic Island seascape

Once inside the bay, we stuck a little closer to the shore line, pulling in to White Lady Beach for one last shore visit. Finally, we paddled back between the moored yachts as the afternoon sun glistened on the calm water. Our kayak trip had been a great way to see some of the lesser visited parts of Magnetic Island.

A golden sunset over Horseshoe Bay

We returned to the beach at Horseshoe Bay that evening to watch the sun set and cast a golden glow over a silvery sea - a perfect end to a perfect day.

Forts - Florence Bay Circuit (10.5 km - 310m ascent - 310m descent)

Yesterday was kayaking day, today is walking day .... and what a great clear blue sky, gentle breeze day it is. The plan is to create a circuit, by combining the Forts Track (which explores the ruins of WW2 gun emplacements) with a coastal walk along the north-east end of the island, hopefully giving us a bit of culture as well as a bit of nature.

Southern coastline from The Forts track

Looking back at the mainland

A blue kookaburra bade us farewell, as we walked out of the camping ground and up along the main street of Horseshoe Bay village. It was an inauspicious start, but at the end of the village, a foot-track took us into the bush to follow a small creek, as we slowly climbed up a saddle to the Forts Track Junction.

Heading up the creek from Horseshoe Bay to The Forts

Ruins of an artillery gun post

The junction was the start of the very popular Forts Track, apparently a must do for anyone visiting Magnetic Island. During WW2, the Australian army built a series of heavy artillery posts along the steep eastern flank of the island to guard against enemy naval forces approaching Townsville. Fortunately, it was never needed, though the ruined infrastructure now provides some spectacular lookouts.

Panoramic view from the artillery command post

View back towards Townsville

Joining the throng, we continued our climb, this time up a wide dirt road, with glimpses out over the sea as we wound around the slopes. Magnetic Island is also home to a large colony of koalas and we were lucky enough to spot a few, dozing in their eucalypt forks, on the way up. By spotted, I mean we spotted the crowd of people admiring the koalas.

View out towards Palm Island

Ahead, we could see the command post, perched like an eyrie on a pinnacle of rock. The track wound around the spur beneath it, passing old gun emplacements, before climbing steeply up to the command post. It was easy to see why it was built here - the 360° views from the post across the sea to the mainland, out into the Coral Sea and down to Florence Bay and the coast-line were spectacular.

A little further along the ridge lay the Signals Building, with equally spectacular views, out to Palm Island in the distance and down over Horseshoe Bay.

Florence Bay

The old artillery command post on Magnetic Island

Horseshoe Bay

Track from the Forts to Florence Bay

After soaking in these wide island vistas, we retraced our steps to a track junction just below the two positions. Here we turned to head steeply down towards Florence Bay.

The track was well-manicured, with gravel surface and many sets of stone steps (400-500 by my estimate) to aid the descent. Cool shade and scented wattle blossoms made it more enjoyable.

At the base of this spur, we turned right to walk a few hundred metres to Florence Bay, a wide stretch of sand, book-ended by granite promontories - this seems to be the general design of Magnetic Island's bays. The stretch of sand was made extra wide by the low tide.

Sea view on the mid-slope

We found a nice spot in the shade of the casuarinas that backed the beach, pulled the snorkelling gear out of our backpacks and headed in. The eastern end of Florence Bay has a coral reef that is well-described in the guide books. Sadly, we were a little disappointed - visibility was not that good, there were few fish and the reef seemed to have little colour or diversity. Oh well, the walk has been excellent so far.

The reef at Florence Bay

Florence Bay

After lunch and a rest in the pleasant bay setting, we headed off again, following the disused and eroded asphalt road that led from Florence Bay to Radical Bay, beneath the cool shade of the lowland forest. Crossing a small rise, we reached Radical Bay, still as lovely as when we kayaked here yesterday, before heading on.

Track through the lowland forest

Vegetation of the higher slopes

The track now began to climb over the spur that separates these eastern bays from Horseshoe Bay. Aided by steps of natural rock, it wound its way up a gully, levelled out in drier ridge-line forest and then descended steeply down a wetter rainforest gully to reach the southern end of Horseshoe Bay.

On the saddle between Radical and Horseshoe Bays

Yachts moored in Horseshoe Bay

A coastal creek

A short stroll across the soft sand of the beach brought us to the foreshore and one of the local bars - time to celebrate the walk with a jar of craft beer, before wandering the few hundred metres up the road to our campsite.

Back to the broad sandy beach of Horseshoe Bay

This circuit was all that we had hoped for - lovely forest, incredible views, a bit of history, a few koalas and some lovely beaches, With the snorkelling, that made the score 5-1, so we declared the Forts-Florence Bay Circuit a winner.

Day 4 - a bit of snorkelling, a bit of walking and a brilliant sunset

Our last day on Magnetic Island was tourist day. It started out with a visit the local Sunday markets at Horseshoe Bay with coffees on the beachfront, so that the fair Nello could indulge her favourite occupation of people-watching.

Then we headed over to Geoffrey Bay, home to a colony of rock wallabies. It was nice to see them, but it could hardly be considered a wild sighting, as they came down out of the rocks to feed on bananas held by tourists (are bananas even good food for rock wallabies?).

The highlight at Geoffrey Bay, though, was a snorkel out on the reef to the wreck of the "Moltke", a German barque that was scuttled there in 1911. It had the best coral and fish-life of the places we snorkelled on the island.

Snorkelling the reef at Geoffreys Bay

That was followed by a short steep climb from Picnic Point up to the Hawkings Point Lookout, perched on an enormous granite boulder that sits atop the spur separating Picnic And Nelly Bays. It rewarded us with superb views over the channel to Townsville and Cape Pallarenda, as well as a panorama of the eastern half of the island from from 493m Mt Cook (the highest point) to Geoffrey Bay.

Looking south over Geoffrey Bay from Hawkings Point

Cape Pallarenda as seen from Magnetic Island

Looking north towards Picnic Point from Hawkings Point

The beach at Arthurs Bay

Finally, we returned to the Forts Track Junction, so we could walk the one kilometre down to beautiful Arthur Bay for one last island snorkel on the reef.

Feeling somewhat water-logged, we headed home for a celebratory fish and chips and beer on the beach as the sun set in a flaming red sky over Horseshoe Bay.

Soft corals of Arthur Bay

All in all, our last day comprised a lot of shorter activities that filled in the gaps and completed a great four days on Magnetic Island.