Magnetic Island is the only island on the North Queensland Coast with a blend of untouched National Park, a resident population of about 2,500 and a variety of holiday resorts. And just twenty minutes by fast "Cat" across Cleveland Bay from Townsville.
Although in the Tropics, the Townsville area is in a rain shadow which makes it the sunniest city on the Queensland coast (Magnetic Island averages over 320 days of sunshine per year. More than half of the Island's 5,184 hectares is National Park, with Mt. Cook in the centre rising to 497 metres. Huge granite boulders are softened by tall Hoop pines, eucalypt forest and small patches of rainforest.
There are 24kms of walking track through the park with many spectacular lookouts. The National Park is a haven for wildlife, like rock wallabies, possums, koalas and a wide variety of bird-life. A great 6km walk to do is from Nelly Bay to Arcadia (where you can spot wild koalas), and also from Horseshoe Bay to Radical and Balding Bays. All very beautiful with a feeling of being untouched.
I was there mainly for the scuba diving (Great Barrier Reef, Yongala Wreck) but actually found there was a lot more to do. There was plenty of walking (albeit you had to choose the time of day wisely as the humidity was horrible), lots of beaches to visit (my favourite being Alma Bay), and everything from snorkeling, to hiring a bike/car, to kayaking.
The SS Yongala is one of the best dive sites in the world and in Australia. It is actually considered by many people as THE best wreck dive in the world. The Yongala Shipwreck is a 110m former steel passenger and freight steamer. It sank in 1911 during a tropical cyclone with its 124 passengers. The Shipwreck was found only in 1958 and is now a main tourist attraction in Australia.
The bottom of the wreck is at 33m, with the top at 15m and with very strong currents and visibility from 10-15m. We were lucky and the weather was relatively calm, the currents were good and the visibility was about 10-12m. Aside from the wreck itself, the marine life is amazing - we spotted giant groupers, schools of barracuda, giant trevally, massive wrasse (almost as big as a person's torso), lots of sea snakes and 2-3 turtles (though they were at the surface). The most diverse range of marine life that I've seen in a long time!
I went through the Townsville diving shop - Adrenaline Dive - as dive shops can only go out on certain days so there are not too many divers there at any one time. They are professional, run a tight ship and make sure there are extensive briefings to ensure everyone is aware of how to deal with the strong currents. It is illegal to enter the wreck - the last diver to do that was deported from Australia with a $15,000 fine!
What a chilled and relaxing 6 days. Wish I could have dived another day or two, but alas with flying I had to be careful of when my last dive was. Next time.