I spent a week on Magnetic Island just now. It is a good place: a big island with four little suburbs but mostly national park, where people live, go to school, the bakery, the chemist, and the doctor. It has good supermarkets. It has wonderfully hokey restaurants like Man Friday’s, a Mexican restaurant which has been there for 25 years, with light shades made from large tins, painted, and patterns banged out with hammer and nails. It has a fine fish and chips shop cum equally hokey seafood restaurant, and it has an honest Italian restaurant with a location on the beachfront to die for but without the prices which generally go with such places. It has blue winged kookaburras and pheasant coucals, red-tailed black cockatoos and koalas, real beach houses (consider this one, and this one), a Friday nightmarket put on by the RSL with a food stall put up by an Indonesian woman, and a dessert stall put up by a local lady who will sell you a one person pavlova and a one person trifle for a total of $6. It has old tractors and dilapidated buildings, everything that a seaside holiday should have.
It is, in other words, the antithesis of Noosa and Cairns, more like the Inverloch of the tropics, and is therefore something to rejoice in. It is just off the coast of Townsville, you see, a working man’s town with few tourists. The resort set, the Japanese, and the Americans seem oblivious to its existence, like many Melburnians, I suspect. The thing to do is to hire a house — believe it or not, $100 a night will get you a decent many-bedroomed place — and a Moke, or a scooter, or a motorized bicycle, or a bike (though there is only one main road, and there is a regular bus, and taxis), and take to the beaches. Boats will take you out to the Barrier Reef for full-on snorkelling, but there is snorkelling to be had too by wading in off the beach in your flippers. There are family beaches on the main road, and remote bays reminiscent of Wilson’s Prom’s Sealers and Refuge Coves accessible only by walking track or by boat.
And it’s inexpensive. Jetstar flies direct from Melbourne to Townsville for $219, the cost of the ferry is minimal, and there’s an airport shuttle which runs between the airport and the ferry. Hayles Avenue or Olympus Crescent in Arcadia are good places to look for accommodation, as is the beachfront in Horseshoe Bay, and Dent St and that part of Henry Lawson Ave east of the main road. Magnetic Cottage, Magnetic Luhr, Kingfisher Lodge, September, 12 Olympus Crescent all seem like good value. This one, Moana Cottage, has a fantastic Horseshoe Bay location, and looks really good.
You can spend big money on amazing places. This place is the exemplar. But I kind of like the idea of the 2 week Queensland winter holiday for 2 in your own little house with a garden, and a Moke, for a bit over $2,500.