Magnetic Island was named for the way it pulled on Captain Cook’s compass as he sailed past it, the needle twisting mysteriously.
Some people say this island has a powerful “energy” that radiates from it. While I’m not sure about that, there was certainly some force drawing us here as we travelled down Australia’s East Coast – even if it was only the magnetic pull of curiosity.
We had originally booked two nights on the island, but not long after we arrived we were extending it to four. The island’s slow pace of life made us so happy that we realised it would be a shame to leave too quickly.
Dining in the Rainforest
The first night we arrived we were hungry but didn’t feel like cooking, so we headed to Man Friday which is a BYO Mexican restaurant surrounded by lush rainforest.
As we waited for our meal on the outdoor patio and discussed the meaning of the latest episode of WestWorld, we saw pale cream-coloured geckos slinking up the walls, long legged birds skulking around, enormous bats swooping overhead and a possum shimmying up a nearby tree trunk.
It’s not often you get to enjoy so much wildlife with your evening meal.
Koalas in the Treetops
On our second day we set off late morning smelling of sunscreen and equipped with a backpack filled with sandwiches and water. We took the bus from Picnic Bay to Nelly Bay and then picked up the walking trail through the forest to Arcadia Bay, a 2-3 hour trek. I would recommend doing the hike earlier in the morning than we did, by mid afternoon the sun was hot and we were red-faced and sweating as we climbed up the steep, rocky track.
However, our efforts were rewarded. We had kept an eye out for koalas the entire way – trying to find a balance between watching our footing and scanning the treetops. We were starting to wonder if we would ever see one, when we came across a German girl who said she saw some in the trees up ahead. We marched forth with invigorated curiosity.
A few minutes later, my eyes were drawn to a furry grey bundle wedged into the crook of a branch. “Lee!” I whisper-shouted, pointing frantically. As Lee pointed his camera, the koala lifted its head and looked directly at us. With its button nose and tufted ears, it looked more like a plush toy than a real animal – too cartoonishly cute to be real.
As Lee snapped photo after photo and I gazed on mesmerised, the koala shimmied up the tree trunk gripping the bark with its tiny claws. On a branch above it met with another larger koala, perhaps its mother? We tried to get a closer look but we realised we were making them nervous, so we backed away and made the most of the zoom lens on Lee’s camera.
Along the way we would see two more koalas, curled up sleepily in the tree branches. Koalas sleep for 16 to 18 hours per day. They need the rest because the energy value of their diet is very low. Eucalyptus leaves are low in nutrition, high in fibrous matter and contain toxins so they take a very long time to digest.
(I asked myself why the koalas would eat something that is low in nutrition and made them sleepy and sluggish as they tried to digest it, but then I realise that I should be asking myself the same question the next time I eat fast food.)
Sunset Over the Ocean
Our third day was a little more work heavy – as is the life of a digital nomad. However, there was still time for an afternoon plunge in the pool and a hike up to the lookout point to watch the sunset. The lookout was incredibly easy to reach from the hotel and it only took about 25 minutes to get to the top.
Scrambling up onto the rocks was a little nerve wracking- my stomach dropped when I looked down at the drop below. We perched on the top of the sun-warmed boulders and watched as the sun sank slowly into the ocean, the sky changing from blue to lavender to purplish-grey.
Forts on the Hill
On our fourth day I was making coffee in the morning when I noticed a cockatoo sitting on the wall outside the kitchen, watching me intently. I stared at him and he stared right back. As I settled on an outdoor table to have my breakfast, he flew over to sit next to me. I was happy for the company, even though his stare was a little bit intense!
We headed out again in the early afternoon, map in hand. We jumped on the bus (what a great convenient system for getting around the island!) and got off at the beginning of the Forts Walk.
This short trail takes about 45 minutes and leads you up the hill to some ruins of WWII forts. The Australian Coast Artillery Units operated the Forts complex from 1943 until the end of the Pacific War in 1945.
There’s not much left of most of the buildings but the concrete foundations, but there is a look-out tower that you can climb. Slowly, hand over hand, I ascended the steep metal ladder and was rewarded with a breathtaking 360 degree view. It’s not often a trail offers a view this spectacular in exchange for less than an hour of gentle climbing.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at CStay Guest House in Picnic Bay. Most backpackers stay at the BASE Hostel, but we were looking for a chilled out vibe rather than a party. We found CStay just the right pace for us. It offered a fully equipped kitchen and barbeque so we cooked a few meals for ourselves. Anton, the manager, is incredibly helpful and takes the time to explain the local map of the area and share recommendations for the surrounding area.