The Indigenous Wulgurukaba people of the Island call it Yunbenun. Wulgurukaba which means canoe people are the traditional custodians of the land eight kilometres off the east coast of Townsville, known as Magnetic Island.
They are descendants from the Dreamtime and they say their creation began with a snake that came down from the Herbert River and slithered out to sea. The creation snake shaped the Hichinbrook Channel and continued its journey to Palm and Magnetic Islands. The Wulgurukaba people say his body broke up into three parts along the coast with the tail of the snake at Halifax Bay, his body at Palm Island, and his head at Arcadia on Magnetic Island.
The Wulgurukaba people have resided in the region for thousands and thousands of years and have a spiritual, physical, social and cultural connection to the land.
It wasn’t until June 1770 that the mountainous island received its common name Magnetic Island by Lieutenant James Cook in June 1770.
The story goes that as Cook travelled along the east coast of Australia, the island had a magnetic effect on his ships compass. Cook wrote in his journal that the Endeavor ‘would not travis well when near it’. Hence the inference that the Island was magnetic. To this day there are no conclusions as to why it had this effect.
The World Heritage-listed Island is a 20 minute ferry ride from Townsville and has become a holiday destination for North Queensland locals and International tourists alike.
Over half the island is protected as a National Park, leaving the untamed beauty of woodland, rainforests and wildlife environments unscathed by developement.
Maggie Island, as the locals now call it, is home to a large colony of rock wallabies, possums, more than 185 bird species including red-tail black cockatoos, and boasts being home to one of the largest koala habitats in Australia.
Not wishing to leave a carbon footprint on the small island which is, at its widest point, only 11km wide, my husband and I chose to traverse the Island on foot.
After disembarking from the ferry at Nelly Bay we followed the road out of town and along a walkway beside the busy road until we came to Geoffrey Bay. Within minutes of arriving we saw a rock wallaby, then another and another. One had a baby in its pouch and was even tame enough to get up close with.
The natural landscape of granite boulders was majestic. The sun lit up crevices and tunnels where the wildlife find protection from the elements and safe refuges to sleep and rear their young.
As you walk, you’ll notice the ever-changing diversity of habitats from freshwater creeks meandering through pockets of woodland to native vine thickets cloaking rocky valleys, and the majesty of the headland with enormous granite boulders over-looking the sea.
We followed a hiking track over steep hills and into gully’s until we reached The Forts, one of the best areas for Koala spotting. It took about an hour, but was certainly worth it. The 360 degree views are simply picturesque, conquering your senses fully and entrancing you to stay that moment longer to take it all in.
The construction of The Forts or Magnetic Battery began on 28 September 1942 and finished 10 months later on July 1943.
Building materials were delivered by barge from the mainland to Arcadia Bay and loaded on to the ‘red terror’, a local V8 truck originally used to cart pineapples.
Crews laboured hard in the tropical heat concreting and they building framework but critical to the forts’ operation were the two 155mm guns each weighing over 10 tonnes and with 26 foot long barrels.
They had a 6 foot (1.8m) recoil and could shoot to a range of nearly 16.5km with a 105 pound shell (47.6kg). The guns never fired a shot in anger but apparently it’s believed they fired a warning to a US Navy PT Boat that arrived in the bay unannounced.
The gun placements were hauled up the beach over logs and towed behind a tractor to reach their final destination. Could you imagine the ordeal or getting those monsters up there?
The mostly downhill walk from The Forts to Horseshoe Bay, the tourist strip, included a residential area and a village with boutique shops, cafes and pubs right opposite the beach. We saw a Kangaroo in the parkland area near the Skatepark.
Many water activities are available with canoes and jet skis for hire at Horseshoe Bay.
We loved our short time on Maggie Island and although this wasn’t our first time there, we know it won’t be our last either. After all there are 24km of walking trails on the Island.
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