The Strand is a 2.5km (1 1/2-mile) strip with safe swimming beaches, a fitness circuit, a great water park for the kids, and plenty of covered picnic areas and free gas barbecues. Stroll along the promenade or relax at one of the many cafes, restaurants, and bars while you gaze across the Coral Sea to Magnetic Island. For the more active, there are areas to in-line skate, cycle, walk, or fish, and a basketball half-court. Four rocky headlands and a picturesque jetty adjacent to Strand Park provide good fishing spots, and there are two surf lifesaving clubs to service the three swimming areas along the Strand. Cool off in the Olympic-size Tobruk Pool, the seawater Rockpool, or at the beach itself. During summer (Nov-Mar), three swimming enclosures operate to keep swimmers safe from marine stingers. If watersports are on your agenda, try a jet ski, hire a canoe, or take to the latest in pedal skis. A state-of-the-art water park has waterfalls, hydrants, water slides, and water cannons, plus a huge bucket of water that continually fills until it overturns and drenches laughing children.
Don't miss the views of Cleveland Bay and Magnetic Island from Castle Hill; it's a 2.5km (1 1/2-mile) drive or a shorter, steep walk up from town. To drive to the top, follow Stanley Street west from Flinders Street to Castle Hill Drive; the walking trails up are posted en route.
At the Billabong Sanctuary (tel. 07/4778 8344; www.billabongsanctuary.com.au), on the Bruce Highway 17km (11 miles) south of town, you can see Aussie wildlife in a natural setting and hand-feed kangaroos. You can also be photographed (starting at A$16) holding a koala, a (baby) crocodile, a python, a wombat, and other creatures. Interesting interactive talks and shows run continuously starting at 10:15am; one of the most popular is the saltwater-crocodile feeding at 12:15 and 2:45pm (and for an extra A$99 you can also personally feed the croc). There are also gas barbecues, a food kiosk, and a pool. Admission is A$30 for adults, A$27 for students, A$19 for kids 4 to 16, and A$94 for families of five. The sanctuary is open every day except Christmas Day from 8am to 5pm. Allow 2 to 3 hours.
Exploring Magnetic Island
There is no end to the things you can do on Maggie—snorkeling, swimming in one of a dozen or more bays, catamaran sailing, waterskiing, paraflying, horseback riding on the beach, biking, tennis or golf, scuba diving, sea kayaking, sailing or cruising around the island, taking a Harley-Davidson tour, fishing, and more. Equipment for all these activities is for rent on the island.
One of the best, and most popular, of the island’s 20 km (13 miles) of hiking trails is the Nelly Bay–Arcadia trail, a one-way journey of 5 km (3 miles) that takes 2 1/2 hours. The first 45 minutes, starting in rainforest and climbing to a saddle between Nelly Bay and Horseshoe, are the most interesting. Another excellent walk is the 2 km (1 1/4-mile) trail to the Forts, remnants of World War II defenses, which, not surprisingly, have great 360-degree sea views. The best koala spotting is on the track up to the Forts off Horseshoe Bay Road. Carry water when walking—some bays and hiking trails are not near shops.
If you feel like splurging, consider a jet-ski circumnavigation of the island with Adrenalin Jet Ski Tours & Hire ( tel. 07/4778 5533). The 3-hour tour on a two-seat jet ski costs A$385 per ski, which includes your wetsuits, life jackets, and tinted goggles. Tours depart from Horseshoe Bay at 9am daily. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, dugongs (manatees), sea turtles, and humpback whales in season. A 90-minute tour of the northern side of the island costs A$185 per ski and runs daily at 9, 11:30am, and 1:30pm.
Bungalow Bay Koala Village ( tel. 1800/285 577 in Australia or 07/4778 5577; www.bungalowbay.com.au), on Horseshoe Bay Road, Horseshoe Bay, is a backpacker hostel that has a wildlife sanctuary on its 6.5 hectares (16 acres) of bushland, home to rock wallabies, curlews, lorikeets, and koalas. Two-hour tours of the koala park are run at 10am, noon, and 2:30pm, starting at reception. The first hour is within the wildlife park, where you can wrap yourself in a python, pet a lizard, hold a small saltwater crocodile, and get up close with a koala. The second hour is a guided bush walk to explore nearby habitats of eucalyptus forest, wetlands, mangroves, or coastal dunes, and to learn about the history of the traditional owners, the Wulgurukaba people. Entry to the park costs A$21 adults, A$19 backpackers or students, A$12 children 4 to 16, or A$62 for families of five. Koala holding costs A$15 including two souvenir photos, with proceeds supporting Magnetic Island wildlife care groups.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.