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Sailing Magnetic Island

It’s really windy. Not just gusts, we’re talking howling winds. The sun is shining, the sky is crystal clear and the water is sparkling blue. It’s pure paradise – except the palm trees are on a slightly unnatural lean and my hair looks like I have walked through a bush backwards. Normally this wouldn’t bother me, I’d just curl up on a beach lounge, get another coffee and wait it out.

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island and the historic jetty that is undergoing restoration

We have just stepped off Magnetic Island to board Aristocat, a powered catamaran from the fleet at Tropic Sail, and met its skipper Shaun who has warned us that if we attempt to stick to our original course around the island we may all be hanging over the side of the boat by lunchtime. We decide to change course.

Heading towards more sheltered waters on the bareboat charter we finally get our taste of sailing. Shaun is yelling out instructions to pull this rope, pass that winch, ‘duck when I tell you! For us first-timers it’s exhilarating trying to keep our feet as the boat moves over the waves, as the main sail goes up and the jib settles in place. Soon enough we’re sailing along, Maggie (as it’s known to the locals) is disappearing and we’re heading towards calm waters.

Magnetic Island, just eight kilometres off Townsville, is host to one of the biggest race weeks in Queensland’s Season of Sailing, the Sealink Magnetic Island Race Week. Held every year in the first week of September, the race attracts boats from all over Australia and is a must-do on many a skipper’s calendar.

Not quite at the racing standards just yet we’re here to explore the other side of race week – the charter boats for hire from Tropic Sail (with or without skipper), the on-land accommodation and all the things to see and do on this beautiful island.

Picture a small town on an island and you have Maggie. I was warned before coming that something strange happens on the island, some weird pull that makes you slow down to an almost stalled pace. I dismissed it, thinking they were confusing the stories of how the island was named (it was supposed to have had a ‘magnetic’ effect on Captain Cook’s compass as he sailed by, however no one has been able to create it since) or a bad case of ‘island time’. After just four days here I completely understand.

On board Aristocat as we sail around Magnetic Island

Everything is laid-back. I’m not just talking about the people, I’m talking everything from the cars you drive (MI Wheels Tropical Topless Car Rentals hire out mini-mokes and hilarious barbie pink topless cars to hoon around) to the service in restaurants, to the roadwork crew on the side of the road, the place is so friendly and slow you can’t help but curb the pace.

MI Wheels Topless Car Rentals hire out mini mokes and 'barbie cars'

The novelty of getting around in our ‘barbie car’ gets us out exploring the Forts Walk, where we see koalas in the wild, and then across to the other side of the island to explore Horseshoe Bay. One of the most picturesque beaches I’ve ever seen, this has to be one of the best undiscovered gems inAustralia. Lined with restaurants and cafes and with palm trees for shade I could stay here all day.

Instead we check in at Peppers Blue on Blue perfectly situated near the ferry and overlooking the marina (making it the best spot to watch the yachts race). We barely have the energy to leave the huge and very stylish rooms to explore the infinity pool and the onsite Endota Spa. But we somehow manage.

There are plenty of food options on the island, from restaurants such as Barefoot Art Food Wine which has a delicious lunch and dinner menu, to family-owned Café Dell’Isola which pumps out some of the best pizzas and freshly baked bread from its wood-fired pizza oven. Now also making their own gelato Alberto and his team are, unsurprisingly, a popular spot for a cheap but tasty treat.

If a more private island holiday beckons, then a three-night stay at Lotus House may be in order. Situated at the end of Horseshoe Bay, the luxurious house wraps around exotic tropical gardens and a 12 metre private pool with constant temperature control. From the pool you can step down on to the beach and enjoy the breathtaking ocean views.

However for us it’s the comfy cabins of Aristocrat ahead. From the deck of the boat we sip on a glass of red and watch the sunset over the island before thinking about dinner. It’s an early start in the morning so it’s early to bed to be rocked asleep by the gentle waves.

Come daylight and the seasoned sailors (read: Skipper Shaun) have expertly guided us back in to Townsville for our flights home. We step back on land, slowly coming out of the relaxation haze that enveloped us on Maggie, and immediately pull out diaries to coordinate our next visit.

Getting there

Flights depart daily from all major centres to Townsville and from there it’s a short Sealink ferry ride to the island, from $29 return.

Once there

Sealink Magnetic Island Race Week runs from 1-4 September andMagneticIslandhas a range of packages to suit. Peppers Blue on Blue is offering a two night island escape from $307, per person, twin share that includes return ferry tranfers, 2-night stay in a 1-bedroom apartment and full breakfast daily.

See www.queensland.com/sailing for more details.