Queensland is the second-largest state of Australia and has plenty to offer. From rainforests to the world’s largest coral reef system, to the Great Barrier Reef, this stunning region has it all. Many tourists visit the city of cairns for access to the northern GBR. However, we veered away from the busy tourist destinations and headed south.
Our first stop was a little slice of paradise off the coast of Townsville called Magnetic Island. This hidden gem is a must do if you’re traveling to Townsville. It is known for its lush greenery, koalas, and full moon beach parties! A 20 minute ferry will take you to the island from the port of Townsville. You can book your ride with either Magnetic Island Ferry or Sealink. Sealink is a a few dollars more per ticket, but we wish we had used them. We confused the companies and ended up leaving later than expected and hopped on the Magnetic Island Ferry, the slower boat. Sealink is a 20-minute trip, whereas Magnetic Island Ferry is about 30 minutes. Check out the Sealink timetable here. The Magnetic Island Ferry timetable can be found here. No need to book tickets ahead of time.
Once you arrive on the island, you’ll have to decide which beach you are interested in visiting. If you’re only going for the day, we suggest visiting one or maybe two beaches. We arrived in the afternoon and only had time for one. We were torn between Horseshoe Bay and West Point beach. Unfortunately, you can only get to West Point by way of a 4×4 vehicle. We were stoked about renting the topless moke car, so we decided to go to Horseshoe Bay instead. Horseshoe Bay is one of the most popular beaches on the island, where West Point is more quiet and supposedly has the best sunsets. However, all of the beaches are beautiful in their own way.
Our favorite part was renting a topless moke car for the day. All of my Barbie dreams came true!! This little pink convertible was rented from Tropical Topless Cars. Their location can be found as soon as you land at the Nelly Bay port. We were thankful that they allowed us to drop the car off after hours, because we arrived only 2 hours before closing time. The cars are manual and the wheel is on the right side of the car, so make sure you’re comfortable with that before hitting the road. Enjoy a scenic drive to your beach of choice. A map is provided for easy access to any part of the island. Don’t forget to stop at Geoffrey Bay for the famous topless car photo!
We could have stayed on Magnetic Island for multiple days. It is much larger than we thought and has numerous beaches to visit. You definitely need a vehicle to get around. The island is known for its abundant koala population. The best area to find wild koalas is at the Fort Walk. You can find this trail on your drive to Horseshoe Bay. It’s a gorgeous hike, but don’t get too distracted by the views, because you will have to look hard to find these guys! They are usually camouflaged up in a tree. There is also the Bungalow Bay Koala Village where you can get up close and cuddle one if you don’t want to go searching. We got to see a mama and baby koala sleeping in a tree on the Fort Walk ☺️
After our koala hunt, we headed down to the beach. Horseshoe Bay is an awesome little beach town. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset with gelato from Adele’s cafe and some local beers from Marlin Bar. After sunset we grabbed dinner at Sandi’s, a beachfront restaurant with live bands and excellent seafood. We HIGHLY recommend the lime and lemongrass oysters. Some of the best we’ve ever had!
Sadly, our visit to Magnetic Island had to come to an end. We drove back into Nelly Bay and took the ferry to Townsville. Next time, we will be sure to stay in one of their amazing waterfront condo rentals and attend a full moon party! This island is absolutely a hidden gem that is a must-do while visiting Queensland.
SS Yongala Shipwreck – Townsville/Alva Beach
In 1911, the SS Yongala ship carrying 122 passengers, sailed into a cyclone and sunk to the bottom of the Coral Sea. Just 3 hours off the coast of Townsville, this shipwreck is now home to numerous amounts of species, both large and small. Due to its open water location (technically not part of the Great Barrier Reef), you can dive with some tons of large fish. It’s almost impossible to see all of the marine life because it is so abundant. Everywhere you look there are hundreds of fish. Ranked as one of the top dive sites in the world, this is an absolute bucket list dive!
Yongala Dive is the group you will book your dives with. Their prices are affordable and the guides are extremely knowledgeable and experienced. Getting to this dive site is one of the most unique qualities of the trip. The Yongala Dive shop is located in the town of Alva beach (1 hour south of Townsville). From there, you will take a 10 minute ride to the shore. We loved taking the dive boat from the shore to the site. This was unusual compared to our typical dive trips. The ride out was about 45 minutes. We were fortunate to have calm seas and perfect weather. There’s not much room on board for your gear. So be sure to pack light and only bring necessities. In the wintertime, bring a jacket!
Being only open water certified, we were a little nervous about our first deep dive (90 feet). We were able to do a quick deep dive course with our guide beforehand. We felt comfortable enough to proceed even without an advanced open water certification.
Below are some of the species we came across on the wreck:
- Giant trevally schools
- Marble ray
- Sea snakes
- Queensland grouper
- Chevron barracuda schools
- Maori wrasse
- Sounds of humpback whales in the distance
The only thing we didn’t see were either of the sharks (bull or guitar). That was a little disappointing, but you can’t predict Mother Nature! Overall, we loved every minute of our dive. The SS Yongala and the Maldives are by far our two top favorite dives. If you enjoy diving with lots of marine life, this dive is a must. Thanks to Yongala Dive team for an awesome experience!
The Whitsundays, one of Australia’s most popular vacation destinations, is composed of 74 islands that lie within the Great Barrier Reef. You may recognize photos of the famous Whitehaven beach. This sandy wonderland can only be accessed by boat or flight. The largest inhabited island is Hamilton Island. Fly into this airport to access the other islands or take a boat ride out of Airlie beach. Either way, you will enjoy the scenic ride in and out.
We choose to stay on Hayman Island at the newly renovated Intercontinental resort. After being devastated by a cyclone in 2017, the resort took place of the former One & Only resort. We were excited to take advantage of the brand new hotel and amenities.
The resort landscape and design was absolutely stunning. From the moment we departed Airlie beach on their private yacht we were in awe. The dramatic golf cart ride through the resort grounds immediately gave off island vibes that could make the most uptight person relax. The staff were professional and made us feel welcome. We even got a upgraded suite, which was a nice surprise! The room interior was spectacular and up to date with modern technology. The only downside was the balconies. We felt they obstructed the water views slightly with the solid white frame. Also, the bathtub had a frosted glass wall that blocked any water view. Other than that, we enjoyed everything else about the suite. The iPad that controlled the room technology was pretty awesome too!
Our main purpose in choosing Hayman Island was to dive the Great Barrier Reef, but we ended up preferring many of the other activities. The best of them all was Gregg surprising me for my birthday with a helicopter ride out to Whitehaven beach. Our pilot was incredible and the views were to die for. Once we landed on the beach, we enjoyed a picnic lunch with champagne. We relaxed for an hour before heading back to the island. The best views of Whitehaven beach are most certainly from a helicopter. We even saw two humpbacks whales below us at one point. The entire trip was full of gorgeous, lush islands and bright blue glistening ocean. It was the birthday gift of a lifetime! Not to mention the prior morning jet ski tour and couples massage to follow 😉
Due to windy conditions, we were only able to dive one day. We were happy about this since it was pricey and they wouldn’t take us to the outer reef. The dive “boat” was ridiculous. It was literally a yacht with full staff, a bar, gourmet snacks/meals, and basically anything you could ever hope for. The “dingy” was there to help take us back to the yacht if we were tired and didn’t want to swim back with our equipment. This smaller boat was nicer than most center consoles we have ever been on. Crazy! The experience itself was incredible and worth every penny. Even though the diving wasn’t spectacular. It sounded like the snorkelers saw more fish than we did. The water was cool and the visibility wasn’t the best. Our Great Barrier Reef experience in that sense wasn’t what we hoped for. I imagine if we were able to visit the outer reef, then we would have seen more. Also, the cyclone did some damage to the coral reef systems surrounding Hayman and daydream island, so I think that negatively affected our dive. All in all, we met some amazing people and had a blast on the yacht! Some of the coral was still intact and very beautiful. My only complaint of the hotel would be the dive sites themselves. For that price, we should’ve been able to go out to better reefs. We were grateful for the awesome dive yacht experience though, even if the dive itself wasn’t spectacular.
Other great activities were the hike to Blue Pearl Bay. This is about an hour hike to the other side of Hayman Island where you can hang out at the beach and snorkel. The beach is beautiful and so were the views throughout the hike. The resort has tons of water activities and includes stand up paddle boards, kayaks, and more. They have their own activity center where you can book excursions. The staff there were awesome, knowledgeable about the island, and very friendly! The room is full of games, a pool table, and even a golf simulator. The adults enjoyed that one!
The food and drinks were phenomenal at every restaurant and bar. Though they come with the 5-star price, your tastebuds will thank you. Pacific is the most expensive restaurant for dinner. Next being Bamboo and Amici. Bamboo is only open certain nights for dinner. The steak and oysters at Pacific are incredible and the pizza at Amici is delicious! Amici does not offer water views, which is definitely a downside. All of the poolside bars offer exquisite handcrafted cocktails. Always a plus! We were very pleased with the cuisine and cocktail options. Not to mention the enormous all-inclusive breakfast buffet. Can you say dim sum for breakfast?!
The facilities were up to date and well kept. The two pools were large and offered ocean views. There were plenty of lounge chairs and unique cabanas/beds to lay out on. We preferred the energy at the infinity pool over the main resort pool. Our only complaint about the pools was that they were not heated and there was no jacuzzi on premise. This would have been nice since it was fairly windy and cool out. The water was definitely cooler than the outside temp, which was in the 70s. The pools are more suitable for the summer climate.
The spa was exceptional. The treatments offered were excellent quality and the staff were great. The locker rooms had everything you could need – full shower, toiletries, etc. We enjoyed our cups of tea after our couple’s massage in the relaxation room. Perhaps a room with a sauna and steam room for all spa guests would have been the only thing missing.
The gym had two rooms – one with weights and cardio machines, the other for pilates and classes. It had brand new equipment and basically everything you could need. Many 5 star resorts offer gyms with water views, but this one did not. Other than that, the design was ideal and included multiple options for workouts.
Overall, our experience was wonderful. We loved all of the amenities and activities that Hayman Island had to offer. The rooms are outstanding and lived up to expectations. The service was also exceptional. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful through out our stay. The facilities have a couple things that need revision, but were otherwise modern and luxurious. Having only been open for two months, we felt pleased with our time there and would highly recommend Hayman Island. We suggest visiting in the spring or summer for optimal weather conditions, so you can take full advantage of the resort amenities. Overall, a great experience in the Whitsundays.
Thank you Hayman Island and staff for a wonderful birthday trip!