Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Magnetic Island

last visited July 2016

Horseshoe Bay post sunset

Magnetic Island (Maggie) is 52 sq km in size - about 80% is covered by mountains and over half is National Park. Most non residential areas feature big granite boulders, eucalypt forest and hoop pines but there are small patches of rainforest in wetter areas and some mangroves on the western coast. 
It is a popular tourist location but over the years has become a commuter suburb of nearby Townsville and a popular retirement destination. As such it has a permanent population approaching 2500 plus many more holiday makers. The biggest town is Horseshoe Bay but Nelly Bay, the site of the newer harbour is more populous - over 1000 compared to 500 odd. Picnic Bay, the site of the original ferry pier and the earliest holiday accommodation is next at around 350 with Arcadia nudging 300. I'm not sure which place packs the most holidaymakers, but I'm thinking Nelly Bay may once again be #1 - there is a bunch of new holiday apartments around the harbour plus a hell of a lot of rental houses and other apartments available - many were built to accommodate construction workers when the new port was being built.
The above modified Google Earth image shows the one main road between Picnic Bay and Horseshoe Bay - plus the rather poorly surfaced "road" into the bays in the island's north east. I forgot to put a similar track which runs up the rather undeveloped west coast. Each town of course has a network of suburban streets.

Townsville is only 8km across Cleveland Bay - you can see why Maggie became an important defence position duiring WW2 - guns on the mountain tops could cover the approaches to this important army/navy city (top image stolen from Wikepedia)

Maggie and Townsville are well and truly in tropical North Queensland - about 1175km in a straight line from Brisbane (1350 by road) and 280 (350) from Cairns. As such it tends to be warm just about all year - you can only expect one or two days where temperatures are not up to the beach. Townsville claims to be one of the sunniest cities in Australia with over 300 days where Ol' Sol is dominant.

I won't enter the debate about which is the best beach on Maggie. This depends on the user. My personal favourite, BALDING, will not suit a lot of people on account you need a 40 minute trek to get there and it is clothing optional. 
I'm thinking the best beach for the average visitor is ALMA - it's attractive, has lots of facilities for picnickers etc, has a SURF CLUB fer those who are a bit nervous abt the water, tends to pick up a bit of south-easterly swell most days so you can actually body surf or board surf small waves a t times, has some snorkeling and dive sites and is easily accessed from all over Arcadia (walk) or from the nearby bus stop if coming from other areas. 
People who like big long beaches may prefer loooong HORSESHOE BAY which will also be #1 for water sports enthusiasts - there's a heap of equipment for hire. 
Lovers of the isolated deserted beach will either go for ROCKY BAY, or for the 4 OR SO SMALL BEACHES on the western half of the north coast - but I gotta tell you getting to them involves no small effort. A wild card may be the beach at WEST POINT on the west coast. Actually any of the beaches in the north-east of the island (see map down page) will suit isolated beaches fans who want to expend less effort.
Keen snorkelers may prefer FLORENCE BAY but if they want easier access from accommodation, ALMA and NELLIE may do the trick. NELLIE involves more swimming.
Divers don't tend to hang around on the beach, but I understand the top beach for diving is probably GEOFFREY which has the Molte wreck besides the usual coral reef. Quite a few other beaches have okay diving as do some non-beach sites around the island.


BALDING is a small (abt 250m long) islolated beach in the north-east of the island. The trek in is about 40 minutes from HORSESHOE BAY to the right-background. It is a clothing optional beach but on my many visits since the 80s "textiles" have outnumbered the naturists by a long shot. Naturists tend to gravitate towards the left eastern) side of the beach as per the above shot. The sand far left of image is part of larger HORSESHOE BAY - don't be tempted to try to short-cut across the headland - I did way back and it took twice the 40 minute walk on the dedicated walking tracks in this area. You are looking due south in this modified Google Earth image.
This area is in the MARINE NATIONAL PARK which means NO FISHING kemosabes.

BALDING from the eastern end. Large granite boulders with interspersed hoop pines make the headlands in this area pretty spectacular.

BALDING from the western end. Water shelves fairly slowly, no big waves or tricky currents. Good for families. Sheltered nature of these northern bays (including RADICAL) make them popular with Townsville and cruising boaties.

BALDING is one of several beaches in the bays of north-east Maggie. The other 3 can be reached by or from the rough road that goes from near the start of THE FORTS trekking trail just out of image at bottom. There is a good trekking track over the slopes between HORSESHOE BAY (top right of image) and RADICAL. A side track heads on down to BALDING.

RADICAL is a longer beach than BALDING - abt 400m. Because it can be accessed by vehicle (signs advise 4wd only but I saw some ordinary cars there) it tends to attract more people but I have never seen it busy. When I first visited Maggie there was a mid-range/backpacker resort in that cleared area behind beach but it has been absent my last 2 visits. That is FLORENCE BAY background left - took me 15 minutes to walk the steep in parts rough road from RADICAL

If you click-expand you will get a better appreciation of the granite boulder-hoop pine landscape around the beach. Water shelves slowly, making it kid friendly, as does lack of currents, tiny waves.

This 400m long beach is the northern-most of the east coast beaches but long headlands tend to protect it from the prevailing south-easterly trades so that conditions are usually pretty calm. Its easiest access is via a short walking track off the rough Radical Bay "road" towards the southern (left) end of the beach. 
When I called in it seemed to have more people than Radical, but still not crowded. Quite a few of them were snorkeling along a line of buoys which seemed to go down the edge of that reef right hand (northern) side of the bay. Printed island guides mention snorkeling trails set up at NELLIE and GEOFFREY BAYS further south - perhaps this is a new one at FLORENCE.
Divers will also find this area worthwhile.

FLORENCE BAY from the south end - low tide here suggesting the beach shelves slowly making it kid friendly. 

ARTHUR is about 1.3km south of FLORENCE. It is a smaller beach, just over 200m long. It too has reasonable coral and fish to check out by both snorkelers and divers on the right in image (northern) side. Divers also have the wreck of a steam dredge further out.
That white topped building behind the beach is THE BEACH HOUSE, a private dwelling which high-rollers can rent for holidays. Very flash. Dunno how they managed to get approval - National Park surrounds. This is also a MARINE NATIONAL PARK beach.
More than a few white granite boulders in this shot.

I didn't have time to do the 40 minute return walk from FLORENCE, but I later got this shot from the start of THE FORTS track. It shows THE BEACH HOUSE nicely.

This higher shot from one of the gun emplacements shows more of the beach. Can't account for the different colour of the sea - same camera, 30 minutes later. Um, maybe the cloud cleared and the higher angle reflects more of the sky.

Technically FLORENCE and ARTHUR are on the east coast - but I prefer to think of them as NORTH-EAST beaches. This leaves the ARCADIA BEACHES, GEOFFRY BAY, NELLIE BAY and ROCKY BAY on the lower half of the east coast.

It's my personal belief that Arcadia is the pick of Maggie locations for the average visitor. It has two beaches, one of which, ALMA, is one of the best on the island; heaps of holiday apartments/units - houses - a motel - a guesthouse/baclpackers'; a very nice pub mit pool and lots more, a small shopping center; some good trekking trails into the hills/mountains behind - and it's not very far from the ferry port.

This small beach (a bit less than 200m long) is the more northern of Arcadia's 2 beaches.
Snorkeling is okay on the right hand (in image) side of the bay. Diving is also pretty good - a guy at my backpackers' told me there are some easily accessed canyons here.
The building immediately behind the sand is the surf club. Adjacent lawns have picnic and BBQ facilities. The bigger building top left is the Arcadia Village Hotel which has an associated motel. Buses stop adjacent the pub giving this beach good access from all over the island. You are looking towards the west-north-west in this image.

Because it faces almost due south-east, ALMA picks up a bit of swell when the prevailing south-east trades are brisk. However the closeness of the Great Barrier Reef ensures these waves never get particularly big.

But if you have surf you must have a surf club. Somehow I don't think these guys do too many rescues. But surf clubs these days often seem more about the social life than saving lives.

This is the larger of Arcadia's 2 beaches - abt 1000m long - also in the MARINE NATIONAL PARK.. 
Tourist authorities have set up a snorkeling trail in the bay with surface and underwater buoys - a swim card detailing the route and what's there can be picked up ($5 donation) at Arcadia Newsagency and Pleasure Divers plus several non-Arcadia locations. 
The reef is a good area for divers, particularly around the wreck of the Molte. This is supposed to be an excellent night dive.
That's ALMA BAY top right.
You are looking almost due north in this image.

For those who like their beaches long and quiet, GEOFFREY will not disappoint. Personally I like more compact beaches and with not too many rocks/coral off the beach. Of course, keen snorkelers/divers have another reason for visiting this beach, as outlined up-page.

The beach here is the longest on the island, extending 1400m south from the harbour. The fringing reef is clearly visible in this shot - this is another area with a snorkeling trail. Nellid Bay distributors of these are Base Backpckers, Aquasearch Aquarium, Fishn N Fuel'n, Island Palms, M1 Post Office and Tropical Topless Cars.
Other Maggie distributors not already mentioned on this page include Foodworks at Horseshoe Bay and M.I. Arts Space at Picnic Bay.
The reef is a good area for divers.

Although longer, the beach here is very similar in character to NELLIE BAY.

This rather attractive beach is immediately south of NELLIE BAY - after you traverse the 300m section of rocks part seen on the far right. That makes access kinda tricky - another way in is to hike down from roughly the position of where I shot the pic immediately below. I could see a rough track - btw the slope was way steeper than appears in the shot (something to do with the focal length of my elcheapo Olympus pocket snapper). There is also a track down from BUTLER ST in PICNIC BAY.
This is a compact beach at 300m long.
That's PICNIC BAY township and beach on the far side of the ridge and the islands main road far right.
You are looking due west in this image.

I rock-hopped across from NELLIE in the late 90s, but was in no mood to do the same the latest 2016 visit - I'd been on my feet for over 7 hours on a multi-trek of the island's walking  tracks and beaches and you gotta cut this 70 yo geezer some slack. So I shot this one from a NO-NAME VIEWPOINT accessed via a short track off the main road across the headland between NELLY and PICNIC BAYS. 
Both passes-by saw no-one on the beach, a reflection of the difficult access, but this bay is a pretty popular call in for boaties from Townsville.

The southern end of the beach.
Notice there is not a lot of sand at highest tide - and this wasn't a time of king tides.

Just about the full expanse of the beach shot from the beginning of the rocks on the NELLIE BAY side - better seen if you click expand.
HAWKINGS POINT LOOKOUT is at the highest spot in backrgound.

Maggie is kinda heart shaped which means there is only room for one beach on the south coast.

This 650m long beach is divided by the original ferry pier - as can be seen it is only protected from the prevailing SE trades by Hawkings Point on the right, so that on days when the trade winds are up things could kinda rock and roll. I remember a pretty rough embarkation back in the 80s.
There is a swimming enclosure in summer and a surf club both just left (west) of the pier in this shot.
The beach itself is abt 650m long. You are looking north-west in this image.

The beach east of the pier. Looks a bit daggy at dead low tide. Kinda interesting - PICNIC BAY was the original picnic/holiday resort location on the island. People back then mustn't have liked traveling a bit further to find much better beaches.

West of the pier.

Maggie's west coast is not its strong point - lotsa mangroves (including both sides of that strip of sand near the 5km marker), not too much sand. On my first visit in the 80s I grabbed a bicycle in Picnic Bay and started to cycle the rough dirt track along the coast. I soon got bored and turned back.....

....but maybe too soon. Near the north-west corner is a small settlement (WEST POINT) with this okay-looking beach. Notice the mangroves bottom right and behind some sections of sand.
Anyway here's something else to check out on my next visit. Other things I need to do is walk some of the tracks haven't done on my 4 visits so far.

Maggie's north coast nearest camera (um, I think Google Earth actually uses satellite shots) - we are facing due south above.
From the left, we have already included the small RADICAL and BALDING bays' beaches in the NORTH-EAST section. To their right we have the very long HORSESHOE BAY and then starting from that big central headland, the 4 or 5 small very isolated beaches of the WESTERN HALF OF THE NORTH COAST.

The beach at RADICAL BAY is probably equal with ALMA as the island's most popular. It also is the longest at 3km. RADICAL also has the biggest hinterland area behind the beach, but there are more buidings at NELLY BAY.
There is a summer safe (from stingers) swimming enclosure. I read it is floodlit at night.
The north coast position and the two long bordering headlands make this bay very sheltered from the [revao;ong winds and there is always a bunch of yachts and cruisers at anchor. I got the impression some are call-ins on a coastal cruise, others are owned by Townsville residents.

The eastern quarter of RADICAL. This is another gently shelving beach. Note high tide doesn't leave a real lot of sand but Maggie like all of the central-north coast has a big tidal range (over 5m), which combined with a gently shelving bottom, means lotsa sand flats in certain areas exposed at lowest tide a good way into the bay. Very kid friendly.

Turn 180 degrees from the previous shot for the western 3/4 of RADICAL. This is one long beach.

Ignoring the very end of RADICAL far left, we have left to right strips of sand at MAUDE BAY, NORRIS BAY, JOYCE BAY, WILSON BAY and HUNTINGFIELD BAY. These are relatively small, varying in length from 400m to 80m.
They are also extremely isolated - there are no roads or even trekking tracks into this area. In the 90s I walked 2km+ along RADICAL, rock-hopped around the extensive headland (much bigger thtn it looks in this shot) and ended up at MAUDE BAY. The whole thing must have taken over 3 hours one way. MAUDE was real nice, completely deserted of course except for a turtle which was having a swim same time as me. Didn't carry a camera back then so I can't show any shots. Maybe if you are a keen kayaker you could hire one at RADICAL and paddle around. There are also yachts,paddle boards, jet skis etc to rent. I understand most around island boat tours call in.
These bays are also known for good diving with diving tours often calling in.

Maggie has some great treks and I spent much of my latest visit checking ones I hadn't done or re-doing others (this was my 5th Maggie visit).

2016 TREKS
Walks latest visit. Bit hard to see (same) main road carpark starting point for FORTS and the long NELLY BAY treks. Maybe if you click-expand.
Scale line top left is 5km long.

The most popular, most informative and equally most scenic on the island.
THE FORTS track leaves from a car park high on the main road between RADICAL BAY and the island's south.
I forgot to put a linear scale on the image - it's 600m between the placemarkers for FORTS' CIRCUIT and for FLORENCE BAY
This is a 2.8km return trip. You are probably looking at a 35 min walk each way but I spent over 2.5 hours all told on account of all the factual information and good viewpoints.

The Forts trailhead is at the carpark on the main ARCADIA to HORSESHOE BAY road. 
The track immediately across the road is the start of the trek across to NELLY BAY. There is a junction 1km along which leads down to ARCADIA. 
The road paralleling the main road lower right is the rough one into RADICAL BAY, via ARTHUR and FLORENCE BAYS. This would be an okay walk - I'll maybe do it next visit.
The bus in shot can get you to the CAR PARK from nearly all populated parts of the island. You can also walk up from HORSESHOE BAY BEACH in abt 30nins (2.2km) From ARCADIA takes around the same time using the main road from the ARCADIA PUB, maybe 10 minutes more if you use the bush tracks which meet up with the track emerging on the left (see map down page).

The first 450m to the water reservoir is up this sealed road - moderate slope at most. About half way up is a good viewpoint for ARTHUR BAY.

Past the reservoir the track narrows a bit, becomes sandy gravel (good underfoot/no steps) and has roughly the same gradient. This continues for abt 1km to the beginning of the FORTS CIRCUIT.
Along the way is interesting information about island geology/geography, flora/fauna, history both pre-war and military, the building of the forts and much more. I'm no nature/history/military buff but I found this fascinating. There are side tracks leading to the ruins (now just foundations) of the camp kitchen, officers' mess, females' sleeping quarters and more.

I also spotted this guy* track-side. Actually I heard him first - a kinda low grunting-growl. I think he was trying to tell me to get lost. * coulda been a gal.

Start of the 850m long FORTS' CIRCUIT. That's the Command Post top left.

The FORTS' CIRCUIT is a bit narrower and rougher underfoot and the first third has some steeper uphill sections/steps but these are not long enough to worry any but the very unfit. 

One of the first places reached at top is the mount for GUN 2. Pillbox at rear is part of secondary ammo store - main ammo dump down the hill away from incoming shells.

Command post

Commanders' view of Cape Cleveland to the south. Any Japanese ship sneaking into Cleveland Bay (the approach to Townsville) would be up for a hot time. In fact the only shot in anger during the war was at an American sub which forgot to transmit the code-word of the day.

SIGNALS POST from the COMMAND POST. Roof-top antenna is for modern communications.

Inside SIGNALS POST are more interesting information panels.


The high shot of ARTHUR BAY seen up page is from the COMMAND POST.

Layout of the forts area.
For scale it is 185m between the placemarks of "signals post" and "gun 2" at the top of image.

After the FORTS excursion I walked across the main road and took the well-signposted track heading south-west into the bush. This is a longer walk - my plan was to go right thru to the waterfront at Nelly Bay, abt 6.6km.

My start top right, finish bottom left.
 Note the WHITE line showing the track up from near the end of Endeavour Rd above ARCADIA. There is a viewpoint at the very top of Endeavour Rd. 
You can also come up from Arcadia by taking the BLUE track from the main road part way up the hill. In the 80s I would run up here and continue the circuit to NELLY BAY and back to my digs in ARCADIA via themain road. I seem to remember it took me abt an hour - but seeing we are talking over 10km, maybe that's a rosy memory. Then again, I was a keen runner in those days. These days bad knees preclude running on bush tracks - my (way shorter) walk from carpark to Nelly Bay seafront took just over 2.5 hours

 SECTION 1  – 1km/25mins.
The FORTS carpark and ARCADIA TRACK INTERSECTION are roughly equal in height at 120m/400ft but the track undulates  – slopes never get above moderate and the surface is good with no roots or tricky rocks. I can’t remember any steps. The vegetation is dry eucyalyptus forest - typical Aussie bush, Nice.
I saw more people on this short 1km section than the rest of my walk. I got the impression a lot of people come up on the branch tracks from ARCADIA to do the super popular FORTS WALK.

Track junction at the end of section 1. I had come in on the track top left, would continue bottom left (past my backpack) - branch to ARCADIA bottom right.

SECTION 2 – abt 2.8km/60mins.  
At first you climb a bit but (moderate slopes) then traverse across the ridge with tree/rock filtered views of HORSESHOE BAY. Gently undulating across here – other slopes never too steep. Surface/vegetation mostly similar to section 1.

For the 10 to 15 minutes across the side of the ridge I must have taken a dozen pics of RADICAL BAY - but there were always trees and rocks which stopped a completely unobstructed shot. This was the best I got - and then I had to bush-bash considerably off the track.

SECTION 3 –  Abt1.8km/40mins
The track turns left (south) and drops down a gully towards NELLY BAY. Steepest section of the trek – unfit people walking the other way may need a few breathers. Surface rougher with more roots, scattered rocks and step-downs, but not too difficult. Vegetation reflects wetter gully microclimate  – even some small patches of rainforest.

Steepest slopes** on my route and most difficult underfoot but neither too bad.
**you may point out I was goiig down hill - but my knees HATE down hills.

SECTION 4 – A straight 1km/20min stroll slightly downhill along MANDALAY AVE to NELLY BAY waterfront. . If you are tired you may luck in (modern idiom is "LUCK OUT" - that makes no sense) in on a passing bus which runs most of this distance – but only every 40/60mins.

Finish of bush section 3/start of street walk 4 here at the very top of Mandalay Ave. If walking the other way don't be tempted to take the wider dirt track out of frame to left of zebra barrier.

Finish of section 4 at the waterfront near NELLY BAY harbour. Check the relatively new holiday apartments in the harbour precinct.

WALKING – turn left at the waterfront, take the main road past the harbour, over the hill to ARCADIA (the scenic GABUL WAY “boardwalk” (metal) does this), along the beach to near the pub. From here you can either:  A - hike up the fairly steep highway to the FORTS CARPARK. (4.3km/60mins total).  B - hike part way up the highway and take the signposted track (the BLUE track in the map above) and then turn right at the main track for the carpark. Maybe add 500m/10mins.   C - find your way to near the end of ENDEAVOUR ROAD north-west of the pub where a track  (WHITE above) goes up and joins the track in B. Apparently there is a good viewpoint along here. Abt same kms/mins as B.
THE EASY WAY: walk a couple of hundred meters across to the harbour terminal and jump on the next bus to HORSESHOE BAY which will let you off at the CARPARK.
Better still, get off at ARCADIA PUB, have a well earned beer and then get the next bus up the hill to the carpark.

Me? I walked across to the harbour and jumped on the next bus to PICNIC BAY. I still wanted to get some beach pix of PICNIC and ROCKY BAYS as shown up page and do the rather good trek up to the great VIEWPOINT on HAWKING POINT (see below).

This is a great little walk. It takes you up to a viewing platform on a big granite boulder at the highest part of HAWKING POINT, the headland between PICNIC and ROCKY BAYS. Views which are arguably better than from the forts are the reward.

This short (less than 500m one way/15 mins) trek starts at a parking area at the top of PICNIC ST - the start is only 750m from the pier and pub in PICNIC BAY. That's part of ROCKY BAY beach top right.

The short track has a mixture of slopes from flat thru moderate to fairly steep but never reaches properly steep. The above is typical of the surface - some rocks, step-ups (no close spaced stairs from memory), a few roots but never particularly difficult underfoot.

ROCKY and NELLY BAYS to the north. 

PICNIC BAY to the west.

TOWNSVILLE across CLEVERLAND BAY to the south-west.

When I came down from the viewpoint I took the main road over the headland to NELLLY BAY (there is a very short bush track near the top which leads to probably the best overview of ROCKY BAY - see pic up page), caught a bus up to the harbour and walked 300m to the start of the headland over to GEOFFREY BAY in order to walk the new GABUL WAY adjacent the main road. 

This new metal "boardwalk" runs on the sea side of the main road across the headland between NELLIE and GOEFFREY BAYS - distance 1km/abt 20 mins+stops
There is also the old HERITAGE TRACK which goes across higher on the headland to the left of the main road. I din't have time to do it.

Slopes moderate at most. A short, easy and scenic walk.

There are outrigger viewing platforms every 200m or so. Some good headland, ocean and beach vistas along here. Above is the beach along GEOFFREY BAY to the ARCADIA HEADLAND.
Pic kinda dull - fairly late in the day and getting ready to rain.

After leaving the "boardwalk" I trudged along the beach to ALMA BAY out of sight behind the lowest part of the far headland, snapped the pix up-page and then jumped on a bus for my backpackers' digs at HORSESHOE BAY.

I did these several times on earlier days of my stay on account they lead across to my favourite beaches.

HORSESHOE at left, BALDING top and RADICAL right. Stages 1 and 2 are about equal: 800m/15 mins each. Stage 3 slightly longer - add say 5 mins.

STAGE 1 - 450m/12 mins.
First time may be a bit tricky finding the trailhead:
Best bet is to head east on RADICAL BAY BEACH for about 300m past the end of the beachfront esplanade and take the track up on the far side of the eastern-most house (note these houses don't have a road - all have 4wds for beach access). 
This can be a bit difficult around the highest tides in the month - you may have to wade across those wet spots on the sand. 

There is an alternative track behind the beach which leaves from the end of the suburban street (Henry Lawson St) behind the beachfront esplanade (may be clearer if you click-expand).

Once on stage 1 you soon begin to climb into the heights between the bays. Slopes here vary from moderate thru fairly steep to a very short section of properly steep. The last few minutes at top is fairly flat going. Underfoot is pretty good - a few granite step ups (no sustained stairways from memory) and few scattered rocks or tree roots. Nice eucalyptus forest along here.

STAGE 2 - 450m/12 mins
Turns left at the signpost for BALDING BAY. The track is fairly flat for a few minutes and then begins to drop to the beach. Slopes never get above fairly steep (easy going down except if you have bad knees etc - not too bad coming up). The surface becomes more difficult - plenty of big/medium/small rocks and boulders scattered across the path and no shortage of tree roots. However this is not a nasty track tp walk.
As bad as it gets.

STAGE 3 - 550m/15 mins
This is a continuation of STAGE 1 and is very similar - a bit longer, goes a bit higher, maybe a bit rougher and steeper in parts.
This dude was goofing off in a trackside tree.

This is an easy one - a 400m track off the main road into HORSESHOE BAY only 300m from the beach. I did it in a spare 20 minutes I had after breakfast my last day - my backpacker's joint was just out of shot bottom right. Unfortunately the track does not continue around the lagoon. And some dude has built a house north of the one closest the trail and fenced the southern (lower) part of the lagoon approaches, so you can't venture down there. I think there may be access to the western part of the lagoon (far left in image) from streets across there.

The trailhead - behind you have a narrow, flat, easy underfoot track with similar vegetation.

From the end of the track it is a bit hard to see the whole lagoon. I have an idea there is another track at the far (western) side - this may afford a wider view. 
Twitchers note - this is apparently an important bird breeding area in the wet season - was pretty quiet half way thru the dry.

One place, two names. This was where I stayed latest trip - and once before early this century. Not because I think it the best backpackers' on the island but because its location on the island's main road only 400m from Horseshoe Bay beach is close to the track across to my favourite beaches in the north-east of the island. 
The joint is not just for backpackers. There seemed to be a considerable number of families, one Japanese student group - plus quiet a few grey nomads (Aussie retirees taking advantage of the camping and van sites).

Camping and van areas mean quite significant open space, but sections around the bungalows are nicely landscaped

Night lighting nicely highlighs landscaping

There are two sizable areas for tents (a slight slope but not too bad) and.....

....several sections for campervans. About half a dozen sites have leveling pads. 
Note the wild-life lower right. Lots of wallabies hopping around plus.....

....no shortage of these little devils (possums) particularly where there is food. Don't feed them, don't leave food unattended for a second, store it on the camp kitchen shelves or some other place they can't reach, don't touch them (they are nasty little buggers and have sharp teeth).
There's also a bunch of what I call squealer** birds walking around on their unusually long legs . They are good food scroungers too but not brazen thieves like the possums.
**at night they start squealing like someone having their throat cut.

If animals in the wild are not enough for you, the joint has this KOALA SANCTUARY in the south-east corner. Here you can not only cuddle koalas (careful - they have sharp claws and a propensity to crap on people) but hold a python, check out other snakes + a croc and feed some nice birds. I've seen plenty of these in the wild and gave it a miss but the place was very popular with guests and outsiders despite the $29 entrance fee.

Lounging area greets you on arrival. Reception counter rear right. Bar rear center (this is a YHA affiliated place - as such it does not have the booze-ban of straight YHA joints). 
There is no restaurant but the bar can do pizzas, toasted sandwiches and similar - very popular.
Lack of restaurant no real problem - seafront esplanade starting 400m north has plenty of good value meal places, And of course you can cook your own stuff up in the camp kitchen.

Nice pool area adjacent lounging-bar area.

Chez tezza,

Indside pretty neat - beds comfy and sturdy, enough room for 3 people and gear. HB YHA also has 8 person huts plus flasher cabins for couples.

Tezza goes for the artistic shot.

In all, HORSESHOE BAY YHA was a pretty good place. But not perfect. The perimeter lighting at the otherwise okay shower-toilet-laundry block was poor in spots hiding a few important steps on the path, there were not enough cooking pots etc in the busy camp kitchen and not enough undercover eating places outside (it rained 3 days of my stay, fairly uncommon for Maggie, particularly in dry season). There was a lack of dining plates etc too but this was because reception will provide a dining kit for a small deposit**- something that was not explained to me on book in. Fortunately I had my own dining kit from camping on Frazer and Dunk Islands.
**good idea - ensures people wash their stuff up.

I have done 5 holidays on Maggie - stayed in a holiday apartment at ARCADIA in the mid-80s, a holiday house (actually a modest place built for construction workers for the new harbour) in NELLY BAY a few years later, a backpackers' joint which no longer exists at RADICAL BAY in the late 90s and another RADICAL backpackers' twice this century including latest trip.
Seems like I favour RADICAL - but I gotta say the proximity of the trailhead to my favourite north-east beaches colours my choice. 
Thing is after my latest visit I reckon the island bus service is so good the above is not an issue.  I feel that maybe you should choose the most attractive accommodation you fancy and go for it no-matter where it is located.
Note that if you stay in PICNIC BAY and a lot of  NELLY BAY you will have to change buses (if you haven't alternative transport) at the harbour to reach places north. Not a deal breaker for me.
If I'm traveling solo next visit, I'm planning to stay at BASE BACKPACKERS' on the rocks between NELLY and ROCKY BAYS. Looked pretty nice to me and gets good reviews.

PICNIC BAY - has become a bit of a backwater since the new harbour was opened. Still has a bunch of accommodation places and a good pub.

NELLY BAY has the harbour, bus interchange, the most people, the most businesses and the most accommodation, particularly recently built accommodation around the harbour. It has the biggest supermarket, an IGA at the harbour and also a FOODLANDS a bit south.
You are looking due north in this modified GOOGLE EARTH image.

ARCADIA - I think if I had Lady Tezza (she doesn't like backpackers') with me and found a competitively priced place here (and there is no shortage) I'd go for it. Arcadia's ALMA BAY is one of the best beaches on the island, the pub is a good one with lotsa meal deals and a nice pool, and Arcadia is pretty central - not too far to the harbour, good treks, other nice beaches etc.

HORSESHOE BAY - has a great little strip of businesses in back of the beach towards the eastern end which includes some accommodation places, a pub, some bars and restaurant/cafes competing like mad for the tourist dollar meaning some attractive deals. Seems to be the place day-trippers from Townsville gravitate towards the end of the day.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! - that's what the realters banging on about. This ice cream joint adjacent the bus stop seems to have been paying attention

With so many commuters and day trippers, Maggie has a very good ferry service.

A SEALINK passenger ferry loading at NELLY BAY pier. Trip duration 20-25 mins leaving every 45-60 mins. They depart from Townsville's river pier which is a nice 15min walk from the CBD (frequent buses too). ferry timetable

You can also bring your vehicle across.

SUNBUS run a fairly frequent and inexpensive service linking all towns (except tiny WEST POINT) on the island. Daily multi-use tickets are good value for the island explorer.
You can also hire cars, vans, mopeds and bicycles - there are outlets at the harbour precinct and elsewhere.

Maggie must have the world's biggest surviving stock of MINI MOKES (those Aussie produced small jeeps on a Mini 850 platform). When I first visited in the late 80s I hired one and latest visit they are still around. As they wear out (the last one was built in '81) the need for open air motoring (the above one has its roof up on account it was threatening to rain) has been met by converting small  DAIHATSU HATCHBACKS (abt 3 generations old) into cabriolets. 

Have a good visit gang.