Our Complete Guide to Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island, or Maggie as the locals call it, is a little piece of paradise just 20 minutes off the coast of Townsville, Northern Queensland. With twenty-three beautiful sandy bays, coral reefs, and a huge population of koalas, it’s a surprise Magnetic Island has somehow remained a hidden gem after all these years.

The first time I visited Magnetic Island was during my backpacking trip around Australia many moons ago (2003 if I am not mistaken). What I remembered of the island then, were the incredible deserted beaches and walking so much that my feet were covered in blisters.

Beautiful Magnetic Island
Beautiful Magnetic Island

A few weeks ago, Simon announced that he had to visit the island for work. Working on a tropical island kind of sucked for him but it was good for me! I decided I was going to tag along and explore while he worked. It’s a hard life for some of us I suppose!

I can now report that Magnetic Island has changed a little in the last 19 years. But some things didn’t change; the beaches are still absolutely breathtaking, and I once again walked so many miles that I was covered in blisters!

Horseshoe Bay Magnetic Island
Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island

If you are planning a trip to Maggie, read on for our complete guide to exploring this Queensland gem.

How long should you stay on Magnetic Island?

On my first visit to Magnetic Island, I stayed for 3 days. This time around, I spent 4 days on there and did not get bored. There is so much to do and although many people only do a day trip from Townsville, I highly recommend staying at least a night or two to see more of what the island has to offer.

The Sealink ferry to magnetic island
The Sealink ferry to magnetic island

How to get to Magnetic Island?

Magnetic Island is just off the coast of Townsville. You can fly directly into Townsville Airport, or, depending on where you are coming from, you can drive.  Flights are quick; 2 hours from Brisbane, 2 hours, 45 minutes from Sydney or 3 hours from Melbourne.

Once in Townsville airport, it’s a quick 10-minute taxi ride to the Magnetic Island ferries. The taxi fare is approximately $20. Uber is also available in Townsville.

Townsville City Shuttle also operates from the airport to the Ferry Terminal and costs $10 for one person or $15 for a couple.

There are two types of ferry going to the island. There’s the Magnetic Island car ferry if you are bringing your own car, or the Sealink Passenger Ferry if not.

The cost to bring your own car is $216 return, so we wouldn’t recommend doing this unless you are staying at least a couple of days. Car hire is available on the island. The adult passenger return fare on the Sealink Passenger Ferry is $34. However, you’ll need to purchase your tickets online to get those prices. Prices are a little bit higher if purchased at the terminal.

The walking path from Nelly Bay to Picnic Bay

How to get around in Magnetic Island?

Although the island is quite small, the easiest way to explore it is by car. If you haven’t brought your own car with you, there are a few car rentals on the island.

The most popular cars to rent on Maggie are the Tropical Topless Carswhich look like a Barbie convertible. However, a few roads on the island can only be accessed by 4WD (including the road to West Point), so consider that also. There are car hire places across from the ferry but we would recommend booking prior to arrival.

The views you get when you walk!

If you don’t feel comfortable driving, you can also catch the public Sunbus. Click here for fares, schedules and more information. If you are going to use the bus more than twice in a day, it is cheaper to get a day pass which is $7.60.

And of course, walking is a good way to explore the island; just bring comfy shoes!!

What to do on Magnetic Island?

You are absolutely spoiled with how much there is to see and do on Magnetic Island! If you enjoy the outdoors, wildlife, swimming, and snorkelling, then Magnetic Island will blow you away. Here is a list of all the wonderful things you can do while visiting Maggie!

The view from the snorkelling trail in Nelly Bay

Snorkelling

Magnetic Island is located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, so you can’t go there and not snorkel. There are two snorkelling trails right off the beach that you can easily follow on your own, one in Geoffrey Bay and one in Nelly Bay, right next to the Base Backpackers.

If you don’t have your own snorkelling gear, they can easily be rented on the island. You can also pick up a swim card with the trail details from one of the many retail outlets. These cards have useful information about the coral and fish you will see.

Other than the two snorkelling trails, I found the snorkelling in Florence Bay and Arthur Bay to be fantastic as well. The coral was especially nice in Arthur Bay, and I even saw a turtle. Florence Bay has many huge fish, white tip reef sharks and stingrays.

Magnetic Island
The view from the Fort Walk

Tackle the Fort Walk

For the best views across Magnetic Island and the chance to see a koala, the Fort Walk is a must. This walk starts at the Forts Walk carpark on Horseshoe Bay Road. There is a bus stop if you are using public transport.

It’s a very popular walk which leads up to some historic World War II fortifications and bunkers. The best views of the island are from the top of the large fortifications, which are accessible by ladder. 

The Forts Walk is also one of the best places on the island to spot the resident Koalas. We were told by locals that if we didn’t see a koala on this walk, we were either blind or not looking hard enough. They weren’t wrong, as about halfway to the top we saw a group of people pointing their zoom lenses up to the treetops. Funnily enough, a large koala was nearby, snoozing high up in the tree.

Magnetic Island
A snoozing koala

Visit the Rock Wallabies

You might have spotted koalas on the Fort Walk; Geoffrey Bay will guarantee you sightings of many small Rock Wallabies who live in the rocky hillside on the northeast headland.

A cheeky Rock Wallaby

The best time to see them is around 5.00PM in the afternoon or at sunset. The Rock Wallabies are right near the carpark so it’s super easy to see them and you don’t have to walk far. You are not supposed to feed them, however there were many people feeding them carrots and apples, which is probably why they turn up every night.

Magnetic Island

Take a boat trip with Aquascene

Another way to see the beauty of Magnetic Island is by taking a boat trip with Aquascene. Aquascene will take you to several of the island’s secluded bays and beaches where you can swim, snorkel, or paddle board.

Magnetic Island
My boat trip with Aquascene
View of Orchid Rocks from the Aquascene
Another stunning view from the boat

I took their half day discovery tour which is their most popular tour. All tours are different and depend on the weather and water conditions. The tour I joined started with a snorkel in Arthur Bay, then one in Florence Bay and ended up going all around the island and visiting the 5 bays on the northern side of the island. I had an amazing morning with Aquascene and I highly recommend seeing the island from the water with them.

Florence Bay, Magnetic Island
Florence Bay, Magnetic Island

Take a hike to Balding and Radical Bay

Hiking to a remote beach is always rewarding, especially when you can take a dip in crystal clear water upon arrival. One of the most popular hikes to do near Horseshoe Bay is the hike to Balding and Radical Bay. Both bays are spectacular and almost deserted.

Radical Bay Magnetic Island
Radical Bay, Magnetic Island

The walk down Balding Bay is a little harder than to Radical Bay, but I’d recommend doing both as both bays are worth the detour. Bear in mine that Balding Bay is a nudist beach, however you don’t have to go nude if you want to swim there.

Magnetic Island
The view at Hawking’s Point

Check out the view at Hawking’s Point

The track to Hawking’s Points starts at the eastern end of Picnic Street in Picnic Bay and follows a path that winds around large granite boulders and Hoop Pines to the top of a massive fenced boulder. There, you can enjoy spectacular views over the island and all the way south to Cape Cleveland and west to Townsville. Hawking’s Point is one of the best places to watch sunrise on Magnetic Island.

Magnetic Island
The Picnic Bay Pier

Take a walk along the Picnic Bay Pier

After your walk to Hawking’s Point, don’t forget to check out the iconic Pier of Picnic Bay. Take a stroll along the pier and look out for marine life. If you are lucky, you may spot a turtle or a dugong. The pier is a good spot to snorkel but also a very popular spot for fishing.

And of course, you need the obligatory under the pier shot!

Magnetic Island
One of the beautiful views from the Nelly Bay to Arcadia hike

Hike from Nelly Bay to Arcadia

If you are an early riser and enjoy a good hike, the Nelly Bay to Arcadia hike is great exercise! It’s a nine-kilometre loop that passes through a vine-thicket pocket, climbs gradually to the saddle between Nelly and Horseshoe Bays and then follows a ridge with views over Horseshoe Bay. The track then branches, with one track leading to Arcadia Bay and the other to Horseshoe Bay Road, where you can continue to other tracks.

It is best to start early because it gets hot and sweaty. Be prepared and make sure you bring a lot of water with you.

Radical Bay

Relax on the beach

There isn’t any shortage of beaches on Magnetic Island, so take your pick. Alma Bay is the most popular swimming beach and it’s easy to see why. It’s stunning, patrolled and it has very easy access with a bus stop right next door.

However, if you’d rather have a beach more to yourself, you will need to hike a bit for it. Florence Bay, Radical Bay, Balding Bay and Arthur Bay are all a hike away from the main road but once there you won’t regret it. As mentioned earlier, Florence Bay and Arthur Bay are also great for snorkelling.

Arthur bay, Magnetic Island
Arthur Bay

Of course, there are many more, Picnic Bay, Nelly Bay, Rocky Bay, Geoffrey Bay, Horseshoe Bay. And the best part is that they are all absolutely stunning. So, as I said take your pick! Or, if you have time, try them all and choose your favourite.

A Bush-stone Curlew

Lookout for birdlife

Magnetic island is heaven for wildlife. Besides the Koalas and Rock Wallabies, you will likely spot a lot of birdlife as well. The Island is home to over 186 types of birds including Blue-winged Kookaburras, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Brahminy Kites and the island’s iconic Bush-stone Curlew. These birds make a lot of noise and I personally loved hearing the sound of the birds every time I went for a walk. The sounds of the Curlews and Kookaburras are especially worth hearing!

Sunset at Horseshoe Bay , Magnetic Island
Sunset at Horseshoe Bay

Sunset at Horseshoe Bay

There are two spots on the island to watch the sunset. One, West Point, is on the western side of the island but it is only accessible by 4WD. The other is Horseshoe Bay which is the most popular spot thanks to its easy accessibility. Watching the sunset from this big sandy bay amongst the palm trees was certainly a beautiful end to the day.

The Marina next to Peppers Blue on Blue

Where to stay?

Peppers Blue on Blue

Peppers Blue on Blue is right next to the ferry terminal in Nelly Bay and has a variety of rooms, including resort-style suites and 1, 2 and 3-bedroom apartments. Some offer beautiful marina and mountain views. Each room is equipped with an ensuite bathroom, private balcony, and flat-screen TV. The resort features a large outdoor swimming pool and a day spa offering an extensive menu of treatments. Find their latest prices here.

Tropical Palms Resort & 4WD Hire 

Just 200 m from Picnic Bay Beach, Tropical Palms Inn offers air-conditioned rooms with a kitchenette and a private balcony or courtyard. Facilities include an outdoor swimming pool and a barbecue area set in lovely gardens. The very friendly owners at the tour desk can book fishing and sailing trips around the island. The resort also features laundry facilities, car rental and a safety deposit box. Free parking is available on site. Find their latest prices here.

Base Backpackers Magnetic Island

Base Backpackers Magnetic Island hostel is situated on the beach and right next to one of the snorkelling trails. The Base Backpackers Hostel dorm and private double rooms are cleaned daily, with all beds made up with fresh clean linen. Find their latest prices here.

Bungalow Bay Koala Village 

Bungalow Bay Koala Village is 5 minutes’ walk from Horseshoe Bay and the beach. It showcases open-air building designs and communal spaces for guests. Daily wildlife tours are conducted on site with onsite rangers offering an educational experience with Australian wildlife at Bungalow Bay Koala Village. Free bird feeding is offered daily is. Find their latest prices here.

Other Accommodation

If none of those work for you, use the search box below to search across all the major accommodation websites.

Geoffrey Bay

Where to eat?

Mamma Roma

This is a great little restaurant in Picnic Bay with delicious authentic Italian food. It’s a lovely setting with an undercover and an open seating area and it’s just over the road from the beach. It’s good value with delicious pizzas, pasta dishes, and antipasto. BYO alcohol but soft drinks are available to purchase and there is a bottle shop just 2 minutes walk away.

The Early Bird

This is a popular place, situated right on the beachfront in Horseshoe Bay. If you’re after some yummy food and great coffee to start your day, The Early Bird should be on your list.

Scallywags Café

Scallywags Cafe is in the very heart of Nelly Bay and offers delicious healthy meals and fairtrade coffees in a fun-filled, family-friendly atmosphere with a theatrical pirate crew.

Barefoot Art Food and Wine

Overlooking beautiful Horseshoe Bay, Barefoot restaurant offers visitors a relaxed, mouth-watering dining experience, and a wine list that will please even the most discerning palette.

A beautiful banyan tree in Picnic bay

SOS – Stuffed on Seafood

This is the place to come for the best seafood on the island. On the menu are fresh and affordable fish & chips, oysters, lobsters, sashimi, calamari, prawns, and everything in between!

Choose to dine in or take away and check out their great value seafood packs to get a taste of everything. It gets packed, so be prepared to wait.

Saltwater Restaurant

If you are after fine dining, Saltwater is one of the best places to eat on the island. They offer modern Australian & Asian fusion, with a focus on quality poultry and fresh seafood. Book ahead.

Smugglers Wine Bar

This little wine bar is very popular with locals and tourists alike. The bar offers up something a little different, with a selection of interesting and delicious tapas dishes, craft beers and quality wines, all which can be enjoyed on the peaceful front deck. The owner is super friendly and will tell you many stories.

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Our Complete Guide to Magnetic Island Our Complete Guide to Magnetic Island

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