When we decided to do a road trip around Queensland, Australia, that was because I have a friend who has been living on Magnetic Island for a few years now and so a visit was in order.
While I was doing my research, it seemed that Magnetic Island wasn't as well-known as some of the other Queensland islands but I can tell you now: it's worth a visit.
There are so many things to do on Magnetic Island that our long weekend there wasn't enough to cover them all. Luckily, my friend told us all about them.
- About Magnetic Island
- Things to do on Magnetic Island
- Taking the ferry to Magnetic Island
- Magnetic Island accommodation
- How to get around Magnetic Island
- Magnetic Island tours from Townsville
- The best time to visit Magnetic Island
- Made on Magnetic Island
About Magnetic Island
So where is Magnetic Island exactly? Well, it lies about 20 minutes by boat from the coast of Townsville in Queensland, Australia.
The population of Magnetic Island might only count around 2,000 human inhabitants, but the island is home to the biggest concentration of koalas in the whole of Australia.
27 km² of the 52 km²-large island is a national park and bird sanctuary and boasts refreshing clear waters, hikes that take you to secluded bays, and amazing sunsets – among many other things.
So why is it called Magnetic Island? That's because of the magnetic effect it had on the compass of Captain James Cook when he sailed passed it in 1770. Weirdly enough, research done since hasn't shown anything that could explain the effect.
Locals, by the way, will often speak of “Maggie Island”, “Maggie”, “Maggie Isle” or “The Island”.
The history of Magnetic Island didn't start with Cook, though. The Aboriginal Wulgurukaba people or “canoe people” have been living on what they call Yunbenun for thousands of years but there are only a few of them left now.
When the port of Townsville was built in 1870, more and more Europeans started moving to Magnetic Island, forcing the Wulgurukaba off their traditional lands. The Aboriginals lost access to a lot of their traditional food sources and became victims of diseases brought by the Europeans.
In the 1920s and 1930s they were forced to go live in missions on the mainland. Only a few of them managed to stay on the island and only a few of them have since returned.
Things to do on Magnetic Island
There are not many places in the world where you can spot WW2 relics and koalas at the same time, but the 4-km Forts Walk is one of them. This exceptionally scenic trail winds along the island’s bays, offering up panoramic views of its abundant natural beauty. Make sure you take your camera because these are once in a lifetime vistas.
As the name suggests, the Forts Walk takes you past some of the island’s forts that were built and operated during the Second World War. The juxtaposition of these historical relics against such a beautiful, natural backdrop makes for strange yet unique viewing.
Once you’ve explored the forts, cast your eyes to the trees and seek out the dozing koalas. During the day, koalas find a comfortable branch and nap with their bodies resting against the trunk of the tree.
The entire walk takes about an hour and a half and the trail starts on Horseshoe Bay Road. It is generally considered better to do the walk earlier in the morning before it gets too hot. You’ll then have the rest of the day to cool off by taking a swim in the sea or finding a shady patch to chill with a beer.
2. Go snorkeling in clear waters
There are plenty of places to go snorkeling on Magnetic Island and if you grab a map of Magnetic Island at the ferry terminal, the best Magnetic Island snorkeling places will be indicated on it. Plus, the map is waterproof so you can take it swimming with you!
Aside from those spots, there's also an underwater snorkeling route you can follow. Magnetic Island is actually located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, so as you can imagine the snorkeling here is utterly sublime. As you swim you will notice white buoys in the water, which outline the trail.
There are two particularly popular trails. The easier of the two is found just off Nelly Bay. This snorkel trail is great for beginners as it isn’t too deep and doesn’t require too much swimming.
The second trail is found off Geoffrey Bay and is further out to sea. While the second trail affords more opportunities for spotting colorful fish and coral, you’ll need to swim a bit more to get there.
Other popular areas to snorkel include Florence Bay, Alma Bay, and the mysterious Yongala Wreck. If you really want to feel like you’re on an adventure, Yongala Wreck is a great spot to visit. It is considered by divers to be one of the best dive sites in the world, so if you can dive even better. Nonetheless, it is still very cool to snorkel here.
3. Have a chill afternoon at the beach
Of course, one of the best things to do on Magnetic Island is chill out at the beach. Florence Bay and Radical Bay are often hailed as two of the best spots to kick back and do nothing on the beach. Both of them require a bit of walking to get to, but it is well worth it and because they are less accessible than some of the other beaches, they are often completely empty.
If you want pure, unadulterated beauty then head over to Balding Bay. Just like the other bays I’ve mentioned, it is not the easiest to access, but, once again, it is absolutely worth it. You can easily spend a whole afternoon here soaking up the sun and enjoying the sound of the water lapping the shore.
It is worth stating that Magnetic Beach does have a problem with Box Jellyfish, one of the deadliest creatures in the world. However, there are some places where your chances of encountering one are extremely low, such as the beach at Alma Bay. If you’re concerned about going in the water, grab yourself a stinger suit for protection and listen to what the lifeguard says.
For the ultimate chilled afternoon, pack yourself a picnic to take to the beach. That way, you don’t have to leave in search of food and you really can spend all afternoon there.
4. Go horse riding
Yes, you can go horse riding on Magnetic Island! This is a completely magical experience that takes you from the rugged bush all the way down to the beach. There are horses to suit every competency level so it doesn’t matter if you have never ridden a horse in your life – you can still join in and have lots of fun.
The standout moment for most people who go on a horse riding expedition is the bare-back riding through the water. At certain points the horses are submerged up to their necks in the warm, sparkling water.
The horse riding tours on Magnetic Island usually last about two hours. During this time, you will see some of the island’s best bits, including parts you might not be able to access by foot. With the horse doing the hard work for you, you are free to enjoy the scenery and keep an eye out for koalas and wallabies lounging in the trees.
5. Walk up to the SS City of Adelaide shipwreck
In 2018, the SS City of Adelaide shipwreck became Australia.com’s most-liked Instagram post, raking in almost 200,000 likes. And, if you go and see the wreck in the flesh you’ll quickly see why it garnered such attention.
The wreck is situated in Cockle Bay, roughly 30 0m from the shore. The top of the ship only just protrudes from the water and it is surrounded by lush mangroves, making it supremely picturesque.
When it is low tide, you can walk from the beach to the wreck and explore it – but be sure to get back to the beach before the tide comes in or you will have to swim back. If you don’t have time to wait for the tide to go out there are plenty of viewing points that offer an aerial view of the SS City of Adelaide.
6. See a sunset
Does anyone dislike sunsets? I highly doubt it. No matter where you are in the world, sunsets are always beautiful. However, not all sunsets were created equally. Some are of such distinct beauty that they stay with you forever – and not just because you took a million photos of it.
Magnetic Island is home to these kinds of sunsets. Sunsets you will be telling your grandchildren about in 50 years’ time. But, the question is: where is the best place to view this natural phenomenon?
The answer is that you should go to Horseshoe Bay or West Point if you want to see a gorgeous sunset. There are places around these areas where you can grab a drink to keep you hydrated while you ogle the vivid oranges and pinks that paint the sky while the sun descends behind the horizon.
7. Visit the Koala Sanctuary
While the Forts Walk is known to offer good chances of spotting a koala, it's not a guarantee that you'll actually see one and when you do, it might be high up in a tree or a bit hidden behind leaves.
If you want to see them up close and learn about them, go visit the Koala Sanctuary close to Horseshoe Bay. Plus, to make the experience even more special, you’ll get to give a koala a cuddle and take home a photo of you and your new best pal.
The Koala Sanctuary on Magnetic Island is linked to the Magnetic Island YHA so you’ve got somewhere to crash after your day playing with the koalas.
8. Go diving
I’ve already mentioned Yongala Wreck as being one of the best dive sites in the world, but that is far from the only place to get your dive on around Magnetic Island. The Platypus Wreck at Florence Bay and the Moltke Wreck at Geoffrey Bay are also popular dive sites and are home to vivid corals and plenty of gorgeous fish.
If it’s your first time diving or you simply want to take it easy, Nelly Bay is a great spot. The reef here is covered with multi-colored coral and the site is accessible via the beach so you don’t need to spend time out on a boat. This patch is known as the Coconut Reef.
There are several dive shops on the island, but I recommend doing your research before you go so you know which one will best suit your needs.
9. Join rock wallabies for dinner
Wallabies are adorable and if you have never seen one in the flesh you are in for a real treat during your trip to Magnetic Island. Of course, there is never a guarantee that you will spot any form of wildlife, but it is pretty likely that you will cross paths with at least one rock wallaby during your stay on the island.
One of the most popular activities on Magnetic Island is to go feed the rock wallabies. You can buy special pellets designed for wallabies at most convenience stores in the area. Otherwise, you can feed the wallabies carrots or apples. It is important to take note of what you cannot feed the wallabies and to make sure you stick to the rules.
The wallabies are, for the most part, very comfortable with humans and will feed right out of your hands. However, if one backs away or refuses to come near, respect its decision and do not try to pursue it as you might scare it or make it feel threatened.
To find the rock wallabies head to the old Arcadia Jetty Road and follow the path surrounded by huge granite boulders. There are signs pointing you in the right direction, but if you get lost just ask around – everyone is always happy to help.
Taking the ferry to Magnetic Island
If you're wondering how to get to Magnetic Island, the answer is by ferry. Ferries to Magnetic Island run multiple times a day from the harbor of Townsville. There are no direct flights to Magnetic Island. You can, however, fly into Townsville and then take a shuttle to the ferry terminal.
If that's what you want to do, check Skyscanner to compare flight prices or set a flight alert.
There's a car ferry to Magnetic Island and a passenger ferry. As we would be staying at my friend's place on Magnetic Island at it was super expensive to take the camper van on the ferry, we opted for the Sealink passenger ferry instead of the Magnetic Island car ferry.
The Magnetic Island ferry runs every hour – or sometimes every 45 mins depending on what time you go. The first ferry leaves Townsville at 5.30 a.m. and the last one is at 10.30 p.m. (or 11.30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). The journey only takes 20 minutes and an adult return ticket is AUD $30 (USD $21). There are cheaper rates for anyone lucky enough to still be a student.
Magnetic Island accommodation
There are different types of accommodation on Magnetic Island to choose from. We stayed at my friend's place, but I've researched some options for you that are well-recommended by other travelers.
Hotels on Magnetic Island
Boutique: True North B&B
Out of all the accommodation in Magnetic Island, this B&B is one of the furthest north (clue’s in the name!). It’s located only a minute’s walk from Horseshoe Bay and has its own deep plunge pool to relax in after a hard day’s adventuring. Rooms have microwaves and coffee makers, free WiFi and a private balcony – and breakfast is provided of course.
Chain: Peppers Blue on Blue
This resort-style hotel on the marina is a little pocket of paradise. All the rooms have balconies, high-speed WiFi and views across the marina and mountains. One of the more luxurious of the Magnetic Island hotels, Blue on Blue has an outdoor swimming pool and a spa with a selection of treatments. There’s also the on-site restaurant so you don’t even have to leave the premises for food!
Luxury: Grand Mercure Apartments Magnetic Island
Like most of the hotels in Magnetic Island, this fancy Grand Mercure is in Nelly Bay. These rooms are actually self-contained apartments, with fully equipped kitchens. It also boasts four spectacular pools that overlook the Coral Sea, and a fitness suite. It’s also just a short walk from the Magnetic Island ferry terminal.
For other apartment options, Airbnb is your best bet. Booking’s a useful site to find hotels, but Airbnb always has a great variety of self-catering choices.
If you don’t have an account with Airbnb yet, you can get a discount (at no extra cost to you) if you book through my link.
For those of you who are already Airbnb members, please consider booking your next apartment through my link. This way I earn a small commission, which helps me continue traveling and creating new content, while the price for you stays the same.
Hostels on Magnetic Island
Bungalow Bay Koala Village YHA
This is a YHA hostel in the middle of the national park and right by Horseshoe Bay. There’s a range of different dorm and room sizes, all of which are in quirky charming bungalows oozing with charm. It’s the perfect, budget outdoor experience – with jungle all around and visiting koalas, wallabies and all sorts of other creatures. There’s plenty of outdoor chilling space including a pool!
Base Backpackers Magnetic Island
Base Backpackers is on the southern part of the island, with dorms perched right on the beach with amazing sea views. There are events hosted all the time here, run by the hostel. As well as a gaming room, there’s a bar, barbecue, and bicycle rental. With palm trees, hammocks, picnic benches, there’s not much more a backpacker could want!
Camping on Magnetic Island
If you’re really keen to connect with nature, you might want to opt to try camping on Magnetic Island. There are two camping sites on the island: Bungalow Bay and Base Backpackers. Bungalow bay offers a range of powered and unpowered sites and Base Backpackers only has unpowered sites.
If you’re traveling on a budget, camping can make a huge difference to your accommodation costs. Plus, the weather is so lovely you don’t need to worry about getting too cold in the night and being uncomfortable. Plus, it definitely makes you feel you’re more of a rugged adventurer if there’s nothing between you and the natural world but a tent and a sleeping bag.
How to get around Magnetic Island
Car hire on Magnetic Island
There are only a few Magnetic Island car hire companies so you hopefully won't have too much of a hard time choosing one. And, hiring a car will help you see more of the island – especially if you’re strapped for time or have a jam-packed schedule you want to race through.
Tropical Topless offers topless cars for around AUD $80 per day (USD $55), which are great if you want to explore and top up your tan at the same time. If you want a 4×4, which will allow you to go on unsealed roads, you should expect to pay around AUD $90 per day (USD $62). On top of that you’ll need to factor in fuel and insurance costs.
Hiring a car certainly isn’t the cheapest way to get around the island, but it is the most convenient and, arguably, the most fun.
The Magnetic Island bus
There is only one bus on Magnetic Island and it is called the Sunbus. For the Magnetic Island bus timetable and fare prices, check out the TransLink website. The bus services all of the main parts of the island, including Picnic Bay, Florence Bay, Arcadia Bay, and Horseshoe Bay.
Bus fares for the Sunbus are cheap and you can buy daily or weekly tickets if you plan on using the bus a lot.
Magnetic Island tours from Townsville
If you rather not worry about sorting out a bunch of tickets yourself, consider this Magnetic Island tour from Townsville. It extends over two days, including activities both in Townsville and on Magnetic Island, as well as ferry tickets to travel between both.
The best time to visit Magnetic Island
Contrary though it may seem, the best time to visit Magnetic Island is actually during the Australian winter, which falls between June and August. During these months, the temperature sits at a pleasant 27 degrees Celsius.
On top of the comfortable climate, winter is also when you are least likely to encounter anything in the water that could kill you (such as jellyfish and sting-rays).
Of course, if you don’t mind getting sweaty and aren’t so keen on swimming, the rest of the year is also great to visit. What I’m trying to say is that there is never a bad time to visit Magnetic Island. Just good times and even better times.
And that's it! I hope this post has given you a good idea of what to do on Magnetic Island. If you read this because you were thinking of planning a day trip to Magnetic Island, I also hope you'll reconsider and spend a few nights there. We regretted having to leave so soon and would love to go back to see more.
Made on Magnetic Island
Remember that friend I went to visit on Magnetic Island?
She released a song and the clip features lots of footage from the island. Check it out:
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