A Guide To Magnetic Island

Located in the North of Queensland, a short ferry ride from Townsville, is Magnetic Island. It was named by Captain James Cook in 1770. As he passed by this island his compass stopped working, which he blamed on magnetic force fields emanating from it.  So he called it Magnetic Island.

This sleepy little island offers its visitors a unique landscape. More than half its landmass is marked as a National Park and is preserved in its raw state. Only the outer fringes of the island have been developed to support a tiny residential population of around 2,000 people.

A lot of the tourists doing the Eastern tour of Queensland skip over this place and it’s their loss. This beautiful island is a great place to visit, relax and enjoy the tropical sun. It has 25km of walking trails, giving hikers a unique opportunity to see wildlife in their natural habitat. It also has one of the world’s most famous dive sites, the SS Yongala which is marked as a World Heritage Site.

If you’re passing through Queensland make sure to add this island to your itinerary. This quiet paradise isle doesn’t get overrun with tourists so you’ll never have to worry about fighting to claim your space on the beach. This is a place you visit to recharge your batteries as you commune with nature. Magnetic Island moves to a slower pace that invites you to relax, lay back and enjoy the views.


How To Get There

To get to Magnetic Island you need to go through Townsville. There’s a ferry (operated by Sealink) that runs daily (on the hour) between the two. A single round trip ticket costs 32 AUD which is valid for a month. If you’re driving through Queensland then you can use Fantsea Magnetic Car and Passenger Ferry to get to the island with your vehicle.

Getting To Townsville
By Plane: Townsville has its own airport and is well serviced with flights from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Darwin and Cairns. Airport transfers can be made by airport shuttle bus or taxi. It’s only a ten minute drive to the ferry terminals.
By Road: Townsville is situated 349km south of Cairns and 270km North of WhitSunday and is on the popular East Coast tour of Queensland most backpackers follow. You can choose to drive this route with a car or camper. There’s also a hop-on / hop-off greyhound option that operates between major cities like Sydney and Brisbane to Cairns with stops at many popular destinations like Noosa, Byron Bay and others. Those tickets are valid for three months from purchase.

To view the map of the greyhound route click here. For more details on purchasing a greyhound ticket click here.


Where To Stay

Magnetic Island has a modest selection of hotels and hostels to choose from. I’d recommend you base yourself in Horseshoe Bay as it’s the largest of the bays on the island. Remember this is a small island and size is relative. When I say it’s the largest bay doesn’t  mean it’s actually a big space, the tourist boardwalk only has a handful of places that service tourists.

When I visited Magnetic Island I stayed at a B&B run by a delightful older couple ( Myra’s B&B ). It’s in Horsheshoe bay and I got to stay in a cabin in the back of their property. Myra and her husband (Walter) went out of their way to make sure I felt welcome. Their place isn’t exactly central, but while I was there they offered me the use of a bike and car for free. There’s a bus stop 5-10 minute walk from their place.  The only thing to note, there’s no Wifi at their place.


Transportation Around the Island

Magnetic Island is very small, there’s only one main road that runs through it. To get from one side of the island (Picnic Bay) to the other (Horseshoe Bay) is about 10 km. The most economical way to get around is to take the bus. You can buy tickets (which are day passes) as you get on the bus. Ticket cost 7 AUD for adults and 3.60 AUD for children, students and people holding Concession cards.

Other popular ways to get around the island is to rent cars, scooters and bikes. One of the more colorful car rentals are the Moke or Topless cars. These cars look like little tonka cars come to life. Very cute and probably a lot of fun to drive.

The Topless and Moke Cars colorful and fun ways to get around the island
Moke Cars are colorful and fun ways to get around the island

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Magnetic Island is located in the so called dry tropics and it gets about 300 sunny days per year. That said, they do have an off season that runs for half the year (end of November to April) which coincides with their stinger (jellyfish) season. During this period the island gets very quiet and some of the restaurants will close. Their busy season is May to the end of November.

I visited during the off season (February) most of the beaches happened to be deserted with people swimming only in designated (netted) areas of the beach.


Magnetic Island’s Top Attractions

The island’s main attractions revolve around it’s beautiful National Park and its beach side. To help you get your bearings, I’ve attached a map that shows the main hiking trails and bays on the island.

Magnetic Island Map
Magnetic Island Map

Below is a summary of the most important attractions in Magnetic Island.

Bay Guide: This is an island, so its main attractions are centered around the bay areas which include:

  • Horseshoe Bay: This is the largest and best developed bay on the island. The tourist strip on the beach is a modest complex of restaurants, a cafe and a gelato place. It offers a nice beach area that’s patrolled and it has seasonal stinger nets. Remember, this is a small island and not Patong beach (Phuket). The beaches are smaller and modest, but the tradeoff is less tourists and more space to enjoy the beautiful seaside.
  • Alma Bay: This is a popular swimming spot that has a lifeguard patrol on the weekend and public holidays.
  • Geoffrey Bay: This is an interesting bay. It has a large stretch of reef that extends the full length of the beach, offering snorkeling opportunities. The Moltke Wreck is just off the barge ramp and is a popular diving spot. At the end of the bay, near Bremner Point, is a small colony of wallabies that you can view and feed.
  • Nelly Bay: This is the ferry arrival point. You’ll find shops, restaurants, grocery stores, car rentals and other services for new arrivals to the island. It also has a public beach area.
  • There are also a selection of secluded bays that can only be reached through walking trails and boats. There’s Arthur Bay & Florence Bay (which offer the best snorkeling on the island) and Radical Bay & Balding Bay (which provide the secluded beach experience)

Note: During the stinger season it’s not advised to swim outside of the netted swim areas. If you do, make sure to wear a stinger suit and as a measure of safety don’t swim in empty beaches. In case you’re stung and require assistance.


Hiking: The second most popular activity on the island is hiking. There are 8 official hiking trails that range from easy to medium grade difficulty. The hikes go from short walks (200m) to longer trails (8km). Below is listing of the most popular trails:

  • The Forts Walk (Grade: Medium / distance: 4 km / duration: 1.5 hours): This is the most popular hiking trail in the island. This trail rises, sometimes steeply, to arrive at the ruins of the Fort complex that was operated during WWII and as is registered as a Queensland Heritage Site. This walk is popular for Koala sighting, it’s home to the world’s largest free-roaming colony.
  • Gabul Way (Grade: Medium / distance: 1km / duration: 20 minutes): This elevated walkway links the Nelly Bay and Arcadia and offers scenic sea views of Nelly and Geoffrey Bays.
  • Horseshoe Bay to Balding and Radical Bays (Grade: Medium / distance: 3.2km / duration: 1hr): The trail starts from the eastern end of Horseshoe Bay. The route takes you through a steep gully of closed forest to a ridge with open eucalyptus woodland.
  • Horseshoe Bay Lagoon (Grade: Easy / distance: 200m / duration: 15 minutes): This is a short walk through a lagoon where a number of waterbirds can be seen over the wetlands.


Water Sports: This goes without saying but a major attraction for the island is the water sports. You can swim in one of its bays, rent jet skis, snorkel, dive at SS Yongala (rated as one of the world’s best dive sites) and more.


Animal Spotting: With the majority of the island being marked as National Park, Magnetic island has many opportunities for people to do animal spotting.

  • Koalas: These animals are on the top of most people’s list to see and I’ve found them to be quite challenging to spot. Koalas blend into the background and they normally don’t move a lot. So you need to have a sharp eye to see them.
  • Wallabies: These are quite common on the island and I saw them frequently. If you want to get up close and personal with them (and maybe feed them) then I recommend you go to Bremner Point that’s just off Geoffrey Bay.
  • Birds: This is a bird lover’s paradise. There are so many different kind of birds that fly freely around this island from eagles, to parrots to wetland birds. Even to the untrained eye, it’s pretty amazing.
  • Whale Watching (August to October): Humpback whales migrate from the Antarctic feeding grounds to Great Barrier Reef where they breed in the warm waters. August to October is great time to watch them as they pass through Magnetic Island’s waters.


Below is my video from Magnetic Island showing the highlights of my stay covering beaches, the fort hike and the animal spotting. I really enjoyed my stay on this Island and recommend you visit if you have a chance.

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