Rising in the Coral Sea just eight kilometres off the coast of Townsville, Magnetic Island is a mountainous paradise that’s renowned for its stunning beaches, friendly wildlife and colourful reefs. It’s easily accessible by ferry from Townsville, making it one of the most popular places for locals and tourists alike to enjoy a tropical escape.
Originally known as yunbenun to its Indigenous inhabitants, Magnetic Island was named due to the magnetic effect it is said to have had on the compass of Captain Cook when he was sailing along Australia’s east coast in 1770. Today, it’s affectionately known as “Maggie” by locals or sometimes just “The Island”.
No matter what you choose to call it, Magnetic Island offers up incredible experiences both above and below the water’s surface. From snorkelling amidst coral gardens to hiking its majestic coastline, there are plenty of ways to get active. In this article, we’ll introduce some of the top things to do on Magnetic Island, including sunset sails, wreck diving and having breakfast with the koalas.
Magnetic Island Tours
#1 Discover Magnetic Island with Aquascene
Experience the best of Magnetic Island on this action-packed half-day tour aboard the custom-designed “Aquascene” catamaran. It accesses many of the island’s most beautiful and secluded beaches, as well as bays that are hard to get to by land.
Led by a friendly and knowledgeable crew, you’ll learn about the history of Magnetic Island and meet some of its resident wildlife, as well as have the opportunity to snorkel on a magnificent fringing reef. You can test your angling skills with a spot of catch and release fishing, try your hand at standup paddleboarding or take advantage of “Aquascene’s” glass-bottom boogie boards. If you’re visiting between June and September, you may even be lucky enough to spot migrating whales in the waters surrounding Magnetic Island.
Tours with Aquascene cost $139 for adults and $95 for kids aged 3 to 14 years (2 years and under are free). Trips include a morning tea of sweet treats and seasonal fruits and run from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm daily.
#2 Venture underwater at the Museum of Underwater Art
Forming part of John Brewer Reef to the north of Magnetic Island, the Museum of Underwater Art is the only attraction of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. It comprises a series of underwater installations and sculptures that have been placed within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and visiting this unique museum is one of the top things to do on Magnetic Island. It was designed to educate visitors on the local Indigenous culture and the importance of preserving this UNESCO World Heritage-listed natural wonder.
The Museum of Underwater Art can be explored by snorkellers, first-time divers and certified divers. Aside from the “Ocean Sire” figure that stands in the shallow foreshore of Townsville, it includes the “Coral Greenhouse”, which lies around two hours by boat from the coast and sits at a maximum depth of 18 metres below sea level.
One of the top things to do on Magnetic Island is venture below the water’s surface
Adrenalin Snorkel and Dive offers Great Barrier Reef day trips that include a visit to the “Coral Greenhouse” and cost $274/$224 for adult/child snorkellers and $359/$309 for adult/child divers.
Both of the artworks were created by the British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, an environmentalist and underwater photographer who has dedicated his career to highlighting the importance of reef conservation. More installations as part of the Museum of Underwater Art are planned in the waters around Palm Island and Magnetic Island.
Magnetic Island walks
Magnetic Island boasts around 26 kilometres of walking trails that take in its pockets of rainforest, eucalypts and dry wattle bushland. Along the way, you’ll be treated to stunning views across the island’s blissful beaches and sparkling bays. Best of all, these walks are some of the many free things to do on Magnetic Island.
#3 Forts Walk
One of Magnetic Island’s most popular hikes is the Forts Walk, a 90-minute return route that accesses a World War II complex where you’ll find gun emplacements, a command post and an observation tower. Aside from offering 360-degree views towards the Palm Islands and Bowling Green Bay National Park, you’ll encounter Northern Australia’s largest population of wild koalas.
#4 Hawkings Point Lookout
Another easy but rewarding hike takes you to Hawkings Point Lookout, which is one of the best spots to watch sunrise and sunset on the island. The one-hour-long trail follows the saddle between Rocky Bay and Picnic Bay before arriving at a large boulder where you can gaze out across the Coral Sea towards Townsville in the distance.
For a longer trek, follow the 16-kilometre-long return trail that leads from Picnic Bay to West Point, taking in Magnetic Island’s tidal wetlands, paperbark swamps and mangrove forests. On the east coast of the island, there are trails connecting Nelly Bay to Arcadia and Arcadia to Horseshoe Bay, with the latter passing through an impressive stand of native grass trees and wildflowers.
Magnetic Island beaches
Magnetic Island boasts 23 beautiful bays. Horseshoe Bay, Alma Bay/ Arcadia, Picnic Bay and Nelly Bay are the main bays. Florence Bay and Radical Bay are quieter bays and can be accessed by foot or by four-wheel drive. Balding Bay is an unofficial, Magnetic Island naturist option. Bay hoping is a great way to see the beauty of Magnetic Island and a fantastic option if you are looking for free things to do on Magnetic Island.
#5 Explore the markets of Horseshoe Bay
Magnetic Island’s largest bay lies on the north side of the island and is named after the horseshoe-shaped curve of its sand. It’s well protected from the wind and is a popular spot for water sports and horse riding. Coincide your visit with the second or last Sunday of the month when the Horseshoe Bay Markets take place, with everything from jewellery to fresh produce and massages on offer. Several cafes and restaurants also back the sand where you can grab coffees and snacks throughout the day.
#6 Swim at Picnic Bay
At the southern end of Magnetic Island is Picnic Bay, which is an ideal spot to swim in the summer months thanks to its specially designed stinger nets. You can cast a fishing line from the jetty to see what’s biting or just settle in for a breathtaking sunset overlooking Townsville. Kids can let loose on the island’s only fully-fenced playground while golfers can test their skills at the Magnetic Island Country Club, which nestles just behind Picnic Bay. Visitors can hire clubs and carts at the club, and there is also night golf available as well. You won’t be golfing alone as there are many animals that call the course home, including kangaroos, koalas and vibrant native birds.
#7 Enjoy the views across Arthur Bay
One of Magnetic Island’s most iconic views is from the Arthur Bay Lookout, which lies within Magnetic Island National Park. The lookout is just 200 metres from the bay’s idyllic sands where you can while away the day swimming and sunbathing surrounded by granite boulders and native hoop pines. Don’t forget to pack your snorkelling gear, with the fringing reef home to a myriad of marine life. Aside from the koalas and rock wallabies that frequent Arthur Bay, it’s a popular spot for whale watching during the migration season.
#8 Snorkel at Alma Bay
Located in the coastal town of Arcadia is Alma Bay, a family-friendly beach that’s patrolled by lifeguards throughout the year. Snorkelling here is one of the top things to do on Magnetic Island, with a colourful reef just a short swim from the sand. Not only does Alma Bay have good accessibility for those with mobility issues, but it boasts plenty of facilities, such as showers, toilets, picnic tables and barbecues. Away from the beach, there’s a basketball court to keep kids entertained, plus a large grassy area for ball games.
Magnetic Island animal experiences
#9 Have breakfast with the koalas of Bungalow Bay
Want to make friends with some cuddly koalas? Head to Bungalow Bay Koala Village, a family-friendly resort that also boasts its very own wildlife park. It showcases the unique habitats and fauna of Magnetic Island and offers great opportunities to get up close to not only koalas but also wombats, turtles and pythons. Daily tours led by the park’s knowledgeable rangers include visits to meet the resident koalas “Pebbles”, “Thor” and “Amaroo”, which is a highlight of any visit. Alternatively, you can enjoy breakfast with the koalas in an outback-inspired setting.
N.B. As the welfare of the animals at Bungalow Bay is the highest priority, the park doesn’t offer photos with the koalas.
Tours depart at 10:30 am and 12:30 pm each day and cost $40 for adults and $20 for children (5 to 15 years) or $120 for a family of five. Breakfast with the koalas costs $70 for adults and $40 for children (2 to 12 years) or $209 for a family of four.
#10 Meet the rock wallabies of Geoffrey Bay
At sunrise and sunset each day, rock wallabies can be seen jumping between rocks along the shores of Geoffrey Bay, a picture-perfect beach near Arcadia. It’s one of Magnetic Island’s most loved wildlife experiences and one of many free things to do on Magnetic Island!
can I feed the wallabies on Magnetic Island?
It is not recommended to feed wild wallabies, as by feeding any native wildlife we can potentially do more harm than good. Providing human food to native animals can cause a wide variety of problems such as nutritional imbalances and negative influences on animal behaviour.
If you absolutely must feed the wallabies, it is recommended that you buy specific wallaby pellets or muesli, available from most retail outlets.
Aside from its rock wallabies, Geoffrey Bay is home to a snorkelling trail that takes you to the 19th-century wreck of the “Moltke” before passing a propeller from a World War II bomber jet. For those that don’t want to get wet, the historic Arcadia Jetty is a great place to spot tropical fish, as well as being a popular site for hand-feeding rock wallabies at dusk.
#11 Bet on the Arcadia Hotel’s cane toad races
Located in the heart of Arcadia, this ever-popular pub enjoys sweeping views across Geoffrey Bay and offers meals and entertainment throughout the week. A highlight is the Wednesday night cane toad races, which are held to raise funds for the Arcadia Surf Life Saving Club. Simply bet on the winning toad (and be willing to give it a kiss) and you’ll walk away with the prize money. If you’re just up for a feed, Monday is “Parma Night” and Tuesday is all about steaks while roast dinners are served up on Sundays. Trivia fans should coincide their visit to the Arcadia Hotel with the Thursday night quiz!
Magnetic Island ocean adventures
#12 Sail away with Big Mama or Pilgrim
Sailing along the pristine coastline of Magnetic Island is an unforgettable experience, enabling you to access some of its most remote and secluded bays. Big Mama Sailing offers half-day and sunset trips aboard the 60-foot “Big Mama” yacht, as well as operating “Ragamuffin 111”, a 111-foot vessel that ran the Sydney to Hobart Race. Half-day cruises cost $150 for adults and $95 for kids (aged 4 to 12) while sunset sails are $95 for adults and $70 for kids.
On their half-day tours (departing at 9:00 am and returning at 1:30 pm), you’ll have the opportunity to go paddleboarding, snorkelling and kayaking, with a delicious brunch provided onboard. Two-hour sunset sails depart at 4:30 pm, with the chance to get hands-on under the tutelage of the owner, Stu. Private charters are also available for half and full-day sails.
Pilgrim Sailing is another option, with lunchtime cruises ($199 for adults and $149 for kids) onboard their luxury 58-foot yacht including a feast of locally-sourced seafood. Alternatively, you can enjoy as many sundowners as you want, accompanied by a platter of local cheeses during their Sip & Sail adventures (from $109 per person). Full-day private charters including a gourmet lunch are also available from $199 per person.
#13 Explore the SS City of Adelaide shipwreck
In 1916, the SS City of Adelaide ran aground at Cockle Bay and now lies 300 metres off the southwest coast of Magnetic Island. Hidden behind a forest of mangroves, it is accessible on foot at low tide and is an ideal destination for non-divers to go wreck viewing.
The SS City of Adelaide can be reached by taking a bus/ drive to Picnic Bay and then walking the rest of the way to Cockle Bay.
Mangroves now inhabit the exposed hull, making for a highly unique photo opportunity. However, it is known to be a nesting site for many birds, so it is best to enjoy its beauty from a distance. The best views can be enjoyed on Cockle Bay Hill.
If you do want to venture below the water’s surface, it’s also possible to dive to the SS City of Adelaide with one of the local operators.
Magnetic Island Restaurants
There is no shortage of dining options on Magnetic Island; enjoy a morning breakfast at Early Bird, head over to Arcadia for the best wood-fired pizza on Magnetic Island or stop by Picnic Bay and choose between Italian at Mamma Roma, or opt for more traditional pub food at R&R Restaurant. Whether you’re looking for a romantic dining experience on Magnetic Island or a quick bite to eat, you are sure to find something to tempt your tastebuds.
#14. Stage Door Theatre Restaurant
If you are searching for romantic things to do on Magnetic Island, then what could be better than dinner and a show. Featuring singing, comedy and dazzling costumes, this is the greatest show on Magnetic Island. The 90-minute cabaret show costs $89 and includes a 3-course meal.
Located at: 5 Hayles Ave, Arcadia QLD 4819, Australia
#15. The Eary Bird Cafe – the best breakfast on Magnetic Island
Serving the best breakfast on Magnetic Island, The Early Bird Cafe has a devoted local following and it is easy to see why. A menu that caters for everyone; be that gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian, all whilst onlooking at a beautiful turquoise tropical ocean of Horseshoe Bay beach.
The menu is seasonal and ingredients are sourced locally; the ricotta and pear bruschetta and the Hawaiian French Toast are particular highlights. The coffee is also sourced locally from a local Townsville company, Coffee Dominion.
Located at: 2/11 Pacific Dr, Magnetic Island QLD 4819, Australia
More of the best restaurants on Magnetic Island that are worth a visit…
Cafe Nourish Heart and Soul Food
A bright, airy cafe situated across the beach at Horseshoe Bay. This stunning cafe offers a variety of healthy options; be that vegan options, a smoothie bar, organic snacks or an all-day breakfast! It is also home to some of the best coffee on Magnetic Island.
Located at: 3/6 Pacific Dr, Magnetic Island QLD 4819, Australia
Sandi’s on Magnetic
If you are looking for romantic things to do on Magnetic Island then Sandi’s is a must-visit spot for dinner. Their specialities are local, fresh seafood and premium steaks. It is situated right on the beachfront of Horseshoe bay, making it all the more romantic!
Located at: 7 Pacific Dr, Magnetic Island QLD 4819, Australia
Whether you are looking for romantic things to do on Magnetic Island or just looking for a delicious meal to enjoy with friends, authentic Italian food is always a good idea. The pasta is phenomenal and you can smell the freshly baked pizzas from outside, making this place too tempting to resist. The owners are Italian themselves, so you really are getting a true Italian experience.
Located at: 9 Esplanade, Picnic Bay QLD 4819, Australia
Magnetic Island visitor’s Guide
How to get to Magnetic Island?
Magnetic Island is located just off the coast of Townsville, which can easily be accessed via the Townsville Airport. A taxi from Townsville Airport to the Breakwater Terminal costs around $20. Alternatively, you can make the 4.5-hour drive south from Cairns or north from Mackay.
SeaLink operates 18 high-speed passenger ferries every day to Magnetic Island, with the journey taking just 20 minutes. There’s no need to prebook – you can just turn up and purchase tickets ($32 return for adults and $17 return for kids) at the terminal or onboard the vessel. If you want to leave your vehicle behind, you can park it at the Breakwater Terminal ($8 for 24 hours).
The timetable is subject to change throughout the year, so be sure to check the current operating schedule before heading to the ferry terminal.
If you’re bringing your car to the island, Magnetic Island Ferries are the way to go and they run up to 8 return trips daily. Ticket costs vary depending on the vehicle and number of people but you can expect to pay just over $100 for a standard car and a family of four. The journey takes 40 minutes.
Where to stay on Magnetic Island?
Magnetic Island has accommodation to suit all budgets, from backpacker dorms to coastal apartments and luxury villas. You can enjoy the exclusivity of a private house, stay at a well-equipped resort or camp under the stars at one of the island’s holiday parks.
Located at: 1 Nelly Bay Road, Magnetic Island, Queensland, 4819
A hostel like no other, located right on the beach, Base Backpackers Is the ultimate place to stay and play on Magnetic Island. The Island Bar overlooks the water and boasts magnificent views. At night, the Island Bar comes alive with a great party vibe and awesome music, providing a beach part like no other. The rooms are small cottages that overlook the water’s edge in Nelly Bay, with a shared room for around $35 per night.
Located at: 23 Sooning St, Nelly Bay QLD 4819, Australia
Situated right on the marina of Nelly Bay, Peppers Blue is the height of luxury.
If you are looking for romantic things to do on Magnetic Island, then Pepper Blue is a great option. Not only does this hotel boast magnificent views it also has an indulgent spa and romantic boardwalk restaurant. There are also 2 swimming pools to soak up the Queensland sun from.
The rooms are available as double, a studio, apartments and even a penthouse suite if you fancy the ultimate luxury stay.
And if that doesn’t sound romantic enough, you can call ahead for a cheese or fruit platter to be served on your arrival, so you can relax from the moment you step in the door.
Getting around Magnetic Island?
The most convenient way to explore Magnetic Island is by car, with the option to bring your own or rent one on arrival. We highly recommend Tropical Topless who offer colourful “Barbie” cars and have an office at the ferry terminal in Nelly Bay. Their topless vehicles can seat up to four (boosters and baby seats are provided at no extra charge) and they’ll even throw in 40 kilometres of fuel for free.
Magnetic Island has a good network of both sealed and unsealed roads that can be explored by bicycle, with the option to rent one on the island or bring your own. There are also more than 25 kilometres of walking trails that link the island’s beaches and bays, making exploring on foot one of the most scenic ways to get around. Taxi services are also available on the island and you’ll find ranks at most of the major beaches and bays.
Best time to visit Magnetic Island?
Magnetic Island is blessed with a warm, tropical climate and around 320 days of sunshine a year, which means you can visit at any time. Temperatures range from around 25°C in July to 32°C in December while the nighttime temperatures drop to a low of between 14°C (winter) and 24°C (summer).
Most of Magnetic Island’s rainfall descends from January to March, with heavy downpours that are usually interspersed with clear skies. Between April and December, you can expect mostly sunny days, although afternoon/evening thunderstorms aren’t uncommon in November and December.
How many days do you need on Magnetic Island?
We would recommend at least three days and two nights to explore everything Magnetic Island has to offer. But staying longer will give you time to really relax and soak in the beauty of its beaches and bays. Over the course of a week, you’ll have time to hike some of the coastal trails, spend a couple of days swimming and snorkelling and even embark on a cruise.
If you enjoyed this guide, be sure to check out our post on 15 Secret Eastern Suburbs Beaches that you don’t want to miss!