If you’re looking for a good place to kick back, unwind and completely embrace the island life, Magnetic Island, just a short ferry ride off the coast of Townsville is absolutely the place to do it. Despite it’s small size, Magnetic Island is overflowing with hilly hiking trails, pretty beaches, stunning lookouts, an abundance of native wildlife, and cute little barbie cars that you probably haven’t seen anywhere else.
Sitting just eight kilometres off the coast of Townsville, Maggie as it is affectionately called by the locals is home to 23 beautiful beaches and bays. Two thirds of the island is protected national park, and part of the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In fact, it’s the only self-contained island in the GBR Marine Park. Maggie is also home to Northern Australia’s largest colony of wild koalas.
Whether you’ve just come over for a day trip or you’re spending a little more time staying on Maggie, here are some of the top 10 things to do on Magnetic Island during your visit.
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How to get to Magnetic Island
It only takes about 20 minutes to get from Townsville to Magnetic Island or vice versa via SeaLink QLD‘s passenger ferry service. SeaLink operates 18 daily services to Magnetic Island, so you can actually just turn up and buy a ticket at the ferry terminal whenever you want to go across to the island.
The ferry departs and arrives at the Break Water Ferry Terminal, so it’s super easy to access from Townsville. Return ferry tickets cost just $30 for an adult, with discounts for concessions and children. There is also car parking available at the Break Water Ferry Terminal for $8 per 24 hours.
The timetable can change throughout the year, so it’s always a good idea to check the current schedule before heading to the ferry terminal.
SeaLink QLD are actually able to organise your whole visit to Magnetic Island, including bookings and recommendations on accommodation, tours and activities and places to visit during your time on the island, so if you have any questions at all, give them a visit in the terminal.
1. Jump on the Maggie Discovery Tour with Aquascene
The Maggie Discovery Tour with Aquascene was absolutely the highlight of our visit to Maggie on this visit. It’s kind of a go with the flow experience, where our tour guide Adam showed us the best of Magnetic Island in around five hours or so.
Every tour with Aquascene is a little bit different, as they are tailored to the weather, the water conditions and the wind conditions on the day of your tour. But each tour will give you the opportunity to snorkel in some of the reef that lines Magnetic Island, try a bit of catch and release reef fishing, and check out Magnetic Islands from angles you can’t access from the mainland.
There was so much beautiful wildlife around during our day out with Aquascene. We saw dolphins and turtles in the water, all kinds of reef fish, and heaps of big sea eagles that were nesting along the quieter bays of the island. We stopped for a swim and paddle board in Radical Bay and a snorkel in Arthur Bay, and really got to see and experience Magnetic Island in a completely different way.
This was definitely the highlight of this visit to Maggie, and definitely worth checking out for a unique experience on the island. Aquascene also runs a sunset tour that takes you out to one of the abandoned shipwrecks that can be found around Maggie. We might have to jump on that next time.
You can find out more information and book your day trip with Aquascene HERE.
2. Visit the Rock Wallabies at Geoffrey Bay
Head down to the old jetty in Geoffrey Bay to see some cute little rock wallabies hanging out in the boulder rocks that sit at the end of the road. This spot is known as Bremner Point in Arcadia, but if you look it up on Google Maps it literally says “rock wallabies” at the right location, so you’ll be able to find it no problem.
If you’d like to feed them you can buy some wallaby food from the newsagency in Arcadia, but they actually prefer red apple or a little bit of sliced up carrot heaps more. Hold on tight if you’re feeding them an apple though, one literally ripped the apple right out of Thom’s hand when he turned to talk to me and ran away to eat it by himself!
3. Rent a barbie car or topless 4WD to get around the island
One of the highlights of Magnetic Island is the cute little barbie cars that get around the island. Such a unique way to get around and very special to Maggie, what better way to see the island than with a topless car rental. There’s nothing better than driving around an island with the wind in your hair and the sun on your skin, no air-conditioning, no tinted windows, just soaking up the summer days.
There are two different options for topless cars on Magnetic Island. The first is the barbie car. Undeniably the cutest, most instagrammable island transport you could imagine. The barbie cars are all painted in bright colours, are low to the ground with no top and pretty much no sides! Since Radical Bay Road and the road to West Point have now been closed to rental cars due to poor conditions, there’s not really anywhere your barbie car won’t go.
At the moment the main company with the barbie cars have temporarily closed (perhaps due to covid, but we couldn’t really find any information), so there are only TWO getting around the island that you can rent from Isle Hire. Definitely book in advance if you’re trying to secure one of these for your visit, because as you can imagine, they are quite booked out. The second option is to hire a topless 4WD, which are absolutely just as fun as the barbie cars, just a little bit less cute.
We had one of these on our first visit to Magnetic Island and it was great to get down all the dirt roads. Since you can’t go down them anymore there’s not really any big advantage to them over the barbie cars, but they’re a great option if you’ve missed out.
If you’re looking for a normal car during your stay on Maggie head straight over to Best of Magnetic, which is right across the road from the ferry terminal in Nelly Bay (next to IGA), where you can rent a normal car to get around the island in comfort. They have some super cute Fiats to scoot around in, as well as some regular cars too. Getting a regular car is actually a good idea if you have a bit of luggage with you – we took an early ferry across to Maggie and a late ferry back, so it was great to be able to store everything in the car after we’d been checked out from Bungalow Bay. Best of Magnetic can also give you a hand with holiday house rentals for your stay.
4. Hike to the top of Hawkings Point
Hawkings Point offers some beautiful views over Magnetic Island, with panoramic views over both Picnic Bay and Nelly Bay from the top of this very large boulder rock that’s stands out of the bush land. You can even see as far as Townsville, especially if it’s a clear day.
You can find the beginning of the hike path at the end of Picnic Street in Picnic Bay, turn left after the police station as you head towards the beach. It’s the perfect place to visit during the Golden Hour just before the sun sets, where you can see the sky light up as the sun dips away behind Townsville.
5. Check out the view from the Arthur Bay lookout
One of our favourite views around the island is from the Arthur Bay Lookout. Found along the Radical Bay Road, about 700 metres from the Forts Walk car park, there is a small sign that points to the Arthur Bay Lookout. On our first visit to Magnetic Island you used to be able to drive to the lookout down the Radical Bay Road, however in the last 12 months or so the road has gotten so bad that you can no longer take rental cars down there, so hiking it is!
The walk is a bit hilly, with steep inclines and declines along the way, but it is definitely worth the view from the top. The best thing is, since you can no longer drive here (unless you have your own car of course), you’re more likely to get this pretty little spot all to yourself. On the way back to the car park, stop into Arthur Bay for a swim, it’s a beautiful spot for a dip with some great snorkelling spots along the rocky sides of the bay.
6. Go for a dip at Radical Bay
Magnetic Island boasts an average of 320 days of sunshine per year, so you’re almost guaranteed to experience some of this beautiful tropical weather on your visit. Which makes it the perfect place to go swimming no matter what the season. Radical Bay is a great place for a swim, although it is a little harder to get to these days.
As we mentioned earlier, Radical Bay Road has closed due to lots of the read being completely washed out. It has become very dangerous and rental cars are no longer allowed down here. Instead, there is a walking trail from Horseshoe Bay, which is just 1.5 kilometres each way and will take you right to Radical Bay. If you visit in the morning you’re likely to find that you have the whole beach to yourself. It’s lined with palm trees and the water is just the perfect temperature here. It’s absolutely magical.
7. Do the Forts Walk
This is one of the most popular walks on the island. The Forts Walk runs between Arcadia and Horseshoe Bay, and as well as offering you beautiful views across Magnetic Island, it is also home to lots of WWII history.
The Forts Walk is also considered one of the best places on Magnetic Island to spot wild koalas just hanging out in the trees. Keep an eye out for arrows in the sand that will let you know where they are. But keep your eyes up while you walk, because they’re often just hanging out in the low hanging branches.
Along the way you will find stunning views of the Palm Island Group in the north and Bowling Green Bay National Park in the south. To top it all off, the 360 views from the top of the fortifications make all the hiking worth it. This spot is only accessible by walk with no car access around. It takes about an hour and a half to complete the 4 kilometre return track.
8. Have a meal in Horseshoe Bay, overlooking all the boats
Horseshoe Bay on the north side of Maggie is the largest bay on the whole island and is definitely a favourite spot for both locals and visitors. It’s famous for it’s beautiful sunsets and all the different water sports you can try out on the calm water of the bay.
It is also home to some GREAT places to eat, so if you’re not sure where to go, start here. Some of our favourites include:
- Cafe Nourish Heart and Soul Food: perfect if you’re looking for a healthy options, they offer a huge variety of choices with an all day breakfast, vegan options, a smoothie bar and organic snacks that you can take with you for later. They do not serve acai bowls here though, even though the internet will tell you that they do – so keep that in mind if you’re looking for acai.
- Sandi’s on Magnetic: our favourite spot for dinner, they have a great seafood menu as well as lots of other options and everything we tried was just delicious.
Some other great spots to eat across the island include:
- Shaka Good Food Culture: this is where you will find the acai bowls and they are DELICIOUS. Shaka are just a food truck, but they have a beautiful little spot by the beach on the way to Picnic Bay. Toasties were also definitely a win here.
- Mamma Roma: if you’re looking for some good Italian food, this is the place to go.
9. Check out the quiet beachfront at Picnic Bay
Picnic Bay used to be the heart of Magnetic Island, but when the new jetty was moved down to Nelly Bay, the main town of the island kind of went with it. These days it’s a very pretty spot to visit, but also super quiet. Every time we’ve visited there hasn’t really been anyone else around.
There are a couple of restaurants and a pub on the main strip of Picnic Bay, so it’s a great place to come and each with a beach view.
10. Visit the Koala Village at Bungalow Bay
Bungalow Bay Koala Village in Horseshoe Bay, claims that they are the only resort in Australia that can has it’s own on site wildlife park. We haven’t checked that fact, (and we definitely wouldn’t consider Bungalow Bay a resort since it’s actually a backpackers hostel) but they do have a lovely wildlife park on site, where you can get up close and personal and make friends will all kinds of Australian wildlife.
It does run a little bit different to other wildlife parks though. You can’t just walk in, instead you need to book a time to visit on one of their guided tours with a ranger. There are three different times you can visit for the tour and wildlife presentation – 10am, 12 noon and 2:30pm. The tour goes for about 1.5 – 2 hours (generally depending how many people are in your group) where the ranger will share with you information about the animals and their environments and share island stories.
You’re able to get up close and personal with many of the animals on in the park which is exciting – the ranger will pass around lizards, turtles and sometimes even a little crocodile to hold, you have the chance to pat a koala, wrap yourself up in a python or have a chat with some of the big birds around the park. For an extra fee you can even choose to cuddle a koala!
Entry to the park is $29 AUD for adults, with student, child and family prices also available. You will need to meet at the main reception at Bungalow Bay Koala Village 15 minutes before the start of your tour. It’s a good idea to buy your tickets early in the day and then come back to meet the tour guide later, as the groups are limited to small numbers and can book out in advance.
Bungalow Bay Koala Village || 40 Horseshoe Bay Road, Horseshoe Bay || Ph: (07) 4778 5577
Where to stay on Magnetic Island
Both times we’ve visited Magnetic Island we’ve stayed at Bungalow Bay Koala Village. They have all different types of accommodation, and are kind of a mixture between a caravan park and a hostel. It’s in a great location, only a very short walk from Horseshoe Bay. There is car parking out the front if you’ve rented a car for your stay, and rock wallabies hop around the campground as the sun sets.
They have these super cute triangle shaped bungalows to stay in, which feel like the perfect little beach houses. There are private bungalows , as well as group rooms. As it’s a hostel, there are shared bathrooms with no amenities, so make sure you bring all your toiletries and a bath towel with you on your visit (or you can rent a towel for $2 from reception).
Bungalow Bay Koala Village also have a swimming pool, a bar and restaurant on site, as well as a cute little wildlife park, where you can get up close and personal with all different kinds of native Australian wildlife.
Head to the Bungalow Bay Koala Village website for more information and to book your stay on Maggie.
Have you visited Maggie before? What’s your favourite way to spend the day!
Read more about our adventures around Queensland