We had one plan for our time in Magnetic Island – to explore at a slow pace (island time, if you will) and take some time to relax and unwind. We only had 24 hours on the island, we hadn’t booked any tours or experiences, we just had a topless car to explore as much of this little natural island as we could.
And boy, did we get around it!
Magnetic Island might be small, but it is brimming with beautiful bays and beaches, long tiring hikes and an abundance of lookouts and hidey-holes to explore – it’s even considered a World Heritage Listed National Park!
If you’re strapped for time, here’s how to make the most of your visit to Magnetic Island!
In this post:
1. Grab breakfast in Horseshoe Bay, overlooking the water
Horseshoe Bay, on the north side of Maggie, is the largest bay on the whole island. It’s famous for it’s can’t miss sunsets and huge number of water sports to keep you in the ocean all day.
To start your day on Maggie, grab breakfast along the main strip. There are a few different options to choose from, but we can recommend Cafe Nourish Heart and Soul Food. It offers 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.
Contrary to what you might read online though, they do not serve acai bowls – just in case that’s what you’re looking for!
After breakfast, if you’re keen on water sports you can find jet skis, kayaks and stand up paddle boards to rent along the shore. There are also tours that can take you sailing or fishing if you would like to spend your day out on the boat.
For a completely unique experience you can even take a horseback ride from the bush to the beach and swim with your horse in the cool water at the end. On the beach of Horseshoe Bay you will find a patrolled swimming area, park lands, a playground and picnic facilities, right in front of the main strip of shops and restaurants.
2. Rent a Barbie Car or topless 4WD to get around
The absolute best way to get around Maggie and really maximise your time and how much you get to experience is by renting a topless car! 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.
These cute little cars can be spotted all over the island and are absolutely my kind of way to travel around an island!
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!
You will see them all over the island and look just perfect underneath the palm trees! The only down side to renting a barbie car is that they are restricted to driving on sealed roads only – which means you can’t take it down to West Point or Radical Bay. But if walking is your thing then you can park up the top of the track and walk down to the beaches, win win!
If you’re looking to hire a barbie car check out Tropical Topless for the cutest colours that come in all different retro colours. You can find their office right next to the ferry terminal in Nelly Bay and they include 40 kilometres of fuel in the cost – since Magnetic Island is only 12 kilometres wide, that’s a bargain! Prices start from $80 AUD for one day hire, with 24 hour hire also available.
Topless Tropical || 138 Sooning Street, Nelly Bay || Ph: (07) 4758 1111
The second option is to hire a topless 4WD to access all roads on the island. Since we had limited time on Maggie we didn’t want to miss anything by having to leave our car at the top of each track and walk down to the beaches, so we decided to rent a 4WD instead of the barbie car. Not as cute but just as fun, the topless 4WD’s can go anywhere on the island and have no restrictions with dirt roads.
We hired our topless 4WD from Isle Hire actually the day we were catching our ferry across to Magnetic Island. I had not paid enough attention to the ferry situation before our trip, and having taken the SeaLink ferry to Kangaroo Island in SA I had just assumed we would take our car over to the island, oops! I’m actually pretty happy about the oversight, because it was so much more fun getting around in the topless car than it would have been in a regular car with air conditioning!
The girls at Isle Hire were fantastic! They picked us up from our accommodation in Horseshoe Bay, all the way on the other side of the island and set us up super quickly so we could have as much time as possible exploring the island! They also dropped us off at the ferry terminal when we dropped the car off.
Prices for the topless 4WDs start at $88 AUD per day and are honestly worth it to get down the dirt tracks to the bays filled with huge pot holes. Give them a call or send them a text on 0417 649 869 to organise your rental!
Isle Hire || 29 The Grove, Nelly Bay || Ph: 0417 649 869
3. Explore all the secret spots along Radical Bay Road
Radical Bay Road runs from the Forts car park on the main road all the way down to Radical Bay, and is where you can find countless hidden bays and beaches to spend your day. In my opinion, these are some of the most beautiful places you can find on Magnetic Island.
Along Radical Bay Road you will find Arthur Bay, Florence Bay and Radical Bay, all beautiful spots to pull over and have a swim. And since Maggie is still such a relatively quiet island, you’re more than likely to be the only footprints on the beach.
The road itself is actually in very bad condition, with some of the biggest pot holes I have ever seen breaking up the road. This is the main reason that you can’t bring a barbie car down this track, as they are too low to the ground and would either get stuck or completely damaged on these roads.
If you’ve rented a topless 4WD there are no limitations, and you can drive up and down the road all day long if you like, just be prepared for a very bumpy ride.
Don’t let the rough road conditions get you down though, the drive is actually a bit of fun and the bays at the end are definitely worth the bumpy ride. The dense bush land surrounding the road is also famous for spotting koalas in their natural environment, as well as many other inhabitants of Magnetic Island like lizards, echidnas and wallabies.
4. Check out the view from the Arthur Bay Lookout
Along Radical Bay Road, or about 700 metres from the Forts car park there is a very small sign that points to Arthur Bay Lookout. Whether you’re walking or driving Radical Bay Road, you definitely need to take the turn or pull over your car and take the very small 65 metre walk from the main road to the lookout for some stunning views.
We got this little spot all to ourselves for a few minutes to admire the view and take in the natural beauty of Magnetic Island’s coastline.
5. Take a dip in 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! And Radical Bay is the place you should spend your time in the water.
If you follow the road that starts at the Forts car park right down to the very end of the road you will find Radical Bay. It’s quiet, secluded and easy to find a private spot to yourself to relax and enjoy the sunshine. The beach is lined with palm trees and bush land, with tall surrounding cliffs keeping the little bay away from the rest of the island.
Barbie cars aren’t allowed down to Radical Bay, but if you’ve hired a topless 4WD you can bring it right down to the beach – definitely worth the upgrade to the 4WD!
If you’re planning to walk it’s about a 6 kilometres return walk from the Forts car park (approximately 2 hours), with lots of steep inclines along the way. If you’re not a hiker it’s definitely a good idea to get yourself a 4WD so you don’t miss out on this beautiful bay.
6. Have lunch in Arcadia
Although we stayed in Horseshoe Bay, my favourite little town on the island was Arcadia. The beach was right there visible from the road, it was overflowing with tall palm trees and lifesavers patrol the beach and keep an eye on swimmers on the weekends and public holidays.
We grabbed our lunch at The Bikini Tree Cafe, which is actually part of the Arcadia Village Hotel but open for anyone to have lunch. The majority of the cafe is all outside with a pool right in the middle, perfect for soaking up that warm Queensland air. You can find burgers, wood fire pizzas, salads and tapas on the menu, as well as ice-cream, smoothies and fresh sandwiches.
Fun fact: Although Arcadia sits on the smallest of the four main bays on Maggie, it’s definitely one of the most popular, probably due to it’s accessibility. It is surrounded by Alma Bay and Geoffrey Bay – which is actually a Marine National Park Zone, meaning no fishing or collecting.
There’s also a large stretch of fringing reef that extends the whole length the bay which makes it the perfect place for exploring rock pools and catching a glimpse of marine life in the low tide. At dusk you can also find heaps of wallabies in the car park who come out to find food.
The Bikini Tree Cafe & Restaurant || 1-4 Marine Parade, Arcadia || Ph: (07) 4778 5540
7. Make friends with the locals at the Koala Village
Bungalow Bay Koala Village in Horseshoe Bay, claims that they are the only resort in Australia that can boast its own on site wildlife park! I haven’t checked that fact, (and I definitely wouldn’t consider Bungalow Bay as a resort since it’s 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 I have visited 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
8. Stroll around the quiet streets of Picnic Bay
Picnic Bay might just have been one of the quietest places we have ever visited. Strolling down its tiny main street in the late afternoon, it felt like there was absolutely no one around.
Most of the restaurants and cafe were still closed, with the exception of the local Picnic Bay Hotel. There were a few people swimming in the beach and fishing off the jetty, but apart from that, almost deserted.
Despite it’s lack of people, Picnic Bay was a beautiful place to stop. It definitely didn’t make sense why there was almost no one in such a cute town and lovely clean beach. If you’re feeling lucky, take a stroll along the jetty for your chance to spot a local turtle or even a shy dugong that live close by.
It’s a great spot to go snorkelling if you have your own equipment, and I would imagine the lack of swimmers will drastically increase your chances of getting up close and personal with some of the beautiful marine life here.
Fun fact: The beautiful long jetty in Picnic Bay actually used to be the arrival point for passengers arriving to Magnetic Island by ferry before the new Magnetic Harbour Ferry Terminal opened in Nelly Bay in 2003.
Now there are no ferry arrivals, but it is still a favourite spot for people to go fishing and picnicking.
9. Hike, hike, hike your way around the island
It’s almost like Maggie was made just for hikers. There are countless beautiful walks across the island, which offer epic views, secluded beaches, wildlife encounters and a complete journey into nature that you just can’t find on other islands.
Following the trails completely immerses you in the depths of Maggie and the National Park that covers half of the island.
The Forts Walk is one of the most popular tracks on the island, which takes you to the historic World War II fortifications and infrastructure. 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 1.5 hours to complete the 4 kilometres return track.
10. Kick back and relax – that’s what island life is for!
Magnetic Island is the perfect place for some much needed rest and relaxation. Covered in pristine sandy beaches, glistening blue waters, a huge amount of local wildlife and perfect tropical weather, it is the definition of a natural paradise.
You can often find yourself in a secluded bay, where you can enjoy the beach all to yourself amongst the tall palm trees and rocky headlands huge granite boulders that meet the sea.