Tropical weather, beautiful beaches, interesting history, and breathtaking viewpoints all characterize this island that is really not to be missed when travelling down the east coast of Australia. A Magnetic Island day trip from Townsville will be a highlight of your time in Queensland. The island is only half an hour away from the tropical city by boat, but world’s away in atmosphere – it’s a chill kind of place where you can sip coconuts on the beach and ride around in obscenely small pink cars (optional).
And what’s more, the best thing about Magnetic Island is that it can be visited independently in just one day. Read on for the best things to do in a day trip to Magnetic Island…
Getting to Townsville
Townsville is located about halfway between Cairns and Airlie Beach on the east coast traveller trail. If you are driving, it’s a very easy journey up or down the Bruce Highway. Other options are to get to Townsville by Greyhound or Premier Bus. Both stop at the SeaLink Ferry Terminal, making it very easy for you to purchase boat tickets and hop across to Magnetic Island!
If you are travelling by coach, make sure you book to arrive at an early time to make the most of your day on Magnetic Island. If your coach doesn’t get in until later in the morning or the afternoon, you may want to think about spending some time in Townsville (there are plenty of things to do here) and booking a hostel or hotel in Townsville.
Alternatively, you could head over to Magnetic Island early and spend the night there. The choice is yours!
There is a car park, but it fills up very early and costs $7.50 to leave the car for the day. The SeaLink website also does not guarantee that it will be completely secure. If you can synchronize your trip for a Saturday or Sunday, there is lots of free parking on the streets. Alternatively, you could use the secure parking at Metro Quays Car Park in Ogden Street and take a Sunbus to the terminal.
Taking the Ferry from Townsville to Magnetic Island
It is advised that you get to the terminal 20 minutes before departure – here’s a full timetable. Aim to be on the earliest ferry possible to make the most of your day trip to Magnetic Island. I won’t give you a purchasing tickets play by play as it is very self explanatory, but a return ticket will set you back $33. Kinda pricey, I know, but it’s worth it!
You also have the option to purchase a daily bus ticket at the time of buying your boat tickets. It doesn’t work out cheaper, but it makes sense to get them all at once. It costs $7.20 for a day pass.
You can store any possessions in lockers at the Breakwater Terminal from 8am to 6pm which cost $8 for 24 hours storage. However, if you’re visiting Magnetic Island when there is an event on, double check that the lockers are offered.
Arriving in Magnetic Island
Yay! You’ve arrived on the paradise island that sees 320 days of sun every year (take that, Britain!). Walk through the terminal and find the bus stop on the other side. This ploughs the island and will take you to all the popular stops, including Horseshoe Bay and the Forts Walk.
Things to do in Magnetic Island
Snorkelling at Nelly Bay and Geoffery Bay
With all the hikes and amazing viewpoints, it’s easy to forget that Magnetic Island is one of the best places to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Pick up some waterproof snorkeling cards and snorkel gear from supporting retailers, wrap them around your wrist and take to the water, with the cards guiding you.
Following the surface floats will help you stay on track and they provide resting points. Nelly Bay is great for beginners, and Geoffrey Bay is good for stronger swimmers – the Moltke Wreck and the WWII airoplane propeller is nearby.
If you are snorkeling in the months from November – April, be sure to wear a stinger suit.
The Forts Walk
The Forts Walk is a Magnetic Island must-do, as it merges some of the things that the tropical paradise is most famous for – spectacular lookouts, WWII history, and koala bears. You’re very likely to see one of these creatures while exploring the walk; if you do, admire them from afar and don’t try to touch them. Koalas may look cuddly, but they’re really not the most social of creatures!
The walk will educate you into some fascinating history about the use of Magnetic Island in WWII. Looking at the idyllic surroundings today, it’s hard to believe how significant the Magnetic Battery was in the early 1940s! The route goes around some interesting infrastructure, with plenty of information about the island in the war.
And of course, you’re treated to some epic viewpoints, including panoramic views of the tropical island.
Bustling Horseshoe Bay may well be your perfect seaside town; home to various shops, bars and restaurants, with a gorgeous beachfront and very friendly locals (I mean, you would be if you lived here, right?), there’s all you need here for a lunch break in paradise.
If you’re needing to cool down from some tropical heat, take a dip in the safe-for-swimming areas of the beach (where there are stinger nets). Horseshoe Bay is very pleasant to play some beach games, or just relax by the sea.
Walk to Balding Bay or Radical Bay
If you’re after some more adrenalin, and if Horseshoe Bay is just that little bit too busy for you, how about taking a hike to Balding Bay or Radical Bay? These secluded beaches are a bit more strenuous to reach, but well worth the hike.
You’ll need to take a 3km hike/ climb to either of these beaches, which takes you over rocks and through woodland. It’s fairly strenuous to get there, but you will be more than rewarded once you do; with blissful, uninterrupted beach scenes that you only thought existed in Peter Pan’s Neverland.
Just so you know – Balding Bay is the island’s unofficial nudist beach. You don’t have to strip off if you go there, but others around you might. Just keeping y’all in the loop.
Picnic Bay to Alma Bay Walk
This 5.9km hike is classed as a ‘bushwalk’ (after 18 months in Australia I’m still not quite sure what is and isn’t a bushwalk) and takes you from beach to beach, through forest, over rocks and across the occasional road. Pack some bug spray for this one and remember to take your two litres + of water!
The Forts to Horseshoe Bay
It’s recommended to do this in the afternoon, as the sun will be less harsh. Taking you from high viewpoints where you can see the entire island to the beautiful coast, this is a great way to take in some of the best landscapes of Magnetic Island – and it’s a fantastic alternative to taking the bus!
Tom Thumb in Picnic Bay
Also known as Sails Rock, Tom Thumb is a great side-trip from Picnic Bay. It’s a steep climb, but you’ll be rewarded with views of the whole island and beautiful ocean, stretching all the way to Townsville and the mainland of Australia.
See Rock Wallabies
On the rocks by Arcadia live a friendly bunch of rock wallabies – they are normally hanging around form 4:30pm until sundown. It’s a great place to see these animals, but please don’t feed them – they are wild animals after all, and aren’t accustomed to your Woolworths picnic! Also be sure not to go too close or perturb them in any way.
Yoga on Magnetic Island
The atmosphere of the Queensland island is a great place to get your zen orn, and there are classes almost every day. Enjoy yoga in a beautiful and airy studio, or take a class right by the beach – up to you! Here’s the complete schedule and exact locations.
A Word on Holding a Koala – Don’t Do It
Just imagine you’re in bed on a Sunday at 7am. You’ve woken up, realized you don’t need to go to work and are just settling down for a lie in. Then giant animals come into the room and pick you up. They don’t look menacing, but they’re passing you from set of arms to set of arms and taking photos. All you want to do is to be back between your toasty sheets.
Koalas feel the same when people hold them – in fact, it’s much worse because they’re actually very antisocial, sleepy creatures who don’t have a lot of energy and are susceptible to stress. Holding them damages them and shortens their lifespan. They don’t like being disturbed by humans, and like being passed from person to person even less. You can read more about koalas here, but don’t contribute to their endangerment for a photo.
Do I need a car for Magnetic Island?
Everything detailed above is easy to get to via bus. The bus network is pretty good and is both budget-friendly and kinder to the environment. But if you’re only spending one day on Magnetic Island or if there’s a group of you, you might find it more convenient and cost effective to rent a car. The most popular are the tropical topless car rentals which make me want to sing along to Aqua’s Barbie Girl everytime I see them (not saying that’s a bad thing…). If that’s not you’re scene have no fear, there’s other options too. Here’s SeaLink’s complete list.
Places to Eat on Magnetic Island
There’s all sorts of places to eat on Maggie Island – from cheap sandwich bars to 5* restaurants.
If you’re visiting Magnetic Island on a budget, there are BBQs in Picnic Bay, Nelly Bay, Alma Bay and Horseshoe Bay. (If you’re an international tourist in Australia, make the most of these BBQs. It’s one of the things I miss the most from my island home.) There are two Foodworks stores and one IGA on Magnetic Island.
Restaurants on Magnetic Island
Gilligan’s – A themed bar serving everything from breakfast to dinner. It’s fun and themed, and has a varied menu to suit everyone’s tastebuds.
Arcadia Pub – this lively restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere, and great food and drinks
Sandi’s – A beach bar and restaurant located in Horseshoe Bay, Sandi’s serves a mix of German and Australian food with some great local drinks.
Boardwalk Restaurant and Bar – in Peppers Blue on Blue Resort, this swanky restaurant looks over the marina and offers delicious a la carte dinners.
Spending more than a day on Magnetic Island? Here’s some accommodation recommendations
You might be reading this through and thinking ‘woah woah woah, I need to spend at least 3 days on Magnetic Island to take it all in! If you’re thinking of extending your stay to a 2 day trip to Magnetic Island or longer, I’ve got your back. Here’s some of the best places to stay on Magnetic Island…
Budget Accomodation on Magnetic Island
Backpacker – BASE Hostel is thought by many to be the best hostel in Queensland – and some say in all of Australia. It offers features like a bar, BBQ facilities, a game room and bar activities. You can also hire a bike from here to explore the island. The location is beautiful, looking out onto Nelly Bay – it’s the perfect spot to relax in after a busy day’s island exploring. The legendary Full Moon Parties are also held here; be sure to book in advance if you’re wanting to stay on the island at this time! Check here for rates and to book.
Budget – Perfect for those wishing for a bit of privacy in a chilled atmosphere, but not wanting to break the bank, CStay is just a 3 minute walk from the beach. The rooms are well facilitated – amazing value for the budget price – and the hotel is close to all of the main attractions of Magnetic Island. Click here for rates and to book today.
Great Hotels on Magnetic Island
Mid-Range – Located very close to Nelly Bay beach, Amaroo on Mandalay hotel is perfect for those who love to be in the great outdoors. With two tennis courts and an outdoor pool, as well as lots of wildlife on the premises; you’ll love Amaroo before you even step into the rooms. The garden view bedrooms feature free wifi, individual patios, a kitchenette and a fully equipped bathroom. Click here for more information and to make a reservation.
Luxury – Peppers Blue on Blue is a great luxury pick for those wanting to really indulge during their time on Magnetic Island. With vistas over the marina and the mountain, Peppers is home to a variety of rooms and suites, each with their own balconies. On site is a swimming pool, a bar and restaurant. Breakfast is included. Click here for details and to book today.
There is sadly no free campsites on Magnetic Island – or any campsites for that matter. The YHA in Horseshoe Bay (I’m a poet) can however accommodate some tents and camper vans.
Check out Airbnb for a variety of accommodations at different budgets. Get $45 travel credit when you sign up using this link.
Accommodation recommendations for your return to Townsville
Backpacker – Rambutan Townsville is located 350 metres from the city centre and offers free WiFi access. Travelellers love it here; the dorm rooms are luxurious and perfectly clean and the décor is tasteful and chilled. The hostel offers poolside games Tuesdays and Thursdays and $10 dinner specials every day. Click here for rates and book today!
Budget – Offering budget double and twin rooms, Coral Lodge is just 6 minutes walk from the beach – perfect if you didn’t find enough beaches on Maggie to get your fix! The low rate includes great breakfast and some rooms have a private bathroom. Check here for rates and to book.
Mid-Range – Cascade Motel is a little far out, but is great value for the price, which makes it perfect if you’re continuing your trip away from the city after visiting Magnetic Island. Each room has a private bathroom, free wifi, a flat screen TV and tea and coffee making facilities and the hotel enjoys a swimming pool and restaurant. Click here for more information and to book.
Luxury – Located just 5 minutes from the Magnetic Island Ferry Terminal, Classique Bed and Breakfast features rooms with air conditioning and a private bathroom. It is a quiet spot that’s great to kick back and relax, and includes breakfast. For rates and to book, click here.
If you are camping down the east coast, there are plenty of free and paid-for campsites in and around Townsville. I slept in my car in a vehicle-only rest stop at a BP garage the first time I was in Townsville and camped around an hour north the second time.
And remember, if you want to use Airbnb in Townsville or anywhere else in Australia (or the world, for that matter!) you can get $45 off when you sign up using this link.
And that’s a wrap! What’s your favourite tropical island? Let me know in the comments or over on Facebook!
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