As a Queensland resident and traveller, I know a lot of national and international visitors love to visit our East Coast. And why not? It has fantastic beaches, lush rainforests and authentic outback towns. Just don’t skip Townsville up north and head straight for Cairns, because you will miss out on a gem: Magnetic Island. My parents moved to the island from our hometown, Townsville in 2011 and I am pretty damn glad they did (good work, parents). Here is a look at the best of Magnetic Island so you can see just why I enjoy visiting this tropical oasis whenever I am not globe-trotting.
Magnetic Island is situated eight kilometres off the coast of Townsville. The only way to get to “Maggie” is via the Sealink ferry service or Fantasea Cruising Magnetic barge. Both vessels do frequents trips to and fro daily. It just depends on your personal situation which option will suit you best.
There are a few different transport avenues you can choose once you arrive on Magnetic Island. Primarily, for budget travellers there is the public bus, which visits the four main bays on the island regularly. This will get you everywhere you need to go.
Your other choice is hiring a scooter, which a lot of visitors seem to choose. Just be careful as the island is all rocky hills. Finally, if you didn’t bring a car over on the barge, hire one! I LOVE these Barbie-inspired topless vehicles. I am pretty sure Magnetic Island is the only place you can find these awesome cars. Aren’t they just the cutest?
Best of the Bushwalks
70% of the island is Magnetic Island National Park, which equals a lot of nature for visitors to enjoy. The most popular trail is The Forts Walk, which is a 90 minute return trip and the best place to see Northern Australia’s largest population of koalas in the wild. At your destination you can discover some World War II artefacts including an observation tower, command post and gun emplacements. There are also stellar views over the Coral Sea.
Other walking trails include from bay to bay – by the water and over the hills. Visit this site for all the best bushwalks and you can pick up an information sheet once you arrive on the island.
Best of the Bays
There are 23 bays that make up Magnetic Island. My favourite is Horseshoe Bay, which is where my parents live and the place to go for markets on a Sunday, watersports and drinks by the water any day.
Then there is Radical, West Point, Arthur and Florence Bays, which are only accessible by four wheel drive but their seclusion ensures they remain pristine and beautiful. Geoffrey and Alma Bays are popular for swimming and snorkelling – you are in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park here, after all.
Following around the corner is Nelly Bay, where you will find the ferry terminal and most of the important amenities, including grocery stores and the post office. Finally, you will encounter Picnic Bay.
Here there is also a pub by the seaside, and a stinger net. Stinger who? Yeah, because Magnetic Island is in the tropics, our waters get inhabited by these killer pests called stingers from November to March. I personally would recommend visiting either Horseshoe or Picnic Bays during these months where there are stinger nets to swim inside. Otherwise, you have to wear a stinger suit aka neck to toe lycra. Or you can chance it and swim without a protection, which I don’t recommend – they are tiny things but they can kill.
Best of the Eateries
There are some great places to eat on Maggie. Along the Horseshoe Bay foreshore there is the Latin restaurant Noodies, that does amazing nachos, and if you buy a jug of cocktails you get a free sombrero!
Caffe Dell Isola at Arcadia is run by an Italian couple who have Italian music playing all day while they serve you beautiful gelato and authentic wood-fire pizzas. The Arcadia Hotel next door has daily specials you may want to check out for a budget meal during your stay.
Best of the Natives
Magnetic Island has some great wildlife for you to see. No doubt you may spot a kangaroo or ten if you happen to walk down a residential street in any of the bays. Geoffrey Bay is the place to see and hand feed the rock wallabies – they will happily eat bird feed or vegetables like carrots out of your hand.
And did I mention, koalas?! This photo just makes my heart swell. I was so lucky to capture this moment in the wild.
The Best of the Rest
Two other activities that need a mention on this Magnetic Island guide are…
This is definitely one of those bucket list items. It is amazing being able to ride a horse through the bush, onto the sand and then into the actual water. I certainly won’t forget it!
Once a month Base Backpackers on the island is turned into the Full Moon Down Under Party. The New Year’s Eve event is the biggest – attracting more than 3,000 people – but I went on just your average night and although I wasn’t in Thailand, I had paint on my face and a bucket in my hand, so it was kind of close.
The Best of Magnetic Island
As you can see, there is a lot that encompasses the best of Magnetic Island. It has a lot to offer everyone from budget backpackers, families and grey nomads. Stay for a night, a weekend or a week.