When looking for places to visit on the East Coast of Australia, you’ll find plenty of things to do on Magnetic Island. As one of the most popular places to visit on the East Coast, this little island off the city of Townsville packs a punch for plenty of activities to keep you busy for at least a couple of days.
Having visited as a backpacker a while ago, we went back there to see it in a whole different light. Back then, sitting around a hostel bar getting drunk for 5 days was fun, but this time around, I couldn’t believe how much I missed out on. We’re here to show you everything you need to know about what to do on Magnetic Island.
We’ll also share all of the information we learnt about getting the Magnetic Island ferry, the best accommodation on Magnetic Island, as well as what it was like visiting during the Christmas holidays.
Where Is Magnetic Island?
Not heard of Magnetic Island also sometimes known as Magnetic Islands? No worries. Located just 8km off the Queensland city of Townsville, you’ll certainly feel like a million miles away from the mainland Australia. With 52km to explore around the island, it’s home to over 2,000 residents.
It takes a good 24hr to drive to Townsville from Sydney, plus a 30m/45m ferry ride to get there.
Most people stop off in Airlie Beach on the way up to Cairns. It takes about 3h20m to drive there, but make sure you stop off at Bowen on the way up to see the beautiful beaches. If you’re coming from Cairns direction, many people stop off in Mission Beach on the way to Townsville which takes under 3hrs to drive. There are so many amazing waterfalls and secret swimming spots to discover between Mission Beach and Townsville, so you might want to stop between the two.
Alternatively, you can fly into Townsville and get the ferry from there. Townsville isn’t a massive city and takes less than a 15 minute cab ride to the Sea Link ferry terminal.
What Makes Magnetic Island So Popular?
Supposedly Magnetic Island is home to 320 sunny days a year. We were unlucky as it did rain a lot during our visit at Christmas but we still had fun. There’s an impressive 23 beaches and bays to explore, and it’s home to the highest population of wild koalas in Northern Australia.
Whilst it’s a popular backpacker destination and a fantastic must visit for anyone travelling the East Coast of Australia, it’s becoming increasingly popular with local tourism. Australians can enjoy a Great Barrier Reef island holiday without having to spend a fortune, and enjoy getting away from everyday life on this idyllic island.
Getting The Manetic Island Ferry
We nearly didn’t go to the island purely because we thought organising the Magnetic Island ferry was going to be a bit of a nightmare. We booked the trip on a last minute whim and needed to find out the logistics fast.
We stayed three nights on the island and ended up bringing our car over on the Magnetic Island car ferry because it would work out cheaper to than to hire one. We paid $260 for the return ferry to Magnetic Island between two of us. If we were visiting for 2 days, it would have been cheaper to hire a famous barbie car or topless car.
At the time of visiting, the Topless Cars weren’t running but you can find out more information about the topless cars here. If you don’t want to hire a car, there is a bus on the island which runs regularly as well as a taxi service.
The ferry took about 40minutes to get to Magnetic Island from Townsville. They have a bar on board so you can buy a drink and snack if needed.
Visiting Magnetic Island During Summer
I always thought visiting North Queensland during Summer would be way too hot and never considered it. Our Christmas plans down to Victoria were cancelled because of the pandemic, so we only decided to do a Cairns road trip the night before. This meant I had to organise all of our accommodation and logistics within a few hours. Luckily, Magnetic Island had been on our list to visit for a while and we knew we had to make a beeline to there.
The forecast said rain for the entire trip but we thought we’d just take our chances and go anyway because of tropical weather can sometimes say 100% rain but it rains for half an hour. It did rain, but not all the time during our stay on the island. But we did get a few spells of sunshine from time to time.
Did it impact our experience? Because it was quite hot, it didn’t really matter about the weather so much. I know the beaches would have had a different feel to them if we visited on sunny days, but overall there’s quite a lot to do on the island, so you it’s not like you’ll just stay indoors the whole time.
Just an FYI – during Summer months, you can only swim in the swimming nets in the ocean because it’s stinger season.
How Long To Stay On Magnetic Island?
We stayed on Magnetic Island for three nights and felt like that was enough time to do most of the activities on the island. If the weather was better, we could have easily stayed a few more days. If you’re short on time, two nights would be enough time to feel like you’re away from it all.
Magnetic Island Local Legend
Meet Jayson, who took over the incredible Cane Toad Racing on Magnetic Island with Brad 5 years ago to raise funds for the Arcadia Surf Life Saving Club. With over $1.2m raised in over 40 years, it’s the longest cane toad racing club in the world. It’s a must visit when you come to Magnetic Island!
Things To Do On Magnetic Island
We’re going to share all of the amazing things to do in Magnetic Island. From getting up close to the adorable rock wallabies, to rocking out at an ABBA night! There are so many things to do on Magnetic Island, you certainly won’t be bored!
Magnetic Island Tours
1. Aquascene Magnetic Island Discovery Tour
On of the best things to do on Magnetic Island is to go on the Aquascene Discovery Tour. In this 5 hour personalised boat trip around the island, you’ll be able to visit some of the 23 beaches without having to trek to them (a lot of the beaches don’t have car access to them).
You’ll be able to go on glass bottom boogie boards, float away on a SUP, snorkel in the best spots, go whale watching (if visiting between June to September) and you’ll learn all about the island from a local. Plus, you’re supporting a local business which is needed right now.
This is one of the best tours so you can make the most of your time on the island. So expect the following:
2. Dive At One Of The Top 5 Dive Sites In The World
Yongala Wreck is known as the best dive site in Australia, and top 5 dive sites in the world! You’ll be picked up at Nelly Bay in Magnetic Island to experience some of the most diverse marine life in the world. Expect to see dolphins, whales (between June – September), sea snakes and more. You’ll also learn all about the history of the wreck before heading underwater to explore it.
You’ll need to be a certified diver to take part in this experience but it’s worth it!
The newly opened Museum of Underwater Art is an experience like no other. Expect to be immersed in the Great Barrier Reef with incredible art work by the world’s leading underwater sculptor, Jason deCaries Taylor.
This bucket list experience is the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere highlighting reef conservation, restoration and education on a global scale. We can’t wait to go back to Townsville to discover this once in a lifetime experience! Honestly, put it on your bucket list right now!
With four dive sites to visit, the Magnetic Island site is due to open December 2021. You can experience the famous greenhouse site from Townsville right now.
There are a couple of unique Australian animal experiences in Magnetic Island! Get up close to the rock wallabies, watch cane toad racing and interact with Australian animals at the Koala Bay Village. Here’s what to expect.
4. Visit The Rock Wallabies At Geoffrey’s Bay
I think one of our favourite things to do in Magnetic Island easily has to be visiting the rock wallabies at Geoffrey’s Bay. The adorable wallabies live in the boulders at Geoffrey’s Bay and are such a delight to find. We had no idea if they would even be there, but we saw loads.
There are signs up saying do not feed the wallabies so please abide by it. They do say if you have to feed them, only feed them carrots or sweet potato. To be honest, please don’t do this. We witnessed people patting them like a dog and feeding them carrots. Although the wallabies are currently incredibly tame, I’m not sure how long that will last if people continue to feed them.
We did love this experience and it felt like a proper little gem being able to experience these gorgeous animals up close. Visit at around 5pm like we did and you’re sure to find these beautiful Australian animals ready to say hi to you.
You can actually drive right up to the rock wallabies as there’s a small car park next to them. If the car park is full, simply park at The Arcadia Hotel car park and it takes like a couple of minutes to walk over.
5. Cane Toad Racing At The Arcadia Hotel
The Arcadia Hotel is home to the famous cane toad racing which takes place on Wednesday nights at 8pm. It’s in aid of supporting the Arcadia Surf Life Saving Team and it was honestly one of the best things to do on Magnetic Island. When we visited, it was their biggest night ever, with one person betting a whopping $400 on a toad. The winner won $900!!
They have merchandise for sale and sell t-shirts in aid of the legendary event which you can pick up for $25 (Steve loved it so much he bought one!0. We had a ball, and absolutely loved the atmosphere and would totally come to Maggie Island again just to experience it.
Make sure you read our cane toad racing review below!
We actually stayed at the Bungalow Bay Koala Village but had no idea there’s a Koala Park located on site. It costs $40pp for a 1h30m guided tour around the Koala Park, although if you’re staying on site, it’s $35pp. In this interactive experience, you’ll be able to get up close to the adorable koalas, hold a snake and so much more. We loved this experience and would 100% recommend visiting and learning more about Australian animals.
There are loads of Magnetic Island walks to consider, but we’re going to list the most popular hikes on the island.
7. The Forts Walk
The Forts walk in Magnetic Island is rated the top thing to do on the island according to Trip Advisor reviews. The 1hr30m return walk is really popular for being able to spot koalas in the wild as well as expansive views across the island. Towards the end of the walk, you’ll find remnants from WWII. The bush is quite dry on this walk but it’s worth doing. There’s a small car park next to the start of the walking track as well as a bus stop so you can easily get the bus over.
8. The Forts To Horseshoe Bay Walk Via Balding Bay
At The Forts carpark, there’s another road leading off down the hill on Radical Bay Road towards Balding Bay. I did this walk which took me to the Instagram famous Arthur Bay lookout, Florence Bay, Radical Bay and Balding Bay. I then ended the walk at Horseshoe Bay and got the bus back up to our car. Originally I planned to walk to Radical Bay and walk back along the same track, but it’s not the most exciting walk and there’s a lot of hills to climb.
As you have to walk along a road full of pot holes, it’s not like you can see the views out to the ocean. You can’t drive down this road in a normal car but you can in 4×4. Just be careful as the pot holes are massive.
Here are my timings to get to every point from start at The Forts carpark.
Arthur Bay – 15 minutes
Arthur Bay Lookout – 25 minutes
Florence Bay – 45 minutes (there are toilets here)
Radical Bay – 1 hour
Balding Bay – 2 hours (it takes at least 15 minutes from the turn off to get there, and there is a toilet here)
Horseshoe Bay – 2h30m
Although on the map it doesn’t look far from Radical Bay to Horseshoe Bay, it took me ages. The walk down to Balding Bay takes so much longer than you think. Make sure you wear hiking boots as my thongs kept braking in the mud. It wasn’t pretty. None of the beaches had life guards or any facilities except the one’s mentioned above as they are remote beaches (except Horseshoe Bay).
9. Sunrise At Hawkings Point Lookout
Get up early and watch the sunrise from the beautiful Hawkings Point Lookout. The Hawkings Point walking track starts at the end of Picnic Street in Picnic Bay and climbs up to the incredible lookout over looking Rocky Bay. The 600m climb should take around 30 minutes but it would be worth it when you get to take in the stunning views.
Magnetic Island Beaches
There is an impressive 23 beaches in Magnetic Island to choose from. With plenty of bay with calm waters to swim in as well as swimming nets, you simply just need to choose which one to spend the day at. Here are the beaches we discovered on our trip.
10. Horseshoe Bay
There’s something really beautiful about Horseshoe Bay. I have to say it was our favourite part of the island as we were staying just around the corner at Bungalow Bay Koala Village. It had a really tropical feel to the island and the landscape made us feel like we were in somewhere like Hawaii.
11. Swim At Alma Bay
It turns out Alma Bay in Magnetic Island was voted the No.2 best beach in Queensland by the Queensland Surf Living Saving Association in 2020. It’s a gorgeous beach with beautiful boulders protecting the bay and must be one of the best beaches in Magnetic Island.
There’s a beautiful park by the beach, complete with a climbing frame for kids and picnic benches. It’s the sort of place you could spend the whole day at, appreciating the views and idyllic island life. It’s really easy to get to with parking next to the beach.
12. Walk Down The Jetty At Picnic Bay
I really love Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island. The beautiful and what feels like slightly quieter part of the island really feels like you’re away from it all. The jetty is absolutely beautiful and it’s known for being able to spot rays from in the Summer months. We saw lots of kids jumping off the jetty, but just be careful if you do so.
13. Arthur Bay Lookout
It didn’t surprise me to see that Arthur Bay is the most Instagram worthy place on Magnetic Island. You can get to this lookout by walking from The Forts car park. It took me 25 minutes to walk to Arthur Bay beach and then onto the lookout. If you’re only interested in going to the Arthur Bay lookout only, it takes about 20 minutes.
The weather wasn’t on my side when visiting, but I could see how beautiful it would look on a nice day. There is a fence at the lookout but a section where people have clearly walked around it to get a photo on the boulders. If you do this, just be super careful and remember you’re not invincible.
14. Snorkel At Florence Bay
Snorkelling at Florence Bay is always rated as one of the best things to do in Magnetic Island because of the abundance of fish life around this beach. You can either get there by walking down Radical Bay Road from The Forts car park or walk over from Horseshoe Bay.
Although Radical Bay Road looks like a road you can drive down, you can’t. There are massive pot holes which only a sturdy 4×4 could handle. I walked down to Florence Bay and stopped off at Arthur Bay on the way to it from The Forts car park and it took me 45minutes. It’s not the most exciting walk to get there and you’ll be going up and down hills to get there. Make sure you bring a lot of water with you.
So, I thought there was an actual piano at Radical Bay. I couldn’t wait to see a piano on the beach as it’s not something I’ve seen before. This is the reason I embarked on the Radical Bay walk but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Unfortunately there’s no a lot left of the piano, but the beach itself is amazing.
I absolutely loved Radical Bay and was the only person there when I visited it. There was something really special about it and I could only imagine how amazing it would look on a nice day. It’s also a turtle nesting area so if you’re lucky you might see some!
16. Nudist Beach At Balding Bay
Nudists, rejoice! There’s a nudist beach in Magnetic Island called Balding Bay, although it was an absolute pain to get to. It took me about 20 minutes from the turn off to walk down to the beach although to I was wearing thongs which was pretty stupid. You have to climb down loads of rocks and boulders and to be honest, it really wasn’t worth it for me.
On a nice day the beach would have been quite nice but I wasn’t feeling the vibe of it, probably because of the walk down to it in the mud!
Other Things To Do In Magnetic Island
There’s loads of other things to do in Magnetic Island which you need to know about. From driving a famous barbie car to partying at Base Backpackers or along to an ABBA show, there’s something for everyone!
17. Drive A Barbie Car
The barbie cars or topless cars on Magnetic Island is an institution. Whenever I was asked what Magnetic Island was like when I visited as a backpacker years ago, I always would say how much fun the barbie cars are. Although they weren’t running at the time of our visit, you can find out more information about Topless Cars in Magnetic Island here.
18. Visit Horseshoe Bay Markets
If you love going to the markets as much as we do, you have to go and visit the Horseshoe Bay Markets! Held on the second and last Sunday of the month from 9am-2pm, support the locals and buy some fresh produce, jewellery, clothing and more.
19. Experience The West Point Sunset
We had read West Point is the best place to watch the sunset on Magnetic Island. Unfortunately, as we drove out to the West Point, we had to turn around because there was a section which had flooded. It felt slightly too risky to attempt to cross it in our non 4×4 car.
The drive out to West Point is quite interesting though. You feel like this side of the island is almost forgotten about as you’re literally just out in the bush in the National Park.
20. Have Fun At Stage Door ABBA Show
We really wanted to go to Stage Door Theatre Restaurant purely because of the randomness of it. A couple run an ABBA show from what looks like their home on Magnetic Island. We drove past it and it actually looked amazing, complete with a stage. You’ll get a set 3-4 course dinner, followed by singing ABBA songs all night!
After staying at Base Backpackers in 2006, we went to check it out and it’s still the exact same, complete with the same dorms and party atmosphere.
If you’re looking to party on Magnetic Island, make sure you check out the Base Backpackers bar overlooking Nelly Bay. Line up your visit to Magnetic Island with the Island Life Beach Festival! You don’t need to be staying at Base Backpackers to party there.
There’s a bit of an art scene on Maggie Island! From Barefood Art, Food, Wine, Batuta Gallery and Peter Lawson Fine Art, there’s loads of art galleries on Magnetic Island to visit! Go and visit ArtSpace to support the local artists and buy anything from handmade jewellery and prints of the island as a memory keepsake.
Whilst there are loads of places to eat on Magnetic Island, we’re sharing the best restaurants we went to.
23. Barefoot, Art, Food, Wine
We asked quite a few locals where to eat in Magnetic Island and they all said Barefoot Cafe is the best. When we managed to book in to go there, I can honestly say they served up some of the best food I’ve had in ages. The homemade ravioli pictured above is by far the best ravioli I have ever tasted!
24. Mama Romas For Authentic Italian Pizza
We wanted to eat at Mama Romas because the pizza smelt so good when we walked past. Honestly, it looked amazing! The owner came out to speak to us who is authentically Italian, so you know you’re onto a good thing! Unfortunately, they were completely booked up which was a shame. I must say though, it did look like a locals restaurant so I’m guessing we missed out!
25. Ceylon Curry Corner For Authentic Sri Lankan
Looking for cheap Magnetic Island restaurants? We randomly passed by Ceylon Curry Corner whilst driving around the island and had to check it out. If you’re after cheap food in Magnetic Island, make sure you eat here. The food is so authentically Sri Lankan, we felt like we were back there as it was so good! We ordered two curry & rice, 2 roti and 2 popadom’s with 1 drink and it came to $29!
It’s located at the old helipad, in between XBase and Foodworks.
26. Breakfast At Scallywags Cafe
A lot of locals recommended Scally Wags Cafe to us and luckily we managed to visit on our final day in Magnetic Island. We were really impressed as the mushrooms made it for us!
27. Shaka Or Fruits N Scoops For Acai Bowls
When we visited the island, it was so hot, we could have done with an acai bowl, all day every day! Funnily enough, we only found acai bowls at the end of our trip at Fruit N Scoops near the ferry terminal. It was really good but we would have also tried Shaka Cafe it is was open during our visit. We heard amazing things about this healthy cafe in Magnetic Island but it was closed during the Christmas holidays when we visited.
Tip – the seafood restaurant next door to Fruit N Scoops also looks really good! We didn’t get a chance to visit, but totally would have done so if we had more time.
Where To Stay In Magnetic Island
28. Bungalow Bay Koala Bay Village
We stayed at Bungalow Bay Koala Village which used to be a YHA in Horseshoe Bay. I’m glad we stayed here because it’s a beautiful place. With a frame cabins, air con and your own fridge, it’s a fantastic budget option costing us around $120 a night during New Years. The cabins are tiny so if you’re looking to stay for longer than a few days, you might want to say somewhere a bit bigger.
We had a shared bathroom room and the facilities were great. There’s a bar on site and bean bags to chill out on although the bar doesn’t get rowdy, even on New Years Eve.
Steve had to work New Years Day for his remote job and we found a great little spot to work from near the bar. This is why we stayed here because we know we can always count on YHA being a decent budget friendly option, knowing we’ll always get a good sleep. There are loads of wallabies hanging around who are completely chilled out and nothing to fear during your stay.
They serve up toasted sandwiches and pizzas if you’re hungry but the restaurants at Horseshoe Bay are literally just a few minutes walk away. If you’re hungry, go to the Horseshoe Fish & Chips, it’s so good, we ate there twice in two days!
Base Backpackers is the place to stay on Magnetic Island if you’re looking to party (you can read our review here). The whole place revolves around the bar and although they have fun activities on like Bingo and parties, if you’re not into partying I wouldn’t stay here. Music is loud and I’m not sure if you’ll get much sleep if you’re staying in one of the dorms next door to the bar. The backpackers is located right on the beach and have beautiful views looking out towards Townsville. It’s a great place to meet other like minded people and have fun!
If you’d prefer to stay in a resort, we recommend staying at Peppers Blue on Blue Resort. With beautiful ocean and marina views at Nelly Bay, you’ll be able to sit back and relaz at their day spa, outdoor swimming pool and eat at their Boardwalk Restaurant.
With a short walk to the ferry terminal, you’ll have everything nearby for a fantastic stay.