Kayaking to or around Magnetic Island

Paddling can be so rewarding, and we are lucky to have such a gem of a kayaking destination that is perfectly located next to Townsville. Many locals surf ski across to Picnic Bay in the mornings before work or have a relaxing paddle around the island on the weekend. Pick your perfect paddle!

Kayaking to or around Magnetic Island

Location - Townsville, North Queensland, Australia
Distance - 7 km one way to Picnic Bay (or ~45 kilometres around the island)
Time - Allow 2 hours, one way, to Picnic Bay or 8-14 hours around the island

Paddling can be so rewarding for the mind and body, allowing us another way to connect with nature, and we are lucky to have such a gem of a kayaking destination that is perfectly located right next to Townsville. Many locals will opt to surf ski across to Picnic Bay in the mornings before work or have a relaxing paddle around the island on the weekend. Pick your perfect paddle!

A seven-kilometre, approximately one to two-hour, one-way trip takes you from Townsville's Strand to Magnetic Island, where you can stop at Picnic Bay for a coffee and/or breakfast before heading back. Just be sure to check the opening times for the cafes at Picnic Bay if you plan to paddle super early, as many of them do not open until 8:00 am. Many paddlers also choose to visit the gorgeous Rocky Bay, but note that there are no cafes or coffee shops on Rocky Bay. So, you may opt to bring your own thermos of coffee and morning tea to enjoy on the enormous boulders. Some even paddle straight to Nelly Bay, which is a nine-kilometre, one-way trip. Here, you can spend a bit more time enjoying coffee and brunch, or maybe even a walk, before returning to Townsville.

A 45-kilometre, multi-day, round-trip around the island takes you past some of Magnetic Island's most remote beaches and even several shipwrecks. What an experience! This trip around the island can also be done in one day (allow 8-14 hours, depending on your craft and skill).

There are so many benefits to paddling around Magnetic Island as opposed to taking the ferry. Indeed, you have the opportunity to see so much more than you would by foot or car, as many of the bays are only accessible from the water. Plus, you can enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with being away from the prominent tourist areas, too.

The best time to paddle over to the island tends to be early in the morning. The winds tend to be quite mild early in the mornings, and if you are really lucky to get out when it's flat and glassy, your paddle over will be even more enjoyable. There are several websites you can use to check the winds. Oftentimes, even if the wind is forecasted to pick up, it doesn't do so until after midday, which is also why paddlers tend to go out early in the mornings. And, if you are a sucker for sunrises, this is definitely the time for you!

Circumnavigating Magnetic Island

Regarding the direction when circumnavigation Magnetic Island: It doesn't really matter which direction you go. However, the choice between kayaking clockwise or anticlockwise around Magnetic Island can depend on a few factors, including wind, tides, and current conditions, which could vary based on the time of year, as well as your own preferences for what you'd like to see.

Generally, both directions would offer you stunning views and unique experiences. However, considering the typical wind direction might be beneficial. For instance, the prevailing winds along the coast of North Queensland often come from the southeast, especially during the cooler months. The eastern side of the island is generally the most exposed under the prevailing easterly (sometimes slightly north or south). The eastern side area is also the prettiest part of the island from the water, with the exception of Liver Point.

Avoid paddling against the strongest tides with the two main spots being near the NW and NE points in the direction of the outgoing tide. This is not a major issue, but a strong tide can slow you down a bit.


If you decide to paddle clockwise, you would start by paddling northeast towards Magnetic Island, which might be against the prevailing winds. However, this route could potentially offer more protection from the wind as you move further around the island due to its natural topography. I tend to paddle towards Bolger Bay on the initial crossing to get as much wind break as possible and then alter towards the point.


If you choose to paddle anticlockwise, you may find the eastern side of the island more challenging when you have to paddle against the wind. Early mornings tend to be the calmer part of the day. Both options would provide you with the opportunity to see Magnetic Island in its perfection.

If you want to line up a following sea for the last leg home. You'll generally get some headwinds whatever route you get but can be nice to ride the runners home. So check the Windy models and if there is east to south/east in it you may want to go clockwise. If more northerly might work better to go anticlockwise.

Always remember to check the local weather conditions before you depart, and plan your trip accordingly. For a reasonably experienced kayaker, there is not really much to worry about going around the island in mild to moderate conditions. Note the sea breeze often swings to the northeast closer to shore in the afternoon (for the last crossing home).

What you need

  • Safety gear (PLB/EPIRB, first aid kit, life jacket, etc.), navigational equipment, and skills/knowledge required for your specific watercraft. The ability to swim, as well as confidence in the water, and an ability to stay calm, so you can think rationally in emergencies.
  • A skirt, a paddle, and a sit-in kayak, a surf ski, or another type of small watercraft. The watercraft needs to be well-maintained and seaworthy.
  • Also, consider a paddle leash, a bailing device to ensure the inside of your watercraft stays dry could be advisable.
  • Drinking water and snacks.
  • A dry bag (for phone/camera, dry clothes, optional items, etc. depending on the length of your trip).
  • Sunscreen and sun-protective clothing (e.g., sunglasses, long-sleeved top, gloves, appropriate water shoes - especially if you plan to hit up a cafe or take a walk on the island).

Groups to join

Townsville Kayak Club
Townsville Alive!
Magnetic Island Outrigger Canoe Club
Townsville Outrigging Canoe

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