The majority of backpackers coming to Australia travel up or down the East Coast to see the sights, however most past right through Townsville (from Cairns to Airlie Beach), skipping Magnetic Island.
Magnetic Island is commonly referred to as "Maggie" by the locals and 54% of the land is National Park. It's an obstacle rich environment where you can relax in a range of natural and man-made environments, play, explore and enjoy paradise. You can see almost everything in a day but it's quite relaxing to spend a night or two on the island. Go for a casual beach stroll or set out on a walk to discover grand views, plus the 23 bays and beaches.
Over 275 million years ago, molten granite was pushed to the earth's surface with volcanic force. The overlying volcanic rocks eventually weathered away, leaving behind the underlying granite mass decomposed along fracture lines, creating today's landscape of rounder domes and boulders.
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Here's an interactive map of the island:
What to do
The best things to do are free and I recommend these sights:
Picnic Bay & Rocky Bay
Visit the lookouts on either end of the Picnic Bay. Walk past the abandoned markets and out on the old jetty. Visit Rocky Bay, a secluded bay sometimes nudists are present.
Tom Thumb Lookout (or Sails Rock)
Tom Thumb (or Sails Rock) at Picnic Bay is a bit of a steep climb up but it's totally worth it; rewarded with beautiful views over the island and out to Townsville.
Hawkings Point Lookout
Hawkings Point Lookout is a lovely little spot in Picnic Bay to watch the sunset over the island. It's an easy walk up there, and has fantastic views over Picnic and Nelly bay. The walk only takes around 30 minutes and leads to a monalitch rock with views over Nelly Bay and Townsville. Tip: Head up just before dusk and watch the sunset.
Swim at Emla Bay
Relax, read a book and swim at Emla Bay.
Walk up to the Sphinx Lookout and do the Nelly Bay to Arcadia Trail.
The Forts Walk
The forts walk - At the end you are rewarded with excellent panoramic views of bays and the ocean. This walk is also famous for spotting Koalas in their natural environment. Keep an eye out on the eucalyptus trees off to the side!
Relax at Horseshoe Bay
Relax, swim, coffee, lunch, Horseshoe Bay is the largest bay on the island. A patrolled swimming enclosure, parkland, playground and picnic facilities lie directly front of a tourist strip of restaurants, shops and accommodation. Walk out along the beach, visit the lagoons; the Butterfly Walk is also a popular 100m walk with tourist.
A nice walk from Horseshoe Bay to Balding (nudist bay) to Radical to Florence to Arthur and back to the start of the Forts walk. There's a couple of sidewalks to lookouts along the way.
Radical Bay and Florence Bay
Florence Bay also offers a great place to snorkel with the underwater wildlife and around coral reefs.
Arthur Bay Lookout
Arthur Bay Lookout is one of the best lookouts on the island overlooking Arthur Bay. The view is well worth it!
Rock Wallabies at Geoffrey Bay
Watch the rock wallabies at Geoffrey Bay's old ferry terminal. Geoffrey Bay is an easy access nature lovers paradise. A large stretch of fringing reef extends the whole length of the bay, offering great snorkeling and reef walk. At dusk time wallabies come down to the car park to feed.
Fish feeding at Bremner Point
Feed the fish at Bremner Point. There's a whole lot of fish activity at the same place as the wallabies in Arcadia and on days with clear water you can see them swimming around the wreck of the Moltke.
Shipwrecks and Snorkeling
There are over 20 known shipwrecks around the island, which have been integrated into a shipwreck trail which circles the island created by Vivian Moran at the Maritime Museum. The SS City of Adelaide 1863 at Cockle Bay is one of my favorites. There are also other shipwrecks at Hawking Point, Geoffrey Bay, Picnic Bay, and Nelly Bay.
Swim to some great snorkeling spots at the Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay Snorkel Trails. Arthur Bay and Florence Bay are also favourites if you want to get off the beaten track.
Nelly Bay Snorkel Trail starts approximately 100m off the beach near Base Backpackers and turns left from the beach to follow the reef closest to shore. Follow the five white surface floats that outline the trail and offer flotation for snorkelers to rest. You will see plenty of fish, Lettuce Coral, Cauliflower Coral, Boulder Coral and Staghorn Coral.
Geoffrey Bay Snorkel Trail starts approximately 400m from the beach opposite Hotel Arcadia (parallel with the old barge ramp). It offers a good selection of fish to see around the Moltke wreck. For stronger swimmers the WWII aeroplane propeller and engine block (from a CW-22B Curtiss Falcon) also is a great adventure. Follow the white surface floats that outline the trail and offer flotation for snorkelers to rest. Subsurface floats are marked with letters that relate to the Swim Cards which are available from participating retail outlets. Yellow buoys further out to sea (and fringing Magnetic Island) are the baited shark lines. DO NOT swim up to the yellow buoys. Please DO NOT stand on coral or hold onto the subsurface numbered floats.
Bird watching - Magnetic Island has recorded 186 native birds including the bush stone-curlew, the majestic brahminy kite and the industrious Australian brush turkey. During the wet season (January to March) The Horseshoe Bay Lagoon comes alive, and walking it's boardwalk is a great way to check out the bird activity.
More touristy things that cost money:
- Full Moon Party at XBase
- Go scuba diving in Geoffrey Bay. Magnetic Island has many ship wrecks and fringing reefs. Perfect for a dive close to shore or take the time to head to the Great Barrier Reef.
- Hire a jet ski or go water skiing at Horseshoe Bay
- Go horse riding on Horseshoe Bay
- Rent a Kayak in Horseshoe Bay
- Sailing and fishing tours
- Wind & Kitesurfing - The old Nelly Bay Hellipad is the spot where you'll often catch the wind. Just check tide levels to make sure you're safe from the coral reef below.
If you're more into the adventure-side of things:
- Do some bouldering and rock climbing. I recommend you venture to Rocky Bay and explore the rocky bays of Maggie. Test yourself on the granite outcrops of Magnetic Island.
- Hike across five beach bay (Horseshoes Bay to West Point)
- Hike up to the summit Mt Cook
- Kayak from the mainland around Magnetic Island and back.
- Enjoying the refreshing waterfalls on Magnetic Island which can only been seen in the wet season. In the heavy rains, new waterfalls spring up everywhere around the island. Endeavour Falls (Petersen Creek) in Arcadia use to be a popular spot for the local but the landslide in 2013 place a large boulder right in the middle of the swimming hole. A dirt track, near a old shed, on the West Point Road past the Cockly Bay Road entrance leads to the small rock pool and waterfall at West Point. A boat is the best way to see the small waterfall at Huntingfield Bay, one of the bays are Five Beach Bay.
How to get around
- Bicycle - The best way to get around this island is via bike. You can take this on the SeaLink ferry without an additional charge. There are several hills between the bays you will need to climb but speeding down the other side is very rewarding. Not recommended during Summer.
- Bus - The SunBus is cheap public bus and will take you everywhere you want to go on the island.
- Take your car over on Fantasea or hire a topless car or a mini moke.
Your choice of day will also make a big difference to the enjoyment of your walk. Avoid the direct heat of the sun especially in Summer. The strength of the sun and the overall heat changes dramatically between November and March. I recommend you take the middle of the day to rest in the shade to avoid the midday heat and sun. Avoid walking or cycling between 12 noon - 3pm during summer/wet season (December to March) and wear sun protection.
Carry enough drinking water for your journey. There are no drinking fountians on the tracks.
Between November and March is stinger season. If you venture into the water wear a stinger suit. If you get stung have some vinegar with you to douse the sting.