Off the coast of Townsville in Queensland, Magnetic Island is a must during a road trip on the East Coast. Nicknamed “the island of koalas”, it is home to the largest colony of these Australian icons. This tiny island is the perfect place to relax, snorkel, paddle or even go diving. This guide shares the best things to do for the ultimate Magnetic Island experience.
How to access the island
From Townsville, two ferry companies provide access to Magnetic Island.
Firstly, Sealink is ideal if you are a pedestrian. The crossing takes only 20 minutes. It is possible to buy a return ticket online for only $30. There’s no need to plan too far in advance as ferries run approximately every hour and can also be booked directly at the Townsville terminal.
Magnetic Island Ferries
Magnetic Island Ferries is the second company, it is ideal if you want to take your car across. This option takes 40 minutes for the crossing. Ferries are a little less frequent (every two hours) and will need to be booked in advance, online. It costs $206 for a return trip with a standard car. This price also includes the driver. This will also mean you won’t need to rent a car once you reach the island.
How to travel on the island
Rent a car
Understandably, this is the most comfortable and quickest way to explore the island. I personally chose to rent an SUV with Sealink and paid $90 for 24 hours which turns out cheaper than bringing your own car by ferry. Thanks to this SUV, I was able to travel the whole island as the western part of the island is restricted to roads only accessible only by SUV and 4WD.
Note that for more fun, you can hire the “Barbie car” or the “topless car” which are tiny, almost toy-like colourful convertible cars. Unfortunately, these are not permitted on all roads on the island as they are not 4WD but they are super fun.
Rent a bike
If you are more sporty and the weather permits, renting a bike is an economical and comfortable option for getting around the island. With the Fnf company, you can hire a bike for 24 hours for only $25. The island is relatively small, for example, you can get from Picnic Bay to Horseshoe Bay in 45 minutes. Note, however, there are some roads on the island that have steep climbs.
Use public transport
Using public transport is the cheapest option for walking on the island. You can buy a day pass for $7 however, it requires plenty of time and patience as the busses are not very frequent. Busses are run by the SunBus company however, they only serve the eastern part of the island on the the “250” road. This includes all the important points between Picnic Bay and Horseshoe Bay but as mentioned, the bus only passes about once an hour so if you miss it, much of your island time will be wasted waiting on public transport.
Visit the island on foot
Technically this is the cheapest option as it’s free however, it is not advised because although visiting the island on foot is possible it takes time and the roads are not always suitable for pedestrians. It’s also very difficult in the heat, so if you plan on exploring on foot ensure you bring enough water and of course sun protection. There are however several walking tracks and hikes which will allow you to reach the main points of interest, the most popular being The Forts (more info below.)
Meet the animals
The koala ride
The number 1 activity on the island is the “The forts walk” hike. It will allow you to see koalas in the wild. Make sure to look up nearer the top of the trees and nestled in the forks between the branches, you will likely find a sleeping koala. I personally observed ten koalas during this walk, including a mother with her baby. As a tip, don’t hesitate to ask other travellers you meet on the walk for advice. You will find everyone is happy to share the info on “where is the next koala?”
Allow 90 minutes round trip for the full hike. At the end of this walk, you can climb into the old fort and then admire a superb panoramic view of the surrounding beaches.
Observe the wallabies
Next, go to the “Rock Wallabies”, located by the rocks at the end of Armand Way. You will be able to observe tiny wallabies in their natural environment. They are familiar with visitors so some are quite sociable and will approach you. As a tip, arrive early in the morning as you will avoid the crowds and be alone with the little animals. This means they will come out of their rocky hiding places more easily compared to the late afternoon where the area gets quite busy.
Take a Wildlife Tour
The Koala Village offers a Wildlife Tour for an unbeatable price. Here you will have the opportunity for some amazing animal encounters such as cuddle a Koala, carry a python on your shoulders, hold a lizard, feed a crocodile and learn more about the island. All for only $ 30 for a 2-hour tour. There are three tours per day: 10 a.m, 12 p.m or 2:30 p.m. There is no need to book online, just make sure you arrive at the Koala village a little earlier to reserve your place.
Relax on the beaches
The island offers a multitude of beaches, ready to be explored and enjoyed. Picnic and Horseshoe beaches offer a supervised swimming area. Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay are ideal for snorkelling and finally, Horseshoe Bay will be your favourite if you want to do an aquatic sport such as jet ski or boating.
Don’t miss the incredible sunset
The sunset is particularly beautiful on Magnetic Island. There is a view particularly good viewpoints to watch the show. Starting with West Point, located in the northwest of the island where the sunset is fabulous. Please note, you can only access it by SUV or 4WD because the roads to get there are very sandy. If you prefer more accessible alternatives to watch the sunset head to Horseshoe Bay or Picnic Bay.
Where to sleep on the island
For accommodation, there are several solutions to suit all budgets. Be sure to book in advance as the best accommodation will be booked up quickly as there is high demand.
The most economical
There are a few hostels on Magnetic Island which are ideal accommodation options for those backpacking Australia. Some offer private rooms and bungalows near the beach, other hostels offer shared dorm rooms to meet other backpackers. Check out Hostel World for availability and the best deals to find a hostel to suit your budget.
The most memorable
Bungalow Bay Koala Village is one of the most memorable places to stay on Magnetic Island as well as being well priced for backpackers. It is the same location where the wildlife tour is and you will have the opportunity to go camping or rent a bungalow near the animals. If you love nature, this is definitely the accommodation for you as you can fall asleep with the koalas in the trees above you!
The most practical
There are also many Airbnb offers on the island. It is a way of meeting locals and enjoying pleasantly practical accommodation. For my trip, I chose this solution and have zero complaints.