Off the coast of Townsville in Queensland, Magnetic Island is a must during a road trip on the East Coast. Nicknamed “Koala Island”, 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.
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How to access the island?
From Townsville, two ferry companies provide access to Magnetic Island.
The first company, Sealink, is ideal if you are a pedestrian. The crossing only takes 20 minutes. You can buy a return ticket for only $36 ($34 if you buy online). If you’re not sure of your departure time, don’t worry! 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, and it is ideal if you want to travel with your car. 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.
For a crossing with a standard vehicle and up to 5 passengers, expect to pay $216 for a round trip (or $226 if you pay when you get there). You will remain seated in your vehicle for the duration of the trip.
How to travel around the island?
Rent a car
Unsurprisingly, this is the most comfortable and fastest way to explore the island. You can rent an SUV with Sealink for $100 for 24 hours (which is cheaper than bringing your own car by ferry). Thanks to the SUV, you will be able to explore the whole island, as the western part of the island is made up of sand roads accessible only by SUV and 4WD.
Note that for more fun, you can hire a “Barbie car” or “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 make for great pictures)
Rent a bike
If you are a sporty type 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 just 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 getting around the island, apart from walking. You can buy a day pass for $7.60. However, it requires plenty of time and patience as the buses are not very frequent. Buses are run by the SunBus company but they only serve the eastern part of the island on the the “250” road. This includes all the important spots between Picnic Bay and Horseshoe Bay but the bus only goes 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
Walking around the island won’t cost you any money, and it’s not impossible, but it will take a lot of time. Be careful, the roads are not always suitable for pedestrians! However, there are several walk tracks that will allow you to reach the main points of interest. This is the most serene way to visit Magnetic Island.
Meet the local animals
The koala hike
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 eucalyptus trees and nestled in the forks between the branches, you will likely find a sleeping koala. 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. Our advice is to 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 when the area gets quite busy.
Take a wildlife tour
The Koala Village offers a Wildlife Tour for an unbeatable price. It will give you the opportunity to 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 am, 12 pm or 2.30pm. There is no need to book online, just make sure you arrive at the Koala Village a little early to reserve your place!
Things to do on Magnetic Island
If you want to discover the underwater world off the coast of Magnetic Island, Pleasure Divers and Pro Dive Magnetic Island are centres that offer courses for beginners and for more experienced divers.
You can bring your own equipment or rent it from one of the dive centres mentioned above.
The island has developed two paths or trails to follow while snorkeling: one from Nelly Bay and the other from Geoffrey Bay. It is a good idea to pick up a swimming card or ‘swim card’ from one of the shops on the island, to get your bearings and find out information about the different species of animals to observe. Pro Dive Magnetic Island offers tours aboard their ‘nautiful’ boat so you can swim, dive or snorkel in the turquoise waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
Magnetic Island Sea Kayaks offers 2-hour kayak tours, where you can observe turtles around the corals and explore various places accessible only by sea.
Relax on the beaches
The island offers a multitude of beaches, ready to be explored and enjoyed. Picnic Beach and Horseshoe Beach have a supervised swimming area. Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay are ideal for snorkelling and Horseshoe Bay will be your favourite if you want to do a sport like as jet skiing or boating.
Don’t miss the incredible sunset
The sunset is particularly beautiful on Magnetic Island. There are 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.
Visit the market
The small beachside market Horseshoe Bay Markets offers fresh fruits and vegetables, jewellery, clothing and local food. It takes place on the second and last Sunday of the month, from 9am to 2pm.
Where to sleep on the island?
For accommodation, there are several options to suit all budgets. Be sure to make your reservation in advance as the best accommodation will be booked up quickly!
The most economical
If you’re on a budget, Bungalow Bay Koala Village is one of the most affordable accommodation options on Magnetic Island. You can camp there or rent a bungalow. If you love nature, this is definitely what you need. It is famous for having many koalas in its surroundings.
The most practical
There are also many Airbnb options on the island. This is a way of meeting locals and enjoying pleasantly practical accommodation.
The most comfortable
Best time to visit Magnetic Island
The ideal time to visit Magnetic Island is from June to September, during the Australian winter. The temperatures are pleasant and there is less humidity than in the summer months. It is also the dry season, which means that there is less chance of rain during the day.
If you want to go diving or snorkelling, the best time to visit Magnetic Island is from November to May. This is when the water temperature is warmest and visibility is best. However, this period is during the rainy season in the region, so be prepared for occasional showers.