Magnetic Island, sometimes affectionately referred to as ‘Maggie Island’, is an eight kilometre ferry ride from Townsville in North Queensland, and is a paradise full of options. It’s an ideal, affordable, tropical Australian holiday spot with a World Heritage National Park, a bountiful array of beaches and stunning bays offering a relaxed island lifestyle.
We travelled there in early September when the conditions were idyllic. No summer cyclones, no stingers in the tropical waters, not too hot and no school holidays, all the essential criteria for an amazing time. The two ferry companies operate about every 30 minutes from Townsville and the cost is around AUD$35pp return.
0n arrival in Nelly Bay, the main centre of Magnetic Island, we made our way straight to the car rental company. There are several companies from which to choose. Topless Car Rentals is a popular choice but the ‘boys’ who visit prefer Arcadia Car Rentals for 4 wheel drives that allow a full exploration of the island’s off road tracks and secluded hot spots. The advantage of renting a car gave us the freedom to traverse the whole island, even though there is a great bus service that operates regularly between the main settlement areas.
There is a wide range of accommodation options on the island, from backpacker resorts to five star hotels. Peppers Blue on Blue is one of the top choices but we were very pleased with the more moderately priced stay at Island Leisure Resort just one kilometre from the ferry terminal in Nelly Bay. The resort was quiet and centrally located with an inviting, stone swimming pool, handy barbecue facilities, a licensed snack and drink bar and an activities centre. Our room was spacious, immaculately clean with a fully equipped kitchen, restful, resort-style decor and comfortable bedding.
Magnetic island is renowned for its magnificent bays. Geoffrey and Alma Bays at Arcadia, part of the Marine National Park Zone, are easily accessible and popular for swimming. However, our first choice of bays for exploring was Balding Bay known as a popular naturist spot for swimming and sunbathing. This extraordinarily picturesque bay made us work for its rewards. The walk from the entrance of the National Park, a few hundred metres from the Koala Park, was a moderately difficult 40 minute track up a number of steep, rocky cliffs and there was a need to scramble over large boulders at times.
If requiring a knee replacement probably not the best option for you but otherwise take the challenge. It’s definitely worth it. Balding Bay was a highlight of our visit to Magnetic Island with its calm, gleaming, clean water, replete with golden sand and precariously balanced natural boulder formations. Be prepared to take everything you need for the day as there are no facilities on this isolated coastal gem. Another popular naturist swimming spot on the island is Cockle Bay, nearby charming Picnic Bay.
Horseshoe Bay, about 10 kilometres from Nelly Bay, is the largest bay on the island with a full range of restaurants and bars and a selection of water sports like canoeing, sailing and jet skiing. Magnetic Jet Ski tours is located here, offering an enticing three hours exploring the island’s bays and a chance to swim in pristine waters. On the weekends Horseshoe Bay also hosts an outdoor market under the palm trees along the foreshore. The market, although small, was particularly entertaining with some ingenious eco-friendly, locally-made products.
Trekking is a popular option on the island, especially with the alternating groups of overseas backpackers. Recommended walks were the Forts Walk taking about 2.5 hours return, offering panoramic views of the rugged island coastline. From the same starting point you will also find the entrance to Radical Bay which is perhaps the most famous trekking destination on the island. It can also be reached by 4 wheel drive.
There is no shortage of eating places on the island. However, after 8pm most restaurants close their kitchens. Don’t be late or you might have to rely on your rations back in the room. For a slightly more upmarket dining experience we tried the Waterfront Restaurant at Blue on Blue, an excellent alfresco experience.
An Asian choice we can highly recommend is Thai Again for something super fresh and tantalisingly spicy. Scallywags Café is a local favourite, as is the pub at Picnic Bay, especially if you’re looking for a simple steak dinner. Sandis at Horseshoe Bay has local fresh seafood and some German specialties. On market day we ate at Nourish which has a wide range of healthy options, delicious cakes and great coffee.
To complete your stay on the island take your 4WD vehicle to West Point for a spectacular sunset looking back to mainland Australia. The gravel road is an easy drive and there is a stunning beach perfect for a romantic sunset walk. Whatever you choose, whether it be snorkelling, horseback riding, golf, holding a koala or simply relaxing on one of the many unspoilt beaches, Magnetic Islands is full of options to please every tourist taste.
Know Before You Go
Stinger season starts around November to March making swimming dangerous.
Swimming is still possible in netted areas but cannot be guaranteed safe during the summer season.
Cyclone season is also during the summer months and Magnetic Island has weathered its fair share of turbulent tempests.
September is the best month to visit the island with low rainfall, pleasant temperatures and idyllic conditions for all activities.
The ferry companies will provide brochures and maps of the island before you leave from Townsville so you can do some planning on your way across.