If you want to holiday on one of Queensland’s many islands and don’t want to spend a lot of money getting there or staying in a fancy resort, Magnetic Island is just the place for you. Read on for top tips, exciting things to do and other important information to help you plan your next holiday to the beautiful Magnetic Island.



Interesting Facts About Magnetic Island

If you thought that all of Queensland’s islands are situated in the Whitsundays, think again. Magnetic Island is situated only 8 km (5 miles) off the coast of Townsville making this island a popular destination for almost everyone as it’s relatively easy and cheap to get to. With abundant wildlife, stunning beaches, great eating, scenic walks and thrilling water sports to boast of, it’s no wonder why Magnetic Island has been drawing millions of visitors to its shores for decades.

Magnetic Island is a unique island because it’s a ‘real’ island. People live and work here and some even make the daily commute to Townsville. Officially a suburb of Townsville, Magnetic Island has 2,500 inhabitants and is the only reef island with a significant permanent population.

If you’re wondering how Magnetic Island got its name, here’s an interesting story. Captain Cook named Magnetic Island in 1770, when his ship’s compass went peculiar as he sailed by. He erroneously believed that magnetic fields generated by the huge granite boulders he could see were causing problems with his compass. How wrong was he and what a place to miss out on!

Magnetic Island is colloquially known as ‘Maggie’ by the locals.


Top Tips for Visiting Magnetic Island

  • There is no information centre on Magnetic Island. Stop off at the Flinders Mall Visitor Information Centre in Townsville (280 Flinders Street, Townsville City) before you cross to the island
  • While you can bring your car on the ferry from Townsville, it is advisable to hire an open-sided minimoke on the island or ride the public bus or bicycle around the island
  • Stay at Nelly Beach while day-tripping to Horseshoe Bay for the many activities on offer


Best Time to Visit Magnetic Island

The best time of the year to visit Magnetic Island is during the winters months (June to August) when the temperature is a pleasant 27 degrees during the day. The water is still warm enough to swim in and there are no stingers in the waters around this time. The wet season and the stinger season are over by winter making it ideal to go in the water. The whale migrating season happens towards the end of winter allowing visitors to spot humpback whales migrating through the waters around Magnetic Island. A visit to Magnetic Island during winter is an ideal getaway from the cold winter of the southern cities.


Where is Magnetic Island located?

Magnetic Island is located 8 km (5 miles) off the east coast of Townsville, Queensland, Australia.


Magnetic Island Map


Top 10 Things to Do on Magnetic Island

If you’re wondering about what to do on Magnetic Island, take a look at our list of Magnetic Island activities. There are plenty of things to do on the island so we have put together a list of the 10 most popular activities here.

  1. Snorkel in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  2. Swim in the shallow, warm waters surrounding the island
  3. Dive a nearby site or the outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef
  4. Splurge on water sports in Horseshoe Bay
  5. Embark on a horse riding trip into the bush and onto the beach
  6. Go on a fishing trip from Horseshoe Bay
  7. Enjoy one of the island’s 20kms (13 miles) of hiking trails
  8. Play a round of golf at the Magnetic Island Country Club
  9. Go sailing around Magnetic Island
  10. Dine on fresh, tasty seafood at one of the seafood eateries on the island


1. Magnetic Island Snorkelling


One of the most popular things to do on Magnetic Island is snorkelling. The island is not on the Great Barrier Reef, but the surrounding waters are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The weak currents that flow around the island and the softly sloping beaches make snorkelling easy for first-time snorkellers.

The best snorkelling spots around the island are:

  • Florence Bay on the southern edge,
  • Arthur Bay on the northern edge, and
  • Geoffrey Bay, where you can even reef-walk at low tide. (Wear sturdy shoes and do not walk directly on coral to avoid damaging it.)


2. Magnetic Island Swimming

If you’re not into snorkelling, you might want to consider swimming perhaps, or both? Magnetic Island has the perfect temperature water for swimming throughout the year. Outside stinger season (usually between November and April; varies each year depending on sea temperatures), there is good swimming at any number of bays all around the island.

The best swimming holes around the island are:

  • Reef-free Alma Bay, with its shady lawns and playground, making it a good choice for families, and
  • Rocky Bay, which is a small, secluded cove.

If you’re swimming during stinger season, stinger nets are available at Picnic Bay and Horseshoe Bay. If you are swimming outside the nets during the season it is advisable to wear a stinger suit which you can either buy or hire from outlets on the island. If you are venturing to remote beaches, it is also advisable to take vinegar with you to treat any possible stings.


3. Magnetic Island Diving

While not on the Great Barrier Reef itself, Magnetic Island’s location within the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park allows for easy access to some of the best dive sites in the region. The waters around Magnetic Island are warm and relatively shallow all year round, making it accessible for novice divers or for a relaxed, enjoyable dive. The beautiful bays and rocky headlands of the island provide a home for fringing coral reefs and a wide variety of fish and other sea-life. Both shore and boat diving are available here.

For the more experienced divers, consider a trip to the outer reef, including a wreck dive to the world-famous SS Yongala.

Learn to dive with Pleasure Divers which also offers advanced courses and dive trips to the SS Yongala.


4. Magnetic Island Water Sports


Horseshoe Bay, on the north coast of the island, is the water-sports capital of the island with jet skis blasting about and the odd parasailer gliding above the ocean. You can have your pick of water sports here with everything from jet skis to sail boards. Why not experience the thrill of blasting about on top of Horseshoe Bay by hiring a jet ski. If you feel like splurging, consider a jet-ski circumnavigation of the island with Adrenalin Jet Ski Tours & Hire. The 3-hour tour on a two-seat jet ski includes your wet suits, life jackets, and tinted goggles. Tours depart from Horseshoe Bay morning and afternoon. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, dugongs (manatees), sea turtles, and humpback whales in season.


5. Horse Riding Magnetic Island


There are some people who can’t get enough horse riding under their belt. If that sounds like you consider embarking on a two- or three-hour horse riding trip through bush ending up at the beach where you can swim your horse. The best horse riding company on Magnetic Island is Bluey’s Horseshoe Ranch located in Horseshoe Bay. Bluey’s has been around for ages and knows everything there is to know about horses.


6. Magnetic Island Fishing

Probably the last thing you imagine yourself doing on Magnetic Island is fishing but there are some great fishing spots here which are worth casting your rod into. Plus, at the end of the day, you’ll have yourself a tasty meal to take home.

The best fishing tour on Magnetic Island is with Barnacle Bill who uses his 30 years of experience to ensure you’ll end up with a healthy catch at the completion of his two-hour fishing tour out of Horseshoe Bay on his 7-m sport-fishing vessel. All gear is provided.


7. Magnetic Island Walks


A visit to Magnetic Island is incomplete without enjoying one of the island’s 20km (13 miles) of hiking trails. Laced with spectacular views of the island, old forts and ex-military sites, it’s worth extolling the energy to undertake one of these hiking trails.

The QPWS produces a leaflet for Magnetic Island’s excellent bushwalking tracks. Walks are mainly along the east coast and vary in length from half an hour to half a day.

If you’re going to do just one walk, then the trail to the Forts (2.8km, 1 ½ hrs return) is a must. It starts near the Radical Bay turn-off, passing lots of ex-military sites, gun emplacements, and false ‘rocks’. At the top of the walk is the observation tower and command post, which have spectacular 360-degree sea views. The best koala spotting is on the track up to the Forts off Horseshoe Bay Road. Instead of returning the same way, you can continue on along the connecting paths, which run past Radical and Balding Bays, eventually depositing you at Horseshoe Bay. You can catch the bus back.

Another popular hiking trail is the Nelly Bay–Arcadia trail, a one-way journey of 5km (3 miles) that takes 21⁄2 hours. The first 45 minutes, starting in rainforest and climbing to a saddle between Nelly Bay and Horseshoe, are the most interesting.

Carry water when walking – some bays and hiking trails are not near shops.


8. Magnetic Island Golf

For a more relaxed activity on Magnetic Island, consider playing a round of golf at the popular golf course at the Magnetic Island Country Club which is open to the public. The Magnetic Island Country Club rents golf clubs, buggies and all equipment. As you walk around the golf course take in the scenic views that come complimentary with a game of golf.


9. Magnetic Island Sailing


There’s nothing more spectacular than sailing around an island and there are few better places to do it at than Magnetic Island. There are a couple of sailing options, including a day trip or a sunset cruise which is very popular option for obvious reasons. For day sailing options, you can also include a snorkelling trip as part of your sailing tour.

Jazza Sailing Tours is one of the better tour operators on Magnetic Island offering both day and sunset trips on their 42ft yacht. Their day trip includes boom netting and a pizza lunch, while their sunset cruise allows you to bring your own alcohol.


10. Magnetic Island Restaurants

While on Magnetic Bay, you have to try some of the scrumptious seafood options available at quite a few of the restaurants on the island. Banister’s Seafood in Arcadia and Marlin Bar in Horseshoe Bay are by far the best seafood eateries in town. With fresh and hearty seafood available, you’ll be silly to order anything else.


Full Moon Party Magnetic Island


Full Moon Party is a monthly festival held on Magnetic Island every full moon. Known as the Full Moon Down Under Party, it is situated at BASE Backpackers in Nelly Bay and features different Australian bands. An experience not to be missed, check out Full Moon Down Under for dates, tickets and other information on the Full Moon Party.


Important Facts About Nelly Bay Magnetic Bay


  • You will land at Nelly Bay which is home to the newly developed ferry terminal (the old one was at Picnic Bay)
  • It is the most developed area of Magnetic Island with a huge range of hotels, restaurants and shops
  • The Full Moon Down Under Party takes place here at BASE Backpackers
  • Nelly Bay has some great beaches
  • There’s also good snorkelling on the fringing coral reef here


Important Facts About Horseshoe Bay Magnetic Island


  • Horseshoe Bay is the water sports capital of Magnetic Island
  • Riding a jet ski around the island is the most popular thing to do here
  • The beach is also popular here
  • There are some excellent eating options at Horseshoe Bay
  • The popular Forts walking trail starts about 2km north of Horseshoe Bay village


Important Facts About Picnic Bay Magnetic Island


  • Picnic Bay used to be the ferry terminal for ferries arriving from Townsville (today it’s located at Nelly Bay)
  • Today, it is a ghost town as most businesses have closed due to low tourist numbers
  • Best night views of Townsville can be had from the esplanade
  • The beach here has a stinger enclosure for safe swimming
  • The popular golf course at the Magnetic Island Country Club is located here


Important Facts About Alma Bay Magnetic Island


  • Alma Bay is located in Arcadia village
  • Alma Bay is a pretty and sedate cove, with a grassy hill and sheltered beach
  • It’s a great place for families as it has picnic tables and a children’s playground
  • The main beach, Geoffrey Bay, has a reef at its southern end which can be walked along at low tide
  • It’s a quiet place making it perfect for relaxing and unwinding

How to Get to Magnetic Island?

The only way to get from Townsville to Magnetic Island is by ferry. The ferry terminal on Magnetic Island is located at Nelly Bay.


Magnetic Island Ferry


Two ferry companies (Sealink and Fantasea) operate frequent ferry services between Townsville and Magnetic Island. The 8 km (5-mile) trip takes about 20 to 25 minutes. Sealink runs 18 round-trips a day from the Breakwater terminal on Sir Leslie Thiess Drive in Townsville and the marina at Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island. Fantasea operate 8 round-trips a day from their terminal on Ross Street in South Townsville.


Magnetic Island Car Ferry

You can take your car on both the Sealink and Fantasea ferries, but most people get around by renting an open-sided minimoke (similar to a golf cart) from the many rental outfits on the island.


Magnetic Island Ferry Timetable

For Sealink’s ferry timetable from Townsville to and from Magnetic Island, see Sealink.

For Fantasea’s ferry timetable, see Fantasea.


Magnetic Island Ferry Prices

For a list of Sealink’s ferry prices, see Sealink.

For Fantasea’s ferry price list, see Fantasea.


Magnetic Island Transport

If you don’t plan to bring a car on the ferry with you, there are several other options for travelling around Magnetic Island. In fact, it is advisable not to bring a car on the ferry as it is cheaper to hire an open-sided minimoke (similar to a golf cart) from the many rental outfits on the island. Alternatively, there is a public bus service that operates around the island. If you like cycling, Magnetic Island is a perfect place to rent a bicycle and ride around the island, although some of the hills can be hard work. Most places to stay rent bikes for the day and some even offer them free to guests.


Magnetic Island Bus

The Magnetic Island bus is the perfect way to get around the island. The Magnetic Island Bus Service operates between Picnic Bay and Horseshoe Bay at least 18 times a day, meeting all ferries and stopping at all major accommodation places. To book a wheelchair-accessible bus, call during office hours (8am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, 8am to noon, Saturday and Sunday).


Tell us what you think. Why do you want to visit Magnetic Island? If you’ve already been, what was the highlight of your trip to the island? Please share any ideas, tips and tricks.

We love hearing from you so leave your comments below.  


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