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Did you know that Australia has over 8,200 islands off its coast? How insane is that! Many are a bit tricky to get to but others such as North Stradbroke Island, the Whitsunday Islands and, of course, Magnetic Island are super accessible. This beautiful island sits just 8km off the coast from Townsville and, as with so many things in Australia, is often shortened to ‘Maggie’. You could take a whole holiday over there, but if you only have one day on Magnetic Island, you won’t be disappointed.
Maggie offers something for everyone. It’s a great scuba diving spot, you can hire sea kayaks, you can spend the day stretched out on the most beautiful beaches or you can walk and walk to your heart’s content. It has those fun little open top cars to whiz your way around the place and you also stand a really good chance of seeing koalas and wallabies. With so much to try and fit into the day, it can be overwhelming to know where to start, so I hope this guide from my day trip will help you find out how to spend a day on Magnetic Island and also a little bit about Townsville, too.
Catching the ferry to Magnetic Island
There are 2 companies and two types of ferries that run between Townsville and Magnetic Island. One takes just passengers and one takes cars over. The 2 ferries depart from slightly different locations so be sure to get to the correct one!
Passenger ferry – Sealink run passenger ferries from 5.30 am right through to 11:30 pm from Townsville to Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island. The ferries run roughly on an hourly schedule throughout the day with a few variables and prices for return tickets are $33 per adult. You don’t need to book tickets in advance but just be sure to get to the terminal in Townsville in plenty of time. You can check the timetables and ticket prices on the Sealink website here.
Vehicle ferry – FantaSea operate the vehicle ferry over to Magnetic Island and tickets need to be booked in advance. These ferries run roughly ever 2 hours so be sure to plan your day around this. Take a look at Sealink’s website here to check the timetable and pre-book your tickets.
How to get around Magnetic Island
If you haven’t decided to come over to Maggie with your own car, you still have some great options to explore the island. There are tarmac roads that go to the main areas but also a number of off-road tracks that require a 4×4 to take you to more hidden locations. There’s something to suit all budgets so you can make the most of your one day on Magnetic Island.
Mini Moke – Magnetic Island is famous for these little open-top cars and they look like the perfect way to whiz around the island on a sunny day. They are also reasonable to hire for the day and can be rented from the depot right next to Nelly Bay. I was actually planning to hire one of these for the day but sadly they were all booked out! If you want to hire one, I’d definitely recommend booking them in advance online so you don’t miss out like I did.
Car or motorbike hire – If you want the freedom of getting around the island by yourself then renting a car or motorbike would be the best option for you. You can hire 4×4 cars on the island as well so if you want to do a bit of off-roading you have this option.
Bus – Buses are the best budget option and the one that I opted for after the Mini Mokes. The buses align with the ferries arriving into Nelly Bay so you can jump straight on them and start exploring. Day tickets cost $7.20 (they only take cash) and you can hop on and hop off as much as you like. The drivers are super helpful and call out the stops along the route so you’ll know where to get off. Have a look at the bus times and routes here.
When is the best time to visit Magnetic Island?
Townsville has on average around 320 sunny days a year making it a great place to visit at any point. I visited in the middle of Winter and it was beautifully sunny and pretty hot!
Things to do on Magnetic Island
This fantastic walk takes you to the WWII fort and structure ruins on the island. It’s an easy 4km walk and not only will you get a glimpse into the history of the island but also some magnificent sea views. Just to put the icing on the cake, you’re almost guaranteed to see koalas as you walk along the paths. Magnetic Island has Australia’s largest population of Koalas and they are often close to the path. It’s a great place to start your day.
This big sweeping beach is one of the most popular sites and a great place to relax. Here you can also try your hand at a number of water sports such as kayaking and jet skiing. The water here is calm making it perfect for swimming as well. As the beach is so big it’s easy to find a quiet spot if you want to escape the crowds.
Grab some lunch
As well as a beautiful beach, Horseshoe Bay also has a number of restaurants to choose from if you’re looking for a bite to eat. There are some great seafood dishes to choose from, as well as Mexican and a delicious gelato shop. For me though, no trip to the beach is complete without having fish and chips for lunch and the local chippy there serves up a great portion.
Horseshoe Bay to Radical Bay walk
This walk is a little more effort than the Forts Walk but it’s so worth it. Walk towards the end of Horseshoe Bay and follow the signs to Radical Bay. The track is mostly made from steps and will take you through the forest, up and over the hill to Radical Bay. It takes about 30 minutes and the track leads you right onto beautiful Radical Bay. If you fancy it, you could branch off the track onto Balding Beach, the nudist beach. Funnily enough, I decided to pass on that one!
About halfway between Nelly Bay and Horseshoe Bay, you’ll find Arcadia. This area has a couple of nice easy walks to do but Alma Bay is super pretty and the perfect spot to relax. The bay is perfectly sheltered, making the water calm and easy for swimming and snorkelling. I also saw some people going into scuba dive here too. It’s a beautiful bay and if you get hungry or fancy a beer, you can pop across the road to the Arcadia Pub to cool off.
Geoffrey Bay and the Rock Wallabies
Not only is Magnetic Island famous for its koalas, but also for its cute population of rock wallabies. They live on the rock formation next to Geoffrey Bay and are most active at dusk. If you want to get up close to them you can buy food from the nearby shop and hand feed them. It’s a really nice spot to end the day and a chance to experience some more of the Australian wildlife.
Things to do in Townsville
Townsville is actually Queensland’s second biggest city (after Brisbane) and it’s definitely worth stopping there if you’re travelling along the coast. I only had one day here and only fit in a couple of things but it was nice to be able to explore a little bit of what Townsville has to offer.
I felt super lazy visiting this spot as so many people we walking or even running up the hill when we visited. You can see Castle Hill from almost anywhere in the city and unsurprisingly has some awesome 360 degree views from the top. Castle Hill was used as a vantage point in WWII and you can still visit the bunker at the top.
The Strand is a 2km walk that takes you right along the beachfront. You’ll find BBQs and plenty of cafes along the pathway. You can see Magnetic Island from here too.