Magnetic Island, Australia
So after (just under) 2 weeks exploring Cairns and its surrounding natural beauty, we said our farewells, waved it goodbye and jumped onto our first East Coast bus southwards. We had opted for the Premier bus, due to it being slightly cheaper than the Greyhound and us not wanting to go to Agnes Waters, and we were pretty happy with our first experience. 2 films, 1 meal stop and 6 hours later, we arrived at the bus stop and ferry terminal in Townsville, where we would stay overnight before catching a boat to the Island the next day.
(note – if anyone ever suggest you should go to Townsville, don’t bother. There is NOTHING there!)
Maggie Island is a popular holiday destination for Aussies approximately 4.5km off the mainland of Australia, or 8km from Townsville. It is a very small island compared to its east coast rivals at just 52km2, compared to Fraser Island at 1840km2. Being small, though, has its advantages as the adventurous hiker could walk from Picnic Bay on the southern point of the Island, to Horseshoe Bay in the north. Magnetic Island’s residential areas are all down the eastern side, with the island’s National Park covering the middle and most of the west.
Magnetic Island is still in the danger zone for jellyfish, so swimming in the sea should be done in stinger suits, or inside one of the 2 stinger nets on the island, located at Horseshoe Bay and Picnic Bay. A stinger net is like a gigantic floating noodle that extends out from the shore, with fishing net down to the seabed, designed to prevent jellies being able to get inside. The water is lovely and warm and really clear so it’s definitely worth putting on your flippers and going for a swim!
Access to the island is via the SeaLink, or Fantasea ferries, which depart from Townsville multiple times a day. If you are planning on taking a vehicle over to the island with you, Fantasea is the way to go and is also the cheapest for foot passengers, although if you are booking your island trip through a travel company like MAD, they will book the SeaLink. Of course, if you have more money than we ever will, you can get a helicopter into the ferry terminal’s helipad, but that’s probably beyond most people’s budget limitations. The ferry across takes about 20-30 minutes so you can kick your feet back and take full advantage of the free wifi onboard!
The easiest way of getting around the island other than walking, is a regular bus service which serves all of the main areas on the island including the ferry terminal, and both of the hostel options. Public transport is pretty expensive in general Down Under, so the cost of catching the bus is pretty standard. If you’re backpacking like us you will have be prepared to battle a bus full of people. Kay nearly took a few people out with her yoga mat whilst trying getting off the bus… Whoops!
There are a variety of hotels and AirBnb’s you could chose to stay in, or two hostels located at either end of the island:
Bungalow Bay Koala Village
Bungalow Bay is where we chose to rest our sleepy heads while we stayed on Maggie Island. It is located just outside Horseshoe Bay, with a 5 minute walk from hostel to beach front. The hostel is set amongst tall trees and features a pool, bar, kitchen, snorkel and stinger suit hire and an adjoining animal sanctuary. The dorms are all set back from the bar and pool so the noise is reduced for those catching an early night, and the proximity to a swimming beach is a real bonus.
Location – 8 Far away from the ferry terminal meaning you need to catch a bus when you first arrive, and not right on the sea-front, but a much more convenient location all round
Vibe – 8 Super chilled out vibes laying around the pool, reception and bar staff are very friendly, and the daily Lorikeet feed adds a whole new dimension!
Facilities – 8 There is a large kitchen, although it was rarely very clean during our stay, swimming pool, bar (also serves food if you don’t feel like cooking), WIFI, snorkel hire. Bookings for tours around the ‘Koala Village’ are often made when reserving your dorm room, and can include getting to hold a Koala and free professional photo for your memories. The kitchen sucks, more than most hostels down the east coast but that only makes up a fraction of your day, plus you can always just buy something from the bar if it’s that much of a problem.
The location is great, there is a variety of room types – we stayed in a 6-bed , en-suite dorm which costs $33 at the time of writing – the rooms were spotless and the whole resort felt super chilled out. It’s also worth mentioning that Bungalow Bay offers an area to either park up your camper-van, or pitch a tent for $16-$20 depending on if you want a powered site or not.
Overall – 8/10
What to do on Magnetic Island
Being that Maggie was the first place we’d got to where we could ‘live on the beach’ for a few days, we jumped at the opportunity. There are several to choose from around the island including (but not limited to) Picnic Bay, Nelly Bay, Geoffrey Bay/Arcadia, Alma Bay, Arthur Bay, Florence Bay, Radical Bay, Balding Bay and Horseshore Bay. You get it right? Lots of little coves and bays to lounge around on, but don’t forget your stinger suit if you’re swimming outside of a stinger net!
There are numerous lookouts dotted around the island, overlooking the various bays mentioned above and, given the island’s size, almost always with the sea on the horizon. Some are harder to get to than others but if you’re generally fit, you should be able to manage them all if you wanted. They are well worth the walk, the views are incredible.
One of the most popular things to do on the island is to hire a vehicle. I think Magnetic Island gets a bad reputation from backpackers who go and hire either a Barbie car, or a moped. It might seem like a great idea at first to cruise round like you’re Barbie and Ken, but there is pretty much only one sealed road on the whole island so once you’ve gone from top to bottom once, that’s basically you done for the day! The same is true for the moped hire. Great for an hour but pretty pointless after that.
The real adventure comes when you decide you want to hire a 4×4. Many of the harder-to-access bays mentioned above (Balding, Radical, Florence & Arthur), CAN be accessed in a 4×4 on an unsealed road, getting you spitting distance to the bays. The advantage of this is not only your own private beach for the day, but these 4 bays are the best snorkelling sites on the island. We managed to see 3 rays, a sergeant major, countless schools of fish and beautiful coral, then drove round to Geoffrey Bay to find huge clams and the shipwreck laying on the sea floor.
We topped the day off by driving over to Westpoint (the most westerly point on the island surprisingly), to watch the sun set over the sea and behind the mainland. Our sunset sucked, but we were the unlucky 1%, anyone who is part of the 99% will say it’s incredible.
We would advise you spend between 3-5 nights on Magnetic Island to get the most out of it, and at least 2 nights if you’re in a rush. Theres so much to do, you can sunbathe, feed the lorikeets, meet Koalas, go on wildlife tours, snorkel, and stuff your face with yummy ice creams and smoothies!
So there you have it. Your full and complete guide to Magnetic Island and all the things you can get up to, so what are you waiting for, get booking!
Check out our youtube video of our time on Magnetic Island below
Kay and Dom
* All views and opinions are our own, we are not sponsored by any company(s) we just want to create great guides for people to enjoy their time travelling in Australia.