AustraliaTropical Destinations

Magnetic Island: best Queensland’s tropical island

Looking for a tropical island in Queensland with a beautiful sea to spend a few relaxing days even on a budget with your family? Magnetic Island is the best choice!

During a Queensland road trip it is a good idea to stop for a few days on a beautiful tropical islands to relax. To do so, there are many of these kind of islands off the Pacific Coast of Australia, the most ones located between the inner-reef and the coastline. These are often resort-islands, like for example Green Island, Fitzory Island and the exclusive Orpheus Island, beautiful places to stay but very expensive too. Fortunately there are also exceptions, like Magnetic island, located off Townsville at about three and a half hours by car south of Cairns. We stayed there on December 2017!

4 good reasons why we loved Magnetic Island:

  1. because it is NOT a resort-island: here you can choose from different type of accomodations, from the hostel to the small hotel;
  2. it is easily reached from Townsville thanks to a ferry service, there are numerous rides and you can also visit for a one-day excursion;
  3. Magnetic Island is home to a national park with a vast colony of resident koalas, it is possible to spot animals in the wild, and not only koalas even the rock-wallabies.
  4. last but not least.. it is a very beautiful place!

How to get to Magnetic Island (2020 updated)

We choosed the Fantasea ferry which is no longer available, now the two ferry lines that cover the stretch daily to Magnetic Island from Townsville port terminal are the following:

Sul traghetto Fantasea per Magnetic Island
On the ferry to Magnetic Island

What is the difference between the two companies?

The main difference is that the Magnetic Island Ferry also carries vehicles, the ride takes around 40 minutes. The Sealink ferry instead is faster, the ride takes only about 20 minutes but it is a passengers ferry only. The cost of the ticket is the same (30 AUD per adult with return), but another difference is that the Sealink ticket is valid for 30 days starting from the day of purchase, the Magnetic Island Ferry ticket instead is valid only for the specific booked dates.

What vehicle types can you embark on the ferry? you can embark cars up to 6 meters lenght and motocycles.

Embark your rental car: if you are doing a Queensland road trip and want to drive your own rented car on Magnetic Island, remember to check that the renter allows it (usually it is NOT allowed). Only these two allow taking your rental car on the ferry to Magnetic Island: Thrifty Rentals and Independent Rentals (a local car rental in Townsville).

Car parking: both ferries have a big parking whichs costs from 5 to 8 AUD per day per vehicle, the Magnetic Island Ferry parking is the cheapest.

If you want to embark you car on the ferry it is highly recommended to book in advance!

About Magnetic Island: what’s the island like?

Magnetic Island is a small lovely island with a quiet and charming atmosphere, the beaches are bordered by beautiful vegetation and palm trees. On the island you can easily spot wildlife, beacuse it is renowed for its colony of resident koalas and rock-wallabies.

sea magnetic island
The sea at Pic Nic Bay with the stinger nets

Sea and beaches are very nice everywhere along the coastline and during the summer season, when jellyfish are present, you can swim inside the protective nets at Picnic Bay and Horseshoe bay, our two favorite beaches.

Distances are short, for example from Picnic Bay – the southernmost beach – to Horseshoe Bay, one of the northernmostest, it is about only 8 kilometers. Check out the interactive map!

Where to stay on Magnetic Island

If you plan to stay during peak season or weekends, I suggest you to book in advance for your accommodation; the island can be busy because it is so easy to reach from the mainland.

We stayed in December 2017 (before Christmas) and choosed to stay at the Island Leisure Resort, a small nice bungalow hotel, our room was spacious with a kitchen, wifi and air conditioning, and there was a very nice pool and BBQ area. The hotel, located directly on Nelly Bay, can be reached by foot in about 20 minutes from the ferry pier. We had a very good time here!

Other type of accomodations on Magnetic Island.

MOTEL. Another very popular accomodation option on the island (I think it is one of the most requested facilities) is the Arcadia Village, a motel with swimming pool, and rooms without kitchen however.

HOSTEL. If you want to stay at a hostel with shared dorms check out the Base Backpackers.

RESORT. At Nelly Bay there is a fine resort too, te Pepper’s Blue, which consists of modern apartments up to 3 bedrooms, with common pool, restaurant and sea view.

AIRBNB. There are quite a good number of Airbnb’s on the island, from the private room, to the apartment to the cabin or beach hut, ceck it out here. The most interesting to me could be the Paco’s Beach hut, a basic and secluded accomodation on the small beach at West Point. This a very isolated area to stay, surrounded by nature.. and koalas!

How long to stay and when is the best time to visit?

We stayed only 3 nights and would have stayed more, especially considering that we arrived with the last ferry ride in the evening of the first day and left early in the morning on the fourth day. If I could come back I would stay at least 5 days! The winter season (May-September) is the optimal time of the year because there is no too much heat and it is not jellyfish season, you can swim with peace of mind everywhere on the island (and overall in northern Australia too). However we had a very good time in December, the weather was hot and dry and the water was very warm, it was a pleasure to swim.

How to move around Magnetic Island

There is a bus service that connects the main beaches, villages and attractions of the island, but the rides are not very frequent; in front of our hotel in Nelly Bay the bus only passes once every hour.

on the road queensland australia itinerary
dirt road heading to West Point

To move independently you can rent a scooter or a small “topless” car. Compared to a rental on the mainland it is much more expensive, but usually the fuel is included. We spent 100 euros a day for the four-wheel drive vehicle pictured above, that allowed us to get anywhere, even along the dirt roads. The renter was Road Runner Scooter Hire, located in Kelly Street, the same street of the Island Leisure Resort.

Where to spot wildlife on Magnetic Island

Koalas are everywhere on the island but it is not so immediate to be able to see them. We spotted a small group of them clinging to their eucalyptus trees in a grove just behind Horseshoe Bay; other spots where you can easily see koalas are climbing The Forts hill and along the dirt road that leads to West Point, a wild area with many eucalyptus.

To meet the small wallabies, on the other hand, go to Geoffrey’s Bay at sunset. In the midst of the beautiful rocks that surround this beach they will soon appear when te sun begins to go down. If you are patient and lucky enough they will eat from your hands (there was a newsstand on this beach selling food to give them but many argue that it would be better not to give them anything at all). Needless to say that as soon as I approached they escaped the other way!!

Best beaches of Magnetic Island

Beaches are all natural and not equipped on the island, so do not expect to find bathing establishments. The only equipment are stinger nets, which you can find at Pic Nic Bay and Horseshoe Bay during summer season, when jellyfish are present in these waters. At Horseshoe Bay there is also a lifeguard service for rescue. These two beaches, along with Alma Bay and Geoffrey’s Bay, are among the most easily accessible on the island; parking lots are located right by the sea.

A bit more isolated beaches are those of Arthur Bay, Florence Bay and Radical Bay. To reach them you need to walk more and it is difficult to park. Also keep in mind that some of these roads are not passable unless you have a four-wheels vehicle, penalty severe fines. At Artur Bay and PicNic Bay you can do some snorkeling too.

More useful info about Magnetic Island

Eating and Drinking: bars and small restaurants are located at Horseshoe Bay, along Picnic Bay , in Arcadia and Nelly Bay.

Groceries and pharmacy: an IGA supermarket is located right near the ferry terminal, in Nelly Bay, so at your arrival on the island you can immediately purchase some basic supplies and groceries. Another grocery store, with adjoining liquor store (all spirits are sold in separate stores in Australia, even a simple beer or bottle of wine) and a pharmacy are located in Nelly Bay.

Sports equipment rental: several shops are renting diving equipment and even the stinger suit, but if you remain to swim within the protective nets at the two beaches above, it is not essential to wear it.

In conclusion, if you are not interested in staying at luxury resort, prefer to move independently and want to snorkel and see koalas, you are in the right place, Magnetic Island suites you, you will definitely like it!

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