How to make the most of 48 hours on Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island has long been Townsville’s best-kept secret and is the ultimate weekender to swap the city’s nurture for nature.
Just eight kilometres off the mainland, this island is smack-bang in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef and boasts palm-fringed beaches, hiking trails, friendly koalas and rock wallabies, and of course, incredible snorkelling. You could easily fill a week or longer at Maggie (that’s what the locals call her), but when time is of the essence, here’s how to best spend 48 hours on Magnetic Island.
5PM: Make the move to Maggie
No sooner (20 minutes to be precise) than you leave Townsville’s docks, will you arrive at Magnetic Island’s jetty.
The first thing that hits you as you dock at the Magnetic Island Marina is not just the eye-catching granite boulders, but the relaxed pace at which this island runs.
Tips for your maiden voyage to Maggie:
- There are up to 18 return trips to Magnetic Island daily with SeaLink (passengers only). An adult return will cost you $33.
- There’s a vehicle ferry operated by Fantasea Cruising Magnetic, operating up to eight trips daily. A standard vehicle can expect to pay $220 return for the trip over to the island, but prices vary according to time of year.
Magnetic Island is the ultimate chameleon when it comes to accommodation. It’s got options designed to get backpackers as excited for a place to stay as they are to see a happy hour special. In other corners of the island, it’s nothing but resort-style pools and beachfront holiday homes. If you’re looking for a place to stay, these are our picks:
Beachside Magnetic Island caters for families big and small with one, two and three bedroom apartments, each fitted out with a full kitchen and large private spas. Packing the trifecta of ocean, harbour and parkland views in Nelly Bay, you’ll have very little excuse to leave the resort at all. That is, until you realise Australia’s best natural asset, the Great Barrier Reef, is on your doorstep.
For a bure on a budget:
Get that tropical island feel (for less) at Island Leisure Resort in Nelly Bay. The bures are big enough to cater for two adults and two children, and the location hits every brief. You have a pool and tennis court inside the resort, you’re just 50 metres away from the beach, and you have all the essentials, like the ferry terminal, shops, supermarket and restaurants, within easy walking distance. This is a good choice for families who prefer to spend their holiday budget on activities rather than accommodation.
For something mid-range:
For resort style accommodation overlooking the Coral Sea, you can’t go past Peppers Blue on Blue Resort. You’ll find it just mere footsteps from where the SeaLink Magnetic Island ferry docks, making Peppers the definition of a holiday where you hit the ground running. You have all the necessary luxuries right at your fingertips with two pools, an Endota Spa and a waterfront restaurant. Behind the resort, Maggie’s mountainous terrain provides the perfect backdrop to this island paradise.
For when you want to make friends where you stay:
Bungalow Bay Koala Village at Horseshoe Bay is the kind of place you check into when you’re not afraid of making new friends. It’s the only resort in Australia that boasts its own wildlife park on-site, so make sure you meet some of Maggie’s native wildlife while you’re there. The deck bar is another favourite gathering place. Every night there’s something different to entice you out, from coconut bowling to giant Jenga and two-for-one Pina Coladas. When it comes to sleeping, you’ll find every type of accommodation here from camping through to private bungalows.
For more places to stay, see our guide to the best accommodation on Magnetic Island.
6PM: Soak up an epic sunset
Magnetic Island is known for its champagne coloured sunsets, as the light dances off granite boulders with the same effervescent energy as bubbles in a fluted glass. Make sure you’re waterfront to catch sunset a couple of different ways:
On dry land:
The spectacular sunsets at Geoffrey Bay draw quite the crowd of ‘locals’. As the sun sets over the Pacific, Magnetic Island’s native rock wallabies come out to play on the granite boulders. Armed with a small bag of feed and fresh vegetables, you can serve crudité to these Aussie natives while enjoying your own sunset picnic.
On the water:
Set sail on your circumnavigation of Magnetic Island on board a beautiful 58-foot sailing yacht with Pilgrim Sailing(note: this cruise leaves at 4.30pm). After a few glasses of organic Australian wine or local Townsville Brewery beers, you’ll feel the magnetic pull of the island Captain Cook was referring to when he passed Magnetic Island way back in 1770.
Why not make the experience progressive, and let sunset drinks out on the ocean slip seamlessly into dinner at Peppers Blue on Blue’s waterfront Boardwalk Restaurant & Bar by booking the Sip, Sail & Dine package.
8AM: Go bareback on the beach
There are only a handful of places to ride a horse on the beach in Queensland, and Magnetic Island is one of the best places to go off the beaten track and take a dip in the ocean with your steed.
Horseshoe Bay Ranch pairs you with a horse to suit your skill and experience in the saddle (beginners welcome). Your ride then begins in native Australian bushland before opening onto the pristine Horseshoe Bay beach where you’ll remove your saddle and go bareback into the water. It’s a back-to-nature experience that will make you fall in love with horse riding, if you haven’t already.
11AM: Explore the island, Maggie-style
Feel the wind through your hair as you tour the island in Magnetic Jeep Tours hard-to-miss canary yellow open-air stretch-Jeep.
Covering the flora, fauna and history of the island, with the chance to get up close with Maggie’s furry natives, the 3.5 hours eco tour is the perfect introduction to kick off your 48 hours on Magnetic Island.
Prefer to take a self-guided tour of the island? Get around in style: Tropical Topless Car Rental has a range of cool convertible cars so you can feel even more connected to the island as you cruise around.
4PM: Take a walk on the wild side
Over two-thirds of the island is classified as National Park, providing a haven for native wildlife including rock wallabies, koalas, possums and more than 100 different bird species, which are conveniently connected by 25kms of hiking trails for the avid bushwalker.
The most popular track is the Forts Walk – a 4km return hiking trail, leading to historic World War II fortifications and infrastructure, and some of the best views of the island. Along the way, keep an eye out for rock art created by the Wulgurukaba people, who have lived on the island and mainland for thousands of years.
8PM: Sit back for dinner and a show
The Stage Door Theatre Restaurant is the only theatre in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef – one of its claims to fame, beyond the talent you’ll find on stage here.
Performing most Saturday nights and two Friday nights a month, the alfresco shows are written exclusively by award-winning Geoffrey Knight and usually take a format of a singing, dancing and comedy routine. Throw in a three-course meal at the onsite restaurant and you’ve got yourself dinner and show.
7AM: But first, Coffee
You know what they say about early birds… well, TripAdvisor, The Guardian, celebrity chef Matt Preston, DUOMagazine and Lonely Planet all have a lot of positive things to say about Magnetic Island’s Early Bird cafe.
Their kitchen and coffee machine get Maggie’s heart started from 7am. Serving organic fair-trade coffee roasted by Townsville’s Coffee Dominion, along with all-day breakfast, salads and sandwiches made with locally sourced produce, this is a humble local gem right across the road from Horseshoe Bay.
8:30AM: An unforgettable breakfast
Join Bungalow Bay Koala Village for breakfast with koalas Pebbles, Claudia and Cody, and Harry the wombat. Held each Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 8:30am to 10am, you can tuck into a sumptuous feast while you meet the sanctuary’s cuddliest companions.
In keeping with this Aussie theme, the menu takes a bush tucker twist with crowd favourites like pancakes served with rosella jam, bacon and egg rolls, as well as native honeycomb.
11AM: Go Snorkelling, somewhere secluded
Magnetic Island is where keen snorkellers stay and play when they want to see the reef in its most secluded form.
Join a half-day Discovery Cruise with Aquascene and see what lies beneath the water’s surface of Magnetic Island’s prettiest bays. Your hosts will share their “secret” spots which they’ve spent over 35 years uncovering. If you thought Florence Bay was beautiful from above, wait till you dive under the surface and see the giant clams nestled amongst colourful coral in this aqua playground.
- Magnetic Island’s winter temperature rarely dips below the 20-degree mark, so it’s always the right time for snorkelling.
- This is North Queensland, so you’ll need to wear a stinger suit between November and April.
Want to snorkel it on your own two fins?
Easy! In 2012, two self-guided snorkel trails were developed around Maggie’s shores to lead keen snorkellers to bommies flourishing with coral and fish, and historic relics like a WWII aircraft propeller and the SS Moltke wreck.
Snorkel Trail maps for Nelly Bay (great for beginners) and Geoffrey Bay can be purchased on Magnetic Island, and your $5 donation goes towards preserving Magnetic Island’s reefs.
Keen for more watersports action?
It’s not all snorkel masks and fins here. You can dial up the action at Horseshoe Bay with kayaking, diving expeditions, jet skiing and offshore fishing off Maggie’s genteel coastline.
Want to take a moment to relax?
Pack your togs and your towel and take in the sun, sand and sea at one of Magnetic Island’s 23 bays and beaches. With an island population of only 2,500 people, the odds are always in your favour to find somewhere quiet and secluded on this island paradise.
5pm: swap coastline for the city
All aboard the Townsville express back to the city. Think of this as goodbye for now, not forever, as you’ve only just scratched the surface on all the wonderful reasons so many feel a magnetic pull to this island. The next time you visit, make sure you tick off these 7 things to do on Magnetic Island.
Can’t spare 48 hours on Magnetic Island? Get a bird’s eye view of the island on a 30-minute helicopter ride from Townsville with Nautilus Aviation.
If you love sailing, time your trip to Magnetic Island during the annual SeaLink’s Magnetic Island Race Week at the end of August.
Got a taste for island life and want more? Here are 11 Queensland islands perfect for a weekend escape.