Setting foot on Magnetic Island was like travelling back in time. The minute I walked off the ferry, I felt like I had discovered some kind of secret retreat where the locals had escaped to maintain a simpler way of life.
While Captain Cook may have been wrong about the island having a magnetic field, I do have to say that there’s something about Magnetic Island that just pulls you in and makes you want to linger. If you ever find yourself passing through Townsville, this island is certainly worth a detour.
Now here’s a look at how I spent my time on Magnetic Island, as well as detailed info to help you plan your own visit:
Bush tucker breakfast and animal encounters
On one particular morning Sam and I made our way to the Bungalow Bay Koala Village to experience the Champagne Bush Tucker Breakfast. Bush tucker is the name given to bush food which has been consumed by Australian Aborigines for thousands of years, and today’s breakfast would offer us the opportunity to sample some of these favourites, albeit with a modern twist.
The park ranger came and met us wearing a drover hat and khaki cargos (exactly what I would expect from Australia!), and led us into the park where an outdoor breakfast area had been set up. There was a fire pit in one corner and a couple of girls were preparing ‘toad in the hole’ – not real toads, but a breakfast item that consists of egg and sausage cooked inside a slice of bread. Glasses of guava champagne were poured, and we then dug into a delicious breakfast of mackerel with lemon myrtle, lamb loins with outback spices, sausages in bush tomato chutney, fresh local fruits, and even natural honeycomb.
I had been expecting that we would have to help cook our own meals as part of the experience, but once I got there and caught a waft of the food, I was happy to dig in right away! With new British and Scottish friends for company, we enjoyed our meal while talking about our respective travel plans in Australia.
Of course the second part of this experience was actually getting up close and personal with some Australian animals. There were noisy White Cockatoos, Double-headed lizards (that’s just their name because their two ends look alike), sleepy koalas, and even snakes. I faced one of my fears and held the python, but I’ll take a cute cuddly koala over that any day!
It was a great way to start the morning and experience some of Australia’s wildlife up close.
The cost for breakfast and animal encounters was $32 AUD per person.
Try to spot koalas on the Forts Walk
If you enjoy hiking, another cool thing you can do on Magnetic Island is go on the Forts Walk. The island is home to many walking trails, however, the Forts Walk is the most popular because there’s a chance you may spot koalas in the wild.
I, sadly, did not have much luck when it came to spotting the koalas. Not only do they camouflage themselves well in the Eucalyptus trees, but I also did the walk at noon when the koalas are the least active because of the heat. One of our German friends had better luck spotting them in the late afternoon; his approach was to lag behind other hikers and whenever he saw a lot of commotion and pointing at the trees, he knew there was a koala ahead. That’s one way to find them!
While I may not have gotten to see any koalas in the wild, I still enjoyed the hike as it offered some nice views of the harbour below.
If you’re interested in trying the Forts Walk, know that it’s 4 kilometres (return) and it takes about 1.5 hours to complete. Admission to the trail is free of charge.
Rent a Topless car and drive around the island
When it comes to getting around Magnetic Island, you can either rent a car or take public transport. The Tropical Topless cars are by far the most popular choice and you’ll spot lots of people zooming around in these little vehicles that look like they were designed for Barbie. If you have a license and can drive manual transmission, then this is a fun way to cruise the island. Topless convertibles start out at $75 per day.
If, on the other hand, you don’t have a license (or it gets lost in the mail like mine did!), it’s also quite easy to get around using public transportation. Magnetic Island has 2 buses which run to the 2 ends of the island: towards Horseshoe Bay in the north and Picnic Bay in the south.
The buses run on ‘island schedule’, meaning they only come about every hour and you’ll usually find yourself waiting around, however, they make lots of stops along the way, so it’s easy to hop on and hop off at most hostels and tourist attractions.
If you end up going with this option, I recommend you get a day pass for $7.40 AUD.
Go horse riding at Horseshoe Ranch
One particular afternoon Sam and I made made our way up to Horseshoe Bay for a chance to experience the island on horseback.
We arrived at the Horseshoe Ranch and met our riding instructors who were brushing the horses and saddling them up. I pretty much won the lottery when I was assigned Little Man – a beautiful and docile horse – while Sam got teamed up with Chockie Brown – a horse with an affinity for jumping across creeks and galloping off in any direction whenever it encountered water.
I really enjoyed this outing because we got to experience the different terrains of the island. We first started out riding through an open field where little wallabies were hopping around, then the bush, then the wetlands, and then a Eucalyptus forest before finally climbing a dune and finding ourselves on the beach.
Once at the beach, we had the option to take the horses swimming. Stinger suits were provided (it was still jellyfish season), and then the riders hopped on bareback and took the horses for a dip in the bay. I had never seen horses swim before, so it was a pretty cool thing to witness.
The ride lasted 2 hours and the cost was $110 AUD per person.
Enjoy a mix of party and relaxation at Base Backpackers
While on the island I stayed at Base Backpackers, which is located at the end of Nelly Bay. The accommodations were basic, but when you’re on a beautiful island like this one, all you really need is a place to shower and crash at night seeing as you’re going to be spending most of your time outdoors.
What Base Backpackers really excelled at was creating a very sociable environment where backpackers could come together and hang out. During the day, a lot of people lounged around in the hammocks or by the pool, and in the evenings there were themed nights which ranged from pub quizzes to Ladies Night, where even the men dressed like women. This was definitely a party hostel, but that being said, they do close up shop at midnight, so you’re guaranteed a few hours of decent sleep.
Base Backpackers on Magnetic Island is also known for hosting Full Moon Down Under Parties, so if you’re planning to visit you can time it right.
A bed in a dorm will run you around $30 AUD, and a private can be $75-125 AUD depending on whether it has an ensuite and ocean view. If you want to get a better deal, it’s best to book their packages which include ferry transportation and a couple of meals – when you go with these bundle offers you actually end up getting more bang for your buck.
Other activities around the island
I only had 2 days on the island so I wasn’t able to do it all. However, some other activities to consider if you’re here for a longer visit include: feeding the wallabies that hang out around Geoffrey Bay in Arcadia, snorkelling in the reef, wreck-diving at the SS Yongala Dive Site, flying aboard a sea plane to get a better overview of the island, enjoying some beach time, and taking part in all kinds of other water sports from jet skiing to kayaking.
Getting to Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island is a short ferry ride from Townsville. The Sealink Ferry runs several times a day and the journey takes about 20 minutes. The price for an adult ticket (return) is $ 32 AUD.
Have you ever been to Magnetic Island?
What’s your favourite island for a good time?
I’ve heard great things about Magnetic Island! A girl I traveled with in Vietnam was working at a hostel on “Maggie Island,” as she called it (I have no idea which hostel, though). Definitely sounds like a place worth visiting.
The horseback riding sounds/looks awesome! And the first thing I thought when I saw those topless cars was “Barbie.” Haha!
That’s cool that you met someone who was living on Maggie Island! You know, the hostel I was staying at offered free room and board for a few hours of work a day and they had a very international crowd working there, so she may have been at Base Backpackers. 😉
I can’t believe you had that snake over your shoulders. I would have completely freaked out.
Haha, I kind of was!
Can I just say, Audrey that I have visited my parents there countless times and have done A LOT of bush walks, yet it took me over a year to see my first koala in the wild on Magnetic Island! I think they just enjoyed playing hide and seek with me x
Whoa! I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who had trouble spotting them in their natural habitat. 😉
I just wrote a blog on Magnetic Island this week! Not as informative as yours as it was 4 years ago that I visited. It really is a paradise. I guess I was really lucky to see the koala on my first walk there!
That’s so cool that you were able to spot koalas on your first visit, Fiona. Good eye!
Awww, you’re post reminds me of my time on Magnetic Island. I totally agree with you that Maggie makes you want to linger. I spent 3 days on the island (in the YHA) and loved it. The island is great for hiking, snorkelling, spotting koalas or just relaxing. I would also recommend everyone to head there when passing Townsville.
Glad to hear you also enjoyed your time there, Stef. It’s a great little side trip from Townsville. 🙂
Good thing I learned to drive manual, that car was made for me!
They are cute little convertibles, and I also noticed some in teal. 😉
I’ve read alot about Magnetic lately and have been thinking about it for my next island escape. It looks like it’s the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure which is what I am after. Just love the look on your face with that snake around your neck. Your more gutsy than me, i’d never do it!
Oooo, it would be a great island escape! Even though it’s just a 20 minute ferry ride from Townsville, it feels like you’re on a remote little island miles away from the mainland. I also like that Magnetic Island still feels a little bit unknown; even though it gets visitors, it’s not overrun with crowds. It’s quite a peaceful and relaxing place. 🙂 If you get the chance to visit, take it!
The photo with you and that slithery snake is priceless!! You’d never get me to stand still!! LOVE the Barbie inspired rental. I’d visit the island to drive that alone!
Haha, thanks! That’s one of my favourite snaps from the whole trip.
Your description of Sam’s horse actually made me smile, because it gave me such a cute mental image of this fraidy-cat horse not liking water. Poor Chockie Brown.
Also, I’m curious, did they put the stinger suits on you guys, or on the horses??? How did they stop the horses from being stung???
The stinger suits were actually just for the riders. I imagine the horses wouldn’t really be that bothered by jellyfish since they have a nice coat of hair to protect their skin…?
Magnetic Island looks like a carefree place! The wildlife looks unique. I’m sure hiking must be an exhilarating experience there.
The wildlife encounters were pretty cool. Coming from Canada, a lot of the species I saw in Australia were completely foreign to me.
I LOVED Maggie. I stayed at Bungalow Bay right after the full moon party when it was very quiet. Lots of people told me the island was boring, but I rented a scooter and relaxed by the pool.
I still cannot believe you’ve been so brave and had that huge snake on you, how did you manage to do so? This place looks incredibly nice, calm and with plenty of things to do immerse in the nature. I’d go! I would’t do the horse riding though, it’s not my thing.
We will be road-tripping through Queensland in just a few months and I’ve been debating on whether this should be on our itinerary. I’m leaning towards yes 😉 Thanks, Audrey!
Looks like a beautiful spot to explore. Ha, topless car rental, reminds me of Nakedbus in New Zealand! Bummer you couldn’t see the ninja-koalas!
OMG! A snake on your shoulders!! Can’t try that.