The ultimate 3-day itinerary to Magnetic Island
Pack your sunnies and sun cream, get ready to go hiking!
08 September 2020
By Amber Storie of A Blissful Wanderer
Written By: Amber Storie of A Blissful Wanderer
Factually edited by Townsville Enterprise
Famous for having 23 beautiful sandy bay beaches, coral reefs, and a copious amount of koalas, Magnetic Island is one of Australia’s hidden gems. Located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and a 20-minute ferry from Townsville, “Maggie,” as the locals call it, tends to be off the typical traveller trail.
Here’s my 3-day itinerary exploring the natural playground of Magnetic Island and Townsville. This itinerary is perfect for couples, solo travellers, and families. If we had the time, we could have easily done a whole week here, by adventuring half the day and then relaxing for the rest of it. Guess we’ll just have to come back!
Getting to the Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island is just off the coast of Townsville in North Queensland, Australia. You can either fly directly into Townsville Airport or drive here (south from Cairns, or north from Mackay). If you opt to fly, you can expect a quick 2-hour flight from Brisbane. Since we were previously visiting the Whitsundays, which is only 3 hours away, we decided to drive up the coast to Townsville.
We drove our van onto the Magnetic Island car ferry, which only took 40-minutes. There are also passenger ferries if you don’t have a vehicle (20-minute journey). These ferries regularly depart, making travel super easy! To make your trip planning a sinch, I’ve included the links for the Magnetic Island car ferry and Sealink passenger ferry.
Getting Around on Maggie
Although the island is small, the easiest way to explore Magnetic Island is by car. You can bring your own or rent vehicles on the island.
Where to stay on Magnetic Island
On Magnetic Island, there is a variety of accommodation at various price points, making Maggie a great holiday destination for all types of travellers!
We stayed at Pure Magnetic Villas, which had a beautiful Balinese vibe. All the villas had kitchens, laundry, private balconies, and a shared pool. Plus, it is located right in Nelly Bay, the most central area where you’ll find the ferry terminal, grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses. We loved that the villas were affordable and had two bedrooms since we were travelling with another couple.
Our Pure Magnetic Villa cost us around $250 per night for all 4 of us, which I thought was extremely reasonable for what we got. We loved our stay, and I would come here again!
If you are looking at accommodation for two people, here are some other hotels we found:
How many days do you need on Magnetic Island?
I recommend at least three days and two nights on Magnetic Island, but if you can stay three nights, that’s even better. There are so many beautiful beaches, trails and restaurants, plus there is a super relaxed vibe on Maggie, that you might as well take advantage of it. We stayed for two nights, and we did everything we came for, but we didn’t take much time to sit back and relax.
Best time to go
With 320 days of sunshine, Townsville & Magnetic Island are fabulous to visit any time of the year. We visited in July, and we loved how quiet it was.
Keep in mind, stinger season is in the summer months (November-April), so swimming in the ocean is recommended at stinger net beaches only. I recommend visiting between May-October to snorkel and swim at the beaches without a worry.
Although you are on a tropical island, WIFI and data are available in this area and are free at most of the accommodation locations. So if you’re thinking about working remotely on Magnetic Island or just need to FaceTime your Mom or partner, no worries here.
Is there a grocery store on Magnetic Island?
Yes, there is an IGA, seafood shops, and liquor shops on the island. So if you don’t have time to shop on the mainland, you can buy everything you need once you come over to the island.
Snorkeling at Alma Bay
The moment we touched down on Magnetic Island and checked into our Villa, we eagerly took off to explore. To take advantage of the last light, we drove to Alma Bay for a quick snorkel, and managed to see a blue spotted ray and some fish! Alma Bay is beautiful for a swim, but to be honest, we only had a quick snorkel. So if you are short on time, check out Arthur Bay for snorkeling instead.
Sunset at Horseshoe Bay
Afterwards, we drove onto Horseshoe Bay, one of the most popular beaches on the island to watch the sunset. I understood what all the hype was about, once we saw the flickering palms and big sandy bay. We sat there with our friends, sipped on cold beers and watched the sky turn from brilliant orange to pink.
For dinner, we opted to use our kitchen and BBQ in our beautiful villa and picked up some freshly caught seafood from the SOS: Stuffed on Seafood store, across from the IGA. If your hotel doesn’t have a kitchen or you don’t like to cook on vacation, we heard great things about Scalliwags and Saltwater.
Cane Toad Races
Following dinner, we dashed to Arcadia Hotel Pub to catch their famous ‘Cane Toad Races’! Yep, you heard that right, and it’s as hilarious as it sounds. Wednesday nights, this event is entertaining for travellers of all ages, and honestly was one of the highlights of our day. A must-do on ‘Maggie!’
Breakfast at ‘The Early Bird’
After the best night’s sleep, we all woke up refreshed and excited for a full day exploring Magnetic Island. We started the day with a quick breakfast smoothie at The Early Bird, which is located beside our first activity for the day - the Koala Village!
Koala Village Experience
The Bungalow Bay Koala Village is a park where visitors can learn and get up close and personal with local Australian wildlife with the guidance of a ranger. It was fascinating to learn about reptiles, wombats, and crocodiles, but my favourite experience was getting to pet Pebbles, one of the three resident Koalas. If you’re visiting Magnetic Island with kids, I highly recommend visiting as it’s super fun and educational!
After finishing at the Koala Village, our guide mentioned we should walk over to the butterfly forest. This place is a local’s secret since it isn’t sign posted; however, you can find it on Google.
When we walked through the unmarked path, we were unsure if we were in the right place. But then we were met with thousands of blue butterflies, and I’m not exaggerating! It was the most magical experience!
Arthur Bay Snorkel & Lookout
In between Horseshoe Bay and Nelly Bay, you’ll find the bumpy road that leads to Arthur Bay. We had heard great things about the snorkeling at Arthur Bay, and we were all blown away by the beautiful coral gardens and fish. I recommend going at mid to high tide. We went at low tide, and the coral was tricky to swim around because it was so close to the surface. This beautiful sandy bay is lovely to relax, even if you don’t like snorkeling.
Are you interested to see Arthur Bay from above? Hike up the road and keep your eyes out for a sign that reads ‘Arthur Bay Lookout.’ From here, you can continue walking towards Florence Bay, another beautiful beach for swimming and snorkeling.
West Point for Sunset
After an adventurous day, we were excited to wind down and enjoy another beautiful sunset. We packed some picnic snacks (cheese, crackers, chips, dips, vegetables, and beverages) and drove off to West Point for the sunset. This beach is at the furthest end of the island and is about a 15-20 minute drive from Nelly Bay. Here you see the lights of Townsville and some more islands along the horizon. We were so happy we made it to this spot for our final sunset, and we even made some new friends at the beach.
Dinner at Mama Roma
After several locals and other travellers had recommended Mama Rosa, we figured we should see what the fuss was about. Plus, I never say no to a good pizza! When we arrived, the patio was buzzing with people chatting, and we were welcomed with a friendly Italian, ‘Ciao.’ It turns out the restaurant is owned and run by an Italian family who moved to Magnetic Island - Talk about an authentic Italian experience! That night we dined on delicious pizzas, homemade pasta and the most insane tiramisu. We loved it so much we ordered two!
Tip: This restaurant is BYOB, so feel free to bring some wine or beers, and if you forget, there’s a liquor store around the corner.
Breakfast at Shaka in Nelly Bay
The next morning we walked out the front of our Villa to Nelly Bay beach and stumbled upon Shaka Good Food stand. We first noticed funky blankets, pillows and bean bag chairs set up on the sand and then saw people were enjoying smoothie bowls and coffees from the food stand up on the road. Shaka had such a relaxed vibe and is a great place to start your morning.
Hike to The Forts (look for koalas)
Fueled and ready to go, we hit the trail and hiked up to the famous WWII Forts on Magnetic Island. You can expect beautiful views of the island, and fascinating WWII history shared on plaques along the trail.
As you hike, keep your eyes peeled for koalas in the trees. Locals guaranteed we’d see koalas, which we thought was a bold promise, as they can be hard to spot. BUT she was right! On our way back from the Forts, we noticed a few people crowded below a tree, and we saw an active koala was munching on some leaves. Seeing animals in their natural habitat always blows me away.
The Forts Walk is the most popular hike on the island and one that I would recommend. They say to give yourself 3 hours, but we were able to do it in 2 hours, including breaks to take photos, admire koalas, and drink water.
Can’t get enough wildlife? Head to the headland beside Geoffrey Bay to feed the local rock wallabies. This spot is so popular that it’s even marked on google maps here. We brought carrots and leaves, which worked well, or you can pick up feeding pellets at the Arcadia Newsagent. Everyone told us we’d have better luck right before sunset, but we went a bit before 3pm and saw loads of wallabies. Some of them even had little joeys in their pouches and hopped right up to us to get some food! I highly recommend this adorable interaction. Plus, it’s free!
Tip: Snap a unique picture under the giant rock boulders at this location.
Ferry back to Townsville
We reserved the 3:30pm ferry to Townsville, so we could see some more of this big coastal city before catching our evening flight home. Be sure to arrive at the ferry terminal 20-minutes ahead of departure time to allow for boarding.
Castle Hill for Sunset
Once we got back into Townsville, we drove up to the top of Castle Hill for sunset, and we were blown away by the 360-degree views. Castle Hill is 286 metres above sea level, so don't be surprised if your heart skips a beat when you look over the edge at the city below. In fact, you can see all the way to Magnetic Island!
Healthy Option: Try hiking to the top of Castle Hill versus driving it, for a leg burn. We were amazed at how many locals were challenging themselves with this gruelling hike.
Dinner at City Lane Arcade
After the sun goes down, head to Townsville’s City Lane Arcade to experience a cool local vibe. You’ll find restaurants with an assortment of cuisines, live music, funky bars, and street art. I have to admit that I was amazed to discover such a trendy place here in Townsville. Since it was Friday night, everything was reasonably busy with a young crowd, but we snagged a table at The Courtyard and enjoyed drinks, American fare food and some live music!
Seeing Townsville from atop Castle Hill and enjoying dinner at the Lane Arcade was the perfect way to end a spectacular trip and discover a bit of Townsville.
More things to do in the area
There are so many incredible experiences you can have in Townsville, and we only scratched the surface. For example, next time we are in Townsville, we want to explore Hinchinbrook Island and Wallaman Falls. Don’t make the mistake we did and be sure to include it in your trip.
A few other things we missed:
Sunset sailing: The only thing better than being on a tropical island like Magnetic Island is sailing around a tropical island. Spend an evening sipping on Australian wine, snacking on a cheese platter and sailing into the sunset on Pilgrim Sailing tours.
MOUA (Museum of Underwater Art): Scuba divers, this one is for you! Explore the underwater museum off the coast of Townsville to see beautiful underwater sculptures.
Unfortunately, this re-opened the day after we left, or we would have loved to check this out.
SS Adelaide: A shipwreck located off the coast of Cockle Bay. At super low tide, you can walk out to it, or if you have a drone, it is a great spot to take photos.