A quick ferry ride from Townsville sits Magnetic Island, a beautiful destination to add to your Australia East Coast Road trip list. We almost skipped it to save on time, and I had heard from other travelers that it was expensive and wasn’t an essential stop on the route, but I am SO GLAD we found the time to take a day trip.
The island is only 5 miles off the coast of Townsville and now is considered to be a suburb of Townsville, with over 2,000 permanent residents living on the island. It’s a quick ferry journey away, with departures leaving more or less once an hour. A round trip adult ticket costs $30, and you can also select from multi-day tickets if you plan on going back and forth from Townsville and Magnetic Island. Check SeaLink for more information on the ferry and updated timetables.
The buses on Magnetic Island are great and are designed for tourists. They will stop off at various points of interests – beaches, nature walks, and other attractions, so you can easily see everything you want without needing a car. If you want to rent a car, they did have adorable “Barbie” type cars to rent, which I’d definitely do if I were to go back to Magnetic Island to have more freedom.
The Forts – Koala’s
This was by far my favorite part of our time on the island. The forts are a gentle upward hike on a dirt road, surrounded on both sides by forests that are home to dozens of wild koalas. We kept our eyes peeled as we trudged uphill before sunset, and luckily saw one solo koala and then a mom and baby! The baby was so cute, jumping around and climbing in the trees, while the mom appeared exhausted, taking a snooze in the branches. It was a wonderful experience to have, completely in nature, without any entry fee or zookeeper sanitizing the whole experience.
If you want to come to Magnetic Island and enjoy a relaxing beach day, jump on the bus and come to Horseshoe Bay. It’s a beautiful, quiet beach with restaurants and bars right on the waterfront. There are a few trees that you can find shade under, and kayaks/stand-up paddleboards available to rent. The water was incredibly calm on this side of the island so it would be perfect for families with young kids or travelers looking for a relaxing swim.
In theory, this would have been amazing, to see coral reefs and a sunken wreck. There are several coral reef snorkeling trails at different beaches around Magnetic Island and you can rent masks + snorkels for very cheap, or even go out on a scuba dive.
Unfortunately, it was a bit windy, so the visibility was poor during our visit. We still rented snorkel gear and had a fun time swimming around for a few hours, cooling off from Queensland’s heat and humidity.
Right around Nelly’s Bay on Magnetic Island is a colony of rock wallabies! They are super cute and friendly, and you can feed them, but make sure you only bring vegetables, fruit, or other non-processed foods.
We started our day on the island here before going for a sunbathe and swim in Horseshoe Bay. They had great coffee and pastries, and it was right by the bus stop. If you need to get your caffeine fix before heading out to explore – start here!
Also right by the bus stop in Horseshoe Bay, this pub was a great stop for a beer, and they had a typical pub menu for burgers, chicken parma, and other favorite fares. Next door was Horseshoe Bay Fish & Chips, and there were a few other food options right on this strip in front of the bay.
Tips for a visit to Magnetic Island
Leave early. Give yourself as much time as possible – and check the timetable to make sure you don’t just miss a ferry and have to wait around for ages.
Bring Cash. Some cafes were cash only and there aren’t as many ATMs on the island.
Have an idea of where you want to go and what you want to see before. It is a bit spread out and you can end up wasting time waiting for buses if you aren’t strategic. Thankfully several bus stops had bars right next to them, so we had a chance to grab a cold beer and relax while waiting.