1 Day on Magnetic Island: The Best Way to Explore the Great Barrier Reef

1 Day on Magnetic Island: The Best Way to Explore the Great Barrier Reef

After a quick ferry ride from Townsville, Magnetic Island awaits with its serene bays and rainforest-clad hills. The island is just eight square kilometers in size but packs in plenty of activities, making it the perfect day trip destination.

Magnetic Island is one of Australia’s lesser-known gems, owing to its 23 lovely sandy beaches, coral reefs, and a large number of koalas. Magnetic Island is located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and a 20-minute ferry ride from Townsville.

I will show you to get to the island, how to get around, where to spot koala’s and which walks and beaches to check out.

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The ultimate Magnetic island itinerary

How to get to Townsville?

Townsville is located about halfway between Cairns and Airlie Beach on the East Coast of Australia. If you are driving, it’s a very easy journey along the Bruce Highway. If you are driving to Townsville, then check out my Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip Itinerary for more amazing stops to check out!

If you are not driving then do not worry. You can also get on the Greyhound or Premier Bus along the East Coast and get off at Townsville. They handily both stop at the SeaLink Ferry Terminal, making it very easy for you to purchase boat tickets and hop across to Magnetic Island!

There is a car park next to the ferry terminal, but it often fills up early and costs $7.50 for the day!

Magnetic Island Ferry | How to get to Magnetic Island?

Sealink operates up to 18 ferry daily services to Magnetic Island, the trip to the island is only 20 minutes.

According to Sealink, there is no need to prebook your ferry ticket as they are available at the Breakwater Ferry Terminal or even onboard the ferry if the terminal is closed.

Current Magnetic Island Ferry prices:

Without a vehicle:

Adult $27.00 $13.50
Student (Uni/15-17 yrs) and Defence $19.40 $9.70
Child (4-14 yrs) $15.00 $7.50
Pensioner and Senior $15.00 $7.50
Infant (Under 4 yrs) FREE FREE
Family (2 adults & up to 3 children) Can not be booked online $70.00 $35.00

For prices with a vehicle check out the Sealink website for more information.

Do I need a car for Magnetic Island?

No, it is not needed to bring your car or campervan over to the island. There is a pretty good bus network on the island that will get you pretty much everywhere you want to go. bringing your car across is not cheap, so this is a more budget-friendly way to travel for a day. If you really want a car, then you could look into renting one. The most famous rental place it Tropical Topless Car Rentals, who offer some interesting car options.

Spending more than a day on Magnetic Island?

If you are planning to spend a couple of days on the island, which is not a bad idea! Then I have found some accommodation options for you to consider.

first, I staid at Bungalow Bay Koala Village and I loved it. I know this type of accommodation will not be for everyone though. I stayed in a private room without an ensuite. It is very basic, you literally have a bed and that’s it, but because I was out and about every day, I did not mind. The accommodation comes with a swimming pool. The location is within walking distance from Horseshoe Bay, the shops and the beach.

Bungalow Bay Koala Village

If this is not for you, then underneath are a couple of different accommodations:

Another budget option is CStay Holiday Accommodation on Magnetic Island. Located 200m from the historic Picnic Bay Jetty and offers budget rooms which are well facilitated. The hotel is close to all of the main attractions of Magnetic Island.

Great Hotels and Appartments on Magnetic Island

Pure Magnetic ( 3-star hotel) is an upscale retreat offering polished Balinese-inspired villas, plus a heated pool and beach access. Located in Nelly Bay this hotel is pretty amazing.

Another great option is Grand Mercure Apartments Magnetic Island! They offer contemporary apartments opposite the bay featuring casual units, plus outdoor pools.

Peppers Blue  (4-star hotel) is an amazing luxury pick for those wanting to really indulge during their time on Magnetic Island. Located in Nelly Bay, this hotels offers luxury rooms overlooking water’s edge overlooking the Coral Sea and private marina. 

Best Hotels in Magnetic Island

Holiday home The Pines
Sails On Horseshoe
Pure Magnetic Villa 8
Pure Magnetic Villa 4
Pure Magnetic Villa 1
Pure Magnetic Villa 5
Holiday home The Pines
Sails On Horseshoe
Pure Magnetic Villa 8
Pure Magnetic Villa 4
Pure Magnetic Villa 1
Pure Magnetic Villa 5
Holiday home The Pines
Sails On Horseshoe
Pure Magnetic Villa 8
Pure Magnetic Villa 4
Pure Magnetic Villa 1
Pure Magnetic Villa 5

Magnetic island itinerary | The Best Things to do in Magnetic Island? 

Underneath I have listed some of the best things to do on Magnetic Island if you only have 1 day! From snorkeling to hikes, WWII bunkers, koalas and much more!


Magnetic island itinerary, Best snorkeling tips

Magnetic Island is one of the best places to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef from the beach. Some of the best snorkelling spots on the island are: 

  • Florence Bay | It is advised to snorkel on the left side of the bay where there is no boat. There is a lot of silt at the start, but you will see corals if you swim a bit further.
  • Geoffrey Bay | An incredible snorkelling trail has been set out at this beach! On a calm day, you will see an amazing array of fish species, especially around the Moltke wreck. For stronger swimmers, the WWII aeroplane propeller and engine block (from a CW-22B Curtiss Falcon) is another great place to explore.
  • Nelly Bay | Probably the best spots for beginners. Here you can follow the white surface floats that make the snorkelling trail. They will lead you around beautiful coral formations only about 100 metres away from the shore.

Unfortunately, when I was on the island, the ocean was very choppy. It was exhausting to swim and the water was so murky that I did not see a single fish or coral. 

Magnetic island itinerary. The best places to snorkel

If you are snorkeling in the months from November – April, be sure to wear a stinger suit. The last thing you want is to get stung! 

Koala’s and hiking 

There are quite a few koala colonies to be found on the island. Most of the time, they can be found in certain areas of the island. Underneath I have listed some of the best places to go and spot them.

Forts Walk

So the number one place people recommend visiting to see wild koalas on Magnetic Island is the Forts Walk.

The Forts Walk is a Magnetic Island must-do, as it merges some of the things that the tropical paradise is most famous for – spectacular lookouts, WWII history, and koalas. 

Besides these adorable creatures, along the walk, you will also be educated into some fascinating history about the use of Magnetic Island in WWII. Looking at the idyllic surroundings today, it’s hard to believe how significant the Magnetic Battery was in the early 1940s! The route goes around some interesting infrastructure, with plenty of information about the island in the war.

And of course, you’re treated to some epic viewpoints, including stunning panoramic views!

Magnetic Island Itineray. The Forts WalkMagnetic Island Itineray. The Forts Walk

Some other spots where you can see koalas on the island are:

  • Wallaby Way 
  • Picnic Bay 

See Rock Wallabies

On the rocks by Arcadia live a friendly but shy bunch of adorable rock wallabies. They tend to hang around from 4:30 pm until sundown. It is advised to not feed them, as they are wild animals.

Koala Park at Bungalow Bay

If you have checked out all the above spots, but you still have not seen a koala, then you could visit the Magnetic Island Koala Park at Bungalow Bay. The accommodation and adventure centre has wildlife tours a few times a day, where you can meet some of their resident koalas.

I have done the tour and it was super interactive and fun! You get to hold, fee and touch many amazing, and sometimes scary, animals. It was heaps of fun and I would recommend checking it out! You can also hold a koala and take a picture with a koala for an additional fee.

Koala Park at Bungalow Bay

Horseshoe Bay

Quiet and tranquilly Horseshoe Bay is a lovely little seaside town. It has a couple of shops, bars and restaurants. The beach out front is large and as a section with stinger nets, so it is safe to swim.  It is also the premier location for watersports on Magnetic Island! Along the shores of Horseshoe Bay is an array of equipment hire options including jet skis, kayaks, stand up paddleboards and more!

The selection of shops and eateries along the Horseshoe Bay beachfront is an ideal location for a meal with an ocean view.

Magnetic island itinerary | What about Townsville?

After you day At Magnetic Island, you will probably need a night of accommodation in Townsville. Underneath are a couple of options for you.

If you are after a campsite near Townsville then Secura Lifestyle Magnetic Gateway Townsville is a great option. It offers a tranquil holiday park only 10mins drive of Townsville CBD. Additionally, the Bush Oasis Caravan Park offers a quiet sanctuary.  This campsite is more catered to the mature audience and international tourists. Situated within close proximity to Townsville beachfront and restaurants.

Some cheap hostel in Townsville

  • Civic Guest House Backpackers Hostel –  I stayed in this hostel for 1 night before I went to Magnetic Island. It is no-frills dorms & private rooms offering free Wi-Fi, plus a kitchen, a TV lounge & a game room. From $26 per night (4-bed dorm) to $60 for a private ensuite room.
  • Orchid Guest House – Simple dorms & private rooms in a relaxed hostel featuring a BBQ area, Wi-Fi & a free area shuttle.
    From $26 per night (4-bed dorm) to $110 for a private room.

Underneath a couple of the best hotels in the city.

The Ville Resort-Casino is one of the best Townsville hotels and restaurants offering modern accommodation, live music and more. Rooms offer stunning views of the Coral Sea and Magnetic Island.

Another amazing hotel is the Mercure Townsville. The stunning hotel is set amidst 11 acres of tropical gardens on the shores of Lake Curralea. The rooms lovely views across the lake, swimming pool or lush tropical gardens, and provide all the amenities needed for a holiday or business trip.

Townsville Beach

Things to do in Townsville?

Underneath are just a couple of cool things to check out when in Townsville.

  • Strand Park | The Strand has a view of the Port of Townsville and Magnetic Island, as well as to Cape Cleveland. Features in the area include a jetty, a recreational park, restaurants, cafes and pools.

  • Billabong Sanctuary | Wildlife sanctuary home to some adorable Aussie wildlife.

  • Reef Headquarters Aquarium | Reef HQ is the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium. The Coral Reef Exhibit has 130 coral species and 120 fish species along with hundreds of species of sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, feather stars, snails, worms and sponges.

  • Castle Hill | A stunning heritage-listed isolated pink granite monolith. It rises to a height of some 286 metres above sea level and dominates the city skyline. It is one of the most distinctive natural features in Townsville. Hike up to the top for some stunning views.

  • Museum of Tropical Queensland | Located in the same complex as the Reef HQ Aquarium, the museum of natural history, archaeology and history is worth a visit if you have time.

Magnetic island itinerary


Magnetic island itinerary

ELECTRICITY Flat three-pin plug. Electrical power in Australia runs on a cycle of 50hz, and a voltage of 230 Volt.
CURRENCY Australian Dollar ($).
TIPPING In Australia, you don’t have to tip – ever. But you can if you want to.
NICKNAME “Maggie Isle”, “Maggie Island”, or “The Island”.


Australia uses The Australian Dollar ($).  In pretty much all places will accept credit card. Some stalls at the markets do not though, so I do advise to carry some Australian Dollars with you just in case. There might also be a couple of smaller stores that do not have an EFTPOS machine.

As stated above, tipping is not expected, though it is customary to round up your restaurant bill to the nearest Dollar. At more expensive restaurants, it is normal to leave a 5-10% tip.


English is the official language of Australia. Underneath you can find some handy English/Australian phrases as well as some handy travel phrases that might come in handy during your time in the country.

Australian English
G’day Hello
How are ya Greeting, warm welcome
Arvo Afternoon
Catch ya later Goodbye
Good on ya Good job
Dunno I don’t know
Barbie Barbecue
Bloody oath That’s true
Beaut Fantastic, wonderful, the best
Buzz off Go away
BYO Bring your own grog/alcohol (Often seen at Restaurants)
Crikey! Astonishment, disbelief
Fair dinkum True, real, honest
Fair go To give somebody a reasonable chance at something; to treat them fairly


The best time to visit is between May and September where the days are warm, but the evenings are cooler. In summer the days can be too intense, so you won’t be able to explore much of the island. If you go between May and September the days are a lot more pleasant.  


Aboriginal artwork, Didgeridoo’s and boomerangs are an awesome souvenir to bring home are the most popular souvenir ideas for any holiday within Australia. Additionally, a cute plushy in the shape of a kangaroo or koala is always a good idea.

A stunning poster from the islands is also a popular souvenir idea.

Jerky made from native animals or kangaroo balls as a lighter make for a quirky gift for a friend back home.


Underneath some of the most popular activities on Magnetic Island, and how much it would cost you to do them.

Horse ride from bush to beach | Horseshoe Bay Ranch has been providing unforgettable horse riding experiences on Magnetic Island for over 30 years. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or advanced rider, as the team give basic riding instructions before the fun begins, and there are always experienced guides on hand to assist. Horseshoe Bay Ranch, 38 Gifford Street, Horseshoe Bay, QLD, Australia, +61 7 4778 5109. – $140 per rider and $150 per rider during QLD school holidays
Water sports at Horseshoe Bay | Horseshoe Bay is where you’ll find various local companies focused on water sports hire. Horseshoe Bay Water Sports offers tube rides, which are very popular with visitors. Hire a jet ski from Jet Ski Hire Magnetic Island.  – 30 minute Jetski Hire $95.00 per ski.

Play a round of golf | Magnetic Island Country Club is the island’s only golf course and is backdropped by the incredibly stunning hills of Magnetic Island National Park. Magnetic Island Country Club, 2 Hurst Street, Picnic Bay, QLD, Australia, +61 7 4778 5188

Cuddle a Koala at Bungalow Bay Koala Village | Bungalow Bay Koala Village offers up close and personal tours. There are 3 daily wildlife presentations: 10 am, 12 noon, at 2.30 pm. 40 Horseshoe Bay Rdm, Magnetic Island, (07) 4778 5577, info@bungalowbay.com.au – From $30,- ( Koala photo opportunity additional to the entry fee.)

Hire a ‘Barbi’ Car | Nicknamed Barbie cars due to their resemblance to Barbie’s convertible, the topless vehicles can be hired from Tropical Topless Car Rentals.

Do a boat tour | There are quite a few incredible bout tours you can take on the island. Aquascene Charters offers some amazing tours, their Discovery Tour includes snorkelling, swimming, fishing, and exploring the island’s many secluded bays and beaches. Big Mama Sailing offers some half and full-day tours of the island, which includes access to their boom net, snorkels, paddleboards, and kayaks. If you are after a sunset boat tour, then Pilgrim Sailing offers an amazing sunset cruise!


Go hiking | There are nearly 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) of walking tracks on Magnetic Island, which take you across bays and through Magnetic Island National Park.
Snorkel the reef | There are snorkel trails you can follow at both Nelly Bay (near Base Backpackers) and Geoffrey Bay. Follow the white surface floats, which outline the trail and offer a place for people to rest while snorkelling.
Spot a koala | Magnetic Island is home to the most koalas in northern Australia. It’s estimated that about 800 koalas live on the island.


Cairns is an incredible spot to start travelling either up the coast or down to Brisbane. Underneath are just a couple of handy posts if you are planning to travel after you have completed this Cairns itinerary.


Thank you for reading my Magnetic Island Itinerary, I hope this was helpful. Have you been to the Island? What was your favourite part? Let me know in the comments below.


Magnetic island itinerary

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