A Guide to Magnetic Island: Australia’s Best Kept Secret & Most Underrated East Coast Stop
I am SO excited to write this post.
I feel like I’ve been let in on Australia’s best kept secret and I can’t wait to share it with you.
You’ve probably heard of Australia’s Fraser Island and Whitsunday Islands. They’re two of the most popular stops for travelers along the East Coast. But I was recently lucky enough to have spent 2 nights on an island that completely stole my heart and I CANNOT believe I had never heard of it before.
Untouched beaches, lush lively coral reefs, heaps of animals and wildlife to spot, picture-perfect palms and breathtaking ocean views around every corner.
Oh, and you may recognize Magnetic Island from the popular “Barbie Car” photos.
Located just 5 miles offshore of Townsville, Queensland, Magnetic Island or “Maggie” as it’s called by locals, is 20 square miles of idyllic island paradise unlike any place I’d ever been before.
Magnetic Island is an adventurers paradise. Even the name has an adventurous tale around it: Legend has it that when British explorer Captain Cook discovered the island in 1770, he believed it had a magnetic force causing interference with his compass, and gave it the name Magnetic Island. While this theory proved false, the name stuck and there you have it! Every inch of the island offers a new place to explore and it’s so perfectly unspoilt that it truly feels like you’re the first person to have ever been lucky enough to discover it.
Getting there: We took The Spirit of Queensland train to get to Townsville but it’s a popular stop for most bus services in Australia, including the Greyhound bus. From Townsville you hop aboard a small ferry and within about 20 minute you’ll find yourself on an island of paradise.
Tip: Ferry tickets are $33 for an adult return pass. Buy passes here.
Where to Stay:
Two great hostels both with very different atmospheres. YHA Bungalow Bay Koala Park (where Lewis and I stayed) is super rustic with a camping vibe that lends itself to the ‘explorer’ feel of the island. YHA Bungalow Bay is the only hostel in Australia that has its own on-site wildlife park. The park is home to all sorts of local animals including koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, snakes, possums and parakeets and offers daily wildlife presentations. They also offer a special breakfast with koalas three days a week!
Lewis and I stayed in a little cabin with bunk beds and it totally felt like we were camping.
YHA Bungalow Bay is located in a walking distance to Horseshoe Bay where you’ll find a handful of beachy cafes and one of my favourite stretches of coastline in all of Australia. YHA also offers free snorkels and flippers and there is a pool, kitchen and bar.
A lot of our friends were staying at Base so we had the opportunity to check it out there as well. Base definitely had more of a social/party feel and the accommodation was definitely a little less rustic.
Most of the rooms at Base offer ocean views which were pretty spectacular. There’s a hammock garden, bar, kitchens and pool.
What to Do:
Renting a “Barbie Car” and cruising around the island in that Tropic style is definitely the #1 thing to do on Magnetic Island.
The Tropic Topless Barbie Cars are totally adorable and I couldn’t resist jumping into a random one parked on the street for a photo, but they’re not actually what you want to rent for a day of exploring on the island. Because they’re so low to the ground and have such tiny wheels and motors they’re unable to reach many of the cool destinations along the island (like my favorite spot: Radical Bay).
Instead we rented our cars from the Arcadia Beach House.
The car cost about $100 for a 24 hour rental with gas and insurance included. I definitely would recommend getting a 24 hour rental because you’ll need a car to get out to West Point Beach for sunset and if you don’t rent it for 24 hours you won’t have it long enough to make it to sunset. The cars seat 4 so if you’re splitting the cost with friends it really isn’t very expensive at all compared to a lot of the other activities along Australia’s East Coast.
Word of caution: The cars are MANUAL so if you’re an American and don’t have any experience driving stick you may want to befriend someone who does know how. Magnetic Island is mountainous and some of the roads (like Radical Road) are tricky and this probably wouldn’t be a great time to try and teach yourself.
Don’t Miss These Stops:
Radical Bay: This spot is the tropical oasis of your dreams.
It’s the dreamy ‘stranded on a remote island’-island that you see in films. Imagine a completely private strip of beach, towering palms and the soothing sound of gently crashing waves. Not a ship, building, Starbucks or charging port in sight and absolutely no cell service—if that’s not the recipe for relaxation I don’t know what is.
But this sort of paradise is remote for a reason… we stopped here first because we were warned that Radical Road, the road to get there, is, well, RADICAL. And it sure was… potholes basically larger than the car itself and very steep and narrow. We wanted to get that drive out of the way in the AM before we ran the chance of there being many other cars on the road.
Florence Bay, Arthur’s Bay, Geoffrey’s Bay: These three different locations all have their own unique vibes and are all well worth a stop. Each have thriving coral reefs and are fabulous for snorkelling. However, to determine which Bay is best (and safest) for snorkelling check in with a lifeguard, staff member at your hostel or any other locals you may encounter as different times of the year and different weather patterns may affect the conditions at each spot.
Safety Tip: Make sure to do some research before you go. Because of the warm sea water temperatures, Northern Queensland, and Magnetic Island especially, is seasonally affected by the Irukandji jellyfish—a type of venomous box jellyfish that can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. November to April (wet season) is when you should be most careful about irukanjis but the exact timeframe of stinger season can vary.
Both the YHA and Base hostels should provide complimentary stinger suits year round if you ask them for one. Picnic Bay and Horseshoe Bay have stinger nets but if you are swimming outside the nets during stinger season you should definitely use caution and wear the suit.
IGA for Lunch: Stop at the IGA in Nelly Bay to pick up some food for lunch. Also be sure to pick up some bananas or carrots to feed the rock Wallabies at Alma Bay!
Picnic Bay: A good spot for…. you guessed it, a picnic! *Also has a stinger net around it’s beach for safer swimming.
Horseshoe Bay: Horseshoe Bay is home to a selection of little cafes alongside the beach. Lewis and I particularly liked Cafe Nourish for it’s yummy selection of acai bowls and smoothies. Better yet, Horseshoe Bay is in my opinion The Shelling Capital of The World. I have literally never seen so many beautiful shells in my entire life. Lewis literally had to put a limit on my shell collecting because I had so many by the end of our 48 hours in Magnetic Island that I actually had to throw out some T-Shirts and things in my suitcase to make room for my new shell collection. It was crazy, like you didn’t even have to put effort into looking for good shells they were just there waiting for you.
*Also has a stinger net around it’s beach for safer swimming.
Alma Bay: This is where you’ll need those bananas you bought! Head here for about 4:00pm as that’s when a local man has been going to feed the rock wallabies every evening for as long as any local islander could remember. Park down the road rather than driving right up to Alma Bay so the sound of your car doesn’t frighten any of these little guys. The rock wallabies are adorable! It’s pretty awesome to think that you can get such an authentic experience with these animals in the wild for free when zoos charge buckets of money for this sort of thing. The wallabies are shy at first but definitely warm up to you after they see you’ve got treats.
West Point Beach: As the sun begins to get lower in the sky everyone flocks to the west side of the island to West Point Beach. Save yourself adequate time to get there (about 20 mins depending on where you’re coming from on the island) because its a long dirt track to get there and it may take a little longer than you expect. Pack a picnic blanket, maybe some goon and some tunes and take in the perfect end to your day on Maggie Island.
Other things to do:
Forks Hike: Forks Hike is a scenic and easy hike up through some of the more mountainous parts of the island. The walk offers some insanely beautiful sweeping views of the island’s coastline from a higher vantage point. Keep your eyes peeled on the trail because koalas love hanging out around this area. Fellow hikers may also use sticks to make arrows in the path to signal that a koala is sleeping in a tree nearby.
Give yourself at the very least 2 nights to chill out and unwind on Magnetic Island. Lewis and I ranked this as our #1 favourite stop along the entire coast and we both said that if we had known about it earlier in our trip we would’ve made a major effort to either live and work there for a while or to at least have budgeted more than 2 nights for a visit.
Have you been to Magnetic Island? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!
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