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Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island offers quiet, secluded beaches, rugged nature, abundant wildlife and easy access to the Great Barrier Reef.

By Stephanie Williams

It only takes 25 minutes on a ferry from Townsville to arrive in paradise. Magnetic Island's relaxed tropical lifestyle, quiet, secluded beaches, rugged nature, abundant wildlife and easy access to the Great Barrier Reef make it a wonderful place to relax and unwind.

Magnetic Island sits within the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but the landscape here is different to the usual tropical rainforest found on many of the Great Barrier Reef islands. About 275 million years ago nature's forces created an extraordinary landscape of rocky terrain and giant boulders. Magnetic Island has less rainfall than the Wet Tropics to the north and the Whitsunday Islands to the south. Its climate is typical of the dry tropics and it is covered with eucalypt woodlands.

The traditional owners of Magnetic Island, the Wulgurukaba Aboriginal people, have inhabited the island for thousands of years. They call the island Yunbenun. Shell middens, stone tools and art sites are physical reminders of their strong connection with the island. Magnetic Island was named by James Cook in 1770 when the island appeared to affect the magnetic compass on his ship.

The main areas of Magnetic Island are Horseshoe Bay, Arcadia Bay, Nelly Bay, Picnic Bay and West Point.

Don't miss

  • Follow the 1.2 kilometre (0.75 mile) Hawkings Track for views across the island
  • Relax on one of the 23 beaches on Magnetic Island
  • Dive the SS Yongala wreck or follow a Magnetic Island Snorkel Trail

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Travellers' stories

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Top things to do on Magnetic Island

Explore the outdoors on foot

Magnetic Island's mild, sunny climate stays much the same throughout the year, making it perfect for all types of outdoor activities and water sports. Magnetic Island National Park covers more than half the island and has 24 kilometres (15 miles) of walking tracks. The 1 1/2 hour Forts Walk is one of the most popular on the island. It includes World War II forts, incredible views and sometimes even a koala or two. Mount Cook is the island's highest point and marks the centre. The island is a haven for native Australian birds and wildlife. During the summer months (December to February) sea turtles nest on the beaches. Explore the beautiful bays on a tranquil guided sea kayak tour or exhilarating jetski tour. Go horseriding along the beach or play golf at the Country Club in Picnic Bay, said to be where Australian golf legend Greg Norman first played. West Point is a great spot to watch the sun go down. You can walk there from Picnic Point. It’s graded as easy but does take about five hours return, so you might want to pack a head torch.

Check out the events and festivals

Each September the Magnetic Island Festival kicks into gear with a month of workshops, music, art, fairs and food. There are plenty of sporting events, such as the annual Magnetic Island Swim, an eight kilometre (five mile) open water swim from the island to Townsville surf life saving club, and the Adventurethon, in which participants paddle, mountain bike and run across the island. Magnetic Island is also the place to party. Every month Magnetic Island hosts the Full Moon Down Under party, at which up to 3000 people, including the young and young at heart, gather to dance on a beach until sunrise.

Enjoy an ocean adventure

Magnetic Island has many excellent dive sites, including the shipwreck of the SS Yongala, one of the best wreck dives in Australia and one of the top five in the world. The warm, shallow waters around the island are also ideal for beginners. You can snorkel right off the beach at Alma, Arthur and Florence bays or follow one of the fascinating Snorkel Trails at Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay. Magnetic Island is also famous for its big game fishing. Join a fishing charter or just hire some gear and drop in a line at West Point or from the jetty in Picnic Bay.

Relax in a beachside villa

Magnetic Island has a good range of accommodation, from backpackers and apartment-style living to luxury beachfront houses. Most accommodation is around Horseshoe Bay, Picnic Bay and the marina. Check in to Lotus House, a private three-bedroom villa with beach access, swimming pool and uninterrupted beach views, or Maggies Beachfront Apartments for well appointed apartments with beach or garden views. Peppers Blue on Blue, at the marina, has resort-style studios and apartments. There's also a great range of beachside restaurants, cafés and pubs as well as a supermarket and markets.

Learn about the island's military history

Because of its proximity to the military base of Townsville, Magnetic Island played an important role in Australia's military history as a lookout point. Soldiers loved Picnic Bay as a place to relax. The Forts Walk at Horseshoe Bay is one of the most popular on the island, taking you past old forts and lookouts. Take a look at Magnetic Battery, the artillery battery and observation post in the hinterland of Florence, Horseshoe and Arthur bays.

How to get there

The 25 minute passenger ferry to Magnetic Island from Townsville departs regularly throughout the day. There's also a regular car ferry.

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