Affordable(ish) Queensland Island Hopping: Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is beautiful 52 km²  chunk of land that is 8 km off the cost of Townsville, Australia. It’s extensive reefs, dreamy beaches, and ample koala population make it an attractive Queensland island getaway for international tourists and locals alike.

With the inexpensive ferry prices and the potential of spotting a koala in the wild, how could we say no?

Getting There:

There are a few different ferries that leave from various Townsville marinas. If you’re traveling on foot, SeaLink (20ish minutes each way) and Magnetic Ferries (45ish minutes each way) have round trip tickets for around AUD$30 pp. If you want to bring your car over, Magnetic Ferries is the option for you (at an added fee of course.)

The Accommodation: 

We booked a night at Arcadia Beach Guest House for AUD$76. There were private rooms with shared bathrooms, “safari tents”, and dorm style rooms, as well as two full kitchens, a pool table, and plenty of hang out space.

Ian, the owner, painted a picture of Arcadia Beach Guest House in it’s glory (pre-COVID) days:

Young travelers from across the world laughing and playing games. Everyone chipping in once a week to make homemade pizza in the pizza oven for pizza nights. Plenty of fun in the sun. Plenty  of  adventure. 

I put my imagination to work as he led us through the empty rooms with cob webs in the corners.

How We Got Around:

This is where the budget was busted. We foolishly thought that we could walk from beach to beach. While everything looks flat on Google Maps, Magnetic Island is surprisingly hilly. Hills, humidity, and heat aren’t a friendly combo, and a car really is a necessity for getting around.

Ian offered us a cute Suzuki cruiser for $100 for two days. Sold!

The car had no power of steering, couldn’t really get into reverse, and I found myself unclenching white knuckles whenever we finally reached the crest of a hill. But hey, it got us around!

Tip: In the ferry terminal I spotted signs for car rentals as low as AUD$55 a day!

The Experience:

  • The Forts: One of the big things to do on Magnetic Island is to take the walk around The Forts for panoramic views and koala spotting. To our dismay, the path was closed due to construction.
  • Radical Bay: The walk to Radical Bay has eucalyptus  galore; perfect for koala sightings!  Alas, we didn’t spot a single one. Radical Bay itself, however, is beautiful with soft sand and an arced beach. We strapped on our snorkel masks and did some exploring. The big excitement was a behemoth fish lurking around. It had quite a fascination with Jeremy and kept following him around. Jeremy didn’t like it, I thought it was hilarious.
Radical Bay
  • SS City of Adelaide:  The City of Adelaide was a passenger steam ship that first set sail in 1863. It was later converted into a cargo ship which endured a fiery fate in 1912 right off the coast of Magnetic Island. It was moved to it’s permanent spot in Cockle Bay two years later. The wrecked ship is overgrown with mangroves and you can walk out to it during low tide.
SS City of Adelaide
  • Rock wallabies: On the edge of Geoffrey Bay there are rock wallabies that you can watch eat at dawn and dusk.  These adorable marsupials bound and leap around the rocks, and you can  (although it’s not advised) buy pellets of food to give them. There are less than 30,000  rock wallabies left in Australia, making it a special experience that shouldn’t be missed.
  • The other snorkeling…. Or should I say lack there of: We were planning on snorkeling through the reefs at low tide, which was 5pm. We were all ready to go when a local looked at us and said, “Yous not going in there with a stinger suit? That’s risky business….” He proceeded to tell us a few stories of recent deaths due to jelly fish. “If it’s not a deadly one, you’ll probably drown from the pain.” No snorkeling for us.

TIP: There are, however, stinger nets that keep the buggers out! Below is the one at Horseshoe Bay.

Horseshoe Bay
Horseshoe Bay
  • Trivia with the locals: what better way to  spend the evening than a rousing game of trivia? Our team of two didn’t win any of the bags of chocolate. Luckily, I had a bar of chocolate waiting for me in the fridge back at the accommodation anyways.

The weather wasn’t looking good for day two, so we decided to catch an earlier ferry back to get on with the travels.

            Travel Blooper: We booked one way tickets in case we decided we wanted to stay longer. I was tasked with booking the return ferry while Jeremy dropped off the car. I booked the ferry, but for SeaLink instead of Magnetic Ferries. No harm no foul, right? WRONG! The SeaLink ferry went to a different marina, and Jeremy took the  30 minute walk in the brutal heat to retrieve the van while I waited with the suitcase. Whoops…

If I were to do it again….

During the research process, the consensus seemed to be that Magnetic Island deserves a couple days, at least. If you’re on a leisurely holiday, sure! If you’re a budget traveler hopping around, I’m here to say you can do it in a day without sacrificing too much.

Take the earliest ferry from Townsville to Magnetic Island, rent a car right from the pier, and get exploring. Check out the various bays, look up for koalas, snorkel around the reef, see the SS City of Adelaide, marvel at the wallabies, then catch the latest ferry back.

Key: CHECK THE TIDES! Pick a day when low tide is convenient (11am-3pm ish) so that you can see the  SS City of Adelaide and get some solid snorkeling in. A local recommended the Magnetic Island Reef as a stellar snorkel spot. Fellow bloggers have recommended Florence Bay. And don’t forget your snorkel gear and stinger suits!

My honest thoughts…

I admittedly set the bar too high with false expectations for Magnetic Island. I had the vision of lovely beaches, green flora, and snoozing koalas on a stunning natural island. In reality, Magnetic Island is decently developed, and just like any small Queensland beach town, except surrounded by water. There are a couple grocery stores, restaurants, bars, and plenty of locals. I wrongly wanted an experience similar to The Great Keppel Island. And I accept the blame for my own let down.

With that being said, Magnetic Island does have cool sights to be seen. The rock wallabies were a treat to watch and the sunken SS City of Adelaide was awesome. Certainly worth your Queensland bucket list, but I’d recommend sticking to a day trip.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. maristravels says:

    Your Suzuki made me smile as we hired one of these in the Seychelles, many years ago, and I too, remember the white-knuckle rides. I enjoyed this post immensely and loved the photos.


    1. Such a fun car, but was happy to give it back. Thanks for giving it a read!


  2. i just want to snorkel there and see that AWESOME fish! It really is so very cool!

    Liked by 1 person

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