48 hours on Magnetic Island
A lot can be said for island time.
A lot more should be said about finding it 20 minutes from the CBD.
Magnetic Island has long been Townsville’s best-kept secret (till now!) and is the ultimate weekender to swap the city’s nurture, for nature.
If you want to visit Maggie (that’s what the locals call her) in a weekend, here’s how we recommend you spend 48 fun-fuelled hours on this island, smack-bang in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.
5PM: Make the move to Maggie
There’s no need to get green gills as you cross the 8km seas between Magnetic Island and Townsville. No sooner (20 minutes to be precise) do you leave Townsville’s docks, will you arrive at Magnetic Island’s jetty.
The first thing that hits you as you dock at the Magnetic Island marina is not just the eye-catching granite boulders, but the relaxed pace at which this island runs.
We put it down to the fact everyone comes to Magnetic Island for one reason – to cast away from the mainland. Whether you’re a backpacker visiting the island for its fabled full moon party or one of the 2000-plus locals who call the island home – this is a destination built for relaxation.
Tips for your maiden voyage to Maggie:
- There are 19 return trips to Magnetic Island daily with SeaLink (passengers only). An adult return will cost you $33.
- There’s a vehicle ferry operated by Fantasea Cruising Magnetic, operating eight trips daily. An adult in a standard vehicle can expect to pay $80 each way for the trip over to the island, but prices vary according to time of year.
Magnetic Island is the ultimate chameleon when it comes to accommodation. It’s got options designed to get backpackers as excited for a place to stay as they are to see a happy hour special. In other corners of the island, it’s nothing but resort-style pools and playgrounds that make you think the island was built by children for children. If you’re looking for a place to stay, these are our picks:
For a bure on a budget:
Kick back at Island Leisure Resort in Nelly Bay. With bures big enough to cater for two adults and two children, it’s a good choice for families who prefer to spend their holiday budget on activities rather than accommodation.
With more room possibilities and combinations (one room, two room, combining door, fold out – you name it!) than a modern family could possibly have use for, Beachside Magnetic Island, caters for families big and small. Packing the trifecta of ocean, harbour and parkland views, you’ll have very little excuse to leave the resort at all. That is until you realise Australia’s best natural asset, the Great Barrier Reef, is on your doorstep.
For something mid-range:
For resort style accommodation overlooking the Coral Sea, you can’t go past Peppers Blue on Blue Resort. You’ll find it just mere footsteps from where the SeaLink Magnetic Island ferry docks, making Peppers the definition of a holiday where you hit the ground running. Behind the resort, Maggie’s mountainous terrain provides the perfect backdrop to this island paradise.
For when you want to make friends where you stay:
There’s one thing for certain, the YHA Bungalow Bay Koala Village at Horseshoe Bay, is more bustling than an international airport when it comes to different ages and nationalities. It’s the kind of place you check into when you’re not afraid of making new friends on your island adventure. You’ll find every type of accommodation here from camping through to private suite. Did we mention that on Thursdays their pumping bar serves two-for-one Pina Coladas? Enough said – take our money now!
6PM: Soak up a sunset on the water
Magnetic Island is known for its champagne coloured sunsets, as the light dances off granite boulders with the same effervescent energy as bubbles in a fluted glass. Make sure you’re waterfront to catch sunset a few different ways:
On dry land:
Trust us, you won’t be the only ones who come out to watch the sun set over the Pacific. Magnetic Island’s native rock wallabies come out to play on the granite boulders overlooking Horseshoe Bay.
Armed with a small bag of feed and fresh vegetables, you can serve aperitivo to these Aussie natives while enjoying your own. Just like a human at cocktail hour, they go nuts for crudité too!
On the water:
Set sail on your circumnavigation of Magnetic Island on board a beautiful 58-foot sailing yacht with Pilgrim Sailing. After a few drinks, we promise you’ll feel the magnetic pull of the island Captain Cook was referring to when he passed Magnetic Island those many moons ago. Or, maybe that’s just the champagne talking?
Why not make the experience progressive, and let sunset drinks slip seamlessly into dinner by booking the Sip & Sail Sunset Cruise, packaging dinner at Peppers Blue on Blue with sunset bevvies.
8AM: Go bareback on the beach
Horseshoe Bay Ranch might seem more like an activity reserved for Daryl Braithwaite than for visitors, but you too can have a film-clip moment riding a horse bareback down the beach.
After being paired with a horse to suit your skill and experience in the saddle (don’t worry if your boots have seen more shopping malls than stirrups), the ride begins in native Australian bushland before opening onto pristine beach where riders remove their saddle and go bareback into the water.
- You’ll want to book to make sure you’ve got a spot on their daily tours which run at 8:30am and 2:30pm.
- Pack the camera! A more picture-perfect activity does not exist. Don’t forget to #townsvilleshines.
11AM: Take a day tour, Maggie-style
Don’t hold back – jump onboard canary yellow stretch-Jeep with Tropicana Guided Adventure Company and take a three-hour eco-tour around the island.
On this small tour of just nine people, Tropicana provides the ultimate ‘cooks’ tour to Maggie island, covering the flora, fauna and history of the island. With a lesson in bush tucker, afternoon tea and a trip to what locals vote the best beach on the island, you’ve got yourself a perfect day.
4PM: Take a walk on the wild side
You’d be just as at home on a towel under a palm tree or in the bush with some walking sticks when holidaying on Magnetic Island.
Over two-thirds of the Island is classified as National Park, providing a haven for native wildlife including rock wallabies, koalas, possums and more than 100 different bird species, which are conveniently connected by 25kms of hiking trails for the avid bushwalker.
The most popular track is the Forts Walk – a 4km return hiking trail, leading to historic World War II fortifications and infrastructure, and some of the best views of the island.
Tip: With 320 days of sunshine a year, take a cue from Magnetic Island’s legendary sunny-status and pack lots of water, be sun smart and time this hike for the more gentle hours of the day.
8PM: Sit back for dinner and a show
I bet you weren’t expecting to find a theatre here on an island that’s 52 square kms in size?
The Stage Door Theatre Restaurant is the only theatre in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef – one of its claims to fame, beyond the talent you’ll find on stage here.
Strap yourself in for an evening of entertainment. The shows here usually take a format of singing, dancing and comedy routine.
Throw in a three-course meal at the onsite restaurant and you’ve got yourself dinner and show – just like P&O but on dry land.
7AM: For the early birds
You know what they say about early birds… well, TripAdvisor, The Guardian, Celebrity chef Matt Preston, DUOMagazine and TravelTalk all have a lot of positive things to say about this Early Bird.
You won’t find worms, but you will find breakfast and coffee at this cafe in Horseshoe Bay. Pop in and see what the fuss is all about – their kitchen and coffee machine get Maggie’s heart started from 6am.
8:30AM: Start the day with something memorable
Join Bungalow Bay Koala Village for a ‘champagne breakfast with the koalas’. Held each Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 8:30am -10am, you can tuck into a sumptuous feast while you meet the sanctuary’s cuddliest companions.
In keeping with this Aussie theme, the menu takes a bush tucker twist with crowd favourites like pancakes served with rosella jam, beef sausages with bush tomato chutney, native honeycomb and a local mackerel infused with lemon myrtle.
11AM: Go Snorkelling, somewhere seriously secluded
In case you missed this ebook where we lifted the lid on Townsville’s secret reef – Magnetic Island is where keen snorkellers stay and play when they want to see the reef in its most secluded form.
Join a half-day Discovery Cruise with Aquascene and see what lays beneath the water’s surface of Magnetic Island’s prettiest bays.
Your hosts will share their “secret” spots which they’ve spent 30 years uncovering.
If you thought Florence Bay was beautiful from above, wait till you dive under the surface and see the giant clams who nestle amongst colourful coral in this aqua playground.
- Magnetic Island’s winter temperature rarely dips below the 20-degree mark, so it’s always the right time for snorkelling.
- This is North Queensland, so you’ll need to wear a stinger suit November – April.
Want to snorkel it on your own two fins?
Easy! In 2012, two self-guided snorkel trails were developed around Maggie’s shores to lead keen snorkellers to bommies flourishing with coral and fish, and historic relics like a WWII aircraft propeller and the SS Moltke wreck.
Want more water sports action?
It’s not all snorkel masks and fins here. You can dial up the action with parasailing, diving expeditions, jet skiing and offshore fishing off Maggie’s genteel coastline.
Don’t feel like doing anything today?
No problems! We suggest you pack your togs and your towel and go your hardest at one of Magnetic Island’s 23 bays and beaches. With an island population of 2000 people – and 23 places to toss own a towel – the odds are always in your favour to find somewhere quiet and secluded on this island paradise.
5PM: Swap coastline for the city
All aboard the Townsville express back to the city. We guarantee it won’t be goodbye, just goodbye for now. We know you’ll be back – not just because Magnetic Island is lovely, but because it’s scientific.
No matter what they say, there’s still a magnetic pull about Maggie. Like two poles, you were always destined to meet.
Looking for more things to do in Magnetic Island?
Our team have got you covered:
- Check out these 6 things to do on Magnetic Island.
- If you don’t have lots of time, why not see Magnetic Island from the air? Nautilus Aviation will take you James Bond style in a helicopter or you can make like Catherine Zeta-Jones (in flashback film The Phantom) with Red Baron Seaplane for their Magnetic Island Eco Tour.
- If you have a sailing buff in the family, cast off the mainland and join Maggie for SeaLink’s Magnetic Island Race Week.
- Brush up on Townsville’s secret reef – here.