How to explore Magnetic Island by land, sea and sky
It’s true, there’s something inexplicably special about the Great Barrier Reef’s only island with its own postcode.
Affectionately known simply as ‘the island’ to locals, Magnetic Island is the laidback home of around 2500 happy residents and an epically diverse natural landscape.
To truly appreciate her in all her forms, you’ve got to go beyond the bitumen. Here’s how to explore Magnetic Island via land, sea and sky.
On solid land: Tropicana Tours
Intrepid German Sigrid, or ‘Siggie’ as she likes to be called, came to Magnetic Island with her husband three years ago to look at a boat and fell in love with the granite boulders immediately. “Within a few seconds we decided to stay, and bought a house instead of the boat,” she says.
Now driving her eye-catching stretch yellow Jeep around the island with a mic like Madonna, she plays part history guide, part bush-tucker aficionado during her Tropicana Tours.
On a half-day tour, expect to discover hidden bays you can’t access with the 2WD hire cars on the island, learn what everyday life is like for the people who call the island home, spot koalas dozing in the trees, and taste wild plants like samphire (aka bush asparagus) and noni fruit (which smells and tastes like blue cheese!).
After a morning tea stop at Picnic Bay, where a heritage-listed jetty stretches out to sea, walk out onto the mud flats of Cockle Bay at low tide to spot the wreck of the City of Adelaide that ran aground in 1915. “At night you can come down here and see hundreds of fireflies lighting up the bushes here,” Siggie tells us.
Want more? Dance the night away with 3000 others on the beach at one of the island’s epic Full Moon Parties, saddle up for a bareback horse ride through the bush and into the ocean for a dip with Horseshoe Bay Ranch, and hop along to Hotel Arcadia on a Wednesday night to witness the local spectacle that is the cane toad races. It’s all in the name of a laugh and to raise funds for the Surf Life Saving Club.
From the water: Aquascene
“I know I’m biased but you can’t see the best of Maggie if you’re not seeing it from the water,” Aquascene owner and skipper Adam says as we don our stinger suits and get ready to dive in for our first snorkel of the day.
And he’s right. Seeing the beauty and grandeur of Magnetic Island’s granite headlands and sweeping bays from Aquascene II – the boat he had custom-built specifically for tours like the one we’re on – is hard to beat.
Two platforms lay down into the water make fin fitting and getting in and out a cinch, while a hammock for lazy naps makes Aquascene feel more like a floating resort deck in the middle of nature’s sexiest pools.
During one sunny afternoon we stop in Arthur Bay for a snorkel where we spot a huge variety of coral and curious angelfish staring back at us, then the equally stunning Florence Bay where we feed eager batfish (who seem part labrador the way they like a snack and scratch), and dive in to snorkel some more.
“One question I get asked all the time is, ‘Is the island magnetic?’ And when I see people like that, glued to the sides, I say, yeah it’s magnetic,” Adam laughs.
Want more? Head out on a kayaking tour to spot turtles and enjoy a glass of bubbles as the sun goes down with Magnetic Island Sea Kayaks, strap on your life jacket for a round-the-island adventure with Adrenalin Jet Ski Tours, or sail the high seas – to one of Maggie’s beautiful bays – for a BBQ lunch and swim with Pilgrim Sailing.
In the air: Townsville Helicopters
To gain an entirely new perspective on the island Captain Cook blamed for his wonky compass, Townsville Helicopters offer scenic flights that will have you scratching your head as to how this beauty could ever have been formed.
Resembling a gigantic pile of granite boulders that have been dripped like wet sand from a giant hand in the sky, from up high you’ll gain an appreciation of the scale of the island’s 54% national park coverage. Hoop pines and eucalyptus trees create the green seams between the granite.
You’ll fly over Mt Cook – the highest point on the island at 497 metres – and spot the wreck of the City of Adelaide, lying on its side, now resembling a semi-submerged rainforest after running aground over 100 years ago just off Cockle Bay.
Remember to scope out your favourite bay so you can return to it when you touch down and tackle the many walking trails on offer across the island.
Want more? Watch Magnetic Island grow before your eyes as you plummet from up to 14,000 feet and land on The Strand with Skydive Townsville, go on a Heli Fishing adventure with Nautilus Aviation, make like Catherine Zeta Jones (in flashback film The Phantom) and take off from either Townsville or Magnetic Island in the beautiful vintage Red Baron Seaplane for their Magnetic Island Eco Tour. Keep a watch for whales from August to October!
*Pssst! Here are 6 more things to tick off the list during your stay!