How to Spend a Day on Magnetic Island

Australia: synonymous with koalas, right? I’m going to let you in on a secret – I know of a place where you are GUARANTEED to see these ‘bears’ in the wild. Magnetic Island (or ‘Maggie’ as it’s affectionately known) has Northern Australia’s largest colony of koalas living in the wild and so you would be hard pressed not to see one while touring this small island. A trip to Maggie, therefore, is an essential on any North Queensland itinerary and below I have outlined how best to spend a day on this wonderful island.

Travelling to Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is a mere 8km from Townsville on the Australian mainland and is the only self-contained island within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. For those with packed itineraries while touring Australia, this short distance from the mainland means that it is entirely possible to enjoy a day trip to the island without staying overnight (though, should I have the opportunity to return to this part of the world, I would definitely consider staying overnight on Maggie, as I loved the serenity of the island).

We took a Friday morning sailing – taking just 20 minutes – from the port of Townsville to Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island and we arrived just after 8AM, using the Sealink ferry service. A return journey is marginally cheaper if booked online in advance of your trip (30 AUD as opposed to 34AUD) and the most up to date ferry timetable can be found here.

Palm fringed Maggie

Suggested Itinerary and Timings

8AM – Arrive in Nelly Bay and hire a car.

8:30AM – 11AM – Drive to Horseshoe Bay for breakfast.

11AM – 1PM – Embark upon the Forts Walk.

1PM – 4PM – Head to Picnic Bay for lunch and board the ferry back to Townsville.


On arrival, head straight to the Tropical Topless car rental next to the ferry terminal and hire out a ‘Barbie’ car for the day – the most fun, and ‘Instagrammable’, way to explore the island! A topless convertible costs around AUD $100 for the day.

Travel in style around Magnetic Island!

Breakfast at Horseshoe Bay

Start your trip by taking a test drive of your rental on a 15 minute drive to Horseshoe Bay, the biggest bay on the island. There are plenty of palm fringed spots en route where you can take some great shots with the convertible. Horseshoe Bay is the perfect spot to grab some breakfast, as you can take your pick from a number of different beachside cafes. We opted for coffee, bacon and eggs at Cafe Nourish, which perfectly set us up for the day.

The Forts Walk

After breakfast, head on over to the start of the trail for the Forts Walk. This is a reasonably easy 90-minute return walk and the most popular route on the island, as it is the best place to see the koalas ‘hanging out’ in the trees. The Forts Walk is so-named as the walk leads to a number of World War II fortifications, from which climbers will be rewarded with beautiful panoramic views around the island.

View from the World War II Fortifications

Exploring the bays of Magnetic Island

The Forts Walk is likely to help build up an appetite, so now is the time to head on over to Picnic Bay for a late lunch. Picnic Bay Hotel serves up great pub food with fantastic views across the water and over to Townsville. Picnic Bay is one of Magnetic Island’s 23 bays and it is a wonderful stretch of beach upon which to spend a lazy post-lunch afternoon. During the summer, jelly fish – and even crocodiles – are common in these waters, so I wouldn’t recommend taking a dip in the crystal blues at that particular time of year, but instead take some time to relax on the golden sands before returning your rental car and heading back to the mainland.