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With gorgeous beaches, fringing coral reefs, and rugged bushland, Magnetic Island is a spectacular pocket of north Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. More than half of the island, located off the coast of Townsville, is a national park. The rest is given over to conservation parks, mangroves, and a handful of settlements.
The villages of Nelly Bay, where the ferry from Townsville docks, and Picnic Bay are at the southern end of the island. Then there’s Horseshoe Bay to the north and the hamlet of West Point to the west. On the coastline between these villages you’ll find scores of secluded beaches and reefs to explore with a snorkel and flippers or dive gear. Offshore you may see sea turtles and dugongs, which are drawn to the meadows of seagrass around the island. In the interior, there’s a network of walking tracks through the hoop pines and eucalyptus forests of Magnetic Island National Park, which is home to koalas, kookaburras, and rock wallabies, among many other native animals.
From Townsville Airport (TSV) you can take a taxi, rideshare, or shuttle service to the city’s Breakwater Terminal. From here it’s a 25-minute public ferry ride, or 20 minutes by catamaran, to Magnetic Island’s Nelly Bay. Once you’re on the island there are plenty of ways to get around if you don’t have a car. There are some taxis, and a bus runs all the way from Picnic Bay in the south to Horseshoe Bay in the north about once an hour during the day. You can also bring a bike on the ferry, and cover a lot of the island on foot if you’re a keen hiker. If you want to drive around the island, you can hire a car in Townsville and take it on the car ferry, which departs from a dock across the creek from Breakwater Terminal. The journey takes 40 minutes. Otherwise you can hire a car on the island.
Magnetic Island is a little cooler than mainland Townsville, although not by much. Expect hot, humid days and warm nights from early spring, with high temperatures barely budging from October through to mid-autumn. The tropical island gets more than half its annual rainfall from January to March, with the wet season lingering until April. There are some netted beaches on Magnetic Island, but you’ll need a stinger suit to protect yourself from jellyfish between November and April if you’re venturing into the water. Visit the island in late autumn and winter and you’ll enjoy cool, dry weather for hiking. As a bonus the sea will still be warm, and you’ll be far less likely to encounter any marine stingers.
One of the first two installations of Townsville’s Museum of Underwater Art, this steel sculpture of a greenhouse sits on the ocean floor at a nearby reef, slowly being colonised by sea life. Only five tour operators are licensed by the museum to offer diving trips to the Coral Greenhouse: two of these companies operate from Magnetic Island.
At Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay, on the eastern coast of the island, you can swim out to coral reefs and follow numbered floats along marked snorkel trails. Grab a waterproof swim card from any shop on the island so you can identify the corals and colourful fish you’ll encounter.
There’s a walking track to suit everyone on the island, from a short walk around Horseshoe Lagoon to the Picnic Bay to West Point Trail. The return journey to West Point along the wetlands and grasslands of the western side of the island takes around five hours.