Australia: Magnetic Island is Queensland's Chill-Out Place

Riding at Horseshoe Bay, wearing stinger suits to protect against jellyfish. Tim Downs photo.
Riding at Horseshoe Bay, wearing stinger suits to protect against jellyfish. Tim Downs photo.

By Helen Downs

When Captain James Cook discovered Magnetic Island on the Great Barrier Reef he incorrectly thought its landmass had an adverse effect on his ship’s compass.  If he were to return to the island today, he would soon see that it has lived up to its name, with people from all walks of life being attracted to it.

Sunset over Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island Queensland, Australia. Helen Downs photos.
Sunset over Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island Queensland, Australia. Helen Downs photos.

If you think you deserve a well-earned break from the fast, frantic pace of work and/or city life, I suggest you head up to Queensland’s Magnetic Island.  With more than 60% of the island being National Park, it offers visitors unspoiled charm and a unique natural beauty.

Picturesque bays with sparkling blue waters, golden sandy beaches, and shady tropical trees surround the perimeter of the island.  Excellent picnic and barbecue facilities can also be found in most of these individual bays.

If you want to be where the action is, Horseshoe Bay is the place to go. Facing due north, Horseshoe is the largest bay on the island.

The beach is patrolled by lifeguards from 8.30 am - 4.30 pm and is protected by a stinger net between November and May.  This sheltered bay is a popular mooring spot for yachts with a small ramp available if you wish to launch your own boat.

Water Sports

Kayaks await on Horseshoe Bay.
Kayaks await on Horseshoe Bay.

The most exciting of the water sports is jet skiing. and one that I strongly recommend. Jet skis can be hired out for as little as 30 minutes or you may choose to hire one for an hour or two.

If feeling more adventurous I suggest you contact Adrenalin Jet Ski Tours who will take you on a guided three-hour jet ski tour that circumnavigates the island.

Tube rides are also very popular and my ten-year-old son and his friend had a great time doing this.   Individual tubes are connected to the speedboat and you only need to sit and hold on tight as you are dragged along at an amazing pace.

To make sure younger children don’t miss out on all the action, specially designed sting raves are connected to the speedboat. These hold two or three 3-12-year old children and they all have a great ride.

If you’d rather travel at a more leisurely pace I suggest you hire a kayak or paddleboat. As you paddle out towards White Lady Bay you will have time to absorb the true beauty and tranquility the Horseshoe Bay area has to offer and will return feeling very relaxed. You can also hire boats and enjoy a leisurely day fishing.

Exploring the Island

If you enjoy sitting in the saddle, then I suggest you contact Horseshoe Bay Ranch because they will show you this bay from a unique perspective.  After mounting your horse, you will join a group of riders and explore the bush at a leisurely pace. When you come to the beach the leaders will show you how to unsaddle. and mount your horse bareback.

View of Horseshoe Bay from the forts walk
View of Horseshoe Bay from the forts walk.

You can then enjoy a relaxing ride along the beach, followed by the sensation of riding in the ocean.  I have taken several of my friends on this ride and anyone who loves horses will really enjoy it. Just don’t forget to wear your swimmers before you start the ride! These two-hour rides are done at 8.30am and 2.30pm each day and are suitable for both experienced and novice riders.

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The Ferry to Magnetic Island departs from Nelly Bay.
The Ferry to Magnetic Island departs from Nelly Bay.

Another way to explore the island is to either cruise or sail around it.  This will give you the chance to visit some of the more secluded bays and understand what is unique and special about each one.

If you wish to view spectacular sunsets reflecting on the water I suggest you book a sunset cruise.  Some cruises leave from Horseshoe Bay and others from Nelly Bay.

Fishing and Snorkeling

While exploring the island you will also get the chance to fish and snorkel.  If you want to delve deeper, scuba diving is strongly recommended and both Pro Dive and Pleasure Divers have courses available with qualified instructors.

As well as showing you fascinating wonders of the sea, scuba diving gives you the chance to visit some of the shipwrecks scattered around the island. One of the most popular dive sites on the island is the Moltke Wreck at Geoffrey Bay.

If you need to stretch your legs and enjoy bushwalking, then try one of the walking tracks winding through the tropical bush. One very interesting walk I strongly recommend is The Forts Walk.

Geoffrey Bay, Magnetic Island.
Geoffrey Bay, Magnetic Island.

It starts near the Radical Bay turnoff and winds its way along the ridge with magnificent views above Arthur and Florence Bays.

I felt as though I was taking a step back in time when I did this and I am sure you will too. Why? This is where soldiers kept an eye out for the enemy during World War II.

When you come to the top of the walk you see the Observation Tower and the Command Post which were built during the War.

From here you have uninterrupted views of the Coral Sea on one side and Townsville Harbor on the other. This walk is a very scenic one, and don’t be surprised if you spot a few koalas on the way.

Accommodation and Dining

There is a wide range of accommodation to suit everyone’s needs and budgets on Magnetic Island.  You can stay in hotels, motels, luxury resorts, self-contained holiday units, bed and breakfasts and backpacker hostels.   There are also some camping facilities and holiday houses available for long or short-term rent.

If you wish to dine out, there are several varied restaurants, hotels, and cafes to choose from at the different bays. If you like to be entertained while you eat a delicious three-course meal, I suggest you go along to the Stage Door Theatre Restaurant.

Fabulous Phil is one of the performers at the Stage Door Theater Restaurant on Magnetic Island.
Fabulous Phil is one of the performers at the Stage Door Theater Restaurant on Magnetic Island.

On Friday and Saturday nights two very talented stars fully engage their audience as they perform their tongue in cheek cabaret shows.    Great value, and not to be missed!

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Wildlife

There are plenty of wallabies and kangaroos to be seen on the island.   If you want to hand feed them I suggest you go on down to Geoffrey Bay at about 5 pm.  Here you will find heaps of tame ones who are waiting to see you and eat the carrots you take down with you. However, when driving at night you need to watch out for wallabies and kangaroos because they like to join the evening traffic!

If you’d like to get to know some more wildlife then I suggest you visit the Koala Village at Bungalow Bay.

As you go around and meet the turtles, crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and koalas you will learn all about them.

You also get the chance to hold them. If you’d like to spend more time with the koalas you are welcome to come back and join them for breakfast.

If you are looking for a fun night out I’m sure you will enjoy the Toad Races. These are held each week at the Island Tavern, Arcadia. If you enjoy betting on the horses, you’ll love betting on the toads and have heaps of fun.   All profits are donated to the Arcadia Life Saving Club.

A Koala on Magnetic Island.
A Koala on Magnetic Island.

I know that when you visit Magnetic Island, you will find it is a great escape.  It certainly lives up to its name as people are tempted to return time and time again.  The best time to come is during the Dry Season between April and November and it is a great escape from the chilly winter months.

Getting There

Magnetic Island is an 8 kilometer, 25-minute ferry ride from Townsville

Townsville can be reached by rail, car or air

Shuttle buses operate on a regular basis from the airport.

There is a very efficient local bus service that departs from the ferry terminal.

Taxis also run on a regular basis.

Independent Modes of Transport

Mini mokes can be hired but cannot be used on unsealed roads.

Four-wheel drives are recommended for unsealed roads.

Cars hire is available or you can ferry your own car across to the island.

Trail bikes, scooters, and bicycles can be rented.

Helen Downs is a freelance writer who lives opposite the beach on Magnetic Island, located on the Great Barrier Reef, in Queensland, Australia.

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