Things to do on Magnetic Island

A low-key Queensland island escape

Things to do on Magnetic Island

sunset on magnetic island
Photos: Tourism and Events Queensland & Murray Waite & Assoc.

She’s more a state of mind than any island. Sounds corny, I know, but then you didn’t spend a winter there. It just doesn’t seem right to talk about Maggie like she’s a destination, even though there are plenty of things to do on Magnetic Island.

Magnetic Island
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Murray Waite

The beauty of Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is the place I go to in my head when I need to escape… from traffic jams… long work hours and all the pressures of city living – it’s my ‘happy place’.

She shouldn’t be though, really she’s just another suburb of Townsville (albeit a very eastern one), hardly one of North Queensland’s greatest draw cards.

People live here and catch the 25-minute Magnetic Island ferry ride to work. But there’s something about a place that doesn’t like to brag. You don’t hear much about Magnetic Island. She gets lost somewhere down the long list of trendy Queensland island destinations.

But that’s the beauty of ‘Maggie’ (as the locals know her), you won’t find the abundance of five-star resorts you might further north or south, or $60 steaks… and you’ve got no chance of ordering a pina colada with a little plastic umbrella sticking out the top of it.

In fact you won’t find that much here at all. But therein lies the appeal.

Magnetic Island 01
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland, Murray Waite & Assoc
things to do on magnetic island
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Ben Southall

One full moon I spent the night on the beach by the bay with a crazy old bloke called Bob. It’s not a Magnetic Island full moon party as such Bob lived on the beach, he was allowed to because he reckoned his house was a boat and he was just mooring there – although he hadn’t changed his anchorage since 1984.

At dusk we watched the sun set over the distant islands. When that was done we turned around and watched the moon rise over the mountains.

We sat and drank home-made liqueur and breathed it all in, Bob put on quite a show, he had specially trained kookaburras, massive eagle-like birds called brahminy kites… even a pet seagull called Valerie.

He also said giant turtles came and visited him some nights, he gets out and rolls with them up the sand – he says he’s married to one of them but old Bob said a lot of things. Bob’s moved on since, but not much where he was has changed.

You won’t find people like Bob on Hamilton Island, or Hayman Island. Tourists on package deals don’t want that. That’s where Maggie’s different.

Forget the Magnetic Island tours. You have to look beneath the surface to see what she’s all about, if you take her on first impression you’ll have no idea why you’re so fortunate to be here.

magnetic island
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Peter Lik

Magnetic Island Mediterranean escape

Magnetic Island looks more Mediterranean than tropical, like she doesn’t belong in North Queensland and maybe came on lend from Cyprus.

Perhaps that’s because she’s a dry island, she has over 320 sunny days in a year and lies smack bang in the middle of a rain shadow caused by the Great Diving Range on the mainland.

things to do on magnetic island
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Ben Southall
Magnetic Island
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Ben Southall

Massive sandstone boulders and towering pine trees line most beaches. It’s quite possible to not see another soul on the beach all day.

Most of the island’s best beaches are accessible only by 4WD or by boat, making them all the more exotic and enticing.

Take a hire dinghy from the island’s main tourist area, Horseshoe Bay, and motor a few kilometres to the island’s best kept secret, Five Beach Bay. This is an area of coastline so unspoilt and gorgeous it should rate as one of Queensland’s greatest drawcards (although thank God it hardly rates a mention on any website).

Magnetic Island 7
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Peter Lik

You won’t find anyone else here, there’s no houses, all you’ll see are pods of playful dolphins, the odd loggerhead turtle (Bob’s wife perhaps?), whales and dugongs.

Also not far from Horseshoe Bay is Balding Bay, a 20-minute walk through untouched Aussie bushland.

For the adventurous at heart try the rock jump here 200 metres out from the beach, it’s a rush you won’t forget in a hurry.

magnetic island
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Amber Toms

Magnetic Island things to do

You must spend at least one day in a 4WD, the only vehicle you can use to access Magnetic Island’s most western point, West Point, and another two of the island’s best beaches, Radical Bay and Florence Bay.

Make sure you time your run to take in a sunset at West Point, the colour show Mother Nature puts on here at around six o’clock is out of this world.

things to do on magnetic island
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Rob Middenway
magnetic island
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Paul Ewart

There’s a million bush walks to do on Maggie and plenty to explore; there’s koalas to see, sun baking, swimming, diving, fishing and jet skiing.

But it’s not the attractions that suck you in, it’s the people (some of the biggest characters in Australia), the pace of life. It’s the fact you start to memorise the moon cycle so you know where to come full moon time.

It’s waking up in the morning to a ripple-free warm blue ocean and sparkling bay, with nothing to do but swim in it, lie beside it and watch the distant Australian coastline like it’s some kind of weird illusion.

Magnetic Island 6
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland & Amber Toms

It’s drinking in a beachside bar while you watch a humpback whale and her calf swim past. It’s dancing at a backpacker bar under a full moon till the sun comes up in the morning. It’s knowing that life is never going to be better than what it is right now.

I’ve travelled to Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, Ibiza and the Caribbean and I’ve visited many Queensland islands but nothing compares to Maggie.

Maybe I’m biased, I did fall in love with her so I’ve probably overlooked her flaws, but take it from me, spend some time here and immerse yourself in Maggie life and watch out because you’ll soon find yourself shipwrecked here for a whole winter too.

Discover Queensland

For more ideas on what to see in Queensland go to Best of Queensland. Find out more about holidaying on Magnetic Island at

Tolga Bat Hospital is a top spot to check out baby bats!

Find out about Paronella Park here, which is between Innisfail and Mission Beach.

magnetic island things to do