Magnetic Island, or “Maggie”, as it is affectionately dubbed by locals, is a very popular backpacker destination that has plenty of fun adventure activities, but manages to retain a retreat-like atmosphere. It is just a 20-minute ferry ride from Townsville and it boasts 23 bays and beaches, extensive hiking trails and a good choice of hostel accommodation. It also has a substantial residential community and quite a few of its 2000 residents commute to work in Townsville by ferry.
Much of the island’s lush interior is national park and the surrounding water is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, providing some great diving and snorkelling not far from the shore. The island is home to an impressive range of wildlife including koalas, possums, rock wallabies and various bird species. With an average of 320 sunny days per year, Maggie is a nature-lover’s paradise. Nightlife here is not very good, unless you count (and perhaps you should) the monthly full moon parties put on by Base Backpackers.
Fantasea Cruises and Sunferries both operate a ferry service between Townsville and Magnetic Island.
Sunferries (tel (07) 4726 0800) is the more popular of the two ferry companies and the return fare from Townsville costs $26.70. Sunferries depart from the Breakwater terminal on Sir Leslie Thiess Drive in Townsville and go to Nelly Bay Harbour on Magnetic Island. Sunferries have the fastest boats but they’re restricted to passengers only.
Fantasea Cruises (tel (07) 4772 5422) is slower but they are cheaper and are the only boats that take cars. The return fare is $23 and they depart from the terminal on Ross Street in South Townsville, directly across the river from Sunferries’ Breakwater terminal. They sail to Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island.
The island is serviced by a bus that runs once or twice an hour, but is not the most punctual or reliable. A good alternative is renting a scooter, Moke or bike to get around, as the towns are just far enough away to warrant transport other than walking.
Magnetic Island Buses (tel (07) 4778 5130) run a route between Picnic Bay and Horseshoe Bay. Buses run at least once an hour and one-way fares range from $1.90 to $3.60, although most fares are either $2.40 or $3.10. The bigger hostels on Magnetic Island also run their own shuttle buses between the hostel and the ferry terminal.
1 Nelly Bay Road, Nelly Bay
Tel (07) 4778 5777 or 1800 24 BASE
40 Horseshoe Bay Road, Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island
Tel (07) 4778 5577
11 Cook Road, Arcadia, Magnetic Island
Tel (07) 4778 5153 or 1800 665 153
32 Picnic Street, Picnic Bay, Magnetic Island
Tel (07) 4778 5314 or 1800 000 290
There are a couple of supermarkets on Magnetic Island, including an IGA (147-153 Sooning Street, Nelly Bay) in front of the ferry terminal and a FoodWorks (55 Sooning Street) near Nelly Bay. However you’ll save money if you grab a few things at the Coles or Woolworths in Townsville before leaving.
Most cafés and restaurants are in Nelly Bay, but the others are scattered and sometimes far apart. Most travellers end up eating in the hostel if it has a restaurant. Base Café (1 Nelly Bay Road, Nelly Bay) has good food, but it is a bit pricey for a backpackers’ hostel; Bungalow Bay YHA has Swenson’s restaurant (40 Horseshoe Bay Road, Horseshoe Bay), which is also expensive, but has some backpacker specials including great cheap pizzas. There is also a small Chinese takeaway spot in Picnic Bay and a Latin Bar with good beer in Horseshoe Bay. The Island Tavern in Arcadia has a beer garden and very affordable meals.