Where do I even begin with this beautiful island? The beaches, hiking trails, wildlife, and the amazing people I met on this island were enough to make me never want to leave this paradise. Most backpackers stay for 2 nights on the island, which is enough to see all the tourist attractions. I stayed for a week at 2 different hostels and still left in tears!
BUNGALOW BAY HOSTEL & KOALA SANCTUARY Great hostel if you’re looking for a relaxing, quiet stay. The 8 bed dorms have recently been renovated and all have ensuite with beautiful showers! 3 bed dorms have not been refurbished yet, but are the same price as the 8 beds – both great options depending on what you value most. The location is great as it is walking distance to the Forts Walk, Horseshoe Bay, Radical Bay, Balding Bay, Florence Bay, and attached to the Koala Sanctuary (which I wouldn’t recommend visiting – see TIPS below).
XBASE BACKPACKERS Heaven on earth. Base was simply the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at. The lively atmosphere, friendly vibes, conveniently located on the beach, excellent facilities, plus a full bar and restaurant on site all made up for an excellent 4 night stay. But the best part about Base would have to be the awesome staff who run this place. They are the most welcoming and energetic BEAUTIFUL souls I’ve ever met. From your first point of contact at reception to the bar and kitchen staff, and the lovely housekeeping, everyone is going above and beyond their duties to make your stay as comfortable and memorable as possible.
ARCADIA BEACH GUEST HOUSE A bit pricier than Bungalow Bay and Base but nevertheless a great option as they offer car hire from the hostel and a free shuttle to get you home safe anywhere on the island. OH! and they offer fresh towels when you check-in! I know, it doesn’t sound like much but when you’ve been backpacking and using paper-thin travel towels, a fluffy towel can be great luxury! 😀
THINGS TO DO
FORTS WALK A scenic walk which offers a bit of WWII history, gorgeous viewpoints, and wild koalas! I’d recommend walking off-track to spot more koalas and from a closer distance.
FLORENCE BAY You can either drive or take the hiking trails (highly recommend!) to this gorgeous beach. Florence Bay is the best place to snorkel on the island!
RADICAL BAY A popular beach for the tourists and the locals. It offers stunning beaches with beautiful palm trees located next to rocky hills – take your running shoes and climb up for a great view of the bays!
BALDING BAY Even out your tan lines on this beautiful nudie beach! The only way to get to Balding Bay is by foot from Radical Bay. Most people find it too hot on the island to make the trek so there’s only a few people on the beach which is perfect for a nudie experience!
HORSESHOE BAY Lively atmosphere with bars and restaurants with live music. Horseshoe Bay has a swimming net during stinger season, benches, toilet facilities, and water activities.
ALMA BAY Beautiful beach. Great for relaxing (lots of tree cover) and swimming (low risk of stingers). There’s usually a lifeguard on duty and you can drive right up to it which makes it a perfect stay for families with young children.
ROCK WALLABIES A MUST DO if you’re an animal lover (or like cute fluffy things :D)! The wallabies will eat right out of your hand and chill with you as long as you feed them. They’re super friendly and might even let you pet them! They come out right before sunset and you’ll see more of them on cooler days.
XBASE Even if you’re not staying at the hostel, I’d highly recommend spending a few hours at Base as it offers a great atmosphere for a meal, not to mention best food prices on the island! Try their breakfast, lunch, or dinner menu and stay for a drink, or two, or five – I can guarantee it’ll be a great night!
HAWKINGS LOOKOUT I wouldn’t have known about this hidden gem if it wasn’t for the excellent staff at Base! They offer free walking tours on Wednesdays for all guests staying at the hostel. We stayed for the sunset and took in the beautiful sceneries while the staff served us complimentary drinks!
TOM’S THUMB Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to visit the highest accessible point of the island but according to the locals it is the best place to watch the sunset!
WEST POINT Another great location for those of you looking for a gorgeous sunset. West Point is accessible by car only and you will need a 4WD. The car rental companies advertise West Point as the best sunset on the island so you’ll most likely run into a few people on the beach. To skip the crowds, try Hawkings Lookout or Tom’s Thumb.
Although Magnetic Island is very small, you still can’t walk everywhere. Here are some popular ways to explore the island:
FOUR WHEEL DRIVE There are two dirt roads on the island which lead to most of the attractions (i.e. West Point, Florence Bay, Radical Bay, etc.) and can only be accessed by 4 wheel drives. So if you’re thinking about renting a car, it’d be a good option to look into 4WD. You can hire a 4, 5, or 7 seater from Isle Car Rental Company for $99/24hrs with unlimited kilometers. You are advised to purchase extra insurance which works out to be under $14/day. Contact Isle Car Rental Company on +61 417 649 869
BARBIE CARS Magnetic Island is famous for the little pink Barbie cars and they make such a cute photo! You can hire them from Isle Car Rental Company. One thing to keep in mind is that barbie cars are not allowed on dirt roads.
BUS If you like walking, taking the bus is the cheapest option to see the island. It stops by most of the attractions and it’s only $7 for unlimited travel throughout the day. *Note: buses don’t travel on dirt roads but they will drop you off right at the entrance and you will have to walk the rest. You can download the timetable here.
BICYCLE On cooler days, you can rent bikes to get around the island. Fish’n N Fuel’n offer a rate of $20/day or $70/week for bicycles. Check them out for segway tours, car rentals, fishing, kayak, and snorkel hire.
Located right outside of the ferry terminal, IGA is the only big grocery store on the island. You can find convenient stores closer to the hostels but they are very limited in their product. You might find groceries on the island to be a bit more expensive than the mainland. We got warned about this and walked to Coles in Townsville to pick up some groceries before catching the ferry. I wouldn’t recommend this as it was a 20 minute walk each way and we could’ve definitely done without the extra bags on the ferry! + the price difference is not that significant.
- Most travel agencies will tell you to book 2 nights as “that’s all you need to see the island”, which isn’t a total lie. You can definitely see the whole island in a day but you won’t get to experience it. If you have the time I would highly recommend you to stay longer than 2 days to get a good grasp of the island life!
- If you’re planning on hiking, make sure to pack a sunhat with LOTS of water and sunscreen. The Forts Walk has a drinking water tap but the rest don’t have any facilities.
- Want to hire a car but you’re traveling by yourself? No worries! Most backpackers on the island are looking to hire a car. Link up with people at your hostel or let reception know that you’re looking for travel mates. You’re most likely going to fill up a car in no time!
- It’s a lot easier to rent cars with people who are staying at the same hostel. Otherwise, you’re doing a lot of driving back and forth between hostels to pick up/drop off people.
- I didn’t find the Koala Sanctuary to be worth a visit. I thought the animals were poorly treated and felt like I was supporting animal cruelty simply by being part of the tour. The 1.5hr tour provides a chance for each visitor to hold tortoises, snakes, lizards, and koalas and take photos with them. The animals seemed very distressed and it would make perfect sense as they are “working” 3 shifts per day, being held and passed around by 50 people at a time (150 people in one day). I’d highly recommend the Forts Walk instead of the sanctuary, where you can see koalas in their natural habitat!
- If time allows, stay in Townsville for a night before/after visiting Magnetic Island. check out the rooftop bar at Rambutan Hostel for a luxurious backpacking experience and don’t forget to visit Castle Hill lookout for an unreal sunset!