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A short ferry ride off the coast of Townsville, Magnetic Island is a treat for anyone who loves chilled island life with walks in nature, wildlife spotting and beautiful beaches. Maggie is one of the few islands in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park that is big enough to drive around and explore but small enough that you can get anywhere in 10 minutes.

More than half of the island is National Park, but there are about 2500 residents who live across four main settlements in the eastern side of the island – Nelly Bay, Arcadia, Horseshoe Bay and Picnic Bay.

There’s one main road that links all of them from north to south (the only way to circumnavigate the whole island is by boat and there are a few tours that do just that). There is food and accommodation options in all four areas, so here’s a brief rundown on each one:

Nelly Bay

The central point of the island is Nelly Bay where the ferry terminal is located. Everyone arrives via this small town that has a marina, two supermarkets, a handful of restaurants and cafes and a range of accommodation options. There is a long beach too, although it is not the best on the island, with a backpackers and burger restaurant.


Heading north over the hill from Nelly Bay, the first place you come to is Arcadia with another long stretch of beach called Geoffrey Bay. There is a rocky peninsula at the northern end where you can take a short walk or drive down to see rock wallabies (they are very easy to see but try not to feed them but if you do, give them carrots or sweet potato).

You also can’t miss the big pub in the centre. Alma Bay is a beautiful little cover opposite the pub worth checking out.

alma bay

Horseshoe Bay

The road continues north from Arcadia to Horseshoe Bay. Along the way, there’s a stop off where you can start the well-known Forts Walk, which is best walk for spotting koalas in the wild. The walk takes about 1-2 hours and it’s reasonably easy with lots of beautiful look out spots.


The best way to find koalas is to ask people coming back down or look for a sign – people put three sticks together to point to where they’ve seen one. On a good day you can easily spot up to 6-7 koalas.

Horseshoe Bay is a huge wide bay and reasonably sheltered with calm waters so its perfect for watersports. There is a range of accommodation from beachfront apartments to large luxury holiday houses. There is also a pub, a few cafes and restaurants and a convenience store for provisions.

horshoe bay

Picnic Bay

At the southern end of the island is Picnic Bay, the quietest spot on the island about 3 kms from Nelly Bay. This is the place to stay if you prefer to stay away from the crowds, not that it’s every hectic. Its quite residential and there’s a pub and Italian restaurant but apart from that it’s pretty low key.

picnic bay

One reason to visit Picnic Bay is to do the walk up to Hawking’s Point where you can get fantastic views of Picnic Bay and Nelly Bay. It’s a shortish walk that winds its way uphill to a giant granite boulder at the top.

Getting Around

If you’ve got your own car you can take it across on the car ferry for about $200. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to navigate around the island on buses but you can also hire cars and mopeds. For shorter local trips, there are also electric scooters available.