Granite boulders plunge into turquoise oceans of beaches that have our footprints only, hidden bays wait to be explored and koalas munch on eucalyptus leaves. We are on Magnetic Island, a tropical island paradise in Townsville, Queensland.

koala and baby magnetic island
Magnetic Island is home to one of Australia’s largest koala populations.

The Island

Magnetic Island is world heritage listed and more than half of it is a national park. Its dramatic coastline is a series of bays and beaches, some private and secluded and only accessible by foot or boat. The island’s unspoilt habitat is a haven for native wildlife such as rock wallabies, possums, echidnas and over 100 species of birds including the bush stone curlew and it is also home to one of Australia’s largest koala populations.

Arthur Bay

We start our days from our camp at Radical Bay, and bushwalk, spot koalas, picnic on boulders overlooking the beach and swim and snorkel in the clear oceans. At night we eat at local restaurants, have drinks on the beach and spot nocturnal wildlife. We have the bay to ourselves at night and sit on the beach around our fire listening to the lapping waves and the haunting wails of the resident curlews.

Our tent at Radical Bay on Magnetic Island
Our tent at Radical Bay

The Bays

Horseshoe Bay, Arcadia, Nelly Bay and Picnic Bay are the main areas of the island and they all have a selection of accommodation, restaurants, pubs, easily assessable beaches and walking tracks. With its bars, cafes, ocean views, isolated beaches, iconic sunsets, and a stinger net so swimming is safe all year, Horseshoe Bay is the most popular bay for travellers. Acardia is not an actual bay but enclosed by Alma Bay, a pretty swimming cove with lifeguards, and Geoffrey Bay which is inhabited by cute rock wallabies is another favourite. The Magnetic Harbour in Nelly Bay is the gateway for the car and passenger ferries and the island’s most residential bay. Picnic Bay is a tranquil bay with pubs and dining options on the beachfront, an iconic jetty and a protected beach for swimming.

sunrise-on-magnetic-island
Magnetic Island sunrise

Beaches

Magnetic Island has over 23 bays and beaches including the popular and the more remote beaches which require more effort to get there but assures the presence of no one else. Arcadia is popular because of Alma Bay which is patrolled by the Surf Lifesaving Club. Horseshoe Bay and Picnic Bay have enclosed stinger nets during the stinger season, so it’s safe to swim all year. Our favourite beaches are Radical Bay where we camp, and the nearby beach of Balding Bay which is more out of the way but is well worth it for the gorgeous and deserted bay. Florence bay has pretty sunrises and shady trees up on the beach and apart from a few yachts bopping in the bay, we have it to ourselves.

picnic at rocky bay
Picnic at Rocky Bay

We explore other beaches including the one at Rocky Bay, a private oasis between rocky outcrops. It’s a little out of the way, only accessible by bush tracks and we have the whole bay to ourselves too. The bush track is not obvious and a few people have asked us how to find it. Travelling towards Picnic Bay from Nelly Bay, it’s at the first car park up the hill, about 100 metres past X Base Beachfront Chalets. It begins at the large rock with black paint on it. The track is shaded from the sun and it’s an easy walk downhill.

November to March is stinger season so when swimming out of protected waters a stinger suit needs to be worn.

sunset on horseshoe bay magnetic island
Sunset on Horseshoe Bay

The Forts Walk

After watching the sunrise at Florence Bay we walk the 30 minutes to the start of the Forts Walk track. The famous walk in Horseshoe Bay has interesting historic lookout towers and a command centre built during WW2 in preparation of Japan invading Australia during the period of 1943-1945. The track is also the best place on the island to see the koalas. It is a 90-minute return walk and has some great views of Horseshoe Bay and the Coral Sea.

Galahs
Galahs on the Forts Walk

It’s early and we share the track only with birds greeting the new day. Screeching cockatoos fly overhead and a flock of galahs roost in a tree just off the track. We hope to spot koalas in the wild and are not disappointed.

koala with a baby in her pouch
Koala with a bulging pouch

About 20 minutes into the walk we see our first koala. She ignores us and continues to crunch on eucalyptus leaves. It is not until she reaches out to grab the fresher and juicier leaves we see her bulging pouch as she has a baby!

Koala baby and mum
Baby out of mum’s pouch.

We wait and hope that she allows the baby out and soon he appears. With his large black button nose, upturned mouth, fluffy ears and dark chocolate eyes he looks typical of those soft koala toys. He clings to mum and looks at us with wide eyes and after a while, he gets bored and disappears back into the pouch and his mum falls asleep.

baby koala gets a helping hand on magnetic is
The curious baby koala climbs down low on the tree and is too scared to climb back up.

The Koalas

The next day we see another mum and her baby dozing amongst the eucalyptus leaves. The baby is about eight months old and probably has not long left the pouch permanently. Once awake he plays and wrestles with mum and then curiosity gets the better of him and he starts to make his way down to us.

baby koala gets a helping hand
Mum grabs her baby back to safety.

Once down on the low branch, he wants to climb back up but isn’t confident enough, so mum’s black padded paw reaches down and grabs him back to the safety of her arms.

sleeping baby koala
Back in the safety of mum’s arms

Not far away a young male koala is so low in the eucalypt trees we could rub his belly. He looks so small and vulnerable on his own and it makes us wonder how they survive. It’s possible he is the older sibling of the little baby we have seen. Babies have to leave their mother and find their own home range when next seasons baby emerges from the pouch. If mum does not have another baby he can stay with her longer and has a greater chance of survival.

magnetic island is one of the best places to see koalas in the wild
Magnetic Island is one of the best places in Australia to see koalas in the wild.

If you want to see koalas in the wild, we highly recommend a visit to Magnetic Island. Because of the smaller eucalyptus trees and the terrain, it’s possible to get close and sometimes at eye level with them. Estimates vary, but it is believed there are about 500 koalas on the island. It has one of the largest colonies of koalas living in the wild and is one of the few remaining havens for Australia’s dwindling koala population.

Koala on Magnetic Island
Some koalas will stay in the same tree for days.

Tips for Spotting Koalas

If you want to spot koalas in the wild try and spend at least a couple of days on the island if possible. One morning we saw nothing at all, but the next morning three koalas were on the track.

The best time to look for koalas is early morning and late afternoon especially just after sunrise and before sunset as they often move during this time.

During the middle of the day (especially in summer) they rest in the trees and don’t move at all, so it is harder to spot them.

Keep your eye out for fresh gum leaves on the ground and koala scats (poo)! It’s about 2 cm long and an oval shape ranging from brown to green in colour. Due to koalas staying in one place for a long time there is a good chance they will still be close by if you see it. We spotted one koala by seeing the scats on the path and the koala was on the branch directly above.

Some koalas will stay in the same tree for days if he has plenty of fresh eucalyptus leaves.

If you do spot a koala high up in a tree, keep watch on the area as chances are the next day he will be close by in a lower branch or tree.

When male koalas are looking for a mate they make a loud grunting sound that defies their cuteness. We thought we heard pigs in the bush close by, but it was two male koalas.

If previous walkers spot koalas on the Forts Walk they will often draw an arrow on the path or use sticks to point where they sighted the koala.

cute rock wallabies magnetic island
Rock Wallabies at Geoffrey Bay

Rock Wallabies at Geoffrey Bay

One of the most popular attractions on Magnetic Island is the rock wallabies at Geoffrey Bay, Arcadia. And no wonder! These cute and adorable wallabies are friendly and we get really close to them!

rock wallaby eats sweet potato
Rock wallabies love sweet potato

The rock wallabies have been fed since the beginning of time so feeding them is permitted. At Geoffrey Bay, there is a sign that advises of foods that are good and bad for them. A little hint – they love sweet potato and it’s good for them! They are not very happy with carrots but will eat them if nothing else is on offer.

rock wallaby magnetic island
It doesn’t get much cuter than this!

The newsagent across the road from Alma Bay sells little packets of pellets to feed them.

They rock wallabies come down and out of the rocks looking for food at about 4 pm and usually hang around until dusk.

Rainbow Lorikeets at Horseshoe Bay

Lorikeets

At Bungalow Bay Koala Village in Horseshoe Bay, we feed the rainbow lorikeets which are a sight not to miss. They fly in by the hundreds and we see their personalities are as gaudy and vibrant as their colours! The lorikeets are fed every day at 4 pm. If not staying here, the staff generally don’t mind if you participate in this, especially if you buy a drink or a meal in the restaurant.

Ray & Lorikeets Mag Is
Ray and Lorikeets

Camping on Magnetic Island    

Radical Bay is privately owned and at this time campers are allowed on the land. Though it’s not a national park it is a marine park and fishing is not allowed. There are no facilities here, but it is beautiful, especially when all the day visitors leave in the late afternoon. Tents can be pitched on the beach or under the huge fig trees on the shoreline. A 4WD is necessary as the road is very rough.

For walk-in campers, Radical Bay is an easy 3 km walk from the start of the Forts Walk. No booking is required.

There is no camping allowed in any national parks on Magnetic Island.

The only other camping on the Island is at Bungalow Bay Koala Village.

Koala eating eucalyptus on Magnetic Island
Koala eating fresh eucalyptus leaves

The Walks

Magnetic Island is a dream for hikers. Never-ending views of the Coral Sea, blue skies, rocky bays and sandy beaches can be seen on the many walking tracks through thick bushland, dry wattles, eucalypt and rainforest ranging from 30 minutes to 2 days. Walking and bicycle are a great way to get around Magnetic Island as the distances between most of the bays are not that far.

Bush Stone Curlew
The beautiful haunting cry of the curlews is heard all over the island.

Some Walking Distances

The Butterfly Walk in Horseshoe Bay, where blue butterflies congregate and rest for winter (June and July) 100 metres.

Nelly Bay to Arcadia 5 km one way (approx. 2.5 hours) A beautiful track that goes through rainforests with views over Horseshoe Bay.

Arcadia to the Forts Walk 2 km one-way (approx. 45 mins)

The Forts Walk to Horseshoe Bay 2 km one-way (approx. 45 mins)

The Forts Walk to Arthur Bay 1.4 km (approx. 30 mins)

The Forts Walk to Florence Bay 3.6 km (approx. 1 hour)

The Forts Walk to Radical Bay 6 km (approx. 2 hours)

Picnic Bay to West Point 8 km (approx. 2.5 hours)

More information on bushwalking on Magnetic Island

man fridays menu
Man Friday restaurant is a unique outdoor setting with visiting wildlife.

Our favourite Cafes and Restaurants

In the afternoons we have an ice-cold beer and watch the sunset over Horseshoe Bay and later relish a meal at Man Friday, our favourite island restaurant. The Mexican dishes are huge and we love the vegetarian bean dishes and the jugs of homemade sangria with fresh chunky fruit. Wild brushtail possums and curlews are the stars here and they are at home in the lush tropical outdoor setting.

man friday
The vegetarian bean nachos and enchiladas accompanied with homemade sangria at Man Friday is one of our favourite meals on the island.
MAN FRIDAY

This is our favourite place on Magnetic Island. This special BYO is tucked away in an outdoor rainforest setting in Nelly Bay and the Mexican dishes are so huge we could have easily shared one meal. The vegetarian bean nachos and enchiladas accompanied with homemade jugs of homemade sangria are to die for!

possum at man friday
The wild possums get into the Mexican theme at Man Fridays.

Not only does the setting and the delectable Mexican dishes make this place unique but an extra bonus is the friendly possums and curlews. Loved by the owners, the possums all have names.

possum and 70s sundae
70s caramel sundae at Man Friday
THAI AGAIN  

We love this authentic BYO Thai restaurant in Nelly Bay. All the dishes on the menu can be made vegetarian and the spices and flavours are absolutely delicious. The vegetable curry, vegetables with cashew nuts and coconut rice are mouth-watering.

thai again
Vegetarian Thai
GILLIGAN’S CAFÉ BAR

This little café in Arcadia has nice food and friendly owners. Though there isn’t much vegetarian on the menu, the owners are very obliging and go out of their way for any special dietary request.

gilligans breakfast
Breakfast at Gilligans

They made us a special veggie burger with a sweet corn and zucchini fritter, avocado, mushrooms and sauteed spinach topped off with capsicum coulis on a lightly toasted turkish bun.

vege burger at gilligans
Vegetarian burger at Gilligans
NOURISH CAFÉ

Nourish Café is a great place for a healthy breakfast or lunch at Horseshoe Bay. Enjoy great coffee, healthy, fresh wraps and yummy smoothies with great views of the bay here.

cafe nourish
A simple and nice breakfast at Nourish Cafe
ADELE’S CAFÉ

This café on Horseshoe Bay has over 24 delicious flavours of gelato, ice-cream and the best milkshakes and thickshakes on the island.

gelato on magnetic island
The strawberry and custard and oreo gelato are yum!

Bottle Shops

Takeaway drinks are available at bottle shops at the Picnic Bay Hotel, Arcadia Hotel, Marlin Bay Hotel, Horseshoe Bay and the Nelly Bay Bottle Shop. With some of the best island restaurants being BYO this makes a night out with a few drinks a reasonable price.

Koala mum and baby on magnetic island
Mum and baby koala on the Forts Walk

Magnetic Island Ferry

Sea Link passenger ferry departs from the Breakwater Terminal in Townsville about every hour and takes about 20 minutes.

Fantasea vehicle ferry departs from Ross Street in Townsville about every two hours and takes about 40 minutes. During the school holidays book vehicles in advance. Walk-on passengers can just turn up. There are some great rates sometimes for walk-on passengers.

Both ferries depart and arrive at the Nelly Bay Ferry Bay Terminal.

Rocky Bay on Magnetic Island
Rocky Bay

Car hire

Options include a classic moke or topless car at Tropical Car Rentals and late model cars at Island Car Hire. These do have conditions though and vehicles are not allowed off the main roads and are not permitted at Arthur, Florence, Radical Bays or West Point.

Drive carefully and keep your eye out for wildlife on the roads, especially early morning, afternoon and night.

rock wallaby and baby
If driving on the island, keep an eye out for wildlife and drive slowly.

Magnetic Island Bus

Magnetic Island has a regular bus service from Picnic Bay to Horseshoe Bay return. It coincides with the ferries arrival and departure from Nelly Bay. This also includes a drop-off and pick-up at the start of the Forts walk as there is a bus stop here.

Horseshoe bay sunset
Horseshoe Bay sunset

Supermarkets

IGA at Nelly Bay Harbour Terminal

Foodworks in Nelly Bay and Horseshoe Bay

A small grocery store in Arcadia Bay

ATMS

ATMS are available at the supermarkets and most hotels. EFTPOS is available in most places.

baby koala
Baby Koala on mum’s back. Seeing the koalas in the wild is one of the biggest attractions of Magnetic Island.

Activities on Magnetic Island

We didn’t do any paid activities, as there is so much in the way of wildlife, nature, walks and beaches, but there are plenty of other activities popular with visitors.

Cuddle a koala during a champagne breakfast

Hold a baby crocodile or feed the lorikeets at Bungalow Bay Koala Village. (You don’t have to stay here to do these activities. Breakfast with the koalas is about $30per person).The feeding of the Lorikeets starts at 4 pm.

Horseshoe Ranch

Horse riding on well looked after horses through the bush to the beach. On the beach ride bareback into the sea. Rides last for 2 hours and they run in the morning and afternoon.

Pilgrim Sailing

Lunchtime and sunset cruises on a beautiful sailing yacht.

Kayaking

Morning and sunset eco-adventures exploring the bays and coastline of Magnetic Island. Experienced kayakers can hire kayaks privately.

Jet Ski Hire

Ski in the sheltered waters of Horseshoe Bay.

Bicycle Hire

One of the best ways to get around Magnetic Island!

Pleasure Divers

The shallow waters and perfect conditions make Magnetic Island the perfect place to learn scuba diving.

lorikeets on magnetic island
A wildlife haven

Sunrise and Sunset

The sun doesn’t rise and set at all the bays because of the seclusion and the dramatic coastline of the island. The best sunsets are at Horseshoe Bay and West Point. Sunrises at Florence Bay and we found a hidden cove in Arcadia with a really nice sunrise. At the very end of Olympus Street, there is a bush track to the right. From the boulders, there is a view of the sun rising over the bay.

sunrise magnetic island
Sunrise at Whitfield Cove in Arcadia

Accommodation popular with travellers

There is a range of accommodation from luxury resort style, self-catering apartments, backpackers to simple beach cottages.

Budget 

Bungalow Bay Koala Village/ YHA – Famous for the breakfast with the koalas and feeding of the lorikeets, this accommodation in Horseshoe Bay is popular with backpackers and visitors on a budget.

X Base – Beachfront chalets outside of Nelly Bay are also popular with backpackers and visitors on a budget.

Mid-range

Sails on Horseshoe Bay – Modern apartments with a beachfront location.

Canopy Tropical Chalets – Boutique style resort set around lush gardens and a pool in Nelly Bay.

Arcadia Hotel – Opposite the rock wallabies at Geoffrey Bay and only 100 metres from Alma Bay.

Tropical Palms – Self-contained units at Picnic Bay that also have 4WD hire. Unlike the moke and topless cars, the 4WDs are allowed at Radical Bay and West Point. They have some great specials and package deals at times.

Amaroo on Mandalay – A great affordable family resort in Nelly Bay with a swimming pool and lots of wildlife.

Luxury

Peppers Blue on Blue Resort – Marina front location on Nelly Bay Harbour

Pure Magnetic – Upscale beachfront villas at Nelly Bay

Bed and Breakfast

Magnetic Bed and Breakfast – An award-winning and traditional B&B in Horseshoe Bay surrounded by National Park

Magnetic Sunsets – Also an award-winning B&B located 5 minutes walk from Horseshoe Bay

For more accommodation and information on the island

mum and baby koala on the forts walk
If you want to see koalas in the wild, we highly recommend a visit to Magnetic Island

We spend a few days on Magnetic Island and could have spent a lot more time. It has so much to offer and the best things are free!  The bushwalking combined with wildlife and bird watching, the picturesque sandy beaches and bays make it a nature lover’s paradise.

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5 Responses to “Magnetic Island – Koalas, Beaches and Sunsets”

  1. Fantastic photos love them all. The blogs make me very envious of all your experiences and close up of all these beautiful creatures..waiting for your next adventures hope they are soon.

    Reply
    • Ray & Sue

      Thank you Noela for your comments and visiting our site. We do have some exciting adventures coming up very soon!

      Reply
  2. Marie Bell

    Hi Sue, I’m a north Queensland local and must compliment you on promoting my back yard so beautifully! I saw new aspects of a land I take for granted. Well Done!

    Reply
    • Ray & Sue

      Hi Marie yes it’s so easy to take where we live for granted. Magnetic Island is one of the most beautiful places in Australia with so much wildlife. Thanks for taking the time to read our blogs. We appreciate it very much.

      Reply
  3. Ray Perica

    Beautiful photos, love them all. By the way, my wife and I are also Ray and Sue but not photographers.

    Reply

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