Things to do
There is no camping in Magnetic Island National Park.
There is a range of holiday accommodation in and around Townsville on the mainland, as well as on Magnetic Island. For more information see the tourism information links.
One of the best ways to explore Magnetic Island is on foot. A network of walking tracks allows you to appreciate the island's natural environment protected within the national park. Walking tracks range from easy, short walks to longer tracks with a moderate level of difficulty. Wear sturdy shoes, a hat and sunscreen. Take drinking water. Be careful exploring around cliff edges and the defence ruins.
Stay on the tracks. Be aware that boulders may be unstable.
Hawkings Point track—1.2km return (1hr) Grade: moderate
From the eastern end of Picnic Street in Picnic Bay, a track winds to the top of a large boulder, affording views over the island to Nelly and Geoffrey bays and back towards Townsville.
Picnic Bay to West Point—16km return (5hrs) Grade: easy
This walk follows an unsealed road that links the bays on the western side of the island. The track starts at Yule Street near the golf course, passing a tidal wetland, mangroves, paperbark swamps and savanna grasslands.
Nelly Bay to Arcadia—5km one way (2.5hrs) Grade: moderate
From the end of Mandalay Avenue in Nelly Bay, this walk passes through a vine-thicket pocket, climbs gradually to the saddle between Nelly and Horseshoe bays and then follows a ridge with views over Horseshoe Bay. The track then branches, with one track leading to Arcadia Bay and the other to Horseshoe Bay Road, where you can continue on to other tracks.
A 400m return sidetrack to the Sphinx lookout branches from the main track, 750m from Arcadia.
Forts walk—4km return (1.5hrs) Grade: moderate
One of the most popular tracks on the island, the Forts walk leads to historic WWII fortifications and infrastructure. Lookouts along the way afford excellent views to the Palm Island Group in the north and Bowling Green Bay National Park in the south. Koalas are often seen in trees along the track. The walk culminates in 360 degree views from the top of the fortifications.
Starting on Horseshoe Bay Road at the turn-off to Radical Bay, the track ascends, sometimes steeply, to follow a ridge behind the bays before arriving at the ruins of the Forts complex operated during World War II.
Tracks to Arthur, Florence and Radical bays Grade: moderate
From the Forts car park on Horseshoe Bay Road, follow a narrow sealed road. Branching tracks reveal undeveloped bays that offer excellent swimming and snorkelling. Toilets are located at Florence and Horseshoe bays. Please carry water as drinking water is not available on these walks.
- Arthur Bay—2km return (30mins)
- Florence Bay—3.6km return (1hr)
- Radical Bay—6km return (2hrs)
- Searchlight Tower—3.7km return (1hr)
- Horseshoe Bay via Radical Bay—7.5km one way (2hrs)
Horseshoe Bay Lagoon—200m return (15mins) Grade: easy
Horseshoe Bay Lagoon is a popular area for birdwatching. The track begins on Horseshoe Bay Road, about 200m from the beach, and leads to a lagoon where a number of waterbirds can be seen. Magpie geese nest in the bulkuru sedges, and the melaceuca woodland is ideal habitat for a number of woodland species.
Horseshoe Bay to Balding Bay—2.5km return (1hr) Grade: moderate
From the eastern end of Horseshoe Bay beach, the track climbs through a steep gully of closed forest to a ridge with open eucalypt woodland. One branch of the track leads down to secluded Balding Bay. A toilet is the only facility at the bay—drinking water is not available. At high tide access to the start of the walk at Horseshoe Bay may be through shallow water. Visitors are advised to check tide times.
Horseshoe Bay to Radical Bay—3.4km return (1.5hrs) Grade: moderate
Continue from the turn-off to Balding Bay over the ridge to Radical Bay with its beautiful beach surrounded by hoop-pine and boulder-strewn headlands. There are no facilities. Parts of the land behind the beach are privately owned—please observe signs.
Commercially operated guided tours are available on the island. See tourism information links for further information.
Many picnic and day-use areas are provided on Magnetic Island but not within the national park. See tourism information links for further information.
There are public moorings in the waters around Magnetic Island National Park. Moorings reduce coral damage from anchors and provide safe and sustainable access to popular reefs and islands. They suit a variety of vessel sizes and are accessed on a first-come-first-served basis. Time limits may apply during the day, but all mooring are available overnight between 3pm and 9am. Learn more about moorings and responsible anchoring and see maps and mooring locations.
Anchor with care outside reef protection markers
Please ensure you follow best environmental practices when anchoring:
- Carry enough chain, or chain and line, for the water depth.
- Anchor in sand or mud away from corals and seagrass beds.
- Motor towards the anchor while retrieving it. If the anchor is stuck, motor the vessel above and slightly ahead of the anchor before retrieval.
- Anchor far enough outside the line of reef protection markers to ensure that all parts of the anchor chain and rope remain outside the line of markers, should the vessel swing.
Dugong Protection Area
The waters surrounding Magnetic Island have extensive seagrass meadows that attract dugongs. Because of this, Cleveland Bay and all the waters around Magnetic Island are a declared Dugong Protection Area. Look out for dugongs especially in shallow areas and reduce your boat speed if you see a dugong, turtle or other large marine animal.
Magnetic Island and the surrounding marine waters are internationally significant and are protected in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Zones in the two marine parks—the Great Barrier Reef Coast and Great Barrier Reef—provide a balanced approach to protecting the marine and intertidal environments while allowing recreational and commercial use. Check zoning maps and information before entering or conducting any activities in the marine parks.
Fishing is popular with boaters and beach fishers but restrictions apply to certain areas of the marine parks surrounding the island. Fishing is not allowed in the Marine National Park (Green) zones in Geoffrey, Alma, Florence, Gowrie, Radical, Balding and Five Beach bays. Limited fishing is allowed in the Conservation Park (Yellow) zones in Arthur Bay and on the western side of Hawkings Point to West Point.
For details of fishing bag and size limits see Fisheries Queensland.
Over 180 species of birds have been recorded on Magnetic Island. Some of the more common birds visitors may hear and see include rainbow lorikeets, pied currawongs, helmeted friarbirds, laughing and blue-winged kookaburras, orange-footed scrubfowl, sulphur-crested cockatoos, olive-backed sunbirds, figbirds and spangled drongos. At night the haunting wail of bush stone-curlews can be heard as well as calls of southern boobook owls (or mopoke). On the beaches see silver gulls, crested terns, sandpipers, plovers, dotterels and, soaring over the rocky headlands, magnificent white-bellied sea-eagles, brahminy kites and ospreys. Near fresh water, visitors can encounter Pacific black ducks, Australasian grebes and purple swamphens.
Look for allied rock-wallabies in the early morning or late afternoon on rocks near the edge of settlements such as the Geoffrey Bay jetty. Koalas can be seen in trees around the island, particularly along the Forts walk and the Radical Bay to Horseshoe Bay walk. Koalas rest motionless amongst eucalypt branches during the day and feed in the late afternoon. Listen for common brushtail possums at night as they feed on flowers, fruit and leaves. During the day they hide in hollow branches or fallen logs. In the forest and woodland areas green treefrogs, echidnas, black flying-foxes , little bent-wing bats and harmless common tree snakes can sometimes be seen. From the beach or your boat, look for sea turtles and dugongs as they feed in the extensive seagrass meadows surrounding the island. Sea turtles also nest on the island's beaches during the summer months.
Please remember that all animals in the national park are protected. Feeding animals in a national park is not allowed. Fed animals can become dependent, losing their ability to find and capture their own food. This can cause population explosions beyond what their environment can sustain reducing the animal's chances of survival if the artificial food source is removed. Human foods can often be harmful and deprive animals of much-needed nutrients that only natural foods provide.
Keep wildlife wild—for your sake and theirs, don't feed native animals.
Keep to the walking tracks so you can see and avoid snakes, in particular the venomous death adder. With its distinctive broad triangular head and short, fat body with reddish brown to grey bands, it hides under leaf litter or sand.
- See the description of the park's natural environment for more details about Magnetic Island's diverse wildlife.
Dangerous stinging jellyfish (‘stingers’) may be present in the waters around Magnetic Island at any time, but occur more frequently in the warmer months. A full body Lycra suit, or similar, provides a good measure of protection against stinging jellyfish and sunburn. See marine stingers for more information.
Stinger resistant enclosures at Picnic and Horseshoe bays provide a high degree of protection but they are not stinger-proof. On the day, check with the lifeguard and wear protective clothing.
Lifeguards patrol Horseshoe Bay every day. Alma and Picnic bays are patrolled at weekends and during school holidays from September to May. It is advisable to swim at the patrolled beaches, between the red and yellow flags. Look for and observe warning signs and don't swim when beaches are closed.
Snorkelling is good in several areas, particularly the northern sides of Florence and Arthur bays. The reefs in Nelly, Geoffrey and Picnic bays are also suitable, especially in calm weather when visibility is best. When snorkelling always:
- check tides, currents and wind conditions on the day
- snorkel with a buddy—ensure help is always at hand
- avoid low tide as exposed corals make snorkelling difficult
- cover up to avoid sunburn
- practise in shallow, sandy areas, sheltered from the wind, if you are inexperienced
- avoid kicking, standing on or touching corals as they are easily damaged.
Other things to do
Discover the island's heritage
Magnetic Island’s fascinating past is detailed on signs in Picnic, Cockle, Nelly, Arcadia and Horseshoe bays and West Point. Visit the Magnetic Island History and Craft Centre in the old Picnic Bay School for more information about the island's heritage.
Signs around the bays tell the stories of many of the shipwrecks around Magnetic Island. The shipwrecks reflect the local maritime history that has seen boats plying between the mainland and the island for more than 100 years.
A wide range of other activities including scuba diving, small boat hire, horseriding and sailing are available around Magnetic Island. For more information see the tourism information links.