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About Magnetic Island

Getting there and getting around

Magnetic Island can be reached by passenger and car ferry services from Townsville. The 11.5 km trip to the Nelly Bay Marina takes about 30 minutes. The island can also be reached by private boat.

On the island bicycles, motorbikes and small cars can be hired and a local bus service operates. The national park, which covers more than half of the island, can be accessed via a network of walking tracks from various parts of the island.

See the tourism information links for details of ferry and bus services, and vehicle rentals.

Vehicles are prohibited on tidal lands (PDF, 94K)* from West Point to Cockle Bay to protect the intertidal marine environment.

Wheelchair accessibility

There are no wheelchair-accessible facilities or tracks in the park.

Park features

The Sphinx from Fisherman Cove. Photo:NPRSR.

The Sphinx from Fisherman Cove. Photo:NPRSR.

Magnetic Island National Park features spectacular natural landscapes and seascapes including boulder-strewn headlands, hoop pines, sandy beaches and fringing coral reefs. A continental island composed mostly of granite, Magnetic Island was once part of the mainland before the sea level rose about 7,500 years ago.

Just over half of the island (2,790 ha) is protected as Magnetic Island National Park. The island is mostly covered with open eucalypt woodland of bloodwoods, stringybarks and grey ironbarks. Hoop pines and native kapoks are found on the headlands, and vine-thicket grows in sheltered gullies. The island is surrounded by sandy beaches, fringing reefs, mangrove communities and seagrass beds.

Sandy beaches provide turtle nesting areas and the mangrove communities are important fish nurseries. A significant dugong population is supported by Magnetic Island’s seagrass beds. Allied rock-wallabies are found on steep slopes while koalas can be found in most wooded areas. A variety of seabirds, waterbirds and forest birds can also be seen here. The bush stone-curlew is still common on Magnetic Island.

The Wulgurukaba people, the ‘canoe people’, have lived on the island and nearby mainland for thousands of years. Shell middens, stone tools and art sites are physical reminders of their strong connection with the island. The island was named by Lt. James Cook during his 1770 voyage when he believed the island's landmass was affecting his compass. The island's interesting past has included hoop pine logging, a quarantine station for the port of Townsville, early tourism in the 19th century, pineapple farming and coastal defences during World War II. Magnetic Island's WWII forts are listed on the Queensland Heritage Register and are among the best examples of such fortifications on Queensland's east coast.

Camping and accommodation

Camping

There is no camping in Magnetic Island National Park.

Other accommodation

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.

Things to do

Walking on Magnetic Island. Photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

Walking on Magnetic Island. Photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

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—1.2 km return (1 hr) 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—16 km return (5 hrs) 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—5 km one way (2.5 hrs) 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 400 m return sidetrack to the Sphinx lookout branches from the main track, 750 m from Arcadia.

Forts walk—4 km return (1.5 hrs) 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—2 km return (30 mins)
  • Florence Bay—3.6 km return (1 hr)
  • Radical Bay—6 km return (2 hrs)
  • Searchlight Tower—3.7 km return (1 hr)
  • Horseshoe Bay via Radical Bay—7.5 km one way (2 hrs)

Horseshoe Bay Lagoon—200 m return (15 mins) Grade: easy

Horseshoe Bay Lagoon is a popular area for birdwatching. The track begins on Horseshoe Bay Road, about 200 m 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—2.5 km return (1 hr) 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—3.4 km return (1.5 hrs) 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.

Guided tours and talks

Commercially operated guided tours are available on the island. See tourism information links for further information.

Picnic and day use areas

Many picnic and day-use areas are provided on Magnetic Island but not within the national park. See tourism information links for further information.

Boating

Boating around Magnetic Island National Park is a popular activity so it is important to take steps to reduce your impacts.

  • Reef protection markers have been installed to mark the no-anchoring areas (PDF, 955K)* around the reefs. They are easily identified by their white, pyramid-shaped buoys (joined with an imaginary line). Never anchor inshore of the buoys except when anchoring on beach areas. Reef protection markers must not be used to moor vessels.
  • The wreck of the Molke in Geoffrey Bay provides surprisingly good wreck diving close to the coast. To protect this historic shipwreck, a mooring is provided for boats up to 6 m in length.

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.

Fishing

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 more detailed zoning maps and information for State waters see Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park and for Commonwealth waters see Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

For details of fishing bag and size limits see Fisheries Queensland, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.

Birdwatching

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.

Wildlife viewing

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.

Dangerous 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.

Swimming and snorkelling

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.

Shipwreck trail

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.

Other activities

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.

Things to know before you go

Essentials to bring

Remember to pack:

  • sunscreen, hat, suitable clothing and sturdy footwear
  • drinking water—most walks do not have water available
  • insect repellent.

Opening hours

The national park is open all year round. Visitors should check weather conditions as the island may be inaccessible if strong wind warnings, gales or cyclonic activity prevent ferries from operating.

Permits and fees

Special permits are required for commercial or organised activities. Contact us for further information.

Pets

Domestic animals are not permitted in Magnetic Island National Park or on tidal land, including sand dunes, beaches, mangroves and rocky headlands, within the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park adjacent to Magnetic Island National Park.

Climate and weather

Magnetic Island has a tropical climate with a wet season usually from December to April. The dry season, from May to November, is the best time to visit. Magnetic Island is within the dry tropics, an area that has a wet season similar to other parts of the tropics but is characterised by a dry season with very little rain and lots of sunshine. Daytime temperatures vary between 25 and 32 ºC throughout the year. The high humidity, especially during summer months, can be very tiring for visitors unaccustomed to the tropics. For more information see the tourism information links.

Fuel and supplies

Fuel and supplies are available on Magnetic Island and in Townsville. For more information see the tourism information links.

Staying safe

  • Walk safely, carry drinking water, rest often and avoid the heat of the midday sun.
  • Stay on the walking tracks.Take care on loose or uneven surfaces and around boulders, steep slopes, and rock faces.
  • Avoid disturbing snakes.
  • Wear sunscreen, a hat and sturdy footwear.
  • Dangerous stinging jellyfish (‘stingers’) may be present in coastal waters at any time but occur more frequently in the warmer months. A full-body Lycra suit, or equivalent, provides a good measure of protection against stinging jellyfish and sunburn. See marine stingers for more information.

For more information, please read the guidelines on safety in parks and forests.

Looking after the park

  • Camping is not permitted in the national park.
  • Leave your pets at home.
  • Take your rubbish with you when you leave.
  • Keep to the walking tracks.
  • Do not damage plants.
  • Do not fossick in, take from or cause damage to cultural sites.
  • Feeding wildlife is not allowed—it can affect their health and alter the natural population balance.
  • Everything in the park, living or dead, is protected. Please leave everything as you found it.

See the guidelines on caring for parks for more information about protecting our environment and heritage in parks.

Park management

Magnetic Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and just over half of the island's 5,184 ha is protected as national park. The surrounding reefs and waters fall within the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The seascape, flora and fauna of the island, and marine life in the surrounding waters, are protected for the enjoyment of visitors and the conservation of nature.

Tourism information links

Flinders Mall Information Centre (Townsville Enterprise Ltd)
www.townsvilleonline.com.au
Flinders Mall, Townsville Qld 4810
ph (07) 4721 3660 or 1800 801 902
email tel@tel.com.au

For tourism information for all regions in Queensland see www.queenslandholidays.com.au.

Further information

Contact us.

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Last updated
6 January 2011