Find koalas, snorkelling, and hiking on magical “Maggie.
Just eight kilometres and 20 minutes by ferry from Townsville, Magnetic Island (“Maggie” to locals) is a national park offering watersports, hiking, history, and wildlife in abundance. Several small settlements, the largest of which is Nelly Bay, are surrounded by eucalyptus woods, rainforest, and granite tors where koalas are easily spotted, and rock wallabies are often seen in the early morning. Outdoor activities are heavily water-based: snorkelling and swimming at about 20 bays and beaches, plus sailing, waterskiing, parasailing, scuba diving, kayaking, and fishing.
Bungalow Bay Koala Village at Horseshoe Bay is the only camping ground on Magnetic Island. Home to a wildlife sanctuary where you can visit koalas, a python, or a small saltwater crocodile, the campground also offers ranger-guided bush walks to explore nearby habitats and learn the history of the area’s traditional owners, the Wulgurukaba people.
One of the best and most popular of the island’s 36-km network of hiking trails is the Nelly Bay–Arcadia Trail, a one-way journey of 5 km (3 miles) that takes between two and three hours to complete. The World War II fortifications provide an interesting setting for part of the trail, a likely place to spot koalas in the wild. (The best koala spotting is on the track up to the Forts off Horseshoe Bay Road.) And at the top are terrific 360-degree views of the Coral Sea and Bowling Green Bay National Park.
Geoffrey Bay offers excellent snorkelling, straight off the beach. Local shops offer “swim cards” to strap to your wrist—these carry useful information about the coral and fish you can see. For strong swimmers, the wreck of the World War II plane Moltke is another good snorkelling spot.
Townsville can be hot and humid in summer (December to February)—and sometimes in the path of cyclones—but is spared the worst of the wet-season rains and claims 300 days of sunshine a year. Magnetic Island tends to be cooler with more breezes. The best months to visit are May to September, when the weather is cool and the seas are free of the toxic marine stingers that can prevent ocean swimming without special stinger suits.