What to do on Magnetic Island – Topless Cars + Koalas + Stunning Views

Most East Coast Aus backpackers will be heading north or south between Sydney and Cairns. If you are planning this journey or on it now definitely make Magnetic Island a stop on your journey. It is one the stops I did on my journey from Cairns to Brisbane and it was a fantastic experience! Here is my ultimate guide to Magnetic Island. 

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Why Go To Magnetic Island

My new travel buddy Sophie and I chose to see Magnetic Island for a few reasons. The topless barbie cars, the wild Koalas and the hostel on the beach. We went based on recommendation. Sophie had heard that Base Backpackers Magnetic Island the place to go. Positioned right on the coast with amazing views over the ocean. 

How to get to Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is off the coast of Townsville, Queensland. It is a 52km squared mountainous island in Cleveland bay. The Island is a short 20-minute ferry ride from Townsville. The pictures and recommendations we had seen of Magnetic Island were fantastic. Unfortunately for us, we arrived on an overcast rainy day. The sea was choppy and our hours of travel for hours by bus had made us tired. The ferry ride across to the Island was short. It was easy to navigate our way to the hostel. The bus depot was at the ferry terminal and plenty of other backpackers were heading the same way. 

What to Do On Magnetic Island

We arrived on Magnetic Island in the afternoon. As our it was a rainy reception, we unpacked and went for a short exploration walk to a nearby viewpoint. We were not sure where we were going and it got dark pretty quick so there was not much to report on. It was our second and only full day on the Island that was to be the main event. 

Topless Car Hire

This was the reason we had come to the Island. Sophie had booked us in with a local car hire company to rent a topless barbie car for the day. On our travels the day before we had met a couple of girls who were also heading to Magnetic Island. We invited them to join us and split the cost.

We picked up the car at around 9:30 am so that we would get a full day of exploring. Sophie our designated driver and got us out of the rental car park and on our way. We were so lucky with the weather, it was a gorgeous sunny day, perfect for top-down driving!

We had a map of the Island with the areas we were and were not allowed to take the car. Be aware you can only see half of the island with the car but there is plenty to see and do on that half. Our first stop was Picnic Bay. This was a beach not far from the hostel and roughly where we had been trying to head the night before. It was a beautiful beach with a long jetty poking out into the water. 

Picnic Bay Magnetic Island
Picnic Bay – Magnetic Island

After a quick stop back at the hostel for a quick change, we headed to the next beach along the coast. This was Arcadia there were a few stretches of sandy beaches in the Arcadia area. Our first stop was chosen because we saw another barbie car parked up and some girls doing a photo shoot. We wanted a bit of the Instagram action so pulled up a little further along the beach for a shoot. At least half an hour was spent here making sure we got pictures from all the angels of us all, as individuals and together. We may have even got a few topless pictures as well. 

After our hard work modelling, it was time to relax and have a paddle. We parked at the main part of Arcadia beach around the corner. We also found some lunch here in a lovely little cafe across the road. I had fish and chips as I had seen a family with theirs by the beach and got a bit of food envy!

Our next stop was The Forts Walk

Forts Walk

A short drive up the hill from the beaches there is a car park for the forts walk. From there, it’s about a 40-minute walk up to the remains of a fort on top of the island. On almost every corner you turn you get stunning views. Florence bay, below and back across the bay to Townsville, look great from the walk.

We were on the lookout on this walk for the famous Australian wildlife. There are around 800 wild Koalas on the island. The Forts walk is the best opportunity to spot them in their natural habitat. We were lucky enough to see a mother and baby eating and relaxing in a tree. I had seen Koala’s before in Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane. But it was a very different experience seeing them in the wild, quite magical!

Koala's on Magnetic Island
Mum + Baby Koala

Climbing higher and higher we got more and more fantastic views out over the island and the ocean.

Views From Magnetic Island
Views from the Forts Walk

Sunset was fast approaching so we went to the next and final beach on list Horseshoe Bay.

Horseshoe Bay

This bay was lovely, as the name suggested it is a big horseshoe shape. There are some lovely bars and restaurants that stretch around the beach. The bay was full of boats moored up, which is not a sight we have seen in many places on the trip so far. Only in the Whitsundays where we were on one of the boats moored up. We went for a lovely golden hour walk around the bay and then found a nice spot to stop and watch the sunset.

Horseshoe Bay Magnetic Island
Horseshoe Bay – Magnetic Island

Unfortunately, it was not a banger sunset. It was still beautiful but we did not get a nice orange glow or the pink and purple clouds we were hoping for. 

Sunset at Horseshoe Bay Magnetic Island
Horseshoe Bay Sunset

We had paid extra so that we could return the car out of hours, but we didn’t stay out much later than the sunsetting. Having dressed for the beautiful sunny day we were getting quite cold and ready to head back to Base. 

I would recommend renting a topless car for a day on Magnetic Island. It is a great way to see a lot of the island in one day and it’s a fun thing to get around in. There are other options when it comes to renting a vehicle. There are 4×4 options so that you can go on some of the more off-road tracks to see more of the Island. I don’t think we would have had time to see any more of the Island in the one day as we managed to fill our time pretty well. But if you are going to be exploring for longer then the other options are worth checking out too. 

Where to Stay on Magnetic Island

We stayed at Base Backpackers Magnetic Island. It is right on the seafront, you could have your breakfast whilst watching the waves. The facilities are good with plenty of toilets and showers in the communal bathrooms. I did see there is the option to camp on-site, but I am not about that life. The dorms were in wooden, beach huts in two rows along the water’s edge. They have secure locks which you can either use the code provided or if you have the Tipi app you can use your phone. WiFi does not stretch to the dorms and mobile data was patchy for me so prepare to be off the grid in your room. The beds were comfortable enough although incredibly squeaky. But for two nights it was adequate. 

If you are up for a party there seems to be one going every night in the communal bar area. The food on offer is very good. I had some of my best meals at this hostel. We had prepared to buy food and make it in the kitchen to save money but the price of the food is very reasonable. I had a delicious breakfast both mornings and a  yummy curry (which only cost $10) in the evening. There are no shops close by. You can walk to the nearest shop but it’s a bit of a trek. There is a bus that runs often from right outside the hostel.  

Açaí Bowl - Base Backpackers - Magnetic Island
Açaí Bowl – Base Backpackers – Magnetic Island

If you are only on the Island for a couple of nights and the weather is good then I would recommend staying at base. It seems to be a social hostel and it has beautiful views and good food.

To Sum Up

Magnetic Island is a great place to visit for a couple of days. There is so much more to do on the island than we managed to do in a short time. As you are close to the Great Barrier Reef you could go snorkelling or diving. There are more walks to do that we were not able to explore and there is more wildlife to see. 

If the weather had been better and we hadn’t been on a schedule we could have stayed another day. What we did see was excellent. The views, as in much of Australia, are stunning, the food and accommodation are good and it’s an easy trip to do. 

what to do on magnetic island

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