Snorkelling Magnetic Island was one of my favourite activities when we visited for a day trip. It is sometimes even described as a snorkeller’s paradise as there are many spots with warm, shallow water. I spent hours researching the best places on Magnetic Island for snorkelling and ended up with a great list. You’ll find them on a map at the end of the article.
Unfortunately, we could not explore them all. But I thought I’d share my research and feedback on my experience to help those interested in snorkelling Magnetic Island.
If you’ve snorkelled Magnetic Island, I’d love to read about your experience! Please leave a comment at the end of the article.
If you’ve been to some other islands on the Great Barrier Reef, you may not be incredibly impressed by the corals at Magnetic Island. I didn’t find the underwater world of Magnetic Island as big, as colourful nor as lively as Lady Elliot, Lady Musgrave or Heron Island for example. We also preferred our Cairns liveaboard. Magnetic Island is not the best place to experience the full beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.
But I may have been unlucky with the winds and the full moon when I visited. Still, we had a lovely time snorkelling Magnetic Island, and I would go back snorkelling there with great pleasure. Although it doesn’t make it to the top of my Australia Bucket List, it is a must-do if you are in the Townsville area.
The best season for snorkelling Magnetic Island
You can swim all year round at Magnetic Island. Located in the Dry Tropic area of Australia, Magnetic Island has 320 days of sunshine per year.
The best season for snorkelling Magnetic Island is in Winter. The temperatures are still warm outside (25 degrees on average during the day) and the water is still comfortable. Plus, the stinger season is over.
If you can, avoid the SE winds and the new or full moon phases when the water clarity is poorer.
The best spots for snorkelling Magnetic Island
Snorkelling Florence Bay
This is where we chose to snorkel when we visited Magnetic Island. Many locals told us it was the best place to snorkel on the island. We had a great time and spent more than 90 minutes in the water exploring the coral bommies and looking for bleanies on the rocks. We also found a big coral rose that looked stunning. The middle of the bay is a shark nursery, and we were lucky to spot one shark during our snorkelling session. We also saw two big beautiful angelfish, one blue-spotted eagle ray and many schools of small fish.
We snorkelled in the non-anchor zone, on the left side of the bay where there is no boat. There is a lot of silt at the start, but you will see corals if you swim a bit further.
We snorkelled Florence Bay at low tide. It was sometimes a bit challenging to pass the shallow areas, and we had to make a few detours, but it allowed us to be closer to the corals that are otherwise deeper, so I found snorkelling around low tide was a great time.
Your underwater photos don’t look that colourful? Check out these tips for beginners to improve your underwater photos.
Snorkelling Geoffrey Bay
If we had more time, Geoffrey Bay would have been our second choice for snorkelling Magnetic Island. One of the two snorkelling trails organised on the island is on the left side of Geoffrey Bay, in front of Arcadia. I was particularly attracted by the fighter plane wreck from World War II, and there is the SS Moltke shipwreck too. It’s also a good spot for scuba diving.
The first buoy of the snorkelling trail is about 400 metres away from the shore, and the shipwreck is at the fourth buoy at a depth of around 10 meters. The plane wreck is further away inside the bay, recommended for more experienced swimmers.
Unfortunately, other travellers told us the visibility wasn’t good at all the day we visited, so although it’s the easiest bay to access from the ferry, we didn’t make an effort to check it out. But I’ve seen great photos of the plane wreck on the signs when we did the Forts Walk. So if I ever return to Magnetic Island, snorkelling the plane wreck will be at the top of my list of things to do.
Snorkelling Nelly Bay
The area in front of XBase backpackers in Nelly Bay is reputed for being the best spots for beginners who want to snorkel on Magnetic Island. You can follow the white surface floats that make the snorkelling trail. They will lead you around beautiful coral formations only about 100 metres away from the shore.
We preferred to spend more time in Florence Bay, where we were just by ourselves in the water, thinking that there may be more people in Nelly Bay. However, if I had more time, I would have liked to check it out. You can grab a card from retailers on the island to attach to your wrist. It will give you information about the things you may spot underwater as you follow the island’s official trails. I love this idea.
Alma Bay is good for snorkelling at low tide. You will find a coral garden on the right-hand side of the bay.
Arthur Bay is also reputed for having beautiful corals. If you’re lucky, you may even spot turtles there. The best spots for snorkelling in Arthur Bay are on the left-hand side of the bay where the water is more shallow. Although we visited Arthur Bay on the way to Florence Bay, we chose not to snorkel there as we had better feedback about Florence Bay.
How to find equipment for snorkelling Magnetic Island
We brought our own snorkel gear to Magnetic Island as it provides more flexibility.
You may be interested in these tips to choose the best snorkel gear.
But don’t worry if you don’t have any, it is easy to hire snorkel gear on Magnetic Island, for a full day or half a day (around $25). If you choose to join a boat tour, they will most likely provide the gear for you. Boat tours can be a great option if you are a snorkelling novice as the crew is used to dealing with beginners and can provide advice.
Responsible travel tip: It is crucial to be careful when snorkelling and diving a coral reef not to damage the corals. The rule is not to touch them (for their protection and your own), not to stand on them and not to kick them with your fins. It is recommended to protect your skin from the sun with a wetsuit and if you choose to wear sunscreen, make sure you pick a reef safe one.
How long should you stay on Magnetic Island for snorkelling?
We only visited Magnetic Island on a day trip, as all accommodations were fully booked when we planned our trip there. It was great, and I don’t regret going just for the day, but it was definitely not enough to explore all the snorkelling spots of Magnetic Island. Plus, as we were there for a very short period, we didn’t get a chance to see it with better visibility.
You will need at least two or three days to check out all the exciting underwater spots on Magnetic Island. And don’t be worried about staying longer. There are other activities on the island to keep you busy for longer, such as horse riding, sailing or hiking.
When I researched accommodations on Magnetic Island, I loved the location and reasonable prices of the Base Backpacker (click here for more info*) and the YHA in Horseshoe Bay (click here for more info*).
In Townsville, we stayed at the Civic Guesthouse (click here for more info*) which was perfect for travellers on a budget.
Where are these snorkelling places on Magnetic Island
These locations are approximate positions.
Magnetic Island is a 20-minute ferry ride from Townsville, in the north of Queensland on Australia’s East Coast.
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