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 or 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. You should go to the Outer Reef if you want to see the best corals on the Great Barrier Reef. Magnetic Island is only a 30-minute ferry ride from Townsville on the mainland.
Still, we had a lovely time snorkelling on Magnetic Island, and I went back to snorkel there with great pleasure as soon as the opportunity arose. Although Magnetic Island doesn’t make it to the top of my Australia bucket list, it is a must-do day trip from Townsville if you are travelling in this region.
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. If you can, avoid the SE winds and the new or full moon phases when the water clarity is poorer.
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.
Tips if you go snorkelling in summer
The temperature in summer is very warm (both in and out of the water), which I really appreciated. However, it is the stinger season from November to May so it is highly recommended to wear a full-body wetsuit. We could hire them for $5 each from the shop at Geoffrey Bay.
Even if you cannot see any jellyfish, you should consider wearing a stinger suit. The most dangerous jellyfish (Irukandji) are the ones you cannot see as they are small and transparent. I am not scared of going in the water but I strongly believe it is worth knowing about the dangers to reduce the risks.
Plus, the wetsuit was also perfect for sun protection!
Responsible travel tip: Did you know that your sunscreen could harm the fragile ecosystem of the coral reef? It’s essential to be mindful of what you’re applying to your skin when snorkelling or swimming near the reef. The best way to protect your skin from the sun is to cover up with long sleeves and pants. If you must use sunscreen, choose a mineral-based one to avoid harmful substances (see the full list here). Mineral ingredients are less harmful to the environment and provide excellent protection. Apply the sunscreen at least 20 minutes before entering the water to ensure maximum effectiveness.
The best spots for snorkelling Magnetic Island
Snorkelling Florence Bay
The first time we visited Magnetic Island, we chose to snorkel Florence Bay. 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 being in shallow water allowed us to be closer to the corals that are otherwise deeper. Hence, 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
For our second visit to Magnetic Island, we chose to snorkel Geoffrey Bay. One of the two snorkelling trails organised on the island is on the left side of Geoffrey Bay, in front of Arcadia. The first buoy of the snorkelling trail is about 400 metres away from the shore. We entered the water from the boat ramp (be careful, it’s slippery).
We found a few impressive giant clams and saw beautiful corals. Many small fish and a few bigger ones including a colourful angelfish were swimming in the corals. It took us about 45 minutes to swim to all the buoys marking the snorkelling trail. We would have stayed in the water for longer if we didn’t have to bring back our stinger suits to the shop by 4.30 pm. It was lovely to see rock wallabies as we exited the water.
I was particularly attracted by the fighter plane wreck from World War II, and there is the SS Moltke shipwreck too. But the visibility underwater wasn’t good and we didn’t find them. The shipwreck is at the fourth buoy at a depth of around 10 meters. The plane wreck is further away inside the bay and is recommended for more experienced swimmers only.
Snorkelling Nelly Bay
The area in front of XBase backpackers in Nelly Bay is reputed for being the best spot 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 heard 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 your own equipment. 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 the reef on Magnetic Island with better visibility.
You will need at least two or three days to check out all the exciting underwater spots on Magnetic Island. 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
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