Alma Bay bouldering, Magnetic Island

Alma Bay boulders, Magnetic Island.

When you approach Magnetic Island by boat, it's what I imagine skirring up to Jurassic Park's mythical Isla Nublar would be like: only tropical water lies between you and a sprawling island, heaped on the horizon like the slumped hide of a gargantuan dinosaur.

Like a mountainous island in Michael Crichton's 1990 novel, Magnetic Island is lush. Although it's fringed with pockets of mangroves and coral reef, the island isn't entirely tropical. Cabbage palms are abutted by hoop pines, and eucaplypts of bloodwoods and stringybarks. Above the steep, hilly interior, Magnetic Island's skies are ruled not by pterosaurs, but Brahminy Kites – white-headed, russet-feathered raptors – scouring cotton-wool skies for insects. Beneath, sunlit shallows are home to stingrays, pufferfish and coral. And, on reclining discs of sand, jumbles of dark-stained boulders.

When I chose Magnetic Island as a holiday destination, I had two reasons: the snorkelling, and the bouldering.

Only, I wasn't really sure how good the bouldering would be. Do we bring the boulder pads? Do we bother with chalk? In the end, we decided that there would be enough problems above sandy landings to leave the pad behind. Into our packs we chucked our oldest, smelliest climbing shoes, in anticipation of quality, salt-crusted beach boulders.

Magnetic Island Rock

The Magnetic Island boulders we climbed on were all granite.

I come from Victoria, which is plagued by granite boulders that are commonly featureless, egg-shaped and friable. (Unless you head to Mt Buffalo – maybe.) So, I was pleasantly surprised to find the boulders on Magnetic Island featured with splitter cracks, gibbous bumps, credit-card edges and the odd, solitary mono.

And, it isn't just the bays that are strewn with tors – they're all over the island: Jabbing up out of thick foliage like decaying teeth, teetering on barren hilltops or lazing beside the lone main road coiling the perimeter of Magnetic Island's more populated eastern shore.

Alma Bay bouldering, Magnetic Island

Mac flails on a rising traverse at Alma Bay.

Where to Go Bouldering on Magnetic Island

Alma Bay

A stone's throw from the 'suburb' of Arcadia, Alma Bay is one of the narrower bays on the island. To the right, there's bunch of boulders with lots of easy problems. My personal favourite snakes up a crack and around a bulge – it's a jug fest with super frictionous feet. There's also a wall of slabby problems that mostly finish with a mantle; as well as a deceptively effort-intensive traverse (pictured above).

Everything we climbed was around V0–V2, and is most likely written up somewhere.

Boulders on Magnetic Island

Snake central en route to Rocky Bay.

Rocky Bay

It was a mission getting to Rocky Bay. This secluded white beach lies at the southern end of broad Nelly Bay. At low tide, you can walk from Nelly Bay's main beach to Rocky Bay. This route is cut off at high tide, though.

It was high tide when we surveyed our options from a lofty deck at Base Backpackers – a cluster of bungalows built on top of a bloc-strewn cliff. We decided it would be too hard-going over the large beach boulders with a heavy duffle bag full of wet snorkelling gear, plus a toddler (who was insisting on riding on our shoulders).

We ended up walking along Magnetic Island's main road for a few minutes, before dropping down a foot track through littoral rainforest to reach the suburb of Picnic Bay. From there, we found a trail head 'sign-posted' with an enormous, red painted-on arrow on a big tor guarding an informal path. This winds up and over a saddle through thick, dry grass that, we realised later, was probably riddled with death adders.

When we dropped down to the beach proper, we found a rock with crude lettering spray-painted on it. It read: NUDE. We realised then, that Rocky Bay is a nude beach. Thankfully, probably because the sun was setting, we were the only people there.

Whale Boulder, Magnetic Island

Whale Boulder at sunset, Magnetic Island.

Without the nudists, Rocky Bay was a really pretty place. In the gloaming, the rock was luminous blue. Dark water ran toward the shore. On a boulder featured with scoops, we threw ourselves at a pinch problem. All of us hopped aboard the 'Send Train' as the tide closed in.

As darkness fell, we ran out of light to sample other established problems, like a tips mono V2 and a "mega-classic" V6 traverse following the bowed 'lip' of Whale Boulder – a smooth, graceful stone mass that looks like a beached Beluga (with even a mono for an 'eye').

Worth it?

So, was it worth packing climbing shoes? For sure. Even for the limited amount of bouldering we did. What about a pad? If you're really keen, a pad would help protect from bad landings over rocks. But, we managed a good sampling without a pad over sandy landings.

In this article, I've only talked about bouldering in two locations. But the island is rife with boulder fields, with plenty else to explore.

Ferry, Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island ferry to Townsville.

Magnetic Island: What to Bring

Boulder Pads

If you want to bring a pad, the Edelrid Mantle III would be a good option. Not too big for carting over on the ferry, and also nice and light.

Climbing Shoes

I brought soft, precise climbing shoes (something similar to the La Sportiva Skwama or La Sportiva Python). I think this type of climbing shoe was perfect for the style, which varied from slabs, to compression problems, to crack climbing, to thuggy, heel-hook-intensive traverses.

Brushes for Bouldering

A brush was defintely handy for flicking sand off small holds.

Climbing Chalk

Definitely worth bringing. I don't think I would have sent the pinch problem if I didn't use chalk. Some of the problems were water worn from the surf. So, despite being granite, some problems were a bit slippery.


None yet, but we hear one is in the pipeline. We looked up It was good pointers on where to look for good boulders. But, once we were at the beaches, we simply used our noses. Basically: Find boulders. Climb them.

Travel Gear

Airline Bag

The Exped Transit 40 is the perfect airline travel bag. It comes in three sizes (30L, 40L, 60L).

I have the 40L, which I find to be the perfect size: on the plane, it fits in the recess under the seat infront of you; when you're walking to and from the gate, you can carry it like a backpack, and isn't as awkwardly long as the 60L version (I have a short back).

Special features: Glow-in-the-dark zip tabs make them easy to find on the plane when the lights are dimmed. Inside, you can attach items to several gear loops – they're perfect for clipping in gear like belay devices (which I do when I'm using this duffle during the week as a climbing gym bag). Travel-wise: The long zip pocket is perfect for boarding passes, etc. Meanwhile, the smaller zip pocket on the other side is great for compact travel wallets like this one.

Beach 'Rug'

I used the Exped Travel Hammock Plus as a sheet in lieu of a beach towel to lie on. For which, it was perfect. (Exped actually lists 'beach towel' as a recommended use for this hammock!) The material is a lightweight 70-denier ripstop nylon, which is very light and extremely packable (way more so than a towel of a similar size – although, obviously, it's not much help getting you dry. You need an actual towel for that). You could also use the Travel Hammock as a sunshade. When you're packing up, sand slides right off it.

Long-sleeved, Collared Shirt

The Arc'Teryx Fernie Women's Long-sleeved Shirt of those 'super shirts' that goes from office, to beach, to hike, to restaurant. (And, you won't look like a lumberjack, barrel racer or safari guide – you know what I'm talking about.) The Arc'Teryx Fernie has a flattering, modern cut. Also it's super lightweight and dries quickly. The synthetic material also wicks well and breathes well even on sweaty, midday hikes.

See our range of travel gear.

See our range of climbing gear.

Questions? Visit us, email us or call us (03 9600 0599).

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