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How to Find the Magnetic Island Wreck (SS City of Adelaide)

How to Find the Magnetic Island Wreck (SS City of Adelaide)

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Learn how to visit the SS City of Adelaide, the famous Magnetic Island wreck reclaimed by nature.

The Magnetic Island wreck, or more specifically, the SS City of Adelaide is one of the most iconic wrecks on the Australian coast.

What makes it so unique is that it has been resurrected by thick mangroves that grow from the wreck. It’s also now home to a flock of cockatoos who live in the mangrove trees sprouting from the rusted deck. Here’s what you need to know about it and how to visit it yourself!

Magnetic island wreck at cockle bay, ss city of adelaide drone

About the SS City of Adelaide

While there are dozens of wrecks on Magnetic Island, the SS City of Adelaide is one of the most famous.

It was originally a Scottish steam passenger vessel that stranded itself in shallow water in Cockle Bay, Magnetic Island due to a fire. Here are some interesting facts about its history.

  • Construction: Built in 1863, the SS City of Adelaide was a passenger steamship constructed by J. Laing & Co. in Sunderland, England.
  • Service History: The ship served various routes, including the London to Adelaide run, and later between Sydney and Melbourne.
  • Shipwreck: The SS City of Adelaide ran aground on Cockle Bay, Magnetic Island, during a cyclone in 1916. Attempts to refloat her were unsuccessful, and she was abandoned.
  • Current Status: The remains of the ship can still be seen today, partially submerged in the shallow waters of Cockle Bay. It has become a popular site for tourists and snorkelers, and travel drone photography fans like me!

At the time of its sinking in 1916, it was decided that cutting up the ship and salvaging it would be too difficult due to the shallow water. Instead, it was decided that it would remain in Cockle Bay.

Magnetic island wreck from above

How to Get to the Magnetic Island Wreck

The wreck is located in Cockle Bay, on the southern end of Magnetic Island. The best way to get there is to first head to Picnic Bay and walk.

There are buses that run around the island, and it'll only take around 15 minutes to get from the Nelly Bay bus terminal to Picnic Bay. For those coming from Horseshoe Bay, expect a 40-minute trip.

From the Picnic Bay Wharf, you will have a couple of options to get to the iconic wreck site. For convenience, I've pinned the exact location of the wreck on the map below.

Map showing location of ss city of adelaide wreck, magnetic island, australia

Walking Around the Rocks from Picnic Bay

At low tide, it's possible to walk all the way around the rocks from Picnic Bay. It can get a little bit muddy, and you'll need to watch the flood tide. However, this is the quickest option for reaching the wreck.

Magnetic islands shipwreck at cockle bay

Walk the Road to the Wreck from Picnic Bay

You can walk around the headland, following suburban streets to the end of W Point Road in order to reach the wreck site from Picnic Bay Wharf. It's only a short walk that won't take more than 20 minutes.

For exact directions, follow the map above.

Walking Out to the Wreck at Low Tide

At low tide, the water rushes out and leaves the wreck sitting completely out of the water. It's entirely possible to walk all the way out at low tide. However, watch the soft, sinking mud.

Otherwise, admire the wreck from afar at the shore's edge, or even rent a kayak to paddle out at high tide.

Ss city of adelaide wreck at high tide, magnetic island

Secret Local Wreck Viewpoint

The best viewpoint on the southern end of Magnetic Island is also a prime spot for checking out the Magnetic Island wreck. It's not clearly marked on any maps, and we found it purely by coincidence when looking for a spot to fly the drone from.

Apparently, locals have named this viewpoint Sails Rock.

The viewpoint is just beside a water tower at Cockle Bay. I've marked the directions on the map below. If you're coming from Picnic Bay, it'll only take around 20 minutes, following a steep road to the top.

Once you reach the water tower, there is a small, unmarked trail that leads a bit further to a clearing with some huge, overhanging rocks at the edge of the cliff.

From this viewpoint, you will have excellent views over cockle bay and the wreck, as well as views all the way past Picnic Bay and into the interior hillside landscape.

Magnetic island viewpoint sail rock
Magnetic island viewpoint, sail rock

Where to Stay on Maggie

Koala mum and baby in kuranda, australia

1. Selina Magnetic Island Top-Pick

This is one of the best-rated accommodation options on Magnetic Island. It has a good chill-out area, pool, yoga an option to sleep on a converted bus, and on-site koala tours.

Nomads magnetic island accommodation on the beach

2. Nomads Magnetic Island

This hostel offers shared rooms and private rooms. Rooms are small cottages that overlook the reef right on the water's edge in Nelly Bay.

Double bedroom at cstay in picnic bay on magnetic island, australia

3. CStay

One of the best value accommodation options for couples is CStay in Picnic Bay. There are several twin rooms available with an outdoor pool. It is located close to public transport and walking distance to many restaurants.

Magnetic island sunset, magnetic island best things to do, magnetic island attractions

How to Get to Magnetic Island

Getting to Magnetic Island is as easy as a 20-minute ferry ride from the coast of Townsville, operating daily.

The best ferry company is SeaLink, which has ferries operating roughly every hour from Townsville to Nelly Bay ferry terminal on Magnetic Island.

The cheapest SeaLink ticket can be booked online in advance on GetYourGuide, which gives you a scannable QR code to use on your phone when you board. The cost for the return trip to Magnetic Island on SeaLink is $40.50 per adult with some concession options available.

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Magnetic island sunset
Magnetic island sailing boat

As promised, here are some of the photos I was able to snap of the SS City of Adelaide in Cockle Bay. Before you head out to see the famous Magnetic Island wreck, why not check out some of my other guides to Maggie and greater Queensland too?

Magnetic island wreck
Magnetic island ship wreck 1
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.