Serving as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics, Townsville, a port city in Australia, is a fascinating mixture of unusual natural wonders and unique manmade structures. Being the largest city in Australia lying north of the Tropic of Capricorn with a rich aboriginal history, Townsville owns the reputation of being the Tropical Capital of North Queensland. The city can be briefly defined as a thriving metropolis possessing business and administrative offices, defence force bases and vast refineries, which also offers out of the earth views of the scattered islands off its coasts, fine Federation architecture, awesome seascapes, and a thriving entertainment scene. When it comes to tourism, it is not as popular as Cairns or Port Douglas, yet it abounds in luxury hotels, high-class restaurants, parks, historical museums and other scenic attractions, which makes it an ideal destination for spending a peaceful vacation. So what are you waiting for? Plan a trip to Townsville and do the following to have a once in a lifetime vacationing experience.
Soak up the sun at the Strand
The Strand is a 2.2 metre long beachfront promenade yielding marvellous views of Townsville’s port, Magnetic Island and Cape Cleveland. Featuring tranquil bluish green sea water bordered by fine golden sand beach on which coconut trees stand and embraces the cool sea breeze, the strand is undoubtedly the ideal place to spend a sunny day. At the same time, it is not like one of those secluded beaches which offer only scenic views. It provides facilities for its visitors to pursue a whole lot of activities like biking, fishing, kayaking and swimming. However its premier attraction is Strand Water Park which is no less than a paradise for children where colourful fountains and waterslides tickle them. The strand also harbours an Olympic-size swimming pool, namely the Tobruk Memorial Baths which is a WWII memorial. Thus, there are ample arrangements for you to cool off after sunbathing at the beach. There are also reputed cafes and restaurants like Watermark and Longboard Bar and Grill which serve good snacks and refreshing meals.
Go on a short trip to Magnetic Island
Laden with a series of towering eucalyptus trees and hoop pines rimming golden beaches and calm bays, Magnetic Island homes exotic wildlife and WWII remains. Lying within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage-listed area, this rugged and rocky island draws tourists like a magnet attracts iron. Its National Park sheltering koalas, echidnas, wallabies and diverse species of birds lures visitors the most. Walk through its meandering bushy pathways and double will be your chances of spotting a koala in the eucalyptus branches. Also explore the Forts Walk to see a World War II command post and a few guns as well as 360-degree oceanic views. Don’t mistake this island for a wild and uninhabited isolated piece of land because it has a decent population with residential arrangements and facilities for tourists such as 5-star resorts, restaurants, theatres, and shopping complexes. Activities for exploring the island include horseback riding on the beach, kayaking around the island, scuba diving in the reefs, snorkelling along the trails of the bays and swimming in the cool water of the sea. You may also hire a topless car or board a taxi to roam in the magnetic island.
Enjoy panoramic views of Townsville at Castle Hill
Looming over the entire city and rendering the best all-embracing views of the same, the Castle Hill is a popular hiking destination. The 290 metre high pink granite monolith in the centre of Townsville was once used by American soldiers to spot enemies. Now it is occupied by beautiful native plants and bushes sheltering many birds including falcons and kites as well as rock wallabies. Its summit has multiple viewpoints and facilities such as public toilets and shower-sprinklers for refreshment or cooling off after trekking. This summit can be reached either by driving or by trekking. If you trek your way up to the hill, make sure that you have sufficient water as it may be quite exhausting. There is also a monument dedicated to Robert Towns who was the founder of the city. It is from here that one gets to experience the best sunset view in the entire city as, during sunset, the city and the sky immerse in pink hues.
Encounter Australian animals at Billabong Sanctuary
One of the best places to see typical Australian wild animals is the family owned wildlife park located 17 km away from Townsville on the Bruce Highway. Sheltering more than 100 species of Australian mammals and reptiles, Billabong Sanctuary has won awards like the North Queensland Tourism Awards for Eco-tourism and the Townsville City Council Environmental Excellence Award for its environmental management and conservation. You’ll get to see here both saltwater and freshwater crocodiles, feed kangaroos and wallabies, cuddle koalas and wombats, entertain yourself with free-flight bird show and a crocodile feeding show and watch actions of other creatures like cassowaries, dingoes, echidnas and different kinds of snakes. No doubt children will not want to leave this place easily and adults too will have a great time.
Snorkel and make your way to Yongala Wreck
Yongala wreck is Australia’s best wreck diving site and is a blessing for snorkelers and divers. A three hour journey by a boat is all it takes to reach here from Townsville. SS Yongala that sank on 23rd March in the year 1933 and whose remains went missing for years until parts of it was discovered, has been converted into an artificial reef. Various parts of the ship including the bell, rudder, masts, engines and steam rooms still appear sound due to its secluded position at a depth of 30 metre. Owing to being located within the World Heritage-protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, it is covered with soft and hard corals and occupied by species of small fish and groupers. To be safe, it’s better to dive this wreck when the weather is fine because the typical unpredictability associated with the tropical weather of Queensland makes the calm waters of the ocean turbulent all of a sudden. Perhaps because of the thrill involved with this underwater experience, Yongala wreck is also considered to be one of the world’s best wrecks.
Go Whale Watching
If you fantasize seeing whales breaching in the ocean, all you have to do for converting this fantasy into reality is to go on a whale watching tour. If you visit Townsville between July and September, you will have a good chance to spot humpback whales swimming in the ocean around the Palm Island group to the North of Townsville. Cruising along the nearby islands, these Whale Watching Tours depart from Lucinda which is two hour drive away from Townsville and take visitors to Orpheus Island where they can picnic, swim in the water and feed the fishes. These whales can also be found in the shaded bays of Pelorus. Besides whales, all the while you’ll be safely watching giant turtles and pretty dolphins under the guidance of a marine biologist.
Be enchanted by the exotic Paluma National Park
The Southernmost area of the world heritage-listed Wet Topics is partly located in the city of Townsville. Carrying a mining background, Paluma is a sight that one will cherish looking at. Surrounded by the exotic rainforest is a small village replete with natural waterfalls, bush walks, crystal clear swimming holes. You’ll see different kinds of bird species here. On the way to Paluma, there are some spectacular attractions. The stone arch bridge on the Mount Spec Road built in 1933 century known by the name Little Crystal Creek is one such place and another one is a popular swimming spot known as Big Crystal Creek. Another remarkable attraction of Paluma Range National Park is Lake Paluma; a huge reservoir or dam surrounded by forest covers. Standing on the bridge you’ll be thrilled by the view of the dam’s huge amount of gushing water bordered by dense cover of rainforest fauna. Visitors also come here to picnic or dine at barbecues.
Traverse the incredible Great Barrier Reef
Of all Australian attractions, Great Barrier Reef is the most stunning and Townsville gives its visitors the once in a lifetime opportunity of seeing it closely. Just a two and a half hour boat ride is all it takes to catch a glimpse of this magical World Heritage-listed reef. Unlike Carins and Port Douglas which are the prime reef exploring points for the majority of tourists, Townsville renders a less-commercialized and more pleasing reef adventure experience. The Townsville reef diving tours feature an amazing variety of aquatic life including sea turtles, canyons, stingrays, reef sharks, Maori wrasse, world-class wrecks, and shallow fringing or colourful coral reefs. Some of the dive sites are as deep as 35 metre. Popular diving tours include Adrenalin Snorkel and Dive that explores the Lodestone Reef and Kelso Reef, the Great Barrier Reef Dive and Snorkel Cruise which comes with the full package of lunch, snacks and drinks and Remote Area Dive that goes around some remote islands. The first time divers or snorkelers can explore the reefs to the South of Townsville and the Lodestone Reef as the water and the trade winds remain calmer there. Though off coast reefs like Bramble, Broadhurst and Keeper reefs are small but they are great for fishing.
Appreciate native Australian art at Peruse Perc Tucker Regional Gallery
Having a collection of over 2,000 artworks along with national and international exhibits, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery mainly portrays the artworks of Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders, historical arts of North Queensland artists and contemporary art forms of Papua New Guinea. Occupying parts of well-maintained and finely preserved historic buildings Perc Tucker Regional Gallery conducts talks, workshops, education programmes, lectures, exhibition tours. It also hosts Strand Ephemera exhibiting sculpture artworks along the beachfront at Strand every two years.
Take a stroll in Townsville’s Gardens
Townsville is home to four ravishing gardens namely the heritage-listed Queens Gardens, Townsville Palmetum, Anderson Garden and Dan Gleeson Memorial Gardens. The Queens Garden is located at the base of the Castle Hill is the oldest botanical garden full of plants, flowers and fruits. Considered as one of the biggest collections of palms in the world, Townsville Palmetum is a palm garden having about 300 palm species. The Perfume Gardens, also known as Dan Gleeson Memorial Gardens has turned into a popular picnic spot featuring pools and ponds and native paintings. The city’s largest garden, namely Anderson Garden, is a perfect example of a tropical orchard. Covering an area of 25 hectares it is full of palms and cycads. You can also ride through this garden.
Spend a great movie night at Riverway
This is a recently developed parkland area having shaded riverside boardwalks, lagoon pools, barbecues, picnic spots and cafes. It’s a great place to spend some quality time with family on a sunny day. You’ll love to cool off by bathing in the lagoon pools. Adults can stroll or jog on the riverfront or explore the gallery and trail full of public art while children can bike around or enjoy watching ducks and turtles in the water. The alfresco movie nights also add to Riverway’s value as a top recreation spot in Townsville.
Be acquainted with Townsville’s history at Jezzine Barracks
Jezzine Barracks is a 15 hectare long heritage site bridging the Strand and Rowes Bay and containing parklands, ethno-botanical walks featuring aboriginal paintings, observation decks and coastal boardwalks. Traditionally known as Garabarra, this piece of land was owned by Wulgurukaba and Bindal tribes still retains and showcases indigenous people’s history and culture. Later it went on to become one of Australian defence bases. Its military background is represented by the restored Kissing Point Fort and Army Museum North Queensland. The former served as an integral part of Australia’s defence from 1885 and the latter exhibits Australia’s defence history during the Boer War, Vietnam War, Korean War and the two World Wars.
Have a whale of a time at Great Barrier Reef Aquarium
When in Townsville, you simply cannot miss witnessing the world's largest living coral reef aquarium. Built as a part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the aquarium has about 130 coral species and 120 fish species. With a 2.5 million litre main coral reef exhibit, this aquarium projects how the Great Barrier Reef with its corals and creatures look like. The fact that all these peculiar and different types of corals and marine creatures live in a shared environment rather than lying in separate tanks, makes it seem all the more real to the visitors. It isn’t free. To enter here you need to purchase tickets first but it’s worth it. Moreover, it not only lets you see its exhibits but hosts predator animal feeding sessions, predator dive shows featuring black-tip reef sharks and giant trevally prowl, the Discovery Lagoon, and turtle shows. And the free tours, workshops and talks about many exhibits like hammerheads, rays, groupers, sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, feather stars, snails, worms and sponges makes the visit even more interesting. Also, the staff here are extremely helpful. If you face any difficulty they’ll come to your aid and also speak volumes about different species’ behaviour, diet and preferred environments.
Examine minutely the assemblage of Museum of Tropical QLD
Located in Townsville, the Museum of Tropical Queensland, is a treasury of marine archaeology, marine fauna and natural history. Containing what has been described as "the scientifically most important coral collection in the world", the museum has earned many awards and much good reputation. The Pandora Gallery contains a replica of HMS Pandora which sank in the Great Barrier Reef and parts recovered from its wreck predominate all its exhibits. Along with these, it also has Torres Strait masks, the World Heritage-listed rainforest and tropical Queensland reef exhibitions and a replica of SS Yongala.
Find out more about Townsville’s local life
Having done all of these, you’ll have gained a thorough understanding of how special Townsville is but without visiting the city’s markets you won’t have an adequate idea of Townsville’s local life. So make time for wandering the Friday Night Strand Markets and the Cotton Markets on Flinders street while enjoying the pleasing evening breeze. Rush to Medavine to have some delicious street food, or head to Townsville Brewery. If you happen to be there in the month of August you’ll be awed by the internationally renowned festival of Townsville known as Australian Festival of Chamber Music.
If you want to see more of tropical marine life visit the Townsville Maritime Museum. To end your trip with a band don’t forget to be thrown aback by the aerial views of this tropical heaven from Townsville helicopters.