With 300 days of sunshine each year, Townsville definitely shines much like its tourism catch cry.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled to Townsville many times now and I’ve only ever seen it rain there once.
The unofficial capital of North Queensland, Townsville’s tropical climate, as well as its location alongside the world’s largest coral reef the Great Barrier Reef, makes it one of several popular travel destinations along the northeastern coastline of Australia.
It’s a fantastic place to travel to either by itself or as part of a road trip along the north Queensland coastline, especially during southern Australia states winter.
The Strand is great place to start your time in Townsville.
This foreshore area of Townsville is lined with cafes, bars, restaurants on one side of the road. While between the road and beach is a park popular with locals and tourists alike.
You will find that it’s a good spot to take a stroll and get a quick introduction to some of what Townsville has to offer with views across the water to Magnetic Island on one side and Castle Hill dominating the skyline in the other direction. Both of which are attractions in their own right and we’ll get to them later in this post.
If you are travelling with kids, The Strand has plenty to keep them entertained, including a small water park.
Pro Tip: When it comes to swimming at any of Townsville’s beaches, which is something that is quite popular, stick to the patrolled beaches. Particularly along The Strand. The patrolled beaches have protection in place against stingers (jellyfish) as well as advance warnings of crocs in the water nearby.
Alternatively, if I’ve just ruined the going to the beach for you (stingers are seasonal and crocs aren’t really all that common), at the northern end of The Strand you will discover The Strand Rockpool.
This manmade rockpool is both patrolled and protected from the stingers to give you a bit more peace of mind.
While you are up at the northern end of The Strand, it’s also worth walking up the hill to check out the Jezzine Barracks on the Kissing Point headland.
A spot of both Australian military and local Aboriginal significance, this heritage precinct is free for you to roam around with boardwalks, lookouts as well as the military fortification built during World War 2 that you can to explore.
The precinct is really well set up with not only stunning views out over the water but also plenty of artwork and information boards to let you know more about the history of this part of Townsville.
However, if you would like to get a better understanding of the military history of the area, which even to this day has a significant Australian Army presence, then stop into the Jezzine Barracks Military Museum/Army Museum North Queensland.
The museum is only open until lunchtime on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays as it is run by volunteers. But it is free to enter and hosts a good selection of interactive exhibits documenting Australia’s involvement in conflict around the world. Including when the conflict made it to Australian shores.
Well worth a quick visit if you happen to be in the area when it’s open.
Museum of Tropical North Queensland
For a change of pace, and to get a good overview of North Queensland as a whole, head to the Museum of Tropical North Queensland.
Despite being a somewhat small museum by most cities standards, it offers an interesting insight into the history of Townsville.
You will find the shipwrecked HMS Pandora exhibit is of particular interest.
The Pandora was sent to capture the Bounty and her mutinous crew from Tahiti but hit the Great Barrier Reef and sank during its return journey 1791.
Obviously there is a fair bit more to the story, but the museum now holds a number of artifacts recovered from the wreck which remained undiscovered for 186 years. All of which you can find out more about when you get there and check out the exhibit for yourself.
The museum also a great place to learn more about the World Heritage-listed tropical rainforest and reefs of the area, with exhibits showcasing the local flora and fauna from pre-historic times through to the modern era. It’ll really help you appreciate the natural wonders of the region.
In addition, there is a whole bunch of extra stuff to keep kids entertained if you are travelling as a family.
Speaking of shipwrecks, the wreck of the SS Yongala is very popular if you happen to be a PADI certified driver.
Located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, this is Australia’s largest and most intact historic shipwreck attracting 10,000 visitors each year.
Given that the wreck of the Yongala is inside the protected area of the reef, access is limited to authorised operators. So, if you are considering a visit you will need to organise a diving tour through a company like Yongala Dive.
The very abbreviated version of its history is that the Yongala was en route between Melbourne and Cairns when it steamed unaware into a cyclone and sank on 24 March 1911.
The rest of the details you can discover for yourself when you get there.
Yongala Dive is located at Alva Beach an hour drive south of Townsville.
Reef HQ Aquarium
How would you like to get a glimpse into the Great Barrier Reef without getting your feet wet?
The Reef HQ Aquarium is the worlds largest living coral reef aquarium. This open to the elements exhibit is its own living breathing ecosystem, showcasing the reef as it is in the wild.
It’s a really good opportunity to discover more about the coral reefs that the area is famous for without swimming, diving or even getting wet.
Even if you are planning on doing a cruise out onto the Great Barrier Reef while you are travelling through northern Queensland, the Reef HQ Aquarium is a good spot to learn more about it before you get there. As well as a chance to discover some of the sea life that is harder to spot in the wild.
The aquarium also runs a Sea Turtle hospital which cares for and rehabilitates these rare sea creatures. Also, a good opportunity to see these animals while they are being treated.
Well worth the price of admission to be able to see the reef ecosystem first hand and learn more about the Great Barrier Reef.
This aptly named wildlife park is a fantastic opportunity to get up close to some of the local wildlife that is notoriously difficult to spot in the wild.
Billabong Sanctuary, which as the name suggests in centred around a billabong, is located just a 20-minute drive outside of Townsville and your best opportunity to be able to see some of the unique local wildlife from the rainforests of the region, particularly Cassowaries and Crocodiles.
In addition, it is also home to a number of other Australian animals including Kangaroos, Koalas, Dingos, Snakes and Reptiles.
The core of the Billabong Sanctuary experience is being able to get up close to as well as feed and interact with the animals, more so that other zoos and wildlife parks you might have already visited. They hold a number of scheduled activity times throughout the day that are all covered under the ticket price.
Dominating Townsville’s skyline, Castle Hill is the best vantage point to get a good lookout over the entire city and its surrounds.
There are two ways to get to the top, the quickest and easiest being driving up to Castle Hill’s main lookout area. Which is almost at the summit.
If you feel like getting a work out in at the same time, as is popular amongst the locals, then you can hike (possibly even run) the Goat Track up to the top.
I like to do the trail at least once when I’m in Townsville to get the heart pumping. The good part is that once you get to the top you’re rewarded with stunning views which make the effort all worthwhile and its all downhill on the way back!
Pro Tip: Do yourself a favour and organise your trip to the top to be there for sunset. It’s a fantastic spot to watch the sun go down in the distance and witness the city and surrounds change from day to night. The view is spectacular, just watch out for the mozzies (mosquitos).
Located just off the coast of Townsville, Magnetic Island is its own natural wonder.
8km out to sea, the mountainous island has over half of its landmass protected as a National Park making it a sanctuary particularly for the local birdlife and the large Koala population.
You can either visit Magnetic Island as a day trip as it’s only a 40-minute ferry ride away. But if you would really like to make the most of it, the island has its own tourism infrastructure, with hotels and resorts amongst the 4 villages on the island to allow you to explore it at your own pace over a few days.
Magnetic Island is famous for its scenery with many walking/hiking trails covering the island. Whether that be climbing to the top of Mount Cook, exploring World War 2 forts or discovering some of the secluded beaches and bays.
Pack the swimwear as well as you’ll definitely want to get out in the water to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef which the island is part of. Also, keep an eye out for the wreck of SS City of Adelaide which can be seen at low tide in Cockle Bay.
I could go on a lot more about Magnetic Island, but needless to say you need to get there and discover it for yourself.
Bonus: Wallaman Falls
Now this one is a bit of bonus because I can’t technically include it as part of Townsville as its 160km’s away.
And while locals will say that Wallaman Falls is just up the road (what’s considered a reasonable drive is much more broad in remote parts of Australia), the little over 2-hour trip to see the falls is well worthwhile.
Located in the Girringun National Park, Wallaman Falls is the tallest single-drop waterfall in Australia. The view from the lookout at the top is impressive, but to really appreciate the scale you will need to take the hike (3.2km return) down to the base of the falls.
I’ve only done it as a day trip once out of Townsville and it was well worthwhile to see.
Also, look out for the number of other waterfalls and features of the tropical rain forest along the way there and/or back including Crystal Creek and Jourama Falls.
The town of Ingham makes for an ideal spot to stop and get some lunch.
Just keep an eye out on your travels between Ingham and Wallaman Falls for cattle sleeping on the road. They will be fairly easy to spot, but just keep an eye out and always keep moving albeit slowly past them. While the elusive Cassowary can also be seen from time to time in along the route.
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