Townsville is a tropical city on North Queensland’s coast located along the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, 347 km south of Cairns and 276 km north of Airlie Beach. The city is with its 189,000 inhabitants the largest community north of the Sunshine Coast and is therefore called Northern Queensland’s capital. Townsville has picturesque surroundings. Castle Hill watches over the city, a cliff of pink granite. Too low to be called a mountain but high enough to raise the pulse of those who takes on the challenge of hiking it all the way up to the top. But you can take the car up too, where you are rewarded with panoramic views of the city and Ceveland Bay. From a dam located further in, the waters of Ross River flows towards the coast to finally meet the sea. Glimpse the outlines of Magnetic Island on the horizon, a beautiful island discovered by Europeans when British Captain James Cook sailed to Australia in 1770. The island’s name is said to have originated from when the needle on the compass suddenly moved towards the island just as if it had sensed a magnetic field. One is constantly reminded that this is the tropics.
Magnetic Island (wotif.com/discover/australia/queensland/townsville/west-point/magnetic-island-national-park.d6217248) was previously inhabited by several aboriginal tribes who called the island Yunbenun. Today, the island is one of Townsville’s districts and is inhabited by just over 2,000 inhabitants. The island is hot game for visitors and tourists. You can easily get here by ferry from the mainland (wotif.com/discover/australia/queensland/townsville/magnetic-island-ferry-terminal.d6217205) and it is an appreciated daytrip. Magnetic Island, also called Maggie, offers about twenty beautiful sandy beaches and clear waters for snorkelling and scuba diving. Most of the island is national park with hiking trails where there is a chance to see much wildlife. In addition, one of Australia’s most well-known and biggest festivities is held on the island, called Full Moon Party Australia.
Both Townsville (wotif.com/discover/australia/queensland/townsville.d6047631) and Magnetic Island are destinations that fit young and old and even those who travel on a tighter budget. The city has a rich selection of cosy restaurants, delightful brunch cafes and nice pubs. If you have access to a car, visit the rainforest at Paluma Range National Park. It has several choices of hiking and great vantage points, and you can finish off by swimming in the refreshing waters of Crystal Creek. Or drive out to Billabong Sanctuary Zoo (wotif.com/discover/australia/queensland/townsville/nome/billabong-sanctuary.d6217184) where you can hold a koala or a wombat.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
Something that is a must during a visit to Townsville is to stroll along the seafront promenade, known as the Strand. Here you can find everything from cosy restaurants to bars, shops, sailing clubs and life-saving associations. There is a public water park for children. The beach is a few kilometres long and very popular among joggers, cyclists and pedestrians.
Magnetic Island is a hot tip for those visiting Townsville. This island is just off the coast of Townsville and you can easily reach the island’s Nelly Bay Harbour Port via ferry from Townsville Breakwater in 25 minutes. Tickets for the ferry can be bought in the ferry terminal at Townsville Breakwater or at a slightly discounted price on the company SeaLink’s website (sealinkqld.com.au).
Magnetic Island is a beautiful island with hilly landscapes. The highest altitude Mount Cook rises to 497 meters above sea level. The north-western part of the island is all national park, which is home to various indigenous animals. You can see colourful birds, possums, kangaroos or koalas during a visit here. The national park is home to 800 koalas and is one of the largest koala colonies in northern Australia. During a walk in the national park you have a great chance of seeing wild koalas if you look up among the Eucalyptus leaves.
There are activities that suit most visitors at Magnetic Island. If hiking is not for you, Base backpackers rent out equipment for various water sports, including snorkelling. There are some very good snorkelling reefs at Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay where you can explore the Great Barrier Reef’s marine life. Those who prefer to take it slow during the holidays can easily spend the days at one of the 23 beaches surrounding the island.
An activity that is appreciated by many tourists is the Townsville aquarium Reef HQ (wotif.com/discover/australia/queensland/townsville/reefhq-aquarium.d6217180). The aquarium that is located on Flinders Street in central Townsville counts as the largest in the world when it comes to living coral reefs. Around 130 different kinds of coral along with hundreds of different reef fish, starfish, sea cucumbers, snakes and many more lives in the aquarium. The Reef HQ Turtle Hospital is a part of the aquarium, a place who nurtures wild turtles from the Great Barrier Reef who in some way has gotten injured or sick. Admission is 28 dollars for adults and 14 dollars for children up to 16 years of age. Children under the age of five enter free of charge when accompanied by an adult.
For the animal lover, a visit to Billabong Sanctuary (billabongsanctuary.com.au) might be of interest, it is a zoo 17 km south of Townsville. Meet many indigenous animals such as kangaroos, koalas and crocodiles. For a small coin you can buy animal food in the entrance, which you can then straight out of your hand feed the kangaroos with. You can also hold a koala or feed a living crocodile with the help of skilled animal attendants. Admissions are 36 dollars for adults and 23 dollars for children over four years. For those who do not have access to a car, pick-up and drop-off is available at all accommodations in Townsville and at James Cook University and the ferry terminal. This applies to all days, but pre-booking is required.
The huge hill Castle Hill rises up in Townsville (wotif.com/discover/australia/queensland/townsville/castle-hill.d6087015), just a few meters too short to be classed as a mountain. At the top of this elevation, you have stunning views of Townsville and its coastline, and you will not be a cent poorer as this attraction is completely free. Many choose to drive up the hill along the paved road that stretches almost all the way up to the top, and then walk up the stairs to the vantage points. But why not take the opportunity to test your fitness by walking or jogging up the hill? The way up is at just over two and a half kilometres. Start right at The Strand and from there, walk all the way up the top of the hill.
Just outside Townsville is Mount Stuart, rising 584 meters above sea level. At the top of this height you have wonderful views of Townsville from an organised picnic area. You also have a great chance to spot some beautiful birds and butterflies that thrive in the area.
An hour outside the city is Paluma Range National Park (parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/paluma-range/). There lies the beautiful waterhole Crystal Creek where you can bathe. The area is very picturesque being in the rainforest and with an old stone bridge crossing the water. In addition, just getting here is in itself a nice trip.
Art and culture
Museum Of Tropical Queensland (mtq.qm.qld.gov.au) is something for the cultural interested, or for those travelling with children. Located in the same building as Reef HQ, the museum shows information on Queensland’s archaeology and history. You will also learn more about animal species, ancient Aboriginal culture and ancient Queensland. Among other things, the museum exhibits items from HMS Pandora that sank in 1791. Don’t forget to check out the museum’s famous coral collection. Entrance to the museum is 15 dollars for adults and 8.80 for children.
If you like to party, you should visit Magnetic Island while there is a full moon. The island’s only hostel Base Backpackers organizes Full Moon Party Australia (fullmoondu.com) every month, which is Australia’s version of the gigantic party on Thai Koh Phangan. The party goes on for an entire evening with about 3,000 visitors gathering in the Base Backpacker’s bar and on the beach to dance and have fun. Both local and international DJs are hired to give the best possible musical experience. Get pre-purchase tickets online or buy in the reception desk at Base Backpackers.
Guests staying in Townsville have several good options for a nice night out. A hot tip is to check out the selection of bars along the seafront promenade. The local brewery Townsville brewery (townsvillebrewery.com.au) on 252 Flinders Street are the manufacturers of the popular beer Townsville Bitter. At his place you will find a pleasant atmosphere that suits those who want to enjoy a good beer in good company. The brewery has a restaurant with an á la carte menu as well as a lounge bar with a customary pub menu at cheaper prices where you can expect a meal to cost around 20 dollars. This restaurant is well worth a visit during when you are in Townsville.
For those of you who want to dance the night away at a nightclub, Bullwinkle’s Nightclub, or Bully’s as it is popularly known, is a good club with modern music.
Good to know
At Townsville Bulletin Square Visitor Information Centre at 334A Flinders Street, you can get help with most things. Whether you want to know about activities and sights in the city, or know which accommodations are recommended or get tips for good restaurants or bars. The staff can also help you book tickets to attractions or show maps on the area.
Warnings and preparations
Remember that Townsville and Magnetic Island lies in Northern Queensland and therefore counts as tropical parts of Australia. The climate varies depending on which time of year you choose to visit. May to October are in general beautiful months with temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius and a sun that usually shines.
In October, the season for the deadly Box Jellyfish begins. The season sometimes lasts until mid-April and it can be dangerous to bathe in the sea. Restrictions and prohibition signs are set up at each beach with information on up-to-date situations regarding each season. The rainy season is normally between Christmas and Easter, but some years it may start as early as October. At this time a year, the weather can be very unstable with many showers interspersed with high temperatures and a humidity up to 90 percent.
Townsville and Magnetic Island have accommodation options for all types of budgets. Whether you are looking for a hostel where you can rest your head overnight or if you want to indulge in a bit of flair with a drink at the pool at a hotel, you can easily find options that fits your budget.
There are several good hotel facilities near the sea. The Ville Resort-Casino (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/The_Ville_Resort_Casino.htm) is located on Sir Leslie Thiess Drive near the airport and the Magnetic Island ferry terminal. Within walking distance, you will find Reef HQ Aquarium, Museum of Tropical Queensland and Caste Hill. Other facilities include a steam room, jacuzzi, and an outdoor pool with a bar.
Oaks Gateway Suites (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Oaks_Gateway_Suites.htm) is located in south Townsville in the vicinity of the ferry terminal and Reef HQ Aquarium. This hotel has an outdoor pool, a gym and offers free parking for its guests.
If you are travelling on a tight budget, check out Civic Guest House Backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Civic_Guesthouse.htm). This is a very nice hostel where you can book a private room or a bed in a dormitory for up to six people. The hostel also offers free Wi-Fi to all its guests, as well as pick-up at the ferry terminal or Greyhound’s bus station.
If you are going to Magnetic Island to party and have fun and don’t mind sharing your room with others, check out Base backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Base_Backpackers_Hostel_Magnetic_Island.htm). The hostel lies next to the beach and has wonderful sea views. All guests have access to a swimming pool free of charge, as well as a bar where various events often are organised. Each dormitory is in a private cottage and the area is very cosy, resembling a holiday village.
For those who prefer staying somewhere private and more comfortably during a vacation, check out the luxury of Peppers Blue on Blue (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Peppers_Blue_On_Blue_Resort.htm). The hotel is close to Magnetic Island National Park and offers the guests an outdoor pool and gym, free parking and Wi-Fi, and spa treatments for an additional fee.
A Saturday in Townsville
08:00 – Morning at the beach
Start your day with a proper meal. One of the city’s best places for breakfast and brunch is Jam Corner (jamcorner.com.au) at 1 Palmer Street. Creative and colourful dishes are prepared in the kitchen. Out comes variants on Eggs Benedict, fresh smoothies and newly baked bread. If you think food is one of the highlights of the day, you will not be disappointed. Then take a walk to the beach where you spend the morning in the sun with a book in your hand.
12:00 – Japanese lunch in peace and quiet
You leave the beach and head up to 48 Gregory Street where GYO Japanese Restaurant is located (gyojapaneserestaurant.com.au/menu/lunch/). Order filled dumplings, fresh sushi rolls or bento boxes full of tasty bits. If you still are satisfied from breakfast, buy a tasty coffee at Coffee Dominion (coffeedominion.com.au) at Flinders Square.
13:00 – Beneath the surface
The afternoon is spent at Reef HQ Aquarium. You find entertainment for young and old as you can explore the Barrier Reef’s marine life at a close range. All sorts of colourful fish together with coral and other animals can be seen here. Don’t forget to visit Reef HQ Turtle Hospital, and if you can spare a golden coin or two, any contributions to help them with their work is much appreciated.
17:00 – Local abilities
The stomach is starting to make some noise as dinnertime is approaching. After your visit to the aquarium, walk towards the city centre. Head to The Brewery where you can enjoy a good dinner in their Lounge Bar. The brewery is located a 20-minutes’ walk from the middle of the Strand.
20:00 – Beer tasting
You have such a nice time at the brewery that you choose to stay for a few hours extra, trying their different beers. Ask the bartender what he recommend and taste some of their own specialties. They have pale ale, darker ale and mighty stout, so there should be something to suit every flavour.
22:00 – Nightclub visit
After all the good food and tasty drinks, you feel like moving those legs of yours. And why not finish the evening at one of the city’s nightclubs. Both Bullwinkle’s and the nightclub Mad Cow, located within walking distance of the brewery, are two popular options among the locals. At any of these nightclubs you can dance until the sweat pours and your feet ache.