Townsville is a quiet achiever, often overshadowed by the island on its doorstep – Magnetic Island – or its more touristy neighbour, Cairns. What people don’t often stop to see is that Townsville has a burgeoning food scene, plenty of natural activities in the city or short drive or boat ride away, and you’ll find people passionate about their home and North Queensland and excited to share it with you if you just talk to them!
Looking over my itinerary I noticed that after landing in Townsville I’d be heading straight for Magnetic Island – why weren’t we spending time in Townsville, the biggest city in North Queensland? Quickly sending off a few emails I managed to change my flights and make some new plans – one night in Townsville and a night out in the Paluma Rainforest nearby, perfect. While visiting the city for only a short time, it was more than enough to see just a few of the cities highlights.
How to make the most of your time in Townsville
Where to stay
While in the city I stayed at the Holiday Inn Townsville. Located within the iconic ‘sugar shaker’ building, the rooms are spacious, comfortable and offer a fantastic view across the city to the outlying islands. If you aren’t in the mood to go to the beach, head to the rooftop to make use of their pool deck, complete with BBQ facilities!
Located on Flinders Streets, in the heart of the city, you are within walking distance to great food and some of the must visit highlights. Best of all, public transport is literally on your doorstep.
When to go
With hot, humid summers and warm winters, Townsville hosts warm weather for much of the year and over 320 days of sunshine.
The best time to visit is between May and September where the days are warm, but evenings are cooler. The hottest time of the year is October through April where the weather can be a bit too intense for spending long days outside or in the water.
Magnetic Island Race Week is hosted at the end of August and there are plenty of New Years Eve celebrations along The Strand to usher in the New Year.
What to do
If you’re visiting Townsville you can’t miss Castle Hill. No, seriously – you can’t miss the giant hill located in the middle of the city. From the top are gorgeous views of the city and nearby islands, including the famed Magnetic Island.
For the fitness focused, consider walking to the summit by road or along the hill-top rocky “goat track” which begins at the peaks parking lot. For those who prefer the comfortable way up, there’s also access for vehicles by the road.
Walk along The Strand
The 2.2km seaside foreshore known as ‘The Strand’ is good for a walk but there’s so much to do as well! Explore the restaurants – a personal favourite is Longboards Bar & Grill, take a swim at the Rockpool – a sea salt lagoon, or visit the Tobruk Memorial Baths if you prefer a pool instead of the sea.
If you have kids and it’s a warm day, the water park on The Strand could also provide hours of entertainment!
Visit Reef HQ and the Turtle Hospital
Experience the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet with a visit to Reef HQ, the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium! There are three areas to Reef HQ – the Coral Reef Exhibit with around 120 species of hard and soft corals, the Predator Exhibit which is home to black tip reef sharks, hammerheads and giant trevally, and the Discovery Lagoon that offers a more hands-on experience at different times throughout the day. Also, Reef HQ hosts daily talks and tours, including a Shark Feeding Show!
One of the best experiences I had while in Townsville was visiting the Turtle Hospital at Reef HQ. The turtle hospital offers dedicated facilities to help cure sick or injured marine turtles while also educating the public. The turtles are treated for a variety of conditions including Floating Syndrome, which means they can’t dive for food and protection from predators. Another large female turtle had been hit by a boat and her shell had been severely damaged. The team at the hospital helps the turtles recover and rehabilitate with the hope of releasing them back into the wild.
Be sure to spend at least two hours here, there’s so much to see! For ticket prices, check Reef HQ’s website.
Visit Frosty Mango
Are you a fan on tropical fruit and ice cream? Then make a pit stop at Frosty Mango! The cafe, famous for their fruit-based ice cream and sorbet is incredibly popular with locals. There are dozens of flavours available, including plenty of tropical fruit varieties and bush tucker flavours you won’t see anywhere else. They also serve a small array of sandwiches and wraps.
Located 70km north of Townsville – about an hour outside the city – and 40km south of Ingham on the Bruce Highway, it’s quite a trek but you can easily make the detour if road tripping up to Cairns or out to the Paluma Rainforest.
Discover Townsville’s Military History
It’s not widely know that Townsville is home to Australia’s biggest army base or that Townsville was bombed during Japanese air raids during World War II. Thankfully, they missed their targets and only took out a palm tree! If you want to explore Townsville’s Military History I recommend taking one of the three tours offered by Townsville Military Tours.
If you visit Magnetic Island, you can also take the Forts Walk to see the observation points and gun encampments built to protect Townsville during the war. There’s also plenty of koalas along the walk so check the trees!
Cheer on the North Queensland Cowboys
Sorry AFL fans, that game has no place up North! In Queensland ‘football’ is NRL and North Queensland is proud to call the Cowboys their team. If there’s a game on during you visit be sure to get in on the action. The locals will have you walking away in blue and yellow in no time! Don’t have time for a game? Then take a quick visit to the Cowboys League Club for dining, drinking and the game on the big screen.
Spend 48-hours on Magnetic Island
Relax and unwind on Magnetic Island! The island may be small but has plenty of options for those wanting to relax, get in touch with wildlife or enjoy an adventure or two.
Read my guide on how to spend 48-hours on Magnetic Island and get planning!
Eat + Drink
A Day Trip from Townsville
The Great Barrier Reef is often the most popular day trip from Townsville but if you head inland you’ll venture straight into the Paluma Range National Park, just a half an hour drive from the city.
The Paluma Ranges along with Wallaman Falls, Broadwater Creek, and the Dalrymple Gap all make up the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA). Declared in 1988, the WTWHA covers 8,990sq/km between Townsville and Cooktown. The area contains some of the oldest, continuously surviving rainforests on earth, many rare and endangered plants and animals, and areas with views that will amaze.
You can self-drive through the region, however the roads are often quite narrow with many sharp bends. I joined Hidden Valley Tours on an overnight tour into the National Park’s Highlands and a platypus tour to see the shy natives. If you’re self-driving, accommodation and short tours can be arranged with Hidden Valley Cabins.
Townsville shouldn’t be overlooked on a trip to North Queensland. The history and natural beauty here is fascinating. I’d love to come back again and explore more of the area, and think you should too!
Let me know in the comments:
Have you been to Townsville or North Queensland?
Which do you prefer: relaxing or adventuring?
Planning a trip to Top North Queensland? Check out these posts
My trip to Townsville was arranged by
Tourism & Events Queensland and Tourism Townsville North Queensland.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.