Townsville has changed a lot over the years and its reputation as one of the jewels of the tropical north is now well established.
While the superb dry season climate may once have been the prime reason for grey nomads to flock here, these days there are plenty of other drawcards as well.
While Captain James Cook visited the Townsville region on his first voyage to Australia in 1770, he did not actually land here. The first European to do so was Captain Phillip King in 1819 … and he certainly wouldn’t recognise the place now. And nor would a certain Mr Robert Towns, the man after whom Townsville is named and who famously only visited the place only once for three days.
For a start, there’s now no shortage of things to do … vibrant festivals, street parades, musical theatre and plenty of top-class sporting action. And when you throw in developments such as The Strand, a multi-million dollar beachfront promenade custom-built for enjoyment, it only adds to the sense that this is the place to be. Along this palm tree-studded stretch you’ll find bike paths, safe swimming beaches, pretty picnic spots, an award-winning water park plus chic restaurants with to-die-for water views. Okay, okay … I know budgets are sometimes tight but we can peer in the windows as we stroll past, can’t we?
It’s also a great city for history buffs to enjoy. The Museum of Tropical North Queensland is certainly a must-see and one of the highlights is the fantastic display on the ill-fated journey of the Pandora. The Pandora was the ship used by the British to capture many of the Bounty mutineers but it sank after striking the Great Barrier Reef in 1791. The wreck was located in 1977. More recently some artefacts from the ship have been recovered and are on display at the museum, along with information about its last voyage and the fate of the mutineers. The exhibit houses a built-to-scale section of the Pandora plus fascinating artefacts recovered from the sunken ship, from the captain’s china to a menacing canon.
Townsville’s Reef HQ is another major attraction. It’s a 2.5 million-litre living recreational section of the reef in an indoor aquarium. Home to 130 coral species and 120 fish species, as well as many other types of marine animal life, Reef HQ is the ideal way to explore the reef without getting your feet wet.
If it’s views from within the city you are after, you should definitely make the climb to the top of Castle Hill for sensational vistas of the city and Magnetic Island. It’s also an idyllic spot to watch the sun set over Cleveland Bay.
For shoppers, North Queensland’s largest arts and crafts market, the Flinders Mall Cotters Market, is a great place to pick up a souvenir, a bargain, or a gift for a loved one ‘back home’.
IN THE AREA
The natural gems of nearby Wet Tropics rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef and Magnetic Island are within easy reach from here … and that’s probably the best bunch of neighbours you could ask for! A beautiful 25-minute ferry ride away, Magnetic Island was originally named by Captain Cook in the mistaken belief that ore deposits there were playing tricks with his compass. Today its relaxed atmosphere and many sheltered and picturesque beaches and bays make it a must-visit destination for most grey nomads.
But wait, there’s more. Historic Charters Towers and Ravenswood are close by too, but … depending on your schedule … they really are worth a stay all of their own.
The rainforests of World Heritage-listed Paluma Range National Park are just a 45-minute drive north of the city. Here ancient trees are interspersed with pretty waterfalls, swimming holes and several walking trails. This is a prime destination for bird watchers with an estimated 256 species of birds in the park. Townsville is also a great base from which to explore the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. There are plenty of trips available to scuba dive, snorkel or view the aquatic scenery through glass bottom boat.
MAKE SURE YOU …
Stroll along the Strand promenade and drink in the sense of Townsville; see the Pandora at the Museum of Tropical North Queensland; think about what a mistake Robert Towns made by leaving after just three days; get your bird-watching binoculars out and head to Paluma Range National Park; check out the views from the top of Castle Hill.
WHERE TO CAMP
As you might expect for such a grey nomad haven, caravan park options within, and close to, the city itself are numerous and well appointed. This is a great place to park up for while, meet fellow travellers and get yourself set up for the next leg of your endless adventure.
At Paluma Range National Park, there’s great camping at both Big Crystal Creek camping area and Jourama Falls. The Queensland national park permit system applies and you’ll certainly need to book again in peak times. Another great national park camping option just 30 kilometres or so south of Townsville is Bowling Green National Park. It’s a top spot and the Alligator Creek Walk, which climaxes at a scenic waterfall, is a well worth the effort as well … but, be warned, it is a fair effort!