Things to Do in Townsville
There are few items that define the tropics more than a rustling palm tree, and at Townsville’s lush, palm-strewn Palmetum, visitors will find a different palm species for every day of the year. This botanical garden has 360 different species of palms—enough to account for 15% of palm species known to man. Thanks to Townsville’s tropical climate—where nearly 75% of annual rainfall occurs in a span of two months—the sunshine, heat, and copious moisture allows for a set of microclimates that’s perfect for growing palms. When wandering the 42 acres of trails, visitors will pass beneath 60 species of native Australian palms, as well as those from Madagascar, Sri Lanka, India, and the Seychelles. In addition to the stunning diversity of palms, the Palmetum is known for its fascinating collection of rare and exotic species. It’s widely regarded as one of the world’s premiere collection of palms, and once you’ve finished wandering through the Savannah, rainforest, and lagoon, relax with a tea and homemade sweets at historic Tumbetin Lodge.
Imagine an island risen up in the midst of the Great Barrier Reef, surrounded by turquoise waters and tropical coast. Orpheus Island is a private island situated between Townsville and Cairns that is exactly that — 1,300 hectares of isolated and protected land and national park. At just 1 kilometer wide and 11 kilometers long, the unspoiled island is the perfect base to explore the underwater wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. There are dozens of trails and scenic lookouts perched amongst the hills of Eucalyptus trees.
Due to the seclusion of the island and a limited number of guests, Orpheus Island has become known for its privacy and luxury. Its beaches and bays are fringed by one of the largest reefs in the world, complete with its colorful coral and nearly 1,100 species of fish. There are also indigenous Aboriginal sites and shipwrecks to explore in the warm waters surrounding the island.
Prior to the advent of rail in Australia, Townsville was an outpost in Northern Queensland that could only be reached by sea. Ships and lightkeepers were essential to the region’s connection with the rest of the world, and this small museum in central Townsville explores the area’s lengthy past with ships, sailors, and the sea. Shaped like the bow of theSS Yongala—a passenger ship that mysteriously sank off the coast in 1911—the museum features a fascinating exhibit on theSS Yongala itself, from its construction in England to its service in Australia and its discovery in 1958. History buffs will also find the historic Bay Rock Lighthouse, which was originally built on Magnetic Island in 1886. It was one of Queensland’s first lighthouses, and was manned by lightkeepers until tragedy struck in March of 1920. Today the dome of the original lighthouse is on display at the museum, nearby a boat shed that houses a lifeboat that was used in the filmAustralia. The main attraction of the museum, however, is the fleet of model ships, which are fantastically detailed and constructed using the same designs as the originals. TheHMAS Townsville is also docked in the creek outside the museum—a haven of maritime history and heritage in the heart of bustling Townsville.
Northern Queensland’s Billabong Sanctuary replicates a natural Australian billabong, or watering hole, where a range of native Australian animals live. Visitors see koalas, wombats, crocodiles, snakes, parrots, and more on a tour of the park and also enjoy wildlife talks and animal feedings.
Since 2000, the Museum of Tropical Queensland—the only branch of the museum north of Brisbane—has been exploring the culture, traditions and heritage of this diverse area. Visitors can learn more about the history of the HMS Pandora—a famous ship that sank off the coast of Cape York in the late 1700s and examine recovered artifacts on display in museum halls. Another exhibit even teaches guests how to load and fire a replica of one of the ship’s cannons.
Monthly lectures and unique educational programs are just part of what makes a trip to the Museum of Tropical Queensland memorable. And the Enchanted Rainforest, which explores the diverse ecosystem—complete with rope bridge and slide—is a popular stops for visiting families.
Castle Hill is a 938-foot (286-meter), pink granite, heritage-listed hill that stands behind central Townsville. It’s a popular lookout point with sweeping views of Townsville, the ocean, and Magnetic Island. The hill also offers 15 different hiking trails of various levels of difficulty.
The world’s largest living coral reef aquarium, the Reef HQ Aquarium (Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium) is located on Queensland’s Tropical Far North coast in Townsville. It offers a great way to experience the natural wonder of the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet.
Reef HQ Aquarium is the National Reef Education Centre for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which translates to mean that Reef HQ is designed to show off the best of the Great Barrier Reef and educate visitors about this marvelous ecosystem. Reef HQ opened in 1987 as the vision of Dr Graeme Keller, who wanted to make the reef both accessible and affordable in order to spread awareness of conservation and get public support in protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
Reef HQ Aquarium showcases the rare and extraordinary features of the Great Barrier Reef—one of the world’s richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world. Alongside exhibits of the reef, Reef HQ is involved heavily in reef research programs and runs a turtle hospital to rehabilitate sick and injured turtles.
All roads in central Townsville eventually lead to The Strand. As the city’s most beautiful and popular beach, The Strand is the sparkling centerpiece of Townsville’s golden coast. Even better, it has twice been voted “Australia’s Cleanest Beach” for its tidy, modern facilities. Take a jog on the walking paths that weave along the coast, or plan an afternoon barbecue or picnic on the park’s expansive lawn.
Fishermen gather at the northern end, in front of Kissing Point Fort, as bathers wade in the famous Rock Pool that faces out to sea. If it’s “stinger” season for Queensland’s box jellies, the section of beach just south of the pool has stinger nets and lifeguards. Waves are rarely an issue here, and it’s easy to simply float on your back and feel the sun on your face. For an extended trip when walking The Strand, make the climb up to Kissing Point Fort, where views stretch out to Magnetic Island and the vast Pacific beyond. The passenger ferry to Magnetic Island also departs from The Strand, and families will enjoy the large waterpark that’s perfect for children. Add in roadside cafés and restaurants just steps from the manicured grounds, and it’s easy to see why the famous Strand is the most happening place in town.
The shores of Queensland are known for their rugged beauty, untouched coastlines and breathtaking landscapes. Nowhere is Mother Nature’s splendor more evident than on Magnetic Island, a popular holiday destination across the water from Townsville.
With 27 square kilometers of scenic walking paths, impressive mountains and even a densely populated bird sanctuary, Magnetic Island is paradise for lovers of the outdoors. A national park covers more than half the island and in addition to plenty of hiking, anglers will find some of the sea’s best fishing opportunities, too. Full moon parties, which take place with each new moon, and the Great Tropical Jazz Party every August, are two of the island’s best celebrations.
For over a century, the Jezzine Barracks protected Townsville from the threat of outside attack. Cannons and guns were placed high atop the promontory, facing out toward the blue horizon ready to put up a fight. Today, after a massive, modern redevelopment of the aging historical barracks, Jezzine Barracks is a public park that not only honors its military past, but also retains the cultural heritage of its native Aborginal peoples. Located on the western end of Townsville’s popular beachfront Strand, the Jezzine Barracks offer sweeping views of the Rock Pool and Magnetic Island.
Weave your way up the walking trail in the hours just before sunset, stopping to admire the sculpture garden and historical military tributes. From atop the large, rocky headland, the entirety of Townsville’s happening shoreline sits directly at your feet, and there’s no better place on Townsville’s coast for enjoying a sunrise or sunset. For a deeper look at the military past, visit the Army Museum of North Queensland that’s located right here at the Barracks, where displays range from the early days of Australia’s original defenses, all the way up to modern conflicts and the men who have protected and served.
More Things to Do in Townsville
Townsville’s close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef has made it a destination for underwater adventurers. Travelers from across the globe gather here to don wetsuits and oxygen tanks in search of some of the most memorable deep-sea landscapes on earth.
Perhaps no dive is more famous than SS Yongala. It sends travelers far below the surface of the sea and more than 100 years back in time to 1911, when this notorious ship sank—along with all of its 122 passengers—in a massive ocean storm.
Today divers can explore the coral encrusted remains of this great ship while taking in the typical stingrays, tropical fish and sea turtles of standard dives. Travelers say that an impressive amount of ocean life paired with an up-close look the wreckage of one of Australia’s most famous nautical tragedies make this a truly memorable experience.
In the early stages of World War II, when Japanese forces were systematically taking over the Pacific, Northern Queensland was more of a buffer—rather than a place to protect. After all, this rural outpost of reefs and rainforest was very thinly populated, and acted more as a massive shield for Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney. The lone exception was dusty Townsville, where a Royal Australian Air Force base was constructed during the war. The base was primarily a launching pad for sorties throughout the Pacific, but gradually became the epicenter of forces protecting Queensland.
Today, the Royal Australian Air Force Museum (RAAF Museum) is an ode to soldiers who served and fought from bases right here in Townsville. The museum is located right next door to Townsville’s commercial airport, where it’s still possible to hear air traffic control on crackly museum radios. Hear the tales of Australian pilots who were based right here in Townsville, and see the uniforms that the soldiers would carry heroically into battle. This is one of the Royal Australian Air Force’s oldest and most meaningful bases, and a great place to brush up on Australia’s military past.
A lot of people tend to forget that Australians were wary of Russians. At least that was the case in the late 1800s, when Kissing Point Fortification was first established on Townsville’s ocean view headland. For 100 years the Australian military manned and managed this fort, which endured everything from Japanese bombings to defense from colonial threats. Today the draw of Kissing Point Fortification is the sweeping hilltop view, which stretches out to Magnetic Island and the popular Rock Pool below. For visitors interested in military history, hike to the former gun emplacements that guarded over the city, or duck your head as you walk through bunkers built in case of attack. Public artworks also honor the area’s Aboriginal heritage, and the Army Museum of North Queensland is in nearby Jezzine Barracks. The Kissing Point Fortification passed many years in dire need of repairs, but savvy locals still frequented the area to take in the views. Today the walk to the top, however, is a natural extension of The Strand, and offers a welcome and unexpected lesson on the storied history of Townsville.
In the language of the local Nywaigi Aboriginal people, the Paluma Range is known as Munan Gumburu, or “misty mountains”—a fitting name for a place largely made up of dense rain forest with frequent atmospheric fog, especially in the morning. Travelers head to the park to hike, swim, and see the waterfalls.
Seeing as they guarded Queensland’s coast for over 100 years, it only make sense that Townsville’s military be given a proper museum. Here at the Army Museum North Queensland at Jezzine Barracks, visitors will learn of Japanese attack and fear of Russian invasion, and also hear of Australia’s involvement in Korea and Vietnam. Collections include cannons, guns, and artillery that stood at Kissing Point Fort—some of which has only been discovered during recent, exceptionally low tides. Take a walk through re-created tunnels that were used in World War I, and hear the tales of North Queensland soldiers who fought, and died, in battle. With interactive displays, visitors of all ages can tour the museum and be entertained for hours, and a network of walking paths up Kissing Point Fort lies just outside the museum. For visitors with an interest in history, the museum offers gripping, first-hand accounts of Queensland’s soldiers and battles, and since Townsville is closer to Papua New Guinea than it is to Melbourne or Sydney, it geographically has somewhat fended for itself over all these years. Since the museum is only open a few hours, be sure to arrive early and allow ample time to tour this fascinating spot.
Situated at the entrance to Palmetum gardens, the Tumbetin Tea Rooms are part of Townsville’s historic Tumbetin Lodge. Built from Australian Silky Oak in 1934, it served as both a railway house as well as a Catholic school. After being relocated to Palmetum gardens in 1993, it now provides visitors a classy site for brunch and afternoon tea. Relax inside the historic venue with a cup of loose leaf tea, and nibble on freshly baked pastries and cakes just steps from thousands of palms. Popular among locals for wedding receptions, the Tumbetin Lodge is one of Townsville’s most comfortable and scenic venues, and after sipping that last cup of tea, enjoy a stroll through the neighboring gardens and hundreds of species of palms. If you’re lucky, you might spot a Blue Winged Kookaburra flitting about in the palms, or brush turkeys silently stalking their way through the bush below.