Known by many as the capital of northern Queensland, Townsville boasts a huge range of popular and unique attractions sure to keep all the family busy. We called in recently and stayed a week to explore the area and visit some of the attractions and to enjoy the famous north QLD sunshine.
Townsville is located around 1350km’s north of QLD’s capital, Brisbane and is regularly serviced by rail, air and coach services- but lets face it, a caravanning holiday ‘up north’ is one of the best ways to discover the amazing QLD coastline. Or for something different but equally enjoyable, take one of the many inland road journeys through towns like Biloela, Emerald and Charters Towers or explore the option of an extended remote outback adventure through Charleville, Longreach and Winton- either way, make sure you add Townsville to your itinerary.
A great way to escape the winter chills of down south whilst making the most of northern Queensland’s perfect mid-year climate. In fact, Townsville boasts a yearly average of 300 days of sunshine and 28 degree daytime temperatures during winter.
When we first arrived in Townsville, we were surprised by just how big the city was. And a stop by the tourist info centre for a town brochure quickly made us realise that there are plenty of great things to do to keep us adults happy and the kids too of course. Let us take you through our favourites.
One of the highlights of our visit was our time spent at The Strand. Located along the Townsville foreshore, The Strand is a fantastic spot for families, a great spot to take a lazy stroll, take a swim or have a picnic under the shady trees. If only more coastal towns embraced their natural foreshore area as well as Townsville has. Definitely one of Townsville’s greatest assets.
The Strand is around 2kms in length and straddles the scenic beach front precinct. A mix of open grassy areas and recreational spaces. Scattered along the promenade are kids playgrounds, picnic tables with bbq’s and a few cafes. But, the highlights for us was the fantastic FREE water park and the Rock Pool. The kids were able to enjoy safe swimming at the beach and riding their scooters along the shared cycleways and footpaths.
The jetty seemed to be a popular spot to try your luck at fishing (although we didn’t), many people seemed to be doing ok- especially the smaller kids who were enjoying catching even the smallest of fish.
The Reef HQ Aquarium
The Reef HQ Aquarium was a real hit with our kids (and us). Just like their advertising brochure states “experience the reef without getting wet”- that’s exactly how it felt. The displays were fantastic and a real credit to the staff who put in a lot of hard work. The Reef HQ is the worlds largest living coral reef aquarium and our visit here was actually a treat for our sons 7th birthday. He saw this place advertised in the brochure and talked us into taking him.
Inside the Reef HQ are exhibits and displays of actual living corals in a perfectly balanced ecosystem- a re-creation of the Great Barrier Reef with over 120 different fish species. Here you can watch up close as you walk through the glass viewing tunnel- turtles, tropical fish, sting rays and sharks (amongst other species).
We took a self-guided tour through the centre, got to see the many interactive displays, took plenty of photos and timed our visit just right to sit it on the Predator Dive Show where got to speak to an underwater diver who was giving us talk on the animals as they swam past.
The touch tank was a great experience too, our kids got to hold a starfish and a few other marine species whilst one of the staff talked us about the reef and how the animals survive- a real educational opportunity.
The Reef HQ is home of the Turtle Hospital and you can take a guided tour to learn about what they do at the centre and how they care for the turtles that require a visit. When we were there, they were caring for a turtle that had ingested plastic and was a real eye opener for our kids to realise how important not dumping rubbish is, especially around waterways. It was great to see on the news a few weeks later that they released that same turtle back into the ocean- our kids were very pleased at the outcome! Well done Reef HQ and the turtle doctors……
Army Museum of Northern Queensland
We felt like our visit to Townsville was starting to feel a lot like a school excursion, so many educational opportunities and lots of learning going on. We didn’t mind one little bit though and our kids were embracing all the attractions with enthusiasm and were enjoying all the ‘cool’ things they were getting to see and do. We were learning quite a bit ourselves too so we really felt we were getting value for money out of our stay.
We fondly remember our visit to the Military Bunkers in Darwin a few years back and just how much we enjoyed that, so we made sure we set aside some time to visit the Army Museum of Northern Queensland too. We have a few family members and a couple of mates who are serving (or have served) in the Armed Forces and we are always interested in getting some insight into what present day army life is like and also get a snapshot of the struggles and hardships our troops battled back in WWI & II. They also have a gallery of more recent conflicts such as the Vietnam and Korean wars- a lot of moving photos of the troops in action and you cant help but feel proud but also very emotional as we did the tour.
The Army Museum of Northern Queensland has a great collection of memorabilia from past and present and showcases exhibits of clothing, examples of food rations right up to weaponry- decommissioned machine guns, tanks…. lots of cool stuff.
Entry is by donation and is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays (9am till 1pm). You will find the museum at the Jezzine Barracks at the northern end of The Strand.
A short drive south of Townsville is a fabulous attraction that is sure to appease the animal lovers-Billabong Sanctuary! A fantastic place that focussed on the conservation of native Australian fauna. The sanctuary is home to over 100 Australian animals that are located throughout the compound and where some roam free and come to greet you whilst some are kept in specialised enclosures that replicate their natural habitat.
From cute and cuddly to the more frightening encounters, the Billabong Sanctuary is one of QLD’s best animal experiences. You can get up close and cuddle a Koala, hold a crocodile or if you are brave enough, you can have one the guides help you wrap a python over your shoulders.
A big hit for us was we finally got to see an elusive cassowary (albeit in captivity).
You are able to walk through the sanctuary at your own leisure and periodically throughout the day, rangers will give talks and demonstrations on various animals and you can participate in some of the many animal feeding opportunities.
Probably one of the most popular spots to visit in the Townsville region is Magnetic Island, or Maggie Island as the locals call it. Located not all that far from the mainland (8kms in fact), Magnetic Island can be readily accessed from Townsville via ferry. You can even take your own vehicle across. Or, you may like to hire a vehicle or scooter over there to get around, choose to walk or perhaps ride a bicycle.
Swimming, snorkelling, cruising or relaxing on the beaches are the main reasons people love going to the island so much. The waters are clear and perfect for a snorkel and the many sailing boat companies offer some rather inviting experiences and cruises around the island.
Either from the beaches and bays or out on the water- you are bound to see dolphins swimming, fish jumping and if you are lucky you may even spot a turtle or 2.
There are numerous shops on the island that entertain a day trip with shopping in mind- plenty of boutique gift shops, dive shops and souvenir shops. There are people who actually live on the island permanently (lucky them), so there are shops that can cater for all your needs. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants that offer some fantastic dining choices.
Considering the price of the ferry, most people like to make the most of their visit and choose to stay overnight (or maybe a few nights) on the island. Camping is an option but the most popular choice is often to stay at one of the many hotels, a B&B or a self contained villa.
Short Day Trips
If hopping in your car and venturing out to explore the surrounding area is something you enjoy (like we do) then you certainly wont be lost to find somewhere to go when in Townsville. Starting from the city, a drive up to Castle Hill is certainly worth the steep climb. From the top of this rocky monolith you are treated to 360 degree panoramic views of the city and out to Magnetic Island. Choose a nice clear, sunny day and you are bound to take some great photos from the top.
Venturing out from Townsville itself, heading north can take you to numerous national parks with fantastic rainforest drives and tropical waterfalls. Set aside a full day to head north and be prepared for a few short walks but the rewards are worth it, especially after some rain. Take a picnic lunch and your swimmers. Our favourite was the Paluma Range National Park.
The best bet is to head to the local Tourist Information Centre and grab some information on the self drive tours that are available, let them know what your interests are as they a have a selection of suggested itineraries to suit the history buffs, the nature lovers and the adventurous.
Where to Stay
If you have brought your caravan or camper along and want to find a holiday park to base yourself then you wont have to look too hard. There are several holiday parks in Townsville to choose from. Some are located close to the coast such as the popular Rowes Bay Caravan Park which is also only a short drive to the CBD.
We personally chose to stay at Big 4 Woodlands Holiday Park which located a few minutes north of the city. We knew we would be exploring the northern fringes of the city so this made a convenient place to stay- and the facilities were great, especially the resort style pool. We had our own ensuite site with toilet and shower which was a nice treat. There was a supermarket just up the road and the drive into the CBD was easy enough. We would definitely go back and stay there again.
Reef HQ Aquarium www.reefhq.com.au
Billabong Sanctuary www.billabongsanctuary.com.au
Magnetic Island www.magnetic-island.com.au
QLD National Parks www.nprsr.qld.gov.au
Rowes Bay Caravan Park www.rowesbaycp.com.au
Big 4 Woodlands Holiday Park www.big4woodlands.com.au