Things to Do in Townsville
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 Strand is Townsville’s 1.3-mile (2.2-kilometer beach, stretching from Kissing Point Fortification in the north to Breakwater Marina in the south. As well as clean golden sands and the warm sea, visitors can enjoy fishing, kids’ playgrounds, open-air pools, a waterpark, dining with a view, walking along the promenade, and more.
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.
Orpheus Island, or Goolboddi in the local Aboriginal language, is a private island in the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of tropical Northern Queensland. Most of the island is part of the Orpheus Island National Park. There are beautiful coral reefs in the shallow waters offshore from white-sand beaches. There is one luxury resort and three campgrounds to stay at.
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.
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.
Possibly the next best thing to the Great Barrier Reef, the enormous tank at Townsville’s Reef HQ houses the world’s largest living coral reef within an aquarium. Enjoy close-up views of sharks, more than 150 species of fish, and around 120 species of coral—without having to get wet.
Learn about the history, culture, and environment of Northern Queensland at the Museum of Tropical Queensland. A branch of the Queensland Museum Network, this government-run museum educates locals and visitors about this unique part of the country through permanent exhibits, temporary exhibits, talks, and tours.
With more than 300 varieties of palms on display over 42 acres (17 hectares, Townsville’s The Palmetum represents almost every species of palm that exists throughout the world. Visitors can meander along walking paths through the trees and admire the tropical birds that thrive in this lush tropical environment.
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.
More Things to Do in Townsville
Army Museum North Queensland
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.
Kissing Point Fortification
Set on a rocky headland looking out across the ocean, Kissing Point Fortification was built in 1870. For more than 100 years, the fort defended colonial Queensland from such perceived threats as Russian and French forces. Today, it offers sweeping views.
Tumbetin Tea Rooms
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.
Royal Australian Air Force Museum (RAAF Museum)
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.
Townsville’s Jezzine Barracks (also called the Kissing Point Fortification was in continuous use by the military from 1870, the year it was built, until 2006. Now, the former barracks area is administered by a community trust, and offers a range of outdoor, cultural, and historic attractions within landscaped park land.