Many travellers to Far North Queensland base themselves in Cairns, but those looking for an even lower key option should turn their sights to Townsville, 350km to the south. Fun fact: the city boasts 320 days of sunshine every year. With a rental car ready to go, you can explore the town and all that surrounds it: pristine beaches, extraordinary natural wonders, and towns with fascinating histories.
You’ll need a couple of days to make the most of the city but take even more time to head out on detours to all the other attractions that catch your eye. Here’s a few fun and inexpensive things to do and places to see on your bargain Townsville break.
While there’s plenty of incredible attractions that will make you want to hit the road and explore, be sure to get acquainted with Townsville. At the north end of the city’s popular Strand, Kissing Point Headland had been an important military outpost for more than 120 years. More recently, a $40 million redevelopment has turned Jezzine Barracks into a heritage precinct. There’s a coastal boardwalk and 30 specially commissioned art installations celebrating both the area’s military history of the area and its importance to the local Bindal and Wulgurukaba People. Plus, you can check out the Army Museum North Queensland.
If you’re looking for more ways to stretch your legs, head to Castle Hill, the pink granite monolith near the centre of town. It’s almost big enough to be a mountain and although you can drive almost all the way to the top, there are also a couple of walking trails – the most popular is known as the Goat Track – leading to the summit. Give yourself about 45 minutes to make it to the top, from where you can gaze out over the whole city, as well as Magnetic Island.
There’s no shortage of islands to visit in this part of the world, but Magnetic Island is just a 40-minute ride on the car ferry from Townsville. It’s not cheap to put the rental car on the ferry, but it does give you a lot more options on arrival. Whether you’re after beaches, walking, sea kayaking or diving and snorkelling, you’ll discover it all. Some of the best snorkelling spots – Florence Bay and Arthur Bay – are on the northeast corner of the island, and you’ll absolutely want to head there for colourful coral and lots of marine life. At Arthur Bay, you can also see the wreck of the Platypus.
“Maggie”, as the locals call this patch of paradise, is two-thirds national park and home to incredible birdlife and hundreds of koalas. One of the best places to see them is on the Forts Walk from Horseshoe Bay. If you don’t see any there, make your way to the Magnetic Island Koala Sanctuary at Bungalow Bay, where there are three ranger tours each day.
It’s a decent drive, but on arrival you’ll know you made the right choice. In North Queensland, everyone’s attention tends to be focused on the Great Barrier Reef, but Wallaman Falls, about a 2.5-hour drive northwest of Townsville, almost matches it for wow factor. At almost 300 metres high, its Australia’s largest permanent drop waterfall, set in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and it will leave you open-mouthed. If you’ve got the energy, there’s a steep path from the lookout at the top of the falls to the base of the gorge. As you get further down, the roar of Wallaman gets louder, until you come out of the rainforest and into the mist where you might be lucky enough to see a rainbow. You can even cool off with a dip in the pool at the bottom of the falls before you take on the hike back to the top.
Take your time on the drive back. You’ll go through plenty of small towns, pass expansive pineapple farms around the town of Rollingstone, and can even find almost deserted beaches for a walk. Balgal Beach, just north of Townsville, is a great place to stretch your legs on the golden sand and go for a dip.
Head southwest from the coast to visit Charters Towers, 140km from Townsville. Gold was discovered here in 1871 and, during the next 50 years or so, about 170 tons of the precious metal was extracted. The town grew so big so fast it was nicknamed the World. Some of the buildings from that time still exist, and the laidback town is steeped in history. Wander the heritage-lined streets and check out the diggings, head up to Towers Hill for the sunset then, if you’re not ready to head back to Townsville, see what’s showing at the Tors Drive-in Cinema or join the Haunted Charters Towers Ghost Walk for a spine-tingling time.
Ready to travel to Townsville and beyond? Hire a rental car to complete your journey.