What to do in Townsville

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Townsville, situated in the northern part of the eastern shore, is Australia’s largest tropical city, known as the second capital of Queensland. Although most people head straight for Magnetic Island or Cairns, we chose to spend two days in Townsville. We spent our nights at  Rowes Bay Beachfront Holiday Park, located in the part of Townsville called, funny but true, Belgian Gardens.

Relax in and near the water

Townsville has over 300 days of sunshine each year, with winters almost as warm as our Belgian summers. Luckily it’s a coastal city and refreshment is always within reach. Careful though, when you’re rushing to the sea for a cool dip, as the water is filled with marine stingers from November to May. The stings of these small animals can be life threatening, so don’t take any risks. There is a stinger-resistant enclosure in which you can swim in the sea, or you can opt for the (supposedly safer) Rock Pool, like we did. Access to this outdoor swimming pool, which is filled with filtered seawater, is free. The water isn’t clear, but it’s refreshing and you’re safe from marine stingers. All around the pool is a lawn, great for sunbathing or a picnic. There are barbecues, toilets and both indoor and outdoor showers.

Rock Pool at The StrandRock Pool at The Strand
Don't swim outside of the Stinger NetsDon't swim outside of the Stinger Nets

The 2.2 km long foreshore in Townsville is called  The Strand. All along the beach there’s a promenade with tons of activities, like the Rock Pool, a water park for children, and numerous restaurants and bars. It’s a nice walk and there are some geocaches as well. Parking is free along The Strand, and finding a spot to leave your car wasn’t surprisingly easy as well.

Enjoy some great views

For the nicest and most popular view of Townsville, you have to be on Castle Hill. As it’s just meters short of being a mountain, we opted for the easy way up: in our campervan. On the Saturday morning of our visit a lot of people chose the hard way though: walking (or even speed walking) to the top. Probably lots of locals, all in their nicest sporty outfits, getting their weekly workout. Respect! Too bad we didn’t take a picture. On top of Castle Hill are several viewpoints, some requiring a short climb from the car park. Even on that rainy day Saturday morning, the views were amazing.

On the north end of The Strand, near the Rock Pool, there is a short climb to the  Kissing Point Lookout. The view over the water is very nice and in the meantime you get to learn about the Kissing Point Fort that was there a long time ago. You’ll see leftovers from the fixed coastal defences and read about the history throughout different wars.

Townsville as seen from Castle HillTownsville as seen from Castle Hill

Learn about marine life

The Reef HQ Aquarium is probably the most interesting activity in Townsville. It’s the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium, permitting you to explore the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet. I could stand in the underwater viewing tunnel forever, watching all these amazing sea creatures swim by. In total we spent about 2.5 hours exploring the aquarium and attending all talks and tours. An entrance ticket costs $28 per person (for adults), and is valid for the entire day, allowing you to come and go as you like. There’s free parking across the street on weekends, or you can park along The Strand, which is free at all times.

The first talk we attended was the Creature Feature Workshop at the Discovery Lagoon. I can’t explain it better than described on their website: “a supervised “hands on” encounter with some of the amazing marine creatures of the Great Barrier Reef”. Literally hands on! We could touch sea stars (feel rubbery) and little crabs after listening to a short explanation about these animals and how to interact with them. So cool! However, the Animal Feeding tour was probably even cooler. During the feeding the guides tell interesting facts about the marine creatures that are getting their meal, including sharks, a crocodile and a turtle. Did you know all clown fish (or rather Nemo’s) start out as males and the biggest and strongest ones become females?

Having fun at Reef HQ AquariumHaving fun at Reef HQ Aquarium
Reef HQ Turtle Hospital in TownsvilleReef HQ Turtle Hospital in Townsville

Although the guide giving the Predator Talk wasn’t that great a speaker, her information was very interesting. Apparently sharks come near the coast as well, so no carefree snorkeling like in Southeast Asia! Mostly they are reef sharks though, who only eat small sea creatures like shrimp and form no threat to us. The last talk we attended is one you really shouldn’t miss: the Turtle Talk. I finally learned the difference between a turtle and a tortoise: the former swims, the latter doesn’t. The most interesting and eye-opening part was the visit to the Turtle Hospital though, where sick and injured turtles are nursed back to health before being released back into the ocean. It’s really sad to see the pieces of plastic and other trash they removed from the turtles’ stomachs. Think about those cute and fascinating creatures when you’re considering to litter. Be a responsible traveller (or local)!

Our visit to the Reef HQ Aquarium was definitely our favourite activity in Townsville. We learned a lot and got a sneak preview of marine life in the Great Barrier Reef, before going on a three day liveaboard dive trip. Townsville is definitely worth a stop when you’re passing by. Soak in the relaxed atmosphere of a coastal city bathing in sunlight practically year-round and enjoy the nice views.