Top 10 Things To Do In Townsville | Townsville for Families
When you’re talking about holidays in Queensland, it’s often Cairns, the Whitsundays and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts that tend to get a lot of the attention. But Townsville, the capital of North Queensland, is a worthy destination in its own right. A tropical city of 180,000 people, and with great a relaxed atmosphere, there’s a surprising amount to do in Townsville for families. Below are 10 attractions that make Townsville deserving of consideration for your next family holiday.
1. Castle Hill
Castle Hill is the iconic landmark of Townsville, a hill only a few feet short of a mountain with two huge sheer rock cliffs facing the sea. The logo from the TV show ‘The Saint’ was painted on one of the cliffs in the 60s by James Cook University students. Unlike Brisbane, Townsville is mostly flat so the visual impact of the hill is even greater. If you have a car, you can drive to the top of the hill for an incredible view of Townsville and surrounding islands. Or you can join locals running, walking or cycling to the top in the early morning or late afternoon out of the heat of the sun. Many use the road, so be careful if you drive up at this time. Others use the ‘goat tracks’, rough paths up through the scrub to the top of the hill.
2. The Strand
‘South Bank by the sea’ is probably the best way for someone from Brisbane to picture the Strand, a 2.2km stretch of beaches bounded by walking and cycling paths, playgrounds, parks, cafes and bars. There’s two stinger nets and the artificial Rockpool for swimming, but the highlight for kids is likely to be the water park, which is a great way to beat the heat. It features water slides, cannons, mushrooms and the local kids’ favourite: a 1000L bucket that tips over every five minutes, cascading water over everyone standing below.
3. Museum of Tropical Queensland
The museum’s permanent exhibitions focus on the culture, reef, rainforest and animals of North Queensland, both past and present. It also showcases the story of the HMS Pandora, the ship sent by the British to intercept the Bounty following the mutiny. The museum houses artefacts and information about the HMS Pandora, but it’s the interactive ‘Your Shipwreck Adventure’ exhibition that will hold the most appeal for kids. There are also temporary exhibitions, many of which are designed for children.
4. Magnetic Island
Just 20 minutes from Townsville by ferry, Magnetic Island is a suburb with a difference. It’s a tropical escape with lapping seas, fringing reefs and a laidback vibe that will permeate even the most jaded city dweller. ‘Maggie’ can easily be done as a day trip but it’s even better if you can spare a few nights to truly soak up the island atmosphere and explore the different bays. Your family can swim, fish, snorkel, dive, hike, hire watercraft or just relax on the beach. For more details, see our full review (link to ‘Magnetic Island for families’).
5. Billabong Sanctuary
This wildlife park, located 17km south of Townsville, derives its name from the billabong at its centre. Home to crocodiles, koalas, kangaroos, wombats, bilbies and more, kids will love the chance to get up close and personal with Australia’s native wildlife. The billabong gives the park a natural feel, as does the fact that some animals such as kangaroos are able to wander freely around the park. The park is intimate rather than huge, but you could easily spend several hours here if you join the talks, feeding shows and opportunities to pose with animals throughout the day. You can escape the midday heat in the free swimming pool, or at the café or BBQ area.
6. Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef should need no introduction: a 2000km-long, natural wonder of the world. The most popular reef destination close to Townsville is the wreck of the SS Yongala, which is rated one of the best wreck dives in the world. It can be accessed from Townsville or Ayr, one hour’s drive south. The wreck is limited to more experienced divers, so other reef trips are more likely to be appropriate for the whole family, unless you are all keen divers. You can visit other parts of the reef, such as Lodestone Reef and Orpheus Island, on day trips from Townsville, or snorkel or dive on fringing reefs around Magnetic Island. Whale watching trips are available over winter. There’s generally no age limit to snorkel, but children must be at least 12 years old and have passed a medical to dive.
7. Reef HQ
If you want to encounter the reef without stepping foot on a boat, then you need go no further than Reef HQ, which Pixar visited while researching Finding Nemo. The two main exhibits are the coral reef tank, which is the largest living coral reef in an aquarium, and the predator tank. The large viewing windows allow you to watch fish of all sizes and colours dart around the coral outcrops in the reef tank, while sharks, gropers, manta rays, turtles and more circle the predator tank. There are smaller exhibits with other reef species, and a cutaway of a mangrove with turtles and crocodiles. There’s also a café and a children’s play area. You can join tours to see the turtle hospital, watch the animals feed, hear from a diver in the predator tank, and have a hands-on experience at the Discovery Lagoon. The staff and volunteers are friendly and eager to share their knowledge about the amazing marine life that lives off our coast.
8. Kissing Point
Kissing Point is a headland located at the Rockpool end of The Strand that was originally home to Jezzine army barracks. After a $40 million redevelopment, it can now be accessed and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Townsville is a garrison city, home to Australia’s largest army base; Kissing Point commemorates this military history. You can see gun emplacements, read information plaques and visit the Army Museum North Queensland. The museum is free and has exhibits that kids will enjoy, such as recreations of World War I trenches. The opening hours are limited so check before you go. The museum is free to enter but donations are appreciated. Kissing Point also acknowledges the indigenous owners of the land through Aboriginal sculptures and an ethno-botanical trail that explains the various uses indigenous people had for the local flora. If your kids have had enough of soaking up history and just want to let off some steam, Kissing Point also includes a playground, picnic tables, lookouts and walks.
Townsville’s inland counterpart to the coastal Strand, Riverway is set along the banks of the Ross River. You can walk along the river or use one of the bridges to cross to the other bank – keep an eye out for turtles! The kids can then cool off in the swimming lagoons while you sip a coffee in the overlooking café or tuck into something more substantial. If you want to bring your own food, there are picnic tables and BBQs. There are also playgrounds for children to enjoy. If you’re looking for some culture, the free Pinnacles Art Gallery in the Riverway Arts Centre showcases both local and touring artworks or you can take the public art trail. Once a month from May to December, Riverway hosts free movies and moonlight markets.
You could spend your entire holiday just in Townsville, but the city is also the gateway to a wider region with other great destinations for families. Paluma, a small town about 70km north of Townsville, is an enjoyable day trip if you have access to a car. The main attractions for kids are the nearby creeks. Big Crystal Creek and Little Crystal Creek, so-named because of their crystal clear waters, are home to swimming holes, rock slides and waterfalls. The road crosses Little Crystal Creek over a picturesque heritage-listed stone arch bridge. There are picnic facilities at both creeks, and you can pitch a tent at Big Crystal Creek if you want to extend your stay. Paluma itself is a small mountain town featuring arts and crafts and several hikes of varying lengths, on which you can try to spot some of the rare native birds that call the area home. Break up the drive there or back with a stop at Frosty Mango, a North Queensland institution, for an ice cream or some tropical fruit grown on-site.
Getting to Townsville for families
Townsville is a 15-hour drive from Brisbane up the Bruce Highway. If you don’t want to hear “Are we there yet?” for 15 hours, flying is also an option. QANTAS, Virgin and Jetstar all service the two-hour route to Townsville. Once in the city, there are multiple car hire options.
For more information on visiting Townsville, check out www.townsvillenorthqueensland.com.au.