Sandwiched between the outback and the reef, Townsville is a tropical Queensland city with a cool vibe. As the gateway to Magnetic Island and one of the top shipwreck diving sites in the world, there are plenty of things to do in Townsville that you won’t find anywhere else. Along with the world’s largest coral reef aquarium and other impressive redevelopment projects, Townsville is well and truly on the map.
Surrounded by a hinterland of tropical rainforests, Townsville is also close to historic gold mining towns in the Queensland outback, several Queensland islands and one of the most stunning natural Australian landmarks of all, the Great Barrier Reef.
20 Things to do in Townsville
1- Enjoy the view at Castle Hill Lookout
The huge pink granite monolith that towers some 286 metres above the city is aptly named Castle Hill and is the place to get a birds-eye view of Townsville and the surrounding area, from Cape Cleveland to Cape Pallarenda.
There is a sealed road with vehicle access, along with two main walking tracks that lead to the top.
If you’re a hiker, take the Goat Track, which starts from Hillside Crescent and leads up the eastern ridge.
2- Cool down at The Strand waterpark
Enjoy Townsville’s beachfront by strolling along the Strand, which is a vibrant recreation area with stretches of green lawn, trees and trickling fountains, large colourful waterslides filled with kids cooling off on a hot day, and paved areas for power-walkers, rollerbladers and cyclists.
3- Explore the Museum of Tropical Queensland
Follow the voyage of HMS Pandora at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
In 1791, the ship was sent to capture the Bounty mutineers but sank after hitting the Great Barrier Reef.
The Queensland Museum has been excavating the wreck and is piecing together the Pandora puzzle, most of which are displayed in Townsville, a museum that prides itself on its focus on Maritime Archaeology.
There is a replica of the ship, scenes from the journey and ancient relics dug up from the ocean.
Peek into the behind-the-scenes window at the far end of the Great Gallery and watch the taxidermy team at work.
4- Dive the SS Yongala
The warm tropical waters make diving possible all year round and Townsville is the gateway to one of the best scuba diving sites in Australia, the SS Yongala wreck.
The Yongala leans on her starboard side, 30 m below the surface and is a magical underwater setting.
It’s a kaleidoscope of ever-changing water ballet, as soft coral trees sway gently with the current while vibrant fish dart around the wreck.
A luxuriously appointed passenger and freight ship, the SS Yongala sailed into the eye of a cyclone in 1911 and vanished into the ocean.
The wreck was discovered in 1958.
An open water certification is a minimum requirement for this dive.
5- See the marine life at Reef HQ
If diving is not your strength, you can still get nose-to-nose with reef sharks, stingrays and sea turtles at the world’s largest coral reef aquarium, Reef HQ.
Reef HQ is home to 130 coral species and 120 fish species, as well as hundreds of varieties of sea creatures such as sea-stars, sea-urchins, sea-cucumbers, worms and sponges.
This aquarium is the size of 50 family swimming pools and is unique because the environment created for these creatures is open to the elements.
Thousands of reef organisms housed there receive natural daylight and moonlight, rain and storms, just like the natural reef.
For more information about tickets to Reef HQ go here.
If you like aquariums take a peek into the ocean at the Cairns marine aquarium, which has some amazing exhibits.
6- Discover beautiful Magnetic Island
Take a 25-minute ferry ride to Magnetic Island where you can go swimming, snorkelling, boating and hiking.
Among the things to do on Magnetic Island is the chance to sleep in the forest with wild koalas in the trees next to your cabin at Bungalow Bay.
Park rangers from the Wulgurukaba (or the canoe people), the island’s Aboriginal traditional owners will introduce you to an assortment of reptiles you can hold, such as a baby crocodile, a python, a fiery Frill-necked lizard and blue-tongue lizard.
Another way to see Magnetic Island is to go on a sailing or snorkelling cruise. Check out a range of cruises here.
7- Attend the North Queensland Elite rodeo
Pull on your cowboy boots and join the thigh-slapping, whip-cracking locals at Hervey Range where an action-packed rodeo is performed by the best bull-riders, barrel-racers and bareback riders from all over North Queensland.
Besides providing entertainment for spectators, it’s a showcase of emerging rodeo stars too.
The rodeo is one of the many events in Townsville that can add some excitement to your stay. See a list of other Townsville events here.
8- Watch a NRL match
Cheer on the North Queensland Cowboys at a National Rugby League match (a version of football which has attained cult status in the states of New South Wales and Queensland).
Soak in the electric atmosphere of a game when the local team, the North Queensland Cowboys, is in town and you’ll have as much fun watching the spectators as you will the sport.
9- Hunt for ghosts in Charters Towers
Visit the ghosts of Charters Towers, which is a beautifully preserved gold-mining town that once boasted a major stock exchange.
The Charters Towers Stock Exchange was linked to the world via telegraph and during the heady days of the gold rush, this small stock exchange in the Queensland Outback had a major influence on the international financial markets.
The Queensland Heritage Trails Network project has kitted up a few of the main historical sites with high-tech production facilities that bring the gold rush to life.
The Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail is narrated by ghostly figures from the past that appear as holograms on widescreen plasma sets.
The trail includes One Square Mile (lovingly renovated buildings within the heart of town), the old Stock Exchange, Towers Hill gold site and the Venus Gold Battery historic gold milling site.
Start your evening watching a brilliant sunset with a glass of champagne at the top of Towers Hill, where there’s a short film that will put you in the mood for gold.
10- Escape to Orpheus Island Resort
Spend a few days in tropical luxury at Orpheus Island.
Like its namesake, the mythological Greek father of song, who was believed to have the power to charm wild beasts and coax the trees to dance, Orpheus Island, exudes its own brand of magic.
Translucent waters lap gently along the shores of gorgeous palm-fringed bays.
There’s abundant marine life – thousands of species of fish, colourful clams and hundreds of coral species – in the island’s surrounding waters.
Feeding sessions of tame Diamond-scale mullet are one of the resort’s trademarks, as is a candlelit fresh seafood platter set out on the jetty and a spectacular seaplane landing on the waters around the island.
11- Go camping on Pelorus Island
If treating yourself to a stay at Orpheus Island, try camping on Pelorus Island, which is 800 m north of Orpheus Island.
Pelorus Island is part of the Palms Island group and is a fabulous spot to go snorkelling over the fringing reefs straight off the beach.
You can get there by private boat or on a dive tour and although camping is allowed, it’s a basic back-to-nature experience with no access to freshwater or camping facilities.
12- Take a trip to the Great Barrier Reef
Although there’s amazing fringing reef around Magnetic Island, Orpheus Island and the Palm Islands, a snorkelling or diving cruise to Lodestone Reef is an experience to tick off the bucket list.
Both introductory and certified diving options are available.
The coral gardens of Lodestone Reef are perfect for snorkelling to see reef fish such as anemonefish, butterflyfish, angelfish and blue tangs.
You might also spot nudibranchs, sea stars and other marine creatures.
For divers, the coral canyons and bommies are an amazing underwater world with soft corals, reef sharks, stingrays and turtles.
Learn about the threats and research projects to help save the Great Barrier Reef at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
13- Shop in a Townsville market
There are a few markets to visit in Townsville, including a couple of night markets. With buskers, jumping castles and food stalls, Townsville’s markets are fun and interesting to explore.
Cotters Market (Sunday 8.30 am to 1 pm) is the largest market in Townsville and the place for arts and crafts, with over 150 stalls head to Flinders Street for shopping, food and family fun.
Willows Markets (Sunday 7.30 am to 11.30 am) in the Willows Shopping Centre Carpark in Kirwan is run by the Townsville Rotary Club and has stalls selling fresh produce, clothing, jewellery and crafts.
Strand Night Markets
Walking around the Strand Night Markets (first Friday of the month February to December 5 pm to 9.30 pm) is a fun way to spend the evening. Not only will you get out and about, stretch the legs and pick on tasty food but there’s also entertainment and a good selection of fashion, homewares and crafts.
Riverway Moonlight Markets
The Riverway Moonlight Markets ( third Friday of the month February to December) is the place for gifts made from timber, fabric, leather and glass.
14- Visit Wallaman Falls
Wallaman Falls is a two-hour road trip from Townsville and worth the journey as it’s the highest permanent single-drop waterfall in Australia.
It plunges 268m and the view from the main lookout to Stony Creek is breathtaking.
The falls are in Girringun National Park and, which is a scenic place to go hiking and camping.
The national park has creeks filled with platypus and other wildlife such as the musky rat-kangaroo and endangered southern cassowary.
If you are a kenn bushwalker, head further north to Mount Bartle Frere for a challenging hiking adventure.
15- Explore Jezzine Barracks
With a coastal boardwalk, lovely scenery and tranquil parklands decorated with 32 art installations, Jezzine Barracks Garabarra development is a fabulous place to spend the day.
The $40-million upgrade to this 15-hectare heritage precinct includes installations that are artistic memorials of the sites Aboriginal heritage as well as restorations of the Kissing Point Fort complex to commemorate the fort’s military history.
16- Go hiking in Paluma Range National Park
80km to the north of Townsville is the spectacular Paluma Range National Park, which is easily doable as a day trip from Townsville.
The National Park is a favourite place for those living in Townsville to go to cool down when the weather gets too steam,
The southern gateway to the Queensland Wet Tropics is a top spot for bushwalking and swimming.
- McClelland’s Lookout
- Birthday Creek Falls Track
- Paluma Rainforest Walk
- Cloudy Creek Track
- Witt’s Lookout Track
- ‘H’ Track
17- Go boating in Townsville
A day out on the water involves mud crabbing, fishing or just cruising the Ross River.
If you have your own boat, there’s a list of boat ramps here but if you don’t there are several places to hire a boat in Townsville.
18- Channel your inner cowboy
Channel your inner cowboy (or at least dress up like one with the boots and Akubra) for a ride on a horse-drawn wagon ride with Texas Longhorn Wagon Tours & Safaris to see Australia’s largest Texas Longhorn herd.
Leahton Park (10 km from Charters Towers) also has kangaroos, water buffalo, bison and other native wildlife.
The star is JR, a steer that was listed in the 2013 Guinness World Record with the longest horns in the world, measuring over three metres.
19- Hang out in City Lane
A cosmopolitan hub with restaurants, cafes, bars and shops, City Lane as a cool Melbourne laneway vibe.
Decorated with street murals, it’s a hot spot for entertainment so check out the event calendar here.
20- Cuddle a koala at Billabong Sanctuary
Billabong Sanctuary is a place where you can see Australian native wildlife in their natural habitats.
Eucalypt forest, rainforest and wetlands are home to koalas, echidnas, eastern grey and red kangaroos. The sanctuary has a range of birds and reptiles too.
Feed the koalas, cassowaries, turtles and barramundi or get up close to a wombat or a koala.
There’s a crocodile feeding show (1 pm and 3.15 pm) and a bird show at 2 pm is exciting to watch.
Looking for more things to do in Queensland?
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- 27 Things to Do In Noosa
- 11 Things To Do In Maleny
- 15 Things To Do In Brisbane
- 20 Things To Do In The Gold Coast
- 30 Things To Do In Cairns
- 12 Things To Do In The Atherton Tablelands
- 8 Thing To Do In Charters Towers
- 10 Things To Do In Agnes Waters
- 11 Things To Do On Magnetic Island
- 12 Things To Do In Maryborough
- 10 Things to Do In Hervey Bay
- 10 Things To Do in Mackay
- 8 Things To Do On Heron Island