Visit an underwater museum, take a ferry to a tropical island, chase waterfalls through the rainforest and wander street-art-filled laneways in this thriving Far North Queensland hub.
If you’re wondering about the best things to do in Townsville, you’re in luck. This vibrant coastal city is full to the brim with tropical holiday potential.
There are amazing Great Barrier Reef experiences, dreamy island escapes where you can spot koalas, trekking or biking through rainforest, and thrilling ocean adventures – from riding a jet ski to diving around Australia’s first-ever underwater museum.
1. Check out Australia’s first underwater museum
Townsville’s new Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) is the only museum of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Comprised of four intriguing installations designed by world-renowned underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, MOUA is all about highlighting reef conservation, restoration and education while sharing the stories of the region’s First Nations people.
Its inaugural installation Ocean Siren is located at The Strand on Townsville’s foreshore. Rising from the water, it is modelled on Takoda Johnson, a young Indigenous girl from the Wulgurukaba tribe, and changes colour in response to live variations in water temperature.
The second installation, Coral Greenhouse, is located on the John Brewer Reef two hours’ boat ride from Townsville. It is populated with 20 ‘reef guardians’ who instigate natural coral growth and visitors are invited to snorkel or dive to view them.
Coral Greenhouse is the second underwater installation. (Image: Matt Curnock)
2. Take a ferry to a tropical island paradise
No trip to Townsville is complete without taking the short 20-minute ferry ride out to magical Magnetic Island (Yunbenun).
This patch of tropical paradise is home to a thriving community of 2500 and a sense of its serene, laid-back lifestyle hits you the moment you step ashore.
A secluded bay on Magnetic Island.
Set within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and rich in Indigenous heritage, the island is famed for its beautiful bays and beaches, snorkelling trails on fringing coral and plentiful hiking trails through a mountainous interior of eucalypt woodland and granite boulders (you’ll learn some intriguing Second World War history via the popular Forts Walk).
And that’s not to mention it’s also home to northern Australia’s largest wild koala colony. A visit to Bungalow Bay Koala Park will ensure an up-close-and-personal experience with these furry friends (you can also camp here).
Other activities you can do while here include horse riding, jet skiing, fishing, water sports and setting off on a sailing or diving expedition (check out Big Mama Sailing and Pleasure Divers).
One of the best ways to absorb all Magnetic Island has to offer is on tour with Aquascene or by hiring a fun ‘topless’ car from Tropical Topless.
And if one day just isn’t enough, then check-in for an overnight stay. Accommodation options range from easy breezy CStay Guest House to the small boutique resort of Island Leisure Resort, with its Polynesian-style bures, to the elegant Peppers Blue on Blue Resort.
3. Explore the Museum of Tropical Queensland
Head to the award-winning Museum of Tropical Queensland in the heart of town for a snapshot of the dazzlingly diverse North Queensland region and its rich cultural and natural heritage.
Through family-friendly exhibitions and displays, you’ll learn everything about life in the tropics from prehistory through to today.
Key exhibition points include the World Heritage-listed rainforest and reefs at Townsville’s doorstep and the compelling story of the shipwrecked HMS Pandora. Sent to Tahiti to capture the Bounty mutineers, the ship struck the Great Barrier Reef and sank on its return journey in 1791.
A replica is mounted in the museum’s Great Gallery, along with objects recovered from the wreck – which wasn’t discovered for 186 years.
Fossil display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
4. Get underneath the Great Barrier Reef
Next door to the Museum of Tropical Queensland, Reef HQ Aquarium is the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium.
It’s currently undergoing a huge $80-million transformation, which will upgrade the facilities, include new immersive and hands-on displays, with larger display windows for uninterrupted views, more advanced technology and will highlight the connection between traditional owners and the reef. It’s due to reopen in 2024.
Reef HQ Aquarium is home to aquatic marine life. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
5. Take a sunset hike for jaw-dropping views
Castle Hill is a heritage-listed pink granite monolith, or inselberg (and also a suburb of the same name) that presides over the city skyline.
Hiking it in time for sunset is one of the most rewarding things you can do in Townsville. Its panoramic views over the city and out to the ocean and Magnetic Island are spectacular.
There are several trails you can take to get to the top, including the short, sweet but very steep Goat Track, which sets off from Hillside Crescent just outside of the CBD.
The most popular Cudtheringa Track can be accessed from the bottom of Castle Hill Road in North Ward. With steep and challenging beginning and end sections, this 1.1-kilometre one-way trail enjoys a moderate midsection with breathtaking views.
Take one of several trails that lead to the top of Castle Hill.
6. Hit up Townsville’s thriving beach foreshore
A 2.2-kilometre parkway where palm trees practically kiss the ocean, The Strand is Townsville’s thriving beach foreshore. With lovely views out to Magnetic Island and dappled with shady spots, this is the place to while away some time any time of day.
Spend time relaxing on the Townsville foreshore.
Enjoy breakfast with a view at Strand View Cafe, a gelato on the grass from Juliette’s Gelateria, a Mediterranean-style lunch at Odyssey on the Strand and a fish and chip dinner on the beach (pick up some takeaway from Tobin Fish Tales just a few blocks back in North Ward).
Also on The Strand, you’ll find family fun in the shape of playgrounds and the popular Strand Waterpark, rock pools to swim in, a kid-friendly water park, and the Jezzine Barracks at the northern end, where you’ll get an insight into the stories of Townsville’s settlement.
The Pier at the Strand.
7. Go chasing waterfalls in Paluma Range National Park
Head north out of town from Townsville to get deep within Paluma Range National Park, the southern gateway to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Within an hour or so you’ll hit Little Crystal Creek, an oasis favoured by weekender Townsville locals.
Swim in the freshwater creek fed by a pretty, cascading waterfall and framed by a heritage-listed stone arch bridge built in the 1930s depression era. It’s the perfect place to cool down on a hot summer’s day in the tropics.
Half an hour further north lies rainforest-encased Jourama Falls. This scenic spot sees Waterview Creek tumble down cascades and rapids, creating crystal-clear rock pools to soak in and refreshing falls to shower under. With birds, turtles and goannas attracted to the creek, it’s a top spot for wildlife watching too.
Follow the three-kilometre return Jourama Falls track for a moderate bushwalk that rewards with views out over the falls and rainforest and pitch a tent at the popular camping spot if you fancy soaking in the serenity some more.
The waterfall at Little Crystal Creek.
8. Take an e-Bike tour around the city, island or rainforest
Another way to explore the treasure trove that is Paluma Range National Park is with NQ Cycle Journeys, which also operates guided e-Bike tours through Townsville city and Magnetic Island.
The Paluma Range NP tour covers 20 kilometres of easy riding and three kilometres of walking, stopping along the way to find cascading waterfalls, swim in waterholes, spot local wildlife and see historical WWII sites.
The Townsville tour includes visiting colonial and indigenous sites, the coastline and wetlands, while the Magnetic Island tour will take you to bays, lookouts and swimming spots inaccessible by cars. All tours operate with a maximum of five people.
Explore the wonders of Paluma Range National Park with NQ Cycle Journeys.
9. Make a dinner reservation at Townsville’s hottest dining spots
Since opening in 2018 in South Townsville, Bridgewater has become Townsville’s dining hotspot and in 2020 it earned its first chef’s hat. Be sure to make a reservation here for modern Australian cuisine in a contemporary, coastal-inspired space overlooking the river.
Dishes include entrees of local half-shell scallops with soy pumpkin, pickled fennel and candied ginger; mains like King George whiting, tossed Asian greens and mushrooms and desserts of caramel parfait, bee pollen crumb and glazed pear. Or opt for a five-course degustation with or without wine pairing.
Bridgewater is the latest venture from renowned chef Matt Merrin (along with chef Ty Samuel), who also operates the award-winning and hatted restaurant Jam Corner, located just a block away.
Townsville at sunset.
10. Explore one of the most incredible dive sites on the planet
Off the coast of Townsville lies one of the most unique experiences you can have on the Great Barrier Reef.
The S.S. Yongala, a passenger ship that hit a cyclone and sank en route from Melbourne to Cairns in 1911, is one of the largest and most intact historic shipwrecks in Australian waters.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to the world’s largest coral reef system. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Today the coral-encrusted wreck is regarded as one of the best dives on the planet due to its proliferation and sheer size of marine life you’ll encounter there – including giant gropers and giant trevally and schools of barracudas, eagle rays, turtles, sea snakes and bull sharks.
Certified divers (minimum open water diver with six logged dives) can join a day trip from Townsville with the likes of Adrenalin Snorkel Dive.
Beginners can head 1.5 hours south of Townsville to Alva Beach in Ayr to enrol on a diving course with Yongala specialist and PADI 5 Star Dive Resort Yongala Dive. Here, you’re all but guaranteed one of the most amazing training grounds on the planet. Certified divers can take Yongala Dive up on its adventure-centric day trip to the wreck.
Dive into the vast waters of the Great Barrier Reef. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
11. Go wild at Billabong Sanctuary
For your chance to hold a koala (Queensland is one of just three states along with South Australia and Western Australia that permits this), hug a wombat, hand-feed a cassowary, hold a small crocodile or indeed watch the feeding of giant estuarine croc or saltie, head to Billabong Sanctuary, 17 kilometres south of Townsville in Nome.
This ecotourism-accredited sanctuary is set against 11 hectares of tropical North Queensland bushland and provides one of the best interactive wildlife experiences you can find in Australia.
Between animal experiences, stop for a bite to eat at Blinky Bill’s Cafe and take a dip at the resort’s tropical resort-style swimming pool.
Head to Billabong Sanctuary to see a koala.
12. Take an ocean tour on a JetSki
Whether you’re up for a thrill or would rather chill and enjoy the scenery, Townsville Jet Ski and Watercraft – owned by two ocean-loving mates – operates experiences that can do either.
Departing from The Strand, choose from a tour to Magnetic Island where you can also go snorkelling; to historic Cape Cleveland Lighthouse; or for a change of scenery you can cruise along the Bohle River, where crocs are known to hang out.
The waters surrounding Townsville are thriving with marine life including turtles, dolphins, dugongs and whales (between July and August), so be on the lookout as you glide along the water. You can also hire a Jetski (no licence necessary) and create your own adventure.
Aerial view of a boat cruising towards a secluded bay at Magnetic Island. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
13. Go wild on Hinchinbrook Island
Cruise, walk, swim, fish, relax. No matter what you choose, a day spent with Wild Hinchinbrook Adventures is bound to be a memorable one.
Departing from Lucinda, an hour’s drive north of Townsville, they offer a variety of adventures on and around Hinchinbrook Island, which is only accessible by private vessel or tour.
You can choose a guided walk to thundering waterfalls, a scenic cruise through the rugged Hinchinbrook Channel, a sportfishing adventure, or design your own day with a mix of experiences. Elevate your day with a seafood or antipasto platter to enjoy as you cruise in style.
A remote yet charming bay on Magnetic Island. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
14. Enjoy Magnetic Island in secluded style
Make the most of your visit to Magnetic Island by booking an experience with The Beach Club.
Book a skippered boat to see all the secret nooks and crannies of Magnetic Island away from the other day-trippers. You can BYO everything you need for the day or ask for extras including champagne and snorkel hire.
If you’re loved up, the Beach Club Picnic experience is a romantic way to enjoy Maggie, as you are whisked away to a private beach to indulge in a gourmet seafood or antipasto picnic with wine or beer.
Bask in the sun as you enjoy refreshing cocktails on the beach.
15. Learn about the history of the Nywaigi people
Meet the traditional owners of the lands around Ingham, the Nywaigi Aboriginal people, at Mungalla Station – 90 minutes north of Townsville.
On a guided tour of the station and its wetlands, you’ll learn about the history of the homestead originally built by Irishman James Cassady, the brutal confrontation between European settlers and local Aboriginal people and how the Cassady family intervened.
You can also try your hand at throwing a boomerang, and enjoy a Kup-Murri dinner experience which is cooked underground.
Indigenous artefacts at Mungalla Aboriginal Tours. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
16. Seek out the city’s street art
Townsville’s streets and laneways are home to some 25 street artworks that were commissioned by council to brighten up pockets of the city.
Hit the pavement and play hide-and-seek with these larger-than-life murals, portraits and thought-provoking pieces or download this map and take the street art walking trail to find them all.
Street art around Townsville. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
17. Spend a glamorous day poolside
The Ville is one of Townsville’s hottest places to stay, with uber chic rooms, a range of sophisticated dining options, a casino and busy calendar of events, and views over the ocean and to Magnetic Island.
But it’s absolute drawcard is the hotel’s glamorous pool that oozes Palm Springs meets Tropical North Queensland vibes, boasting a swim-up bar, plenty of lounges shaded by striped umbrellas and even a shallow area for the kids to splash in.
If you’re not a guest here, don’t worry – you can purchase a day pass, the cost of which can be used as credit to purchase food and drink from the pool bar and Quarterdeck, the hotel’s happening alfresco restaurant and bar, surrounded by palm trees and bougainvillaea.
Poolside views at The Ville Resort-Casino. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
18. See it all from above on a helicopter tour
It’s hard to comprehend the diverse landscape of the Townsville region until you’re above it.
Soak in the natural beauty with Nautilus Aviation, which runs several scenic tours that will give you a bird’s-eye view of rugged rocky coastline and stretches of pristine beach; turquoise waters punctuated by islands and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and its world-famous coral reefs.
Nautilus Aviation touching down powdery white sand. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
You’ll also have epic views of the hinterland where flowing rivers, rolling mountain ranges, mangrove estuaries and saltpans make up the unique tapestry of this landscape.
Hover over the gorgeous seascape. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)