Museum of Underwater Art Jason-deCaires-Taylor

A local’s guide to Townsville

Travel a short distance in any direction and you’ll run into rainforests, tropical islands, and the world-heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. This is what makes Townsville so special. Even more special? Getting tips from the locals for the legitimately best Townsville guide.

Besides proximity to the natural wonders of coastal living, Townsville is also home to a thriving food scene, an emerging culture of craft brewing, and more than its fair share of bars, making it the perfect midway point between city and country living.

Here’s your guide to Townsville that will make you feel like one of the locals:

Dining and drinking

A bustling cafe scene may be more of a Melbourne hallmark, but wander down Denham Lane and you’ll find Townsville’s own graffitied coffee den in Hoi Polloi. With a street art mural frontage, this cafe is a homey nook that feels like grabbing a cuppa at an old friend’s – the perfect way to start any day.

And speaking of laneways, City Lane is a dining precinct stacked with places to eat, drink and generally make merry.

For a real taste of local Townsville hospitality, check out Grandma’s. Inspired by one family’s culinary traditions, their menu boasts hearty comfort food and a distinctly Greek twist on breakfast, lunch and dinner. The owners also run Balabite, offering Israeli street food.

Being just down the highway from Ingham, Queensland’s Italian capital, Townsville holds its own in the Italian dining stakes. Donna Bionda makes some of the finest handmade pasta in town, and Armati’s wood-fired pizzas are a must for a Friday dinner.

Where to wet your whistle in Townsville depends on your favourite drink. Beer enthusiasts have their choice of local breweries Townsville Brewery and Tiny Mountain, which both offering a staggering range of craft brews.

But naturally, being a country town, there’s no shortage of pubs. Swing by your nearest tavern any time you need to escape the arvo sun and cool down like a local.

Getting to know the Reef

Being so close to majestic splendour of the Great Barrier Reef comes with great responsibility. Besides extolling the natural beauty of the coral reef, Townsville’s Reef HQ Aquarium takes its preservation seriously. Although thriving, the Reef faces many threats, so Reef HQ is on a hard mission to instill in every visitor an appreciation for the thousands of marine creatures at risk.

Its drawcard is the aquarium’s living coral reef, the largest of any aquarium in the world, which guests can view through an underwater viewing tunnel.

The aquarium is also where you’ll find the Turtle Hospital, where sick and injured sea turtles receive vital care before being released back into their home on the reef. Learn all about these beautiful creatures and how you can do you part to look after them thanks to the hospital’s C.A.R.E (Conserve, Act, Rehabilitate, Educate) philosophy. They strive to raise community awareness for the issues plaguing sea life, and illuminate how small behaviours can make huge impacts in environmental conservation.

If there’s one thing the locals are passionate about, it’s this, so add it to the itinerary.

Below the surface with the Museum of Underwater Art

While we’re on the subject of all things below the surface, the Museum of Underwater Art is the perfect blend of culture and conservation.

Designed and executed by artist Jason deCaires Taylor, MOUA showcases the connection between Indigenous culture and the reef with sculptures across four different locations in North Queensland. The overarching purpose of the project is to highlight reef conservation and restoration.

The inaugural sculpture ‘Ocean Siren’ stands in the water just off the Townsville Strand. Modelled on local Wulgurukaba Traditional Owner, Takoda Johnson, the figure changes colour to reflect the variations in water temperature, and serves as a powerful reminder of humankind’s impact upon the environment.

For a more adventurous experience, MOUA’s John Brewer Reef is a dive site located right in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, 18 metres underwater. The installation is MOUA’s largest, a ‘Coral Greenhouse’, but Instead of finding herbs and orchids, this exhibit fosters marine life like corals, sponges, and fish, and is manned by 20 sculptures appointed as guardians of the reef.

The John Brewer Reef site is open to divers from April 2020. If scuba’s not your thing, there are still plenty of fun activities on the mainland.

Where to go exploring

Magnetic Island | Townsville Guide

If you overhear locals talking about a visit to ‘Maggie’, know they’re referring to Magnetic Island. Famous for snorkelling, jetskiing and joyriding, this tropical paradise is just a 20 minute ferry ride from Townsville. It’s also home to some of Queensland’s most beautiful national parklands, fringed by idyllic coastline. Koalas, wallabies, possums, and numerous species of bird call this island home, making it the perfect place to appreciate native fauna.

Some of the more well-trodden tracks like Forts Walk will take you through ruins of a WWII military base to get you in touch with local history. But for something with less traffic, take a walk from Horseshoe Bay and do a circuit around the secluded beaches of Arthur, Florence, Radical and Balding Bays.

More locally, Castle Hill is Townsville’s resident peak. This baby mountain is formed from pink granite, and its summit offers a 360 degree view of Townsville and Magnetic Island. It’s a popular spot for good reason.

Where to stay

Magnetic Island

When it comes time to kick off your boots, there are few places that offer more comfort than Hidden Valley Cabins. This eco-resort offers seclusion, and a gateway to the surrounding Paluma Range. Owned and operated as a family business, a stay here is truly like coming home. The entire resort runs on solar power, and thanks to the elevation Hidden Valley enjoys a cooler climate all year round. They’re 90 minutes drive north of Townsville, but the trek is worth it for the peace and privacy.

Naturally, there are also plenty of places to stay in town if you want to be close to the action, as well as some premium accommodation on Magnetic Island.