Food and Drink in Townsville
Sunset Drinks: Expect a few poetic flourishes from the barkeeps at Longboard Bar & Grill (80 Gregory St) where showmanship seems to be somewhat of a requisite. Join the crowds spilling out from the bar onto the deck for sunset, when the place gets properly busy. Townsville Yacht Club (1 Plume St) is a bit of a hidden gem and a favourite spot for the neighbourhood's salty sea dog types.
City Lane: The standout neighbourhood you need to visit is City Lane City Arcade (383 Flinders St) the 'Ville's first Creative Laneway Precinct. With its original buildings, and cobblestone paths, and street art from internationally acclaimed artists, City Lane is a beacon for hordes of hungry holidaymakers and a place of refuge for the city's creative types.
Try Donna Bionda (07 4771 2245; open Tuesday to Saturday noon to 2 pm, 5 pm to 8 pm) for salt and pepper calamari and chilli jam, and Sakana Sushi Bar (07 4721 0189; open Tuesday to Saturday noon to 2 pm, 5 pm to 8 pm), the go-to for gyozas. * *
Palmer Street Precinct: Explore Google Earth ahead of your visit to Palmer Street to whet your appetite for what's on offer. Some of the city's most exciting food is available in this precinct located on the city's south bank. This busy, buzzy eat street, which includes al fresco options, nods to the laidback and casual way Far North Queenslanders like to eat. The strip of restaurants in South Townsville includes Masala Indian Cuisine (79 Palmer Street, 07 4721 3388; open daily for dinner, 5 pm till late), Jam Corner (1 Palmer Street, 07 4721 4900; open Tuesday to Thursday, 6.30 am to 2 pm and 5.30 pm till late, Saturdays 7 am to 2 pm, 5.30 pm till late, Sunday 7.30 am to 11 am) and Cactus Jacks (21 Palmer Street; 07 4721 1478; open daily for dinner from 5 pm).
Breweries: Townsville Brewery is an institution that is on every craft beer pilgrim's itinerary: the atmospheric brewpub houses both a restaurant serving pub grub and beers brewed just metres away in gleaming tanks that see a lot of action all through the day. Expect a bit of banter with your beer -- it is North Queensland after all -- at this local institution, which was redeveloped from the Townsville Post Office into the Townsville Brewery in 2001. Order a Big Brew Burger alongside a tasting paddle of pale ales. (252 Flinders Street, Townsville; 07 4724 2999; open Monday to Thursday, 11.30 am to 11 pm; Friday to Saturday, 11.30 am to midnight)
The TapHouse: Townsville's first self-pour bar is an imbiber's delight: it's where budding bartenders can pull their own beer and choose from the 10 taps that are on constant rotation. The beer bar has offered around 500 different craft beers since opening in 2015. For a true taste of North Queensland, which includes rich Southeast Asian flavours, order the prawn skewers and jalapeno popper spring rolls with sweet green tomato relish. (373 Flinders St, 07 4772 2301; open daily, 10 am to midnight)
Hoi Polli Cafe: Denham Lane is a magnet for the city's eccentrics who help make Far North Queensland magical. Believe the hype over the coffee here at Hoi Polloi -- the place receives rave reviews on TripAdvisor and attracts huge crowds for a reason: the coffee is divine. Order coffee and cake. (Denham Lane; 0432 025 129)
Beaches in Townsville
Best for a half-day visit: Forget about your emails, put your phone on silent, and relish the thoroughly enjoyable island getaway that is Magnetic Island. The island has the trifecta of rugged nature, abundant wildlife and easy access to the Great Barrier Reef and your best bet to get there is via a SeaLink ferry. All up, the island has 23 beaches and, during the summer months, you might even be lucky enough to see turtles nesting here. BYO snorkel and walk backwards in your flippers right off the beach at Alma, Arthur and Florence bays and fascinating snorkel trails at Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay
Best for active types: The Strand is the see-and-be-seen strip of Townsville. There are stingers during the so-called stinger season, which runs from November to May, so The Strand Rockpool is a good option if you want to beat the heat. Strap on your fitness tracker before setting off along the 2.2-kilometre promenade, which has been purpose-built for both pedestrians and those who like to ride bikes, Segways and scooters. The Strand Rockpool has wheelchair access at the shallow end and a deeper pool for swimming.
Best secluded beach: Follow the path down to the beach lined with picturesque palm trees and meditate on the colour of the ocean at Rocky Beach, one of the most secluded beaches on Magnetic Island. This is the prototype for paradise, minus the beach butlers. Extricate yourself from your towel only for the occasional dunk in the ocean. Other than that, find a patch of squeaky white sand, kick back and enjoy.
Best beach for swimming: The best spot to swim is Pallarenda Beach, which has a stinger net installed over summer. The beach is popular because it's easily accessible, offers excellent access and plenty of space to beachgoers, who strut about over the sandy stretches in the weekend uniform of bikinis and boardshorts.
Note: There are stingers in North Queensland during stinger season, which runs from November to May in Far North Queensland. Stinger nets are installed at many of Townsville's beaches and the nets are only removed at the end of the season.
Don't Miss in Townsville
Museum of Tropical Queensland: The unofficial capital of Far North Queensland has a rich history, which is beautifully told and made vivid at the Museum of Tropical Queensland. The northernmost campus of the Queensland Museum has an ever-changing roster of exhibitions from local and international artists. Visitors can learn about the ancient seas and reef, about how citizen scientists are tracking climate change and visit the scene of panic inside HMS Pandora, described in the exhibition as "one of the most significant shipwrecks in the Southern Hemisphere". You can dig deeper into "Pandora's box" with guided tours at 11am and 1.30pm daily. (70-102 Flinders St; 07 4726 0600; open 9.30 am to 5 pm daily)
Jezzine Barracks: The plaques and plinths dotted around Jezzine Barracks tell of Townsville's military history and the cultural significance of the Kissing Point headland, Garabarra, to the traditional owners: the Wulgurukaba and Bindal people. Garabarra was once a common outdoor kitchen for local tribes in the area to forage for food and the interpretative signage in the area honours those spiritual ties.
The 15-hectare precinct is Heritage-listed and includes beautifully designed boardwalks, artworks, native plantings and parklands. All up there are 32 site-specific public artworks dotted around the site where a fort was built in 1870. Kissing Point Fort was established when the British withdrew from the colonies and the site saw continuous military use from 1885 to 2006.
Paluma Rainforest: You will need to hire a car to explore Paluma and Crystal Creek Rainforest, located off the Bruce Highway. It's about a 90-minute drive to Paluma Range National Park where you can brush up on your knowledge of the richly biodiverse World Heritage-listed area, which features everything from coastal lowlands to dry open woodlands. Pack a picnic and enjoy a rainforest walk to Big Crystal Creek, which is a popular spot for a refreshing swim and a picnic. Head to Little Crystal Creek to see the historic stone arch bridge that was built in the 1930s. (Off Bruce Highway)
Billabong Sanctuary: It's easy to wade through the thicket of selfie sticks at Billabong Sanctuary to find a patch of quiet as the sprawling wildlife world is set over 11 hectares of bushland on the shores of a billabong, allowing many opportunities for wildlife encounters. Hold a koala or wombat, feed the crocodiles and kangaroos, and sit back and enjoy the daily reptile and bird flight shows. (The Australian wildlife sanctuary is located 17km south of Townsville on the Bruce Highway; 07 4778 8344; open daily 9 am till 5 pm)
Hiking to the top of Castle Hill: It is well worth rising before the sun to trudge the 286 metre-long path to the top of Cutheringa Track to reach the summit of Castle Hill, which is just metres short of being classified as a mountain. The monolith of pink granite commands great views out over the cityscape all the way to nearby Magnetic Island. An average of 2500 people swarm up and down the hill each day on foot or on bicycle. Start at the turnaround car park on Castle Hill Road for the Cutheringa Track and Hillside Crescent for the start of the Goat Track.
Magnetic Island: A visit to Magnetic Island is a must. As the only island within the Great Barrier Reef to have its own postcode, Maggie -- as it is affectionately known -- is just a short 20-minute hop away on a SeaLink Queensland passenger ferry. SeaLink operates up to 18 daily services to Magnetic Island each day and departs from the Breakwater Ferry Terminal (Sir Leslie Thiess Drive). Magnetic Island Ferries (Ross St, South Townsville) also delivers passengers and their vehicles to and from the island.
Show ponies might enjoy the option of hiring one of the topless hot-pink convertibles, which are available to rent on Magnetic Island (tropicaltopless.com). More must-dos on the island include: the 4km-long trek along Forts Walk (Magnetic Island National Park) to see the ruins of the forts that operated during World War 2; a Big Mama Sunset Sail adventure (Pacific Drive; 0437 206 360); a visit to the Bungalow Bay Koala Village (40 Horseshoe Bay Rd; 07 4778 5577; open daily, 7am to 7pm); and an excursion to the shipwrecked SS Adelaide with Aquascene Charters (123 Sooning St, Magnetic Island; 0439 785 216; open 8.30 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday).
Walking The Strand: Walk along the landscaped paths that snake along beside the sea, which is dyed in aquamarine circles and turquoise swirls. On a hot day, The Strand Rock Pool is a hub for families as it includes wet and dry playground areas with everything from slippery slides to a flying fox and mini basketball court. The pool is gently sloped and one of the jewels along the 2.2km-long promenade. In addition to the water park and playgrounds, there are accessible exercise stations and BBQ facilities near to the palm-tree-lined path.
Whale-watching cruises: Take a cruise of up to three hours with SeaLink Queensland to spot the gentle giants of the sea during their annual migration up the Pacific (Ocean) Highway. The tours are run twice a day between mid-July and August, which is prime time for the annual migration of majestic humpback whales. (SeaLink Whale Watching Tours depart from the Breakwater Terminal, Sir Leslie Thiess Drive, 07 4726 0800)
Townsville Art Gallery: The Perc Tucker Regional Gallery occupies a Heritage-listed building that was once the city bank. On display in the city's premier regional art gallery are works by renowned North Queensland artists as well as a diverse and dynamic range of local, national and international touring exhibitions. (Corner of Denham and Flinders Streets; 07 4727 9011; open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 2 pm). The gallery is near to the main shopping precinct.
Urban art: Street artists from all over the nation have painted murals all over the city: they are everywhere and have brightened up many of the older buildings, which serve as the perfect canvases for these pops of colour. The first piece of street art appeared on Castle Hill more than 50 years ago in the form of a Saint painted by local students on St Patrick's Day. Today, renowned artists such as Fintan Magee and Lee Harnden have since left their sizeable signatures on the city walls along with their wonderfully whimsical murals. Visit the Townsville Visitor Information Centre (340 Flinders Street, 07 4721 3660) to collect a free Street Art Walking Trail map. Don't miss The Tower by Fintan Magee and Wulgurukaba and Bindal, by Adnate.
Reef HQ: If you don't manage to make it to the Great Barrier Reef, you can be illuminated about the underwater works of art on display by visiting the world's largest living reef aquarium. A highlight at Reef HQ Aquarium is the turtle hospital where marine turtles are rehabilitated. The Great Barrier Reef starts at the tip of Cape York in Queensland and extends more than 2300 km south to Bundaberg. Sit at the Waterview Caf? overlooking the coral reef exhibit (2-68 Flinders Street; 07 4750 0800; open daily 9.30 am to 5pm)
SS Yongala: The shipwrecked SS Yongala lies in 14 to 28 metres of water and is regarded as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. Take a day trip from Townsville with Adrenalin Dive to this underwater vessel bejewelled with coral and home to giant manta rays, trevally turtles and mangrove jack. (Adrenalin Dive, 252 Walker St, 1300 664 600)