By Shane Boocock
With a few extra days up our sleeve after a relaxing vacation on Magnetic Island, we took the plunge and decided this would be a great time to hire a car and cruise slowly north between Townsville and Cairns, stopping off at unusual attractions enroute. Before heading up the coast though, we recommend enjoying a couple of days in Townsville.
First founded in 1864 by Europeans as a port for the fledgling pastoral industry, and named after Robert Towns who purchased a number of large rural properties in the region, it’s a thriving regional city with a great little inner-city waterfront that offers family friendly entertainment and cultural experiences to suit all tastes and age groups, and the bonus is it gets 300 days of sunshine a year.
On the waterfront, The Strand is a revitalised 2.5km long strip of prime real estate aside a long sandy beach and features free bathing pools, playgrounds, BBQ and exercise areas, walkways and cycle paths. There are also a number of swish bars, restaurants and cafes scattered from end to end. Not far from the waterfront is Palmer Street, another upgraded area populated with good restaurants, bars and nightclubs lining both sides of the street.
For many of Townsville’s fitness enthusiasts, a power walk, run or bike up to the top of Castle Hill is the ultimate workout. However, we took the easy option and drove the car there to get the best panoramic views of the whole city and beyond. To get an even better insider’s guide to Townsville, leave an afternoon free for a Heritage and Highlight City Tour with Kookaburra Tours and Charters, a wonderfully informative trip that delivers answers to all your questions.
Reef HQ Aquarium is one of the must see attractions in Townsville. Situated close to the ferry terminal, this is the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium, a place well worth spending half a day with the family – kids love it. There are over 150 types of fish, 120 types of coral and a staggering 2.5 million litres of water in a near perfect artificial environment. Two unique features are the HD-live video feeds they film with divers inside the tanks to classrooms around the world, and the latest facility is the addition of a turtle hospital where sick and injured marine mammals can be cared for and rehabilitated.
Reid Park is another of Townsville’s world-class lifestyle precincts and is home to the ‘Dunlop Townsville 400 V8 Supercar Event’ that this year attracted a three day attendance of over 168,000 petrol heads, so book early for both accommodation packages and seating. Next year’s races will be held in July 2010.
Hinterland and Coastal attractions:
For bird lovers a visit to the Tyto Wetlands and Interpretive Centre (named after the Tyto Owl that nest on grasslands) is a nice excursion. The centre itself is small but highly interactive. We hiked the short distance from the centre to the actual wetlands that incorporate extensive walking tracks, hidden lagoons, hides and lookouts that give you an opportunity to explore the native flora and observe over 200 species of native birds.
Wallaman Falls, in Girringun National Park is located 51km west from the town of Ingham. This is part of the 8,990sq.km Wet Tropics World Heritage area stretching all the way from Townsville to Cooktown in Tropical North Queensland. At 268m, Wallaman Falls is the largest single drop waterfall in Australia. The falls are about a 2.5 hours drive from Townsville. Nearby are some spectacular walking tracks where you’ll discover the region’s diverse landscapes as open forest transforms into rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest – a type of vegetation that has hard leaves and short internodes (the distance between leaves along the stem). The creeks and rivers are home to platypus, eastern water dragons and saw-shelled freshwater turtles. Keep an eye open for the elusive musky-rat kangaroos and the endangered southern cassowaries. Day picnic areas and campsites are also available here.
Make a detour on the ‘Old Bruce Highway’ to Queensland’s number one tourist attraction. Paronella Park is a blast into the past, and the chance to view the eccentricities of a Spanish immigrant. Besides the wonderful gardens, you’ll get a guided tour of one man’s dream of building a castle in Australia. Prone to flooding and cyclones, the park now resembles a film set, and in fact is occasionally used as such. There is also a caravan park here.
Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway is just 30km west of Innisfail. Here we hiked above the forest to get an eagle’s-eye view of ‘a rainforest walk with altitude.’ Completed a year ago, and located on the leading edge of the rainforest after Cyclone Larry had ripped through the region, this canopy walkway is a marvel of imagination with a 10m cantilever deck, elevated walkway and 37m observation tower – this is destined to be a future renowned tourist attraction.
Mission Beach is located about two hours north of Townsville, or 90 minutes south of Cairns. This fast developing region has many attributes, not the least of which is the closest access point to the Great Barrier Reef and Dunk Island. The quaint village of Mission Beach is also situated close to the pure white, flat sands and a short walk away from Castaways Resort & Spa, an ideal place to stay for Kiwi holiday couples looking for a break, or families with children and safety in mind.
In Mission Beach Village you’ll find Dennis Daly the owner and skipper of charter boat, Fishin’ Mission. Dennis throttled his boat 17.5 nautical miles out to sea and anchored on the edge of a well-known reef. After six hours of fishing, our group returned with a solid haul of Coral Trout and Red Throated Emperors up to 4kg, as well as some good fighting Trevally up to 10kg.
In the entire route we added about 550km to the speedometer, so with a little planning and a few extra days on the road, you will be well rewarded with some outstanding attractions and natural Queensland wonders.
Kookaburra tours and Charters: A$40 per person. Additional tours are also available. t: +61 0448 74 78 w: www.kookaburratours.com.au
Reef HQ Aquarium: Adult A$24.75, Child A$12. Family passes are also available. t: +61 7 4750 0881. w: www.reefHQ.com.au
Dunlop Townsville 400 V8 Supercar Event: three day general admissions pass at the gate start at A$120. Kids 12 and under free. w: www.premier.ticketek.com.au/shows??
Jupiter’s Hotel & Casino is the best located waterfront hotel in townsville with a large outdoor pool, and a number of special packages. Ocean/magnetic Island view rooms start at A$205 and executive rooms start at A$265. T: +61 7 4722 2333. w: www.jupiterstownsville.com.au
Classique Bed and Breakfast is set within an historical Queenslander that was originally built in 1890 and promises old fashioned hospitality. Choose from the ruby or Pearl rooms at A$150 a night, or gold room A$170 a night. T: +61 7 4721 0898. w: www.classiquebnb.com.au??
Tyto Wetlands and Interpretive Centre: Ingham. T: +61 7 4776 5211. w: www.tytowetlands.com.au
Paronella Park: Mena Creek. Adults A32, Child 5-15, A$16. Family Deal (2 Adults & 2 Children under 15) A$86. t: +61 7 4065 3225. w: www.paronellapark.com.au
Mamu Rainforest Canopy walkway: Adult: A$20, Child: A$10 (4-14 years, children under 4 are free), Family: A$50 (2 adults, 2 children)t: +61 7 4064 5294 w: Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway (Department of National Parks …
Castaways Resort & Spa has 48 rooms, including some one and two bedroom apartments with spa. A great location with swimming pool and direct access to the beach. 1-12 Pacific Parade, Mission Beach. ?t: +61 7 4068 7444, w: www.castaways.com.au??
Fishin’ Mission Charters: A$190 per person, maximum 6 people. t: +61 7 4068 8207, w: www.fishinmission.com.au??
Pullman Reef Hotel and Casino is a 5 star property forming part of the Reef Casino complex close to the Cairns waterfront. Offering quiet and privacy, the rooms are decorated with large wooden louvered shutters to enhance the tropical feel. Cnr spence and wharf streets. From A$250 a night. t: +61 7 4030 8888. w: www.reefcasino.com.au