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City Profile : Townsville

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The largest tropical city in North Queensland, Townsville has a population of 200,000 people and an average of 300 sunny days per year.  While it’s a great tourism hotspot because of its access to Magnetic Island and the Great Barrier Reef, it doesn’t solely rely on tourism.  The economy is supported by a variety of industries, including government administration and defence, agriculture and mining, and because of this, the city has a completely different vibe compared to tourism-driven Cairns.  It feels like a city with deep roots and happy inhabitants that are friendly and welcoming.


Just off the coast is Magnetic Island, a popular holiday destination that was named by Captain Cook in 1770 after his compass went haywire when passing the island.  There are heaps of beaches, walking tracks and lagoons on the island, and it only takes 25 minutes by ferry to get there from Townsville.


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The Bindal and Wulgurukaba People were the first people to have lived in the Townsville region.  While there were a few visitors to the area, including a brief pass by of Captain Cook’s fleet in 1770, settlement started in 1866 when a bloke called Robert Towns agreed to provide financial assistance.  Incidentally, Townsville was named after him and two years later, the settlement grew quickly as the port and service centre for the goldfields in the west.  With the addition of pastoral and sugar industries, Townsville’s population bloomed from 4,000 people in 1882 to 13,000 by 1891.


During World War 2, Townsville was a major military base and hosted around 90,000 American and Australian troops.  It was bombed three times by the Japanese and was a major offensive launching base for the battle of the Coral Sea.  And, as do all places in the tropics, Townsville has fallen victim to a few cyclones.



Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium

Learn about the Great Barrier Reef and the creatures that reside there at the world’s largest coral reef aquarium.  For more information, check out our article here…


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The Strand

This beautiful 2.2km stretch of beachfront parkland is dotted with playgrounds and picnic areas, and features a water park, a few restaurants and the Strand Rock Pool, and manmade saltwater pool that’s free from stingers and biters.


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Castle Hill

A visit to Townsville isn’t complete without ascending the 268m to the top of Castle Hill.  This pink granite monolith overlooks the entire city and was one of the earliest sites named by the explorers who surveyed the area in 1864.  Whether you do it by car along the 2.6km winding road or the goat track on foot, the view from the top is incredible.  What impressed us the most was the amount of people walking, running and riding their way up the road towards the top – there must have been hundreds!


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Queens Gardens

The inner city park is the oldest botanic garden in Townsville and was first set up in 1870 as a garden of food bearing plants to feed the settlement.  These days, it includes a hedge maze, succulent and cactus gardens and bird aviaries.


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Kissing Point & Jezzine Barracks

Kissing Point overlooks Cleveland Bay and was originally built in the 1800s as a fort to defend the harbour from the threat of foreign attack, particularly from the Russians.  Jezzine Barracks was built on the headland and occupied by military right up until 2006.  In 2009, the area was handed over to the community of Townsville and turned into a heritage precinct that commemorates the military and aboriginal heritage of Kissing Point headland.  There is a great display of war history and a lookout over the bay to Magnetic Island


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Food & Drink

The Townsville Brewing Company

The old Townsville post office was converted into a brewery, restaurant and function centre in 2001 and offers a great range of beers and awesome lunch specials.  Definitely worth stopping in.


Coffee Dominion

This coffee shop sells one thing and one thing only – coffee.  They roast, brew and sell beans at this outlet, and after putting them to the taste test, we give them the Melbournian tick of approval.  The coffee was strong and flavoursome and they know how to froth soy milk so that it’s silky and smooth.


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Two Brothers Café

Just around the corner from the Information Centre is a café that serves up burgers and rolls named after famous brothers.  Choose between a Leyland Brothers Burger with chicken, swiss cheese and bacon or a Mario Brothers deli roll with roast beef, grilled sweet potato and marinated mushrooms.  Sounds good to us!


Information & Accommodation

The Information Centre is located in Bulletin Square, just off Flinders Street in the centre of town.  There are a few cafes nearby and public toilets as well.


The closest YHA to Townsville is on Magnetic Island, which makes it the perfect place to stay while you explore the island.  To make a booking, call (07) 4778 5577 or visit


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About 30km out of town is Bluewater Rest Area.  It’s spacious and offers toilets, a playground and overnight stays for self-contained vehicles – no tents.


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Attraction : Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium

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Did you know that sea stars have no brains or blood and they digest their food outside of their body by protruding their stomach out of their mouth?  Did you know that sharks have a special ‘electrosense’ that allows them to detect electrical impulses from living things?  For those who can’t swim or don’t like to get wet, the Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium provides the opportunity to meet all the creatures of the reef and learn about all of their special talents.


Formally known as the Great Barrier Reef Wonderland, Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium was built as a Bicentennial Commemorative project and opened in Townsville in 1987.  It is the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium that aims to educate people and catalyse changes that will protect the Great Barrier Reef for many years to come.


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The Aquariums

There is a huge central aquarium that is home to the Coral Reef exhibit.  It’s 18 metres wide, 5 metres deep and is home to over 150 species of fish, including the only Scalloped Hammer Head Shark on display in Australia, as well as a large variety of hard and soft corals that are found only on the Great Barrier Reef.  The central aquarium is open to the elements so that the coral can receive natural light and weather, just like natural reefs.  Adjacent to the central tank is the Predator Tank, which is home to four species of shark and an array of other predatory fish and a replica of North Queensland’s most famous shipwreck the S.S. Yongala.


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Surrounding the Coral Reef exhibit are many smaller aquariums displaying a variety of animals like upside-down jelly fish, moray eels, semi-circle angel fish, freshwater turtles and even bioluminescent flashlight fish.  We were fascinated with the shapes and colours of both the fish and the corals, and the interactive displays dotted around the complex were also fun.


The Tours

We attended all the tours on offer at the aquarium.  The Predator Dive Show was particularly interesting because one of the presenters was a diver inside the Predator Tank.  Here, we learnt that while sharks kill only 6 people a year, people kill around 100 million sharks.  We also learnt about beautiful and affectionate leopard sharks, and how they are one variety of shark that use spiracles to pump water over their gills so they can absorb oxygen.  This allows them to lay motionless on the ocean floor while other species of sharks need to keep moving or they will suffocate.  Leopard sharks are spotty like a leopard but their offspring look a lot different.  When they emerge from their strange egg capsules, they’re black and white to resemble a poisonous sea snake, and this gives them a better chance of survival.  The black and white markings have also earned them the name zebra shark.


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The Turtle Hospital

Next door to the Reef HQ Aquarium is the community-funded Turtle Hospital, where sick and injured marine turtles can be cared for, rehabilitated and eventually released back into the ocean.  It also works to raise awareness about threatened species and educate the community about what they can do to promote conservation.


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Things that you can do to help include:


  • Don’t by products made out of turtle… or any other protected animal!
  • Don’t disturb nesting turtles.
  • Keep Australia Beautiful and don’t litter. Plastic bags in the water look like jelly fish and turtles love to eat jelly fish!
  • Report dead or injured turtles to Marine Stranding Hotline 1300 ANIMAL.


We got to visit the Turtle Hospital one on of the tours and met six turtles that were being cared for, including a baby flatback turtle that had its eye damaged when a bird tried to snack on it during its flappy dash from its sandy nest to the sea.


Australia is home to six of the seven species of sea turtle.  The green sea turtle is the most common but the flatback is the only turtle that nests exclusively in Australia.  Only 1 in 1000 baby turtles survive to sexual maturity, which is at around 40 years of age.


Donations to the Turtle Hospital can be made at the Reef HQ Aquarium Turtle Hospital MyCause page or by calling the Reef HQ Aquarium on (07) 4750 0800.


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The Essentials

Entry to Reef HQ Aquarium covers all the talks and tours.  There is also a merchandise shop and a café onsite offering meals, drinks and snacks. Ticket prices and further details can be found on the Reef HQ website:


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Clown fish!

Experience : Ocean Park

This exciting and interactive Aquarium just outside of Denham is a MUST SEE attraction when visiting Shark Bay.  Get up close to a variety of sea creatures that reside in the World Heritage area and learn about the kooky ways they live their lives.


The Park

Located just south of Denham, Ocean Park has been operating since 2000 and was built right next to the turquoise ocean.  The tours that they provide are run by marine biologists that give you a wonderfully educational experience and greater appreciation for the animals that live in Shark Bay.  While the park works to rehabilitate marine reptiles like turtles and snakes, they also assist with researching fish species to provide information that contributes to fishing regulations.



They are very eco-friendly and have a 4 star green rating. The solar panels out the front of the park generate about 270 kilowatts hours each day and provide 98% of the power that they use at the park.  They generate their own fresh water using reverse osmosis desalination and the onsite windmill powers the vacuum that cleans the tanks. They also have a licensed café onsite with decking that overlooks Shark Bay Marine Park, and they accommodate for a variety of functions.


The Animals

Our tour guide was Rose, and she started off the tour in a sheltered area full of big tanks.  The first animal we met was Bob the Turtle.  It was brought in as a baby because its flipper was picked off by a bird.  Because it wasn’t strong enough to swim against the current, it was found way down near Albany when it should have been at its feeding grounds further up the north west coast past Geraldton!  Turtles can live to around 150 years old but only reach sexual maturity when they’re around 30 years old.  Unfortunately, because their survival rate is only 10%, only 1 in 10,000 actually get to reproduce!



We also got to learn a lot about clown fish – that’s Nemo for those playing at home! They have a symbiotic relationship with the anemone they live in. The tentacles of an anemone are very similar to those of jellyfish – they’re death-traps for fish that get too close. The anemone recognises the protein-based mucus on a fish’s skin and grabs it.  Why don’t they eat Nemo then? It turns out that clown fish have a sugar-based mucus layer instead so the anemone doesn’t think its food! The relationship is symbiotic because the anemone provides shelter for the clown fish, and in return, the clown fish brings food to the anemone.


We also learnt that star fish aren’t actually fish and their correct name is sea stars. They have no eyes or brains, but they have five noses and can regrow limbs. If their food is too big to fit in their mouth, they can externally digest it before swallowing.  Amazing…ly gross!



There were lots of lion fish – each with 13 hollow spines along the ridge of their back that can inject you with venom.  Rose told us a great story about how the hurricane in New Orleans broke many tropical fish tanks and released lion fish into the Atlantic Ocean.  They were destroying the environment so the way the problem was tackled was to put out a bounty and a cookbook to encourage fishermen to eat them.  Of course, there were many more incidents of people getting stung.


When we got around to the sea snake enclosure, you could feel the fear in the air.  These guys are super venomous but lucky for humans, they usually don’t release enough to kill us.  Many times, they will strike with a blank bite that doesn’t involve venom to warn you to stay away.



Outside were the bigger tanks and we watched Rose feed trevally, pink snapper and a huge mulloway.  Further on was the Shark Pool with a few lemon sharks and sandbar sharks.  The longest shark in the tank was a 2.2m shark that only eats about 500g of food a day.  It was cool to watch the sharks thrash about as Rose dangled some fish into the water.



The Essentials

Ocean Park is located on Shark Bay Road, just outside of Denham. They are every day from 9am to 4pm, and are closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day.


Telephone: 08 9948 1765