Townsville… A place of history and learning

In the heart of Queensland's tropics, overlooking some of the most beautiful stretches of the central Great Barrier Reef, the story of the world's biggest living organism truly comes alive. 

Townsville is easily the first place keen minds go to learn about the marine environment alongside those who are passionate about sharing their knowledge. The Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium – a 660,000-gallon coral reef exhibit and the world's largest living coral reef aquarium – houses an impressive collection of native marine wildlife. But it's not all static displays and interpretive panels: visitors can play a part in the conservation of turtles on the reef thanks to the onsite Turtle Hospital – a dedicated facility, where sick and injured turtles are cared for and rehabilitated.

Offshore in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, three tropical continental islands – Magnetic (perfect for family adventures), Orpheus (indulgent and ultra-luxe) and Hinchinbrook (the Thorsborne trail through the island's verdant national park draws hard-core hikers) – offer a range of aquatic and coastal experiences.

Visitors who want to give back to the reef, can immerse themselves in nature through a volunteer program and join the researchers from James Cook University on Orpheus Island. Accommodation is free and you work for your supper.

Below the surface, Townsville has earned serious diving stripes thanks to the rich underwater encounters around the SS Yongala shipwreck. The story itself is a sad one of lives lost, but over time, new reef life has grown up and around the rusting hulk, giving the site an added natural dimension. Filtered sunlight reaches into the depths to reveal an aquatic masterwork of astonishing beauty and diversity, where an incredible array of marine life head in and around to feed.

Giant groupers hang beneath the stern and schools of giant trevally congregate around the wreck, while sea snakes glide harmlessly past you on their way to the surface. You can also spot turtles lazily feeding, gracefully sweeping the rays and thousands of other creatures on the coral-encrusted vessel.

While SS Yongala's been grabbing the lion's share of the diving limelight, Townsville locals are now letting the world in on another fabulous secret, Lodestone Reef. This little-known patch of the Great Barrier Reef is home to big schools of trevally and boasts large colourful coral bommies. And best of all, if it remains a loosely-kept secret, you'll have this little patch of paradise to yourself.

But don't be fooled, Townsville's nonchalant façade also belies a sophisticated foodie scene, which takes full advantage of the bounty of seafood on its shores and is on a par with cities in the southern states.

Add These To Your Bucket List

  1. Dive the SS Yongala wreck, consistently rated as one of the Top 10 dive sites in the world, and one of the only ones that has a coral reef growing around it. At more than 18 metres below sea level, this dive is strictly for the experienced.
  2. Spark your curiosity at Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium – the world's largest living coral aquarium and home to 150 species of reef fish, turtles, and shark feeds.
  3. Head off on an overnight affordable adventure around the World Heritage-listed Hinchinbrook Island. Discover the remote beaches, waterfalls and the island's famous Thorsborne Trail – one of the world's best hiking tracks. Be sure to organise a camping permit before you leave home.
  4. Explore the secluded islands of the tropics including Magnetic Island (family friendly and affordable), the Palm Island group and Orpheus Island (high-end luxe) by yacht.
  5. Take a tour of Orpheus Island's research station and peer over the shoulder of marine biologists and scientists undertaking research on the Great Barrier Reef.
  6. Throw on your best pirate hat and get involved in Magnetic Island Race Week, whether you're manning the winches as a deckie or cheering from the shoreline.
  7. Paddle out on a sunset kayak around Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island to spot turtles and dolphins before a champagne toast.
  8. For those who love snorkelling and/or reef diving, a trip to colourful Lodestone Reef – 2hrs offshore from Townsville – is an absolute must-do and one of the region's best kept secrets. Dive with blacktip and whitetip reef sharks and sea turtles with visibility up to 20m.  Adrenalin Snorkel and Dive take day trips to this gorgeous site.
  9. Camp on Pelorus Island with the folks at Remote Area Dive and snorkel the fringing reef just a few steps from your tent. There are no camping facilities on the island so you'll need to be Bear Grylls-savvy.
  10. Follow the Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay self-guided snorkelling trails off Magnetic Island, with the Moltke wreck and a World War II aeroplane propeller as your end reward.


Immerse Yourself In Nature

  • Summer: Fish spawning – clouds of damsels, wrasse, surgeons and parrotfish either lay eggs or start broadcast spawning.
  • Year-round: Spot one of the largest colonies of wild koalas along the Fort Walks of Magnetic Island.

World Class Aquatic Adventures
If wreck dives and coral reef islands are your bag, get yourself to Townsville in North Queensland and start exploring. 

LODESTONE REEF

Site: This stunner is a visual alternative to Wheeler Reef (while it regenerates after Cyclone Yasi) and is located just two hours offshore from Townsville.

Location: Townsville.
Dive Type: Reef.
Depth:
1m to 20m.
Visibility:
18 to 20m.
Skill Level:
Relaxed diving for all levels. Suitable for novice divers.
Known For:
Large bommies and plenty of marine life.

Wildlife: Big schools of trevally and a myriad of colourful reef fish are common while turtles, stingrays, whitetip and blacktip reef sharks are often sighted.
Hot Tip: Instagram followers will suffer FOMO just from looking at the colours on this reef.

WHEELER REEF

**This site was damaged during Cyclone Yasi and is in the process of regenerating. See Lodestone Reef as an alternative dive spot**

Site: A circular reef platform perched close to the continental shelf drop off.
Location:
Townsville.
Dive Type:
Reef.
Depth:
From 2m to 30m.
Visibility:
Average 30m.
Skill Level:
All levels.
Known For:
Dive into Shark Alley to spot blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, grey reef whaler sharks and pygmy rays from October to December.
Wildlife:
A magnificent example of marine biodiversity, this site offers spectacular formations of plate, branching and soft corals in brilliant colours and teams with tropical life. 

Hot Tip: This site is rated as one of the best night dives on the reef, with moray eels, epaulette and whitetip sharks and bull rays. During the day, explore the myriad of gullies, canyons, caves and swim throughs.

YONGALA WRECK

Site: This site is ranked as one of the Top 10 dive sites in the world and is located 24m underwater, off the coast of Townsville. 
Location:
Townsville.
Dive Type: Shipwreck / Reef.
Depth:
From 15m to 33m.
Visibility:
From 10m to 12m.

Skill Level: Advanced.
Known For:
One of the best wreck dives in the world, at 110m long, the SS Yongala is one of the most intact shipwrecks (the rudder is intact, though the propeller has rotted) and intriguing maritime mysteries. The BBC's Monty Halls described it as “the greatest wildlife wreck on earth”. It is known for its sheer proliferation of marine life – every available space on the smooth hull is covered – with a coral reef formed around the vessel, offering divers the best of both dive worlds. 
Wildlife:
Expect to see manta rays, bull sharks, eagle rays, barracuda, giant groupers and all manner of fish. The main feeding action is at the top of the wreck where divers will see Queensland grouper, the largest bony fish on the reef at this site.

Hot Tip: The dive site is easily accessible 30 minutes from shore via the Yongala Express.

It's Live! In Queensland

AUTUMN

  • Magnetic Island Adventurethon (Townsville)
  • Townsville Triathlon Festival (Townsville)

 WINTER

  • Magnetic Island Adventurethon (Townsville)
  • Townsville Triathlon Festival (Townsville)
  • Townsville Running Festival (Townsville)

SPRING

  • Sealink Magnetic Island Race Week (Townsville)

Hidden Gems

  • Make out like Survivor and camp on Pelorus Island – with just you and the resident goats
  • Lodestone Reef offers pristine water for snorkelling and diving
  • Walk the Thorsborne Trail and overnight along Australia's Jurassic Island
  • Grab a snorkel clue card from X Base Backpackers and take a self-guided tour along Magnetic Island fringing reef to see bommies and World War Two relics.
  • Drop by the research station at Orpheus Island and see the word done by world-renowned James Cook University.