The Top Things to do in Townsville

Looking for things to do in Townsville, Australia? You've come to the right place! North Queensland's unofficial "capital", Townsville has plenty to see and do ranging from the natural to the man made; its coastal location makes exploring the beautiful waters off QLD and the Great Barrier Reef a pleasure, as snorkelling, surfing, cruises and more are all popular pastimes, while nearby Magnetic Island is a paradise just off-shore. See the marine life up close at ReefHQ Aquarium, explore the nearby rainforest, climb Castle Hill in the city centre and much more!

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1 Night Magnetic Island Package from Townsville
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Reef HQ Aquarium
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2 Night Townsville and Magnetic Island Stay and Play Package
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Outer Great Barrier Reef Snorkel Cruise from Townsville and Magnetic Island
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2 Night Magnetic Island and Koala Sanctuary Tour Package from Townsville
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Townsville to Magnetic Island Ferry Transfer
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Museum of Tropical Queensland
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Outer Great Barrier Reef Dive Cruise from Townsville and Magnetic Island
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Yongala Wreck Dive Trip from Townsville and Magnetic Island
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The Strand Townsville
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Mount Stuart Townsville
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Townsville Military Tour with Optional Scenic Tour
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2 Night Magnetic Island Package from Townsville
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2 Night Rainforest Self Drive Package from Townsville
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3 Night Magnetic Island Package from Townsville
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Great Barrier Reef Snorkel and Dive Cruise from Mission Beach
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Texas Longhorn Wagon Tour from Charters Towers
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Top Things to do in - Townsville and surrounds

1. Magnetic Island

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Location: 8km off coast of Townsville

Undoubtedly the feather in Townsville's cap, Magnetic Island is an island oasis just off the coast of the city that's hugely popular with both locals and visitors from afar alike and just a short, 20-minute boat ride away across a beautiful stretch of water.

As part of the Great Barrier Reef island chain, it's got everything you'd expect when imagining a reef escape – pristine beaches, hidden bays, abundant wildlife, a ton of walking tracks and an ideal location amongst a World Heritage protected marine park.

It's only fitting, then, that the island is the focal point of activities in the region and offers a bevvy of things to see and do regardless of if you're looking to kick back and take it easy or to take things up a notch.

How you choose to enjoy Magnetic Island is entirely up to you; even simply walking is popular as there are some outstanding views on offer at various points on trails that meander their way through its National Park that's filled with animal life such as koalas, echidnas, wallabies and numerous kinds of birds.

Trails varying in distance and difficulty can be found all over the island and range from easy half-hour strolls to more challenging multi-hour journeys up steeper inclines – but with more rewarding views at the end. Signage is both well done and maintained on the majority of these tracks, so there's little fear of getting lost if you stick to the path.

Those who love the water will obviously be in paradise on Magnetic Island, as there are a range of ways to enjoy it both from under and above; swimming is an obvious choice, and the sheltered nature of the island's bays coupled with their lovely water can make this simple activity a joy.Patrolled swimming areas can be found at Horseshoe Bay (the largest of Magnetic Island's offerings), Alma Bay and Picnic Bay, all of which offer on-shore picnic facilities nearby and volunteer lifeguards to help keep safety levels to a maximum.

Snorkelling is also a hot pastime as the fringing coral reefs make access to shallow-water exploration a breeze from the shores of the island.

Fishing from the rocks, tours from the island further out into the Great Barrier Reef, and whale watching during the season from August to October round out the experience, so if you're looking to take advantage of the surrounding aquatic environment there are plenty of opportunities to do so all throughout the year.

On shore, meanwhile, the island is no slouch, either; there are various attractions both natural and man-made to keep everyone occupied as well as accommodation options aplenty ranging from backpackers all the way up to 5-star resorts. The island's restaurant, dining and bar scene is also a key feature, as there are numerous cafes and pubs to enjoy while taking in the fresh ocean views (particularly enticing at sunset) amongst the typically balmy weather. Add to this the opportunity for golf, theatre shows and plenty of pampering, and Magnetic Island offers the complete holiday getaway package.

While it's a great place all-year-round, the season from May to November (the winter bridging period) is generally considered the best time to visit Magnetic Island due to comfortable humidity levels, more predictable weather, and the ability to get away from the cold for those living further down south.

Transportation runs from Townsville to Magnetic Island via a ferry service that operates 18 times per day, making it an easily accessible spot regardless of if you're an early riser or prefer a sleep-in. Overall, with such a huge array of things to see, do and enjoy amongst a picturesque natural package, if you're visiting Townsville you'd be missing out if you didn't make the trip over to Magnetic Island.

2. Reef HQ Aquarium

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Location: 2-68 Flinders Street, Townsville

The fact that Townsville's Reef HQ Aquarium is relatively little-known outside of QLD is something of a travesty as it's one of the best bang-for-the-buck experiences of its kind in the country and has one of the most organic atmospheres of any aquarium in Oz.

With its status as the world's largest living coral reef aquarium, it's the best available showcase of the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef available for those who aren't keen divers or aren't looking to get wet, having won numerous awards for its combination of entertainment and conservation efforts.

While overall it's not a massive facility, Reef HQ's main viewing tanks are impressive in scale, boasting a 2.5 million litre main coral reef exhibit as the feature attraction that mirrors a view of what the coral and creatures of the Great Barrier Reef are actually like – the integration of so many different kinds of creatures into a single area rather than segregation into smaller tanks gives a wonderfully natural feel.

The likes of hammerheads, rays, groupers and more all live their lives in a shared environment that's about as close to they would in the “real world” as possible, so it never feels quite like the typical “isolated attraction” experience given by some other wildlife facilities.

Reef HQ offers plenty of viewing areas to take in marine life from a variety of different angles and boasts a great variety of fish and coral types, with free tours and talks given throughout the day in order to showcase detailed information on many of them.

With predator dive shows featuring sharks, shark and other animal feeding sessions, turtle shows and more, there's always something going on at Reef HQ in addition to its quality static exhibits. The staff here likewise deserve special mention, as they're both incredibly helpful and informative as well as insanely knowledgeable about the various marine species and their habits, environments and diets.

It's also immensely popular with kids as there are not only plenty of interactive displays for them to take part in, but also a hands-on “Discovery Lagoon” exhibit that allows them to see, listen and touch aquatic life of the reef, while a Play Zone is available to keep the younger ones occupied. Special events and activities are also put on for children should you be visiting during the school holidays – which can be a great thing for families or an annoyance for adults who time their trip during this season.

Lastly, a tip of the cap must be given to the Aquarium's turtle hospital, which serves as a place where the public can get an up-close look at the work and effort that goes on behind the scenes to rehabilitate turtles injured in the wild either my predators or mankind. This is about as real as an aquarium experience can get, and is both educational and slightly sad at the same time as it's possible to see the negative impact man's reef exploration can have on animal life.

In all, Reef HQ is Townsville's best man-made attraction and serves as a great “first-step” introduction to the reef for first-timers before taking their first actual snorkel or dive, making it an essential itinerary item – particularly for those bringing kids along for the ride.

HOT TIP: Combine with a visit to the Museum of Tropical North QLD (they're right across from each other) for a wholesome day of Townsville marine goodness on dry land.

3. Outer Barrier Reef Day Trip

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Location: Breakwater Ferry Terminal, 10 Sir Leslie Thiess Drv, Townsville

One of the main drawcards for those visiting Townsville from bother interstate and abroad is obviously going to be the Great Barrier Reef; it's considered one of the worlds Natural Wonders for a reason and Townsville's relatively less-commercialized nature for exploring its offerings make for a pleasant reef adventure springboard than the likes of Cairns or Port Douglas.

The majority of tours from Townsville offering access to the reef feature an emphasis on a number of great dive sites rather than purely scenic cruising; the likes of popular spots Lodestone Reef and the aforementioned SS Yongala wreck require more lengthy trips out than some other just-off-shore options in similar destinations, but they're typically well worth the effort due to the quality and uniqueness of the reef experience they provide.

Options for different dive types will thus have a large impact on what kind of underwater adventure you come away with when travelling from Townsville; choosing from a challenging world-class wreck dive, sticking to shallower fringing reefs and canyons, or heading down to deeper waters as far down as 35m from surface level are all on the cards here.

Lodestone Reef, in particular, is renowned for offering a great marine experience while still remaining fairly uncrowded, with its calmer conditions making introductory dives and snorkelling also a possibility. As part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, you'd expect there to be aquatic life aplenty, and Lodestone Reef doesn't disappoint; graceful sea turtles and rays, brilliant corals and hundreds of species of reef fish all call the area home.

As part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, you'd expect there to be aquatic life aplenty, and Lodestone Reef doesn't disappoint; graceful sea turtles and rays, brilliant corals and hundreds of species of reef fish all call the area home.

Various other, smaller reefs off the coast such as Bramble, Broadhurst and Keeper reefs also offer their own take on the experience, with some serving as great spots for fishing and others being prime destinations during the annual whale watching season.

The slightly-more-southern geographical location of Townsville and its reef dives also comes with milder trade winds as well which can assist with both smoother waters and granting higher levels of visibility – a small, but not insignificant benefit as opposed to other northerly spots.

Tours to the Great Barrier Reef from Townsville typically depart early in the morning either from terminals at Townsville itself or Magnetic Island, with 2-3 hours worth of travel required to reach the most popular spots. As a reef destination, Townsville is truly underrated as an option and serves as a very viable alternative to some of its more famous brothers further north.

4. Castle Hill Walk and Lookout

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Location: Castle Hill, Townsville CBD

Most major cities have one spot that serves as the clear best lookout point, and Townsville's answer to this is Castle Hill which sits right in the centre of its CBD. Upon arriving in the city, it's hard to miss; the hill's central location coupled with its distinct red-pink colouring and 286m tall peak looms over the city and is one of the most popular walking/hiking locations in the region.

From the summit, great views stretching out over Townsville and its surrounding Cleveland Bay can be had, and with it also doubling as the best spot in town to grab a photo, making the trek to the top – whether by car or on foot – makes it a must-do.

As the city of Townsville is relatively flat and expansive, views from Castle Hill are almost completely unobstructed and allow a great perspective on both Magnetic Island to the east and the various rugged mountain ranges to the west. Simply put, it's the city's only true 360-degree lookout, and helps shed more light on what a lovely location it sits in.

Multiple viewing platforms are on offer all over the hill which can provide a clearer outlook to certain directions, accessed via a range of individual walking tracks that differ in both length and difficulty. Those willing to put in the effort to walk the entire 2.8km length of the road from the base to the top will get a dose of some of the best exercise available, and is often the best option as, while driving is possible, parking at the top is often at a premium and it can get quite crowded on weekends or during peak holiday periods.

The walk can be taxing – particularly during summer – however, if you prepare with a suitable hat and sufficient water then the sense of self-accomplishment coupled with the great views at the end make for a satisfying experience.

Those wanting to conserve their energy can make the drive to the top, find a parking spot and then ascend the stairs to the main lookout; and once you're there you'll have a great outlook that takes on a whole different perspective at both day and night times – with the spectacular sunset views being perhaps the best of the best.

The Castle Hill summit also is equipped with facilities to make things easier on visitors such as public toilets and refreshing shower-sprinklers to cool off either in the warmer months or after making the trek from the base.

Pretty native plants that flower brightly during spring, various local animals such as rock wallabies, falcons and kites, and a monument to the city's founder Robert Towns round out the scenery on offer on the Hill, making it one of Townsville's most comprehensive sightseeing experiences all for the best possible price: free.

5. The Museum of Tropical QLD

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Location: 70-102 Flinders St, Townsville City

This little gem of a museum differs from many other similar attractions around the country by combining typical historical exhibitions with its focus on all-things-tropical. As the name suggests, Townsville's Museum of Tropical Queensland puts a large emphasis on the likes of the natural history of rainforests, maritime exploration, modern and ancient animals that dwell in the tropics and – of course – the ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef.

Set out over 3 levels, it's an informative, interactive and hands-on museum that's highly kid-friendly. The Museum of Tropical QLD has multiple permanent exhibits, the most obvious of which can be seen upon entering - life-sized replica bow of the HMS Pandora, a British ship that sunk back in 1791.

The Pandora's exhibition is thorough and details both the history of the ship, how its guns and weaponry functioned, and an in-depth look at life for both crew and prisoners during this period of maritime history.

Next up is the facility's impressive rainforest area, which talks visitors on a bridge journey through a simulated rainforest canopy that takes a detailed look not only at the animal and plant inhabitants of the rainforests of QLD and Australia as a whole, but also the culture and history of their indigenous inhabitants.

It also offers a replica rainforest floor that helps to pay tribute to the tiny – yet no less important – creatures that sometimes go unnoticed amongst these vast ecosystems. Many of the other sections of the museum deal with the aquatic, with the tropical region's mangroves and Great Barrier Reef, demonstrated in detail via various galleries and dioramas that showcase all the amphibians, fish and coral that give Tropical QLD its natural, vibrant colours on both land and sea.

While the word “museum” doesn't typically translate to “fun for kids”, the Museum of Tropical QLD is a strong exception to that rule. There's plenty for them to see and do as the interactive focus allows them to perform such activities as digging for fossils, taking part in optical illusions, discovering the finer points of the human body, experiment with science and much more – and all while hopefully learning a few things!

The newest addition to the museum – a dinosaur exhibit boasting extremely lifelike dinosaurs, only serves to add to the offerings with to-scale dinos to get up close to and take a photo with, as well as dioramas showing baby dinosaurs hatching.

While it's not a large museum – expect to allocate around 2-3 hours for the average visitor – the offerings and interactivity make the Museum of Tropical North QLD well worth a visit while in Townsville; and, as an added bonus, it's located right next to one of the other attractions featured below on this list that can be combined for one of Townsville's best attraction-based days out for families.

6. SS Yongala Wreck

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Location: 89km South-East of Townsville

Widely regarded as Australia's best wreck dive, the skeleton of the SS Yongala off Townsville's coast is an immensely popular diving site for enthusiasts all over the country.

Located in waters teeming with a large range of sea life ranging from graceful manta rays to fierce-looking bull sharks and everything in-between, it's a site that combines both varieties with generally good visibility.

The wreck requires a fair journey from Townsville – expect roughly a 3 hour boat trip from the coast – and thus many aspiring divers choose to instead leave from the nearby town of Ayr further down the coast before heading to the launch point of Alva Beach in order to maximise dive time.

Once out and under the water, it's easy to see why the dive is so popular – although it sank over 100 years ago, the Yongala is still in remarkably good condition due to its isolated location, and now serves as a fully-fledged artificial reef draped in all the characteristic colours of the World Heritage-protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Coral cover the body of the ship, with both soft and hard types contributing their individual colours and hues to the proceedings, while fish are numerous and range from smaller species all the way up to immense Maori Wrasse and other species of grouper.

Although it sank over 100 years ago, the Yongala is still in remarkably good condition due to its isolated location, and now serves as a fully-fledged artificial reef draped in all the characteristic colours of the World Heritage-protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Various parts of the ship are also still clearly exposed and make for some great exploration opportunities; rudder, forward and aft masts, engine, steam rooms and more are visible and sits in a channel that is only roughly 30 metres deep.

On clearer days, the site is truly spectacular; the lack of depth and the quantity of life blend with the impressive skeleton to more than justify its status as one of the world's best wreck dives – with perhaps the only downside being the often-unpredictable inclement weather typical of Tropical QLD that can make the surrounding waters anywhere from difficult to dangerous.

Dive masters who run daily services out to the wreck know the area and conditions like the back of their hand, however, and will be sure to do their best to ensure your safety or postpone a trip if the climate takes a turn for the worse.

Simply put, if you're a veteran diver and visiting the greater Townsville region during a time when the sun is shining and the waters are calm, you'll want to sign up for a trip to the SS Yongala – it's an underwater experience that is truly “epic” in every sense of the word.

7. The Strand

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Location: The Strand, North Ward, Townsville

Townsville's popular beachfront promenade of The Strand is perhaps the city's centrepiece and serves as a central hub for all sorts of entertainment and outdoor enjoyment.

Stretching for a length of over 2 kilometres, the Strand is home to a variety of facilities – from accommodation to barbecue areas to playgrounds to walking and biking tracks and more; it's a spot that's both relaxed and energetic at the same time, and provides great views out to nearby Magnetic Island to boot.

There's something here to appeal to all ages – families will be in their element here as kids will have access to a massive FREE water park surrounded by spacious grassed areas presenting plenty of play opportunities, while older visitors can take a stroll and enjoy the array of beaches, shopping, art and well-maintained landscaping that make the place a joy at which to spend time.

Those looking for a bite to eat will find The Strand more than fits the bill as well – it's home to a range of cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs many of which offer great outlooks that are almost as enjoyable for the people-watching as the food and beverages they provide.

Townsville's popular beachfront promenade of The Strand is perhaps the city's centrepiece and serves as a central hub for all sorts of entertainment and outdoor enjoyment.

Eateries of all sizes can be found here, with your choice of restaurant likely coming down to personal preference and budget – fish and chip joints exist alongside higher-profile gourmet dining options, and while the array of restaurants on offer is not staggering, they are almost all of a universally-high quality.

Capping off the offerings is the city's casino, which not only serves as a decent spot for a flutter but also adds to the skyline with its sleek architecture and lights reflecting on the waterfront.

The Strand is a place that accurately reflects Townsville's balance between being a growing city while still retaining a strong sense of community; the family environment here persists even during crowded travel periods, and with beaches on one side and grassed areas on the other bordering the lovely waters of the Coral Sea, it's a great balance of colours and spectacles all on offer for free that the city should be commended for.

Safe, secure, scenic and satisfying, Townsville's Strand is simply one of the best-developed esplanade areas in any Australian city.

8. Military History Tours

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Location: Townsville City, QLD

Townsville has played a rather large role throughout Australia's history for over 130 years and additionally serves as home to the largest Army barracks in the country. It's only fitting, then, that the transition from peace to war and back again is an integral part of Townsville, and the chance to experience and learn about these often tumultuous times are offered by local operator Townsville Military History Tours who aim to provide further insight for interested parties.

Blending history, culture and scenery into a single informative and entertaining package, the tours showcase an in-depth look at this military influence with various defence sites, museums, memorials, monuments, barracks and more all featured on the itinerary.

Travelling from point to point, detailed commentary outlining the various trials and tribulations our service men and women faced over the course of Townsville's history all done with a combination of professionalism, pride and respect conducted by host/guide and former serviceman Toby Dean.

Blending history, culture and scenery into a single informative and entertaining package, the tours showcase an in-depth look at this military influence with various defence sites, museums, memorials, monuments, barracks and more all featured on the itinerary.

Toby's passion for both the city and its army influence shines through in his presentation and willingness to answer any and all questions guests may have about the region or wartime activities.

Standard military tours can also be combined with a Townsville sightseeing package that will expand the itinerary and take you to some of the key icons and local landmarks along the way, so if you're looking to blend the best of both worlds and it's your first time to Townsville then this can make a solid choice.

While an interest in all-things-military – or, at least, history – is an obvious advantage, it's far from required to come away from one of these tours without either some level of enjoyment or a new appreciation for the region's role in Australia as a whole. With hotel transfers, morning tea and admission fees included in the overall price, it's a solid value and sometimes-moving way to take your Townsville explorative experience to a whole other level.

9. Texas Longhorns

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Location: 441 Urdera Road, Charters Towers

One of the unique attractions that the greater Townsville region offers can be found near Charters Towers, around 2 hours' drive to the south-west of Townsville city.

Emulating an experience similar to the great Western trails of America during the 1800's, this attraction is much more than a simple cattle farm – as its name suggests, it's home to the largest herd of the Texas Longhorn variety which are known for their massive horns as well as numerous other distinctive traits such as unique colouring, longevity and producing lean beef that is less fatty than other species.

Not the least of these creatures is the attraction's world-famous “JR” - the current Guinness World Record holder for longest horns tip-to-tip, currently measuring at a whopping 2.8 metres and still growing! There are also various other types of international and domestic wildlife – such as Bison, Water Buffalos, deer and even kangaroos to be seen here too.

Visitors to the facility are greeted by friendly and enthusiastic owners and are encouraged to get up close with the cattle that – while they may look intimidating – have famously peaceful and passive dispositions.

The attraction is based around providing guests with an old-time, wagon-drawn tour around the expansive grounds that harks back to the days of the gold rush era and takes you on a relaxed, scenic journey to see the herd firsthand.

The attraction is based around providing guests with an old-time, wagon-drawn tour around the expansive grounds that harks back to the days of the gold rush era and takes you on a relaxed, scenic journey to see the herd firsthand.

The track and surrounding grounds are also dotted with various pieces of rustic memorabilia and equipment that recall this particular time period and serve to add to the atmosphere of the experience.

While getting an informative dose of history and geography of the local area along the way, the tour pauses to provide a break that mixes the USA-style experience with traditional Aussie bush tucker, enjoying a freshly-cooked damper and billy tea to recharge your batteries.

Following up is a trip inside the facility's saddlery where the arts of leatherworking and the history of mounted transport are covered in detail. You'll be able to browse through the workshop and learn about the process of their construction and use, all in a facility that is as about as authentic as you can get in this day and age.

If you're after an experience that allows you to step back in time for a day and truly get away from the typical hustle and bustle of the urban lifestyle, then Texas Longhorn Wagon Adventures will likely check all the boxes if you're in the region.

10. Town Common Conservation Park

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Location: Townsville City, QLD, 4810.

It's rare to have such a large, natural showcase of wildlife in an environment relatively untouched by man so close to a city, but Townsville's Town Common Conservation Park is just that.

While bird life is the undisputed focus here (it's home to almost 280 species in total) – the park comes with its own purpose-built bird watching tower designed to provide optimal views of the various ducks, geese, herons and numerous others that's free for anyone to access – there are also various other kinds of animals such as wallabies and dingoes that can be found dwelling amongst their natural habitats within the park.

All of this which, when added to the lush, green wetlands and impressive surrounding hillsides, makes for a great escape that's easily reachable just minutes from the city.

The Town Common Conservation Park is a typical tropical wetland environment dotted with various lagoons of different sizes intermingled with woodlands, vines and shrubbery and offers visitors a number of great walking, hiking and biking tracks that make exploring its many offerings easy.

A number of these tracks lead to lookout points that provide terrific, panoramic views over the land, with views out to the coast and beyond in some cases.

The Town Common Conservation Park is a world-class bird haven and wilderness site just outside one of Tropical North QLD's largest cities and well worth a visit for wildlife enthusiasts and others alike.

Photographers – both professional and aspiring – will be in their element here, as the mixtures of greens and blues coupled with the large water birds and other wildlife make it possible to come away with some great snapshots of nature at its finest.

Careful effort has been taken by local authorities to leave the park as undamaged and uninfluenced by mankind as possible, with the tracks running organically with the flow of the land; the Many Peaks Track is a highlight as – although it requires a fair amount of effort – the walk provides some expansive views of the Common.

An easy recommendation for those visiting Townsville who want to “escape to the bush” without having to travel all that far, the Town Common Conservation Park is a world-class bird haven and wilderness site just outside one of Tropical North QLD's largest cities and well worth a visit for wildlife enthusiasts and others alike.

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