Day Trips to the Reef
Most boats visiting the Reef from Townsville are live-aboard vessels that make trips of 2 or more days, designed for serious divers. Adrenalin Dive ( tel. 1300/664 600 in Australia or 07/4724 0600; www.adrenalindive.com.au) operates day trips on which you can make introductory dives for A$80 for the first one and A$120 for two; certified divers can make two dives for A$70, all gear included. The cruise costs A$196 for adults and A$146 for children 6 to 12. The price includes lunch and morning and afternoon tea, and snorkel gear. Cruises depart Townsville at 6:30am, with a pickup at Magnetic Island en route at 7:25am. They also run trips to the Yongala wreck. day trips in which you will do two dives on the Yongala. The cost is A$266, including all gear, and A$10 per dive for a guide, if you have logged fewer than 15 dives.
Don’t miss the views of the city, Cleveland Bay, and Magnetic Island from Castle Hill; it’s a 2.5 km (1 1/2-mile) drive or a shorter, steep walk up from town (make sure to do it in the cool part of the day). To drive to the top, follow Stanley Street west from Flinders Street to Castle Hill Drive; the walking trails up are posted en route.
The Strand is a 2.5 km (1 1/2-mile) strip with safe swimming beaches, a fitness circuit, a great water park for the kids, and plenty of covered picnic areas and free gas barbecues. Stroll along the promenade or relax at one of the many cafes, restaurants, and bars while you gaze across the Coral Sea to Magnetic Island. For the more active, there are areas to in-line skate, cycle, walk, fish, or play half-court basketball. Four rocky headlands and a picturesque jetty adjacent to Strand Park provide good fishing spots, and two surf lifesaving clubs service the three swimming areas along the Strand. Cool off in the Olympic-size Tobruk Pool or the seawater Rockpool or at the beach itself. During summer (Nov–Mar), three swimming enclosures operate to keep swimmers safe from marine stingers. If watersports are on your agenda, try a jetski, hire a canoe, or take to the latest in pedal skis. A state-of-the-art water park has waterfalls, hydrants, water slides, and water cannons, plus a huge bucket of water that continually fills until it overturns and drenches laughing children.
Billabong Sanctuary You could easily spend 2 or 3 hours here, seeing Aussie wildlife in a natural setting and hand-feeding kangaroos and emus. You can also be photographed (starting at A$16) holding a koala, a (baby) crocodile, a python, or a wombat. Interesting interactive talks and shows run continuously starting at 10am; one of the most popular is the saltwater-crocodile feeding at 1:15pm (for an extra A$99, you can also personally feed the croc). It also has gas barbecues, a cafe, and a pool.Bruce Hwy. (17 km/11 miles S of Townsville). tel. 07/4778 8344. www.billabongsanctuary.com.au. A$30 adults, A$27 students, A$19 children 4–16, A$85 families of 5. Daily 9am–4pm. Closed Christmas Day.
Museum of Tropical Queensland If you’re lucky enough to be here on the second Tuesday of the month, you’ll have the chance to hear a museum expert give an hour-long lunchtime talk as part of the museum’s “Discover More”lecture series. Subjects cover everything from underwater robotic research to frogs to the history of Townsville. With its curved roof, shaped like a ship under sail, this interesting museum holds the treasures salvaged from the wreck of the HMS Pandora, which sank in 1792 and lies 33 m (108 ft.) underwater on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. This is the highlight of the museum, and the exhibit’s centerpiece is a full-scale replica of a section of the ship’s bow and its 17-m-high (56-ft.) foremast, crafted by local shipwrights. The exhibition traces the ship’s voyage and the retrieval of the sunken treasure—make sure you watch the film about the salvage. The museum has five other galleries, including a hands-on science center; a natural history display; one dedicated to north Queensland’s indigenous heritage, with items from Torres Strait and the South Sea Islands; and stories from people of different cultures about the settlement of north Queensland. Another is devoted to touring exhibitions, which change every 3 months. Allow 2 to 3 hours.70–102 Flinders St. (next to Reef HQ). tel. 07/4726 0600. www.mtq.qm.qld.gov.au. Admission A$15 adults, A$11 students, A$8.80 children 4–16, A$38 families of 5. Daily 9:30am–5pm. Closed Good Friday, Christmas Day, and until 1pm Apr 25 (Anzac Day).
Reef HQ Aquarium Reef HQ is the education center for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s headquarters and the largest living coral reef aquarium in the world. The highlight is walking through a 20-m-long (66-ft.) transparent acrylic tunnel, gazing into a giant predator tank where sharks cruise silently. A replica of the wreck of the SS Yongala provides an eerie backdrop for blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, leopard sharks, and nurse sharks, sharing their 750,000-liter (195,000-gal.) home with stingrays, giant trevally, and a green turtle. Watching them feed is quite a spectacle. The tunnel also reveals the 2.5-million-liter (650,000-gal.) coral-reef exhibit, with its hard and soft corals providing a home for thousands of fish, giant clams, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and other creatures. During the scuba show, the divers speak to you over an intercom while they swim with the sharks and feed the fish. Other highlights include a touch tank and a wild-sea-turtle rehabilitation center, plus interactive activities for children. Reef HQ is an easy walk from the city center.2–68 Flinders St. tel. 07/4750 0800. www.reefhq.com.au. Admission A$27 adults, A$20 students, A$13 children 5–16, A$39–A$67 families. Daily 9:30am–5pm. Closed Christmas Day. Public parking lot opposite Reef HQ. All buses from the City Mall stop nearby.