Cool things to do in Townsville include checking into retro-chic lodgings at The Ville and settling onto a stool at the swim-up Splash Bar for the afternoon, strolling Townsville’s vibrant street art walking trail, diving into the unique new Museum of Underwater Art, sampling craft beers at local microbreweries, and tucking into excellent Asian food.
A new Museum of Underwater Art with ocean-floor installations you have to dive down to see, an ever-expanding street art collection with vibrant murals enlivening city walls, an emerging craft beer scene to rival Australia’s other regional cities, and casual restaurants dishing up authentic Asian food, from Lao, Thai and Vietnamese to Korean, Chinese and Japanese, Townsville has plenty to engage you for a few days if not a longer holiday.
If you would have told me once upon a time that one day Townsville in North Queensland would become a cool little regional capital that warranted lingering in to gawk at street art, browse art galleries and museums, sample craft beers, and feast on Asian food, I might not have believed you.
Although I had certainly planned to return to visit my cousins and do the usual things that my family did when we passed through when I was a child: hire a boat to go fishing, cruise over to Magnetic Island, and head to the nearby rainforest for the waterfalls and swimming holes. You can still do those things, of course.
Sadly, the grand three-storey Buchanan’s Hotel, dating to 1903, with its balconies decorated with ornate ironwork, where my parents loved to sip cold beers after a long hot drive, was long ago destroyed by fire. But these days the locals sip local brews in tropical beer gardens, cocktails at breezy rooftop bars, and champagne at poolside cabanas at The Ville.
Here are some of the cool things to do in Townsville that are on my list.
Things to Do in Townsville from the Museum of Underwater Art to the Townsville Street Art City Walking Trail
Check in to Retro-Chic Lodgings at The Ville
Townsville boasts some appealing accommodation, from spacious apartments with water views to renovated old ‘Queenslanders’ – elevated weatherboard residences with wide verandas made for tropical climates – converted into holiday houses. Yet until the opening of The Ville, there was nothing like this retro-chic resort in a remodelled hotel-casino that quickly became one of Queensland’s most stylish boutique properties. Revamped by Woods Bagot, one of Australia’s oldest and most renowned architectural firms, The Ville’s design was inspired by the tropics, traditional Queenslanders and mid-century modernist architecture. Light-filled rooms have white-washed wood-panelling, leaf-print carpets, and vintage touches such as green velvet cushions. There are cane chairs and tropical ferns in the airy lobby and tempting bars and restaurants, such as modern-Asian Miss Songs. But the star attraction is the stunning pool, surrounded by timber decks and landscaped gardens, with sea views, poolside cabanas, and the swim-up Splash Bar. If you’re travelling with family or friends, book a private cabana for the afternoon. If you’re not staying at the hotel, purchase a pool day pass (adults $35/kids $25) which includes food/drinks credit or splurge on a cabana. The Refresh Package ($250 guests/$300 non-guests) includes an antipasto board and choice of cocktails, wine, beers, and waters, while the Indulge Package ($450 guests/$500 non-guests) includes freshly shucked oysters, antipasto and cheese boards, fruit platter, and choice of drinks.
Pssst… our friends at Luxury Escapes have a special deal right now for 3 nights at The Ville starting from A$499 per room, including daily breakfast, sunset cocktails, and a A$50 food/drink credit.
Dive Into The Museum of Underwater Art
Townsville’s new Museum of Underwater Art aims to use art to highlight one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef, and share the stories of the reef and culture of its people, as well as spark a meaningful conversation and solutions to reef conservation. Two installations by world-renowned sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor launch the Museum of Underwater Art, a first-of-its-kind for the Southern Hemisphere, with more installations to come in 2021 on Magnetic and Palm Islands. The Ocean Siren, modelled on Takoda Johnson, a Wulgurukaba man and traditional owner, changes colour in response to variations in water temperature, reacting to live data from Davies Reef weather station. The Ocean Siren is visible from The Strand Jetty, however, you’ll have to take a snorkelling or diving tour to see the second installation, The Coral Greenhouse, on John Brewer Reef in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The largest installation and first underwater building created by the artist, the Coral Greenhouse weighs more than 58 tonnes and is made from stainless steel and pH-neutral materials that complement natural coral growth. Twenty ‘reef guardians’ are scattered within and around the greenhouse. The aim is to communicate messages that inspire coral reef restoration and conservation and create opportunities for tourists, scientists, marine students, teachers, and researchers to engage with the work. You can book tours to visit the Museum of Underwater Art’s Coral Greenhouse, located 80km or a 2-hour boat ride from Townsville, with Adrenalin Dive, Orpheus Island Lodge, Yongala Dive, and Pro Dive Magnetic Island.
Stroll the Townsville Street Art City Walking Trail
Townsville’s collection of bold and often breathtaking works of street art that enliven the walls of buildings must be one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Unlike local authorities in many urban centres around the world, Townsville City Council recognises street art as a key factor in creating a lively, vibrant city centre, benefiting the city’s residents and visitors alike, and it’s everywhere. The Council has commissioned works by world-renowned street artists and talented locals alike including ROA, HAHA, Fintan Magee, Lee Harnden, Kennie Deaner, Roberto Ciredz, Tellas, Leans, Adnate, Garth Jankovic, Nicky Bidju Pryor, Beastman, Baby Guerrilla, and the RUN Collective. Don’t miss the stunning mural of a local contemporary dancer by Claire Foxton, called Sound and Movement Personified, based on a photograph Foxton took as part of a collaboration with local dance company Dancenorth. You can find that work on Stanley Street. Another vivid work of dynamic realism is a striking mural called Mother Earth by the artist Leans, which is on Ogden Street. The Council has created an excellent Townsville Street Art City Walking Trail for you to follow so you don’t miss out on any major works as you wander the city, with plenty of information about the art and artists. You can pick up a free printed map at the excellent Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, situated in a beautiful heritage building, which you should also make time to see. You can also download a digital Townsville Street Art City Walking Trail map here.
Sample Local Craft Beers at Townsville’s Microbreweries
While you’ll find no shortage of microbreweries in Australia’s state capitals, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many regional cities that boast two microbreweries and a specialist craft brew pub. Opened in 2001 in the grand century-old Townsville Post Office building, Townsville Brewery was not only Townsville’s first microbrewery, it was one of the first in a regional capital. Owner Carey Ramm fell in love with craft beers on a USA trip, bought the heritage building, and brought his first brewer over from Guinness in Ireland. Order some of the dry and wet rubs of meats wood-smoked low and slow from The Smokehouse, which you can wash down with an IPA named after Ramm’s dad. With its illuminated Broadway-style signage, front beer garden festooned with fairy lights, and semi-industrial interior, Tiny Mountain Brewery couldn’t be more different. Named after Townsville’s Castle Hill, the red rock that’s the city’s outdoor gym – the challenging hiking tracks get busy after work with locals getting exercise – Tiny Mountain Brewery has a beer named after Townsville’s rugby league team, the Cowboys Castle Kölsch. More approachable is the Pacific Ale, their flagship Aussie-style pale ale, and the seasonal fruit sour Quenchers. Order a tasting flight and local fare from the food trucks outside. Named North Queensland’s number one Craft Beer Bar, The TapHouse introduced Townsville’s craft beer lovers to over 500 artisanal brews from the best independent Australian craft brewers with ten taps on constant rotation, plus tap takeovers and beer degustations, as well as a wide range of international beers, tin craft beers and ciders. The TapHouse was also North Queensland’s first self-pour bar, using PourMyBeer technology. Tapas and sharing plates are on the menu here.
Tuck Into Townsville’s Authentic Asian Fare
Long gone are the days when every regional city and town in Australia had a Chinese restaurant and a bakery and little else. Thanks to a long multicultural history, Australia’s cities and towns are very cosmopolitan when it comes to eating out. Townsville’s dining scene is no exception with elegant fine diners, easy-going cafés and casual bistros serving everything from Italian and Mexican to modern Australian. Don’t miss JAM, Touch of Salt, Bridgewater, and Wayne and Adele’s Garden of Eating for starters. But Townsville also has plenty of terrific Asian fare on offer. The North Queensland city is closer to Southeast Asia than Sydney after all. Expect to find restaurants offering Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian. Locals love the tom yum and beef Massaman at Wild Rice; the sushi and sashimi platters, gyoza, okonomiyaki and vegetarian bento box at GYO; and the Korean style fried chicken, kimchi gyoza, and seafood pancake at ZIZIGO.
Do let us know if you’ve done any of these cool things to do in Townsville and if you have more tips, please do leave them in the comments below.
Image used with the permission of Luxury Escapes.