A drive around the old block

It’s not often you can experience a place as both a local and a tourist.

I’m often told “you can take the girl out of Townsville, but you can’t take Townsville out of the girl”. I take this as a compliment.

Born and bred in the north Queensland city, I know it like the back of my hand. But the ‘local’ experience of a place is often very different to the ‘visitor’ experience. More than a decade after leaving Townsville, I found myself in the unique position of returning as just that. And, as I predicted, seeing the city through a different lens provided me with a completely new perspective.

The Ville

Growing up, we celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and more at the hotel casino on Townsville’s breakwater. First developed in 1986, the site was relatively unchanged until 2015, when new ownership heralded the start of an extensive redevelopment. So profound are the changes that it took a while to find my bearings. Walls have been demolished to expose a view over the ocean that I never knew existed, best enjoyed from the new Quarterdeck which perfectly embraces the relaxed vibe of the tropics. The Quarterdeck is the heart of this home and offers an extensive food and drink menu to suit all tastes and budgets. For finer dining, Miss Song’s offers classic Chinese cuisine with a north Queensland twist. Five-star family accommodation – in the form of a two bedroom apartment complete with kitchen – was the perfect home away from home. the-ville.com.au

Jezzine Barracks

After flying in early to Townsville, we took advantage of the cooler part of the day to explore Jezzine Barracks. The 15-hectare site is like an outdoor museum showcasing the city’s rich military and Aboriginal history through specially-commissioned artwork, traditional gardens and restored elements of the Kissing Point Fort. A timber walkway connects the coastal stretch between The Strand and Rowes Bay, offering expansive views across to Magnetic Island.

Museum of Tropical Queensland

If a city had a voice, Townsville would have some amazing tales to tell. The Museum of Tropical Queensland is the place to discover them all, starting at the full-scale replica of the HMS Pandora, the ill-fated ship sent to recover the famed Bounty and bring the mutineers to justice. Interactive exhibitions surrounding the impressive centrepiece are as entertaining as they are educational and designed to keep adults and children entertained for hours.

Cooling Creeks

When it comes to short road trips, Townsville offers some of the best. Back in the day, rarely a Sunday would pass without my dad piling us all into the car for a drive to one of the creeks for a cool dip and a picnic. Keen to relive my childhood, we planned to visit those best-known to locals – Alligator Creek and Crystal Creek. First up was Alligator Creek, 25km south of Townsville at the foot of Mount Elliot. Record rainfall before our arrival meant the creek was flowing like I’ve never seen before, creating deep pools of water perfect for swimming. Rediscovering this beautiful spot made me wonder why I hadn’t visited more often when I lived there.

I was a little nervous heading up the Paluma Range towards Crystal Creek, about an hour-and-a-half drive north of the city. Memories of car-sickness came flooding back – as I child I never made it up or down the winding road without needing an emergency stop. Fortunately, I’ve grown out of it, but my kids aren’t so lucky. We made it to Little Crystal Creek without incident but decided to leave Big Crystal Creek – further up the mountain – for another time. Whichever you choose, you can be sure the scenery is breath-taking.

Heritage tea rooms

Over the last decade, Townsville has undergone an incredible expansion. Improved road networks mean areas once deemed ‘woop woop’ are more easily discoverable, and because of this I strayed beyond my usual city limit to Hervey’s Range and the popular Hervey’s Range Heritage Tea Rooms. This heritage-listed property dates back to 1865 and has been meticulously-restored to its current state. Popular with two and four-wheel day-trippers, the tea rooms now serve all day breakfast and lunch in a picturesque setting that has stood the test of time.

Castle Hill

Once upon a time, before children, I trekked up Townsville’s most-recognisable landmark daily – it’s the best workout you’ll ever do with views to die for. The pink granite monolith dominates the city’s skyline and is a hive of activity morning and evening with walkers, joggers and sightseers traversing the three most popular tracks – Castle Hill Road (5.2km return), Cudtheringa (2.2km return) and the Goat Track (1.3km return). Although it had been 15 years since I last attempted the climb, I challenged my husband and kids to do Cudtheringa – I’m proud to say no defibrillators were needed.

Magnetic Island

This tropical island, just a 20-minute ferry ride from Townsville, is my happy place. Hectares of National Park, unspoiled beaches and sleepy villages combine to create a perfect escape from it all. We based ourselves in Nelly Bay – where the ferry arrives and departs – which has everything you need within walking distance. We were lucky to have a car, so ventured beyond Nelly Bay to explore Horseshoe Bay, Arcadia Bay and Picnic Bay. Despite having lived in Townsville for 30 years, I’d never done Magnetic Island’s famed Forts Walk – a four-kilometre track leading to historic World War II fortifications and infrastructure. Seeing firsthand these testaments to the strength and resilience of soldiers in the war was truly humbling. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, it’s an experience not to be missed.

As a tourist, I saw a side to Townsville that made me proud to be a local. There really is so much to see and do, and as far as family holidays go, it should be on the top of your list.