If you’re going on an East Coast of Australia road trip, let us introduce the best day trips from Townsville. Make plans for your North Queensland trip to stop off at some of these awesome hidden gems, and it could easily be the highlight of your entire trip! Whilst many people skip Townsville and head over to Magnetic Island, stop by for a few nights as your base, so you can take advantage of the best day trips from Townsville.
This post is brought to you by Townsville local, Abbie Gatherum. She lives in her van called Atlas and has been exploring many of the best places to visit in Australia. Make sure you check out her blog One World Wanderer and her Instagram @oneworldwanderer.
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Finding Things To Do In Townsville
Townsville is a destination which is glazed over by most who visit North Queensland. It’s a place that often serves as a fuel stop and a break between the long drive from Airlie Beach to Cairns. But, while most people would just pass through, Townsville is a spot that should be on everybody’s radar!
You’ll find so many things to do in Townsville. Think of islands on par with the tropical islands of the Caribbean and misty rainforest towns with secluded and tranquil waterfall gems even the locals aren’t aware of. Discover country towns that embody the true meaning of country living only a heartbeat away, and not to mention the largest World Heritage Site in the world, the Great Barrier Reef is just off the shore!
With so many incredible day trips from Townsville to discover, as a local, I’m going to share some of the best with you in this article.
1. Visit Magnetic Island
20minute ferry ride from Townsville
When it comes to day trips from Townsville, Magnetic Island, or ‘Maggie’ as the locals say, is an absolute must visit. It’s a popular destination for backpackers in Australia, but it also packs a punch for holidays for Aussies too. With it being just a 20 minute ferry ride away from the Townsville Terminal via Sealink Queensland, it’s an easy place to getaway from it all.
I recommend starting your day at Alma Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in North Queensland. There are lifeguards on duty year-round, crystal clear water, giant boulders to climb, and a healthy fringing reef that follows the rocks on either side of the bay. Adjacent to Alma Bay is Geoffrey Bay, home to more reef, and an abundance of stingrays and rock wallabies. We recommend taking a stroll around here to feed the rock wallabies and watch the stingrays float gracefully by the shore, however if possible, dusk is the best time to do so.
Horseshoe bay is the next stop on the list. Here you can swim, hire jet skis and kayaks, and take a hike to one of the more secluded bays. If you are someone who loves the water, hiring a one-hour kayak is a great way to explore some of the more hidden Coral bays nearby. There is also the option for hiking to even more secluded bays from Horseshoe.
Strap on your hiking shoes and venture into the gumtrees to explore Balding Bay (a nude beach) and Radical bay (the most stunning crystal waters). Access to this 4-km trail can be found on the far right side of the bay. After a delicious pub meal at the Marlin Bar Tavern in Horseshoe Bay, we recommend tackling the 4km Forts Walk- a fascinating historic WWII complex that was used between 1943 and the end of the Pacific War in 1945. The 360-degree rainforest and reef views here are stunning. Just don’t forget to look up; the path is home to one of the largest numbers of koalas in Australia!
If you are planning on visiting Magnetic Island for a longer period of time, additional spots to visit would include Picnic Bay and Bungalow Bay Koala Sanctuary where you can have breakfast with the Koalas. And don’t forget to the famous cane toad races on Wednesday nights, held at The Arcadia Hotel.
Discover the luxury Great Barrier Reef Island called Orpheus Island, located just 80km north of Townsville. Although you might be thinking it’s going to cost a fortune to visit, you can actually take an Orpheus Island day trip with Sealink Queensland. Orpheus Island is the kind of place that should be on your Australia bucket list. They hold wellness retreats here as it’s got the kind of vibe to get away from it all in paradise.
You’ll have access to morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea, scientific presentations on the biology of the reef, as well as plenty of snorkelling and hiking. The tour allows you several hours of pure paradise exploring. Swim and snorkel amongst the turtles and sharks of the coral reef. Hike the tropical rainforest around the island with a guide, or relax under the shade of the palm trees.
The Orpheus Island day tour runs during the winter months during humpback whale season. If you happen to stumble upon migrating whales during your tour, most guides will meander around them so you can take photos!
If you choose to stay at the resort, you can only get there via helicopter, which is an opportunity to see the Great Barrier Reef in all its glory! The resort is all-inclusive and limited to 28 people at a time as a way of preserving the natural environment and keeping it exclusive and secluded.
3. Dive At Two Insane Great Barrier Reef Diving Spots
1h20m drive South // 100km
Discover two of the best place to dive in Great Barrier Reef, just off Townsville! With the first Museum Of Underwater Art in Australia (known as MOUA), and the best dive wreck in Australia at Yongala Dive, you’re literally spoilt for choice at these incredible sites to choose between.
The Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) is the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and acts as a platform to encourage discussion around reef conservation and restoration, as well as the indigenous history and their connection to the reef. The MOUA is located approximately 80k off Townsville on the John Brewer Reef and is essentially an underwater greenhouse with a beautiful mix of art and science. The structure is a staggering 72m and fringed by coral reef- able to be snorkelled and dived while on your tour.
The second-and equally unique- attraction along the Great Barrier Reef is the Yongala Dive site. This famous Great Barrier Reef dive site is 89km South-East of Townsville and is a world-famous shipwreck of what was once a luxury passenger steamship that sank during a cyclone.
In the early 1900s, the shipwreck disappeared with no survivors and wasn’t found for decades. It has since earned itself a reputation for being home to some of the best diving in Australia as it is mostly intact and now has a flourishing eco-system of underwater wildlife. While the site is a popular destination for many tourists, it is only accessible by those that have a dive certificate.
4. Explore Paluma Range National Park Waterfalls & Walks
1h20m drive North // 85km
The Paluma village and rainforest is a very special place that is certainly worth visiting on a day trip from Townsville. Nestled in the misty rainforest the village is embedded in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and surrounded by National Parks.
The good news is, the weather is significantly cooler than the heat Townsville faces, so if you’re looking to cool down in the Summer months, it’s a good idea to head here. In many months of the year when the mountain is covered in mist, you can smell the smoke from wood stoves and backyard fires throughout the village.
While there aren’t tours that do day trip to Paluma, it is well worth hiring a car for a day and checking it out. If you choose to visit Paluma, the McClelland’s Lookout is one of the best spots to take it all in. The lookout is surrounded by picnic tables, toilets, and plenty of grassy areas for a picnic, so it is a great location to stop for a little while and take in the views. From McClelland’s Lookout, you can continue along the surrounding rainforest paths in several directions, but we recommend taking the Witt’s Lookout path which has both an upper and lower lookout worth visiting.
The tracks through the Paluma rainforest are abundant with rainforest life, including bush turkeys, and hundreds of species of birds. Be sure to take your time to appreciate the sounds and smells the place provides. Take the opportunity to discover some of the best Paluma National Park waterfalls including the stunning Cloudy Creek Falls, the Ethel Creek Falls, and the beautiful 20-metre cascading Birthday Creek Falls. I recommend making a day of it and packing plenty of food and water to get you through the adventuring!
5. Swim At Little and Big Crystal Creek
1h drive North // 75km
Did you know Little and Big Crystal Creek are two of the most popular day trips from Townsville? While you can pair these with your trip to the Paluma Rainforest, it is worthwhile doing them separately so you can fully appreciate both. These two are some of the best rainforest waterfalls in Townsville to swim in on hot days.
Big Crystal Creek is located 1 hour (approximately 70km) north of Townsville and is a large swimming hole and creek with crystal clear freshwater, rockslides, and a camping day-use area with picnic tables, toilets, and showers.
Little Crystal Creek, despite its name, is actually much bigger than its brother, Big Crystal Creek. The Little Crystal Creek area is further north, along the road to Paluma, and features a stunning waterfall, more rockslides, and an arched bridge that makes photo opportunities incredible.
As some of the best waterfalls in Queensland to swim in, with waterholes scattered along the river next to plenty of picnic seating, the best spots are the ones you find by meandering up the river a little bit. You can spend hours admiring the rainforest, watching the fish swim circles around you, and basking in the sunshine with refreshing water at your fingertips.
Make sure you pack plenty of snacks and water to combat the year-round North Queensland sun and ensure that the car is filled with enough fuel, as servo stations are limited along the Bruce Highway
6. Wander Up Jourama Falls
1h15m drive North // 95km
Jourama Falls is probably one of the most famous day trips from Townsville. Despite being a little over an hour from Townsville, it is well worth the trip, with many people often including this on their day trip to the two Crystal Creeks. However, a trip to Jourama falls should be one on its own. The falls are 99m tall and abundant in their secluded swimming holes.
When arriving at Jourama Falls in Townsville, you’ll find yourself next to campgrounds with normal camp amenities like a toilet. You wander through the rainforest on a 2km track over magical boardwalks and creeks that feel as though you’re stepping into another world. This track takes you up to the surrounding rocks nearby the falls. The track continues up to the falls lookout, or you can wander upstream to find a spot for a refreshing dip.
The Townsville day trip consists of relaxation, picnic foods, and swimming, and I recommend packing accordingly for all three. Finally, don’t forget to take a quick stop at Frosty Mango on the way home, just a few km up the road. The mango smoothies are to die for, with fresh, homegrown Bowen mangoes and the most delicious fruit ice cream of tropical flavours you’ll ever try. Don’t forget to take a snap in front of the giant mango either!
7. Marvel At The Incredible Wallaman Falls
2h drive North // 155km
Wallaman Falls in Queensland is one of the best places to visit on your East Coast of Australia road trip. It is Australia’s largest single drop waterfall and is located just around 2 hours from Townsville, outside of Ingham. The falls are magnificent and make for a once-in-a-lifetime day trip.
Located within the Girringin National Park, Wallaman Falls is in the mountains of the UNESCO World Heritage Wet Tropics, and although the drive may seem long, it is well worth it. Upon arriving at the falls, there is a lookout at the top where you get incredible views over the 268-metre tall single plugging waterfall. Due to the significant height and the volume of water North Queensland Tropics receives in the wet season, the mist often rises to coat the surrounding rainforest in clouds, but when it clears, it is a sight to behold.
Depending on your hiking ability, there is a 3.2km trail right down to the base of the falls. While the track is steep in sections and means climbing over slippery rocks, it winds through the rainforest and offers sneaky glances up at the waterfall above as you get closer and closer to it. And, when you reach the base, it makes every slippery step worth it. The views are absolutely incredible!
If you choose to do the hike, allow several hours to do it safely and still have some time at the bottom. Just make sure you travel prepared with enough food and water for the day, as well as swimmers and some sturdy hiking shoes.
8. Swim at Abergowrie State forest
1h50m drive North // 145km
The Abergowrie State Forest, located in the scenic Herbert River Valley is a beautiful day trip from Townsville which can be paired with your visit to Wallaman Falls. The forest is 2-hours from Townsville and is rarely visited by locals so is often a secluded and tranquil day spent solely amongst nature.
The state forest consists of an open eucalyptus forest, an exotic pine plantation, the winding Broadwater Creek and rest area. It is in the heart of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, near the Hinchinbrook channel. The day rest and camping area is a great spot to relax, swim, and have a picnic.
If you choose to visit Broadwater, you can cool off with a swim in the pools along Broadwater Creek, birdwatch in the rainforest, or take the 1.6km return walk through the rainforest to admire the magnificent Broadwater fig tree. Whatever you choose to do, be sure to take the time to listen to the sounds of the forest come alive around you.
9. Brunch At Hervey’s Range Heritage Tea Rooms
45min drive West // 50km
The Hervey’s Range Heritage Tea Rooms is one of the oldest buildings in Queensland and is one of the best day trips from Townsville. The tea rooms are located 30 minutes from Townsville along the Hervey’s Ranges and were a structure that was built in 1865 just one year after Townsville was settled.
Back in the days of the Goldrush, the tea rooms were a pivotal stopping point between Townsville and the Goldfields but now stands as a mountain-top café with an extensive garden. If you visit the tea rooms on a day trip from Townsville, make sure to stop at Piper’s Lookout on your way to the tea rooms for panoramic views over the town. There are a large variety of teas available, as well as a full brunch menu. If you choose to visit, make sure to try the scones. They are absolutely delicious.
10. Explore Country Town, Charters Towers
1h30m drive South West // 136km
When it comes to day trips from Townsville, nothing is better than adventuring into the heart of country Australia. Charters Towers, a small country town just one hour away from Townsville, is exactly that- and there is so much to do here. Charters Towers was an old gold mining town back in the gold rush days and was once one of the biggest and most thriving towns in all of Queensland.
To truly appreciate Charters Towers, dedicate at least two days for exploring. While the town itself has heritage-listed buildings and beautiful views, one of the highlights of Charters Towers is visiting the Texas Longhorns that are just 10km from the town at Leighton Park.
Leighton Park is home to Australia’s largest herd of purebred Longhorns and is a family-owned business that loves teaching locals about them. They offer a horse-drawn wagon ride that transports you back to the wild west. You can enjoy a traditional Australian meal of cooked damper and billy tea. Or, you can dress up in full cowboy gear and pretend you’re a true cowboy living in the country while admiring the magnificent animals.
One of the best things to do in Charters Towers which cannot be missed is the Tors Drive-In Cinema, the oldest drive-in theatre in Australia! It’s been open continuously since 1966! The drive-in theatre is also family-owned and aims to recapture the nostalgia of the drive-in era. They have a snack-bar with traditional drive-in foods, as well as two blockbuster movies each night to choose from. If you stay overnight, there is plenty of accommodation available, as well as free camping spots along the Burdekin River such as the popular Macrossan Bridge.
11. Visit Hinchinbrook Island
1h40m drive North (to the Hinchinbrook Lookout) // 128km
If there’s one place you should make the effort to visit when looking for day trips from Townsville, it’s Hinchinbrook Island. This incredible Queensland island looks like something from the dinosaur era. Although it’s famed for being home to the Thorsborne Trail, a four day hike…
…the 32km Great Walk is known as being one of the top ten walks in the world!
It’s not for the faint hearted though. You’ll need to carry everything for this difficult hike, including water and camping gear.
But, did you know you can do a Hinchinbrook Island day trip? You’ll need to book the Hinchinbrook Island day trip with Absolute North Charters. They offer an afforable day trip to Hinchinbrook Island, which will drop you off at the famous Zoe Bay. Climb up the steep 500 metres and you’ll be able to experience the best infinity pool in the world (in my eyes!).
12. Cardwell Spa Pools
2hr drive North // 175km
Cardwell Spa Pools became a bit of an Instagram institution! The turquoise waters are a sight to be seen! You’ll drive through the Cardwell Forest, before coming to the famous swimming hole in Queensland. Be careful if visiting during wet season as you might not make it to the pools if there is flooding along the river.
13. Enjoy The Beaches In Bowen
2h30m Drive South // 200km
Although Bowen is a 2h30m drive from Townsville, it’s worth mentioning because it’s home to some stunning beaches. Although the town is a little forgotten about, there’s a fantastic caravan park at the beautiful Horseshoe Bay. It’s becoming increasingly popular spot to stop off at on an East Coast road trip and has seen popularity on Instagram a lot recently.
Make sure you take a photo at The Big Mango when you come into town, and buy some frozen mango inside the tourist information centre there, it’s delicious!
We’re adding in a couple of nearby places to include on your road trip in Queensland, which could also easily tag onto day trips from Townsville too.
14. Airlie Beach
3h30m drive from Townsville // 272km
Although Airlie Beach and Whitsundays are a good 3h30m drive from Townsville, it’s worth mentioning. If you’re looking for places to visit in Queensland, or places to visit on East Coast of Australia, you’ll more than likely stop off in Airlie Beach on your travels to visit Whitsundays.
With plenty of things to do in Airlie Beach and Whitsundays, you could easily spend a good five days here. Check out some of our guides below for inspiration:
Whilst many people drive straight from Townsville to Cairns, definitely stop off in Mission Beach. This little gem of a place is home to the famous cassowary animal. You’ll see loads of signs in and around town asking you to be careful whilst driving around as they often pop out of the trees and onto the road with their babies. This is one of the only places in Australia you might be lucky enough to spot them.
There’s loads of beaches in Mission Beach to choose from, hikes and so much more!
Big thanks to Abbie for sharing her favourite places to visit near Townsville. If you would like to share your hidden gems, or favourite experiences in Australia, simply fill out our Write For Us form here.