The catamaran speeds across a deep blue sea that sparkles in the sun. White foam streams behind us as Townsville City fades away. Tropical Magnetic Island is straight ahead. I see empty sandy beaches bookended by rocky headlands strewn with huge boulders with forested hills behind. I’m reminded why my planned 12-month stay in North Queensland has turned into 40-something years.

As a travel writer, I often travel the globe, but COVID-19 has given me the chance to experience some local attractions and pursuits. It has been a wonderful chance to reacquaint myself with the myriad things to do in my own backyard and provide some support for local businesses.

Editors’ note: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we travel. With so many restrictions in place, many travelers are venturing closer to home, taking day trips, and seeking to spend their time outdoors.

Magnetic Island

This island, named by Captain Cook, is only 20 minutes from the center of Townsville. The Nelly Bay terminal is my starting point, and this is the departure point for the island’s buses (a day pass costs A$7.20) but I am keen on an open-top rental car.

Renting the car is easy, and my wife and I are off to walk the iconic jetty at Picnic Bay, follow the Nelly Bay Snorkel Trail, swim at magical Alma Bay, then slip over to Horseshoe Bay for lunch. The Barefoot Art Food Wine Café is where we meet some Townsville friends, so it is perfect to order a seafood platter to share. Wow! Bugs, prawns, Thai fish cakes, salt and pepper squid, fish, chips and salad are enjoyed by all.

After such a meal, we feel the need for some physical activity. So, after checking out the local water sports options — jet skiing, kayaking, knee boarding, water skiing and tube riding — we park the car in the Forts carpark and head out in search of koalas and grand views. Quickly, we find both.

The day is fast disappearing ,but at Geoffrey Bay we spot dozens of rock wallabies amongst the boulders and on the old road. Some visitors feed them, but we believe it is better for them to forage, so we just watch.

Now, do we have dinner at the inviting Peppers Blue on Blue Resort near the ferry terminal or do we return to Townsville and eat at the award-winning Touch of Salt? A drink at Peppers and dinner at Salt solves this problem.

Going north

We rise late ready to play tourist again. The Strand and the blue Coral Sea attract us, so we breakfast outdoors on the water’s edge at C-Bar. A fresh fruit salad with mango yogurt and goji berry granola takes my fancy while my wife has salmon eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce on a toasted muffin.

Determined to get some exercise, we walk the 1.5 kilometres to the Rock Pool and back passing the fishing jetty, two lifesaver-patrolled beaches, public exercise gear, artworks and more. It really deserves more time, but we have plans to head north to enjoy one of Townsville’s secrets.

Balgal Beach is 50 minutes north of the city. There is a netted area for swimming, great fishing, and a nice foreshore park with children’s playground. Best of all: There are few people. Gentle waves of variegated turquoise brush against the beach as we chill out. After a lazy couple of hours, we drop into Fisherman’s Landing for some of the best fish and chips in North Queensland.

A little further north, a road leads to the Paluma Range and its World Heritage Rainforest. We stop at picturesque Little Crystal Creek and then drive on to Paluma township. This secluded mountain retreat has excellent views from McClelland’s Lookout, fabulous rainforest walks, and popular coffee and cake at the Rainforest Inn.

Hidden Valley

Another half hour drive gets us to the Hidden Valley Cabins where a Platypus Viewing Tour provides us with one of our best wildlife viewing experiences ever. This is consistently rated as one of Australia’s top spots to see this amazing animal, which has been described as an egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver tailed mammal.

Equipped with binoculars and background information, we silently line up along the river bank watching and waiting. As the light dims, the platypuses appear. One swims past on the surface only five meters away. These normally shy and nocturnal animals seem to have complete confidence in their surroundings. Cameras click but no one speaks. The moment is too special. We watch with delight as the animals’ dive and surface spontaneously.

Cardwell and Ingham

After the excitement of last night, we have a lazy breakfast at Hidden Valley Cabins before setting our car satnav for Cardwell and its little-known Blue Lagoon. There is no one else here. We swim in the blue water, so colored by a chemical reaction with the rocks, and relax in the natural surroundings. It may not be as warm as its namesake in Iceland, but it is certainly picturesque. As we leave Cardwell, we grab a pie from the foreshore pie cart.

At Ingham, an Instagram shot is provided for us at the Waring family farm, where sunflowers turn the landscape yellow. We lunch at JK’s Deli before having a cultural experience with a fascinating tour at the Nywaigi aboriginal-owned Mungalla Station near Forrest Beach. We explore wetlands, an old homestead, and learn of the amazing history of this place.

Inland are the Seaview Range and Wallaman Falls. These sublime falls are Australia’s tallest, tumbling 268 metres into a cold, deep pool. The view from the top is awe-inspiring, and the challenging track to the bottom provides a totally different perspective and great views of this Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

Ingham’s Tyto Wetlands has pathways for close-up bird viewing of the 240 recorded species – perfect for a final recharge before returning to the city and exploring the Central Business District.

Back in Townsville

Headquarters of the Reef Aquarium

Headquarters of the Reef Aquarium

We are amazed by the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium at Reef HQ, then move next door to the Museum of Tropical Queensland to visit the Pandora exhibit showcasing recovered items from the HMS Pandora, the British Royal Navy warship dispatched in pursuit of the infamous Bounty mutineers.

With all the things to see and do, you’ll need a very good reason to leave Townsville, and I haven’t found one yet.

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • Australia is considered a safe country and the North Queensland area is far from any major city hotspots.
  • The laid-back lifestyle and friendly people make visiting easy and attractive.
  • Townsville has excellent hotels, resorts, restaurants, and health facilities.
  • There is the opportunity to see some Australian aboriginal culture.

Take note

  • The best way to see most of this area is by rental car but note that Australians drive on the left side of the road.
  • Australia is a long-haul destination for most visitors so you probably would want to combine a visit to this area with others places within the country.



All photo credits: Phensri Rutledge

Check out the Rutledge’s YouTube Channel.

Editors’ note: This is one in an ongoing series of close-to-home road trip suggested by our GOT Contributors. Also see:

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