Regional capital TOWNSVILLE sprawls around a broad spit of land between the isolated hump of Castle Hill and swampy Ross Creek. Industrial in make-up, the town has a rough edge and an air of racial tension. While most travellers skip town altogether and head straight out to the beaches of laidback Magnetic Island, just offshore, the city does have its moments: there’s a visible maritime history; long sea views from the Strand promenade; and the muggy, salty evening air and old pile houses on the surrounding hills, which mark out Townsville as the coast’s first real tropical city.

Townsville was founded in 1864 by John Melton Black and Robert Towns, entrepreneurs who felt that a settlement was needed for northern stockmen who couldn’t reach Bowen when the Burdekin River was in flood. Despite an inferior harbour, the town soon outstripped Bowen in terms of both size and prosperity, its growth accelerated by gold finds inland at Ravenswood and Charters Towers. Today, it’s the gateway to the far north and transit point for routes west to Mount Isa and the Northern Territory; it’s also an important military centre, seat of a university and home to substantial Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities.

The city itself is quite easy to navigate. The centre is roughly triangular and hemmed in by Cleveland Bay to the north, Ross Creek to the south and Castle Hill to the west. Following the north bank of Ross Creek, Flinders Street is the main drag, sectioned into a downtown pedestrian mall before running its last 500m as Flinders Street East.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Australia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Solo travel in Australia: everything you need to know

Solo travel in Australia: everything you need to know

Australia remains a classic travel destination. A steady stream of gap-year backpackers, career breakers and round-the-world-trippers head down under to sample …

22 Nov 2016 • Shafik Meghji insert_drive_file Article
Road trip Australia: 6 of the best routes

Road trip Australia: 6 of the best routes

Pack your stuff, throw it in camper van along with a surfboard and don’t look back… This might be an old cliché but it’s one for good reason: Australia r…

18 Oct 2016 • Ros Walford insert_drive_file Article
Sydney or Melbourne: the great Aussie debate

Sydney or Melbourne: the great Aussie debate

Sydney and Melbourne have been battling it out for supremacy as long as Europeans have been setting sail for Australia. Both are capitals of their respective st…

03 Oct 2016 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month