Destination: Townsville

By: Jeff Strang

The Far North Queensland capital, Townsville, appears to be in boom times. Under the guise of “work” the editor kicks back for a few days in perfect Queenland weather to find out why.…

Destination: Townsville
DESTINATION — Townsville

I can’t say I was too upset to discover I had to deliver our project boat, Ralfy V, to her new owner in tropical Townsville in person. The bite of winters chill had hit Melbourne with a vengeance, so the chance to trade my trench coat in for a T-shirt was inviting indeed.

Far too frequently the life of a journalist is a blur of taxis, airports and laptops balanced on your knee. The three days I had in Townsville (including Anzac Day, which is huge in the fortress town) would be just the antidote to a month of deadlines I was looking for.

Townsville and adjacent Magnetic Island are destinations often overlooked by boaters keen to get north to Cairns or south to the Whitsundays. In many ways this has left this idyllic haven untouched by the superficiality that can infect destinations overly dependent on tourism dollars. What I found was a port where the locals know how good they have it, and are too happy to share.

Magnetic Island, or Maggie as the locals know it, is enough to give a Melbourne dweller like myself a healthy dose of paradise envy. Laying a short twenty-minute boat trip from the Townsville waterfront, it’s a refuge of golden beaches lapped by crystal clear lagoons brimming with colourful tropical fish. If your mind’s eye holds a picture of the classic North Queensland island paradise then Maggie perfectly fits that vision.

Fully two-thirds of Magnetic Island is National Park so as a visiting boater it pays to be aware of locations that only allow for limited anchoring opportunities. Although such areas are usually clearly signposted a copy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park’s Zoning Map is essential collateral for a visitor here, or anywhere on the Reef.
The Townsville region information can be found on Map 7 (see insert).

During our handover day onboard Ralfy, we visited striking Florence Bay, and later popped round to Horseshoe Bay for lunch at one of the local cafes. Florence Bay was deserted, except for a couple enthusiastic sunworshippers (I resisted the temptation to pull the long lens out of the camera bag), but Ralfy’s new owner Geoff Howard, assured me it is considered to be a favourite among locals, where children roam in packs swimming and jumping off the rock by day and rafts of vessels soaking up the social atmosphere in the perfect FNQ evening air.

The highlight of the local sailing fraternity’s calendar is unarguably the Sealink Magnetic Island Race Week, from August 20 to September 4. Following on from the Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach regattas the Maggie event is the last, and by far the most social event in the northern program. It must be big because it was bloody near the only thing anyone talked about while I was there.

This year’s regatta is forecast to attract in access of 85 boats, which should make for a hell of party at Peppers Blue on Blue Resort in Nelly Bay. To get a taste for the action firsthand I accepted an invitation to enjoy a twilight sail with the Broadsword crew. It was certainly pretty "social" but you can see these guys take things pretty seriously when they need to. The team took the opportunity try a few different setups in the ultra-light air and the usual sailor bloke’s banter was spread liberally and evenly across the crew. Being somewhat rusty I quite deservedly copped fair bit of grief for my one-eyed, stink boater’s view on the finer aspects of mainsail trimming. We didn’t win the that night’s battle, but I think the Team Broadsword could be the smart money’s bet to win the war come September.

A quick visit to TCYC (Townsville Cruising Yacht Club) proved the co-hosts rabble to be a welcoming bunch so I very much look forward to returning for a triumphant week’s racing.



Scuba diving has been a lifelong passion of mine. Wherever I have travelled I have endeavoured to see the best the underwater world has to offer in that location. There are still a few bucket-list destinations left on my list for this country (Exmouth – watch this space) but I have spent quite a bit of time working on the Great Barrier Reef and have dived many of its best locations. Lizard Island, Osprey, the Ribbons and even Myrmidon are all amazing spots in their own right, but it is my honest opinion that the best dive I have ever done is the SS Yongala.

The Yongala is not really a classic GBR dive. It’s not one of those free-fall into the blue abyss dives like those where the visibility is so good you get vertigo on the surface. Nor is it covered in a myriad of mask-swarming multicoloured miniature Nemos. Sometimes the current is roaring and sometimes the visibility could be better, but what it does have is an overwhelming abundance of colossal aquatic animals.

Encounters with 1000lb-plus Queensland groupers are an almost daily occurrence, as are enormous rays, sea snakes, and giant trevally. Whale sharks and passing humpbacks are relatively frequent and don’t be surprised if you see a manta or a tiger shark. If you want a breathe-taking encounter with a giant that could literally swallow you the SS Yongala could well be your best opportunity to do this anywhere in the world.

Recreational divers can access the wreck on their own boats if they obtain a permit and stay outside the hours of 8am to 2pm, when the wreck is only open to tourism operators. Personally, for a dive in this depth of water, and in potentially high current, I suggest chartering a professional outfit for this extraordinary experience.

Hot tip: Rather than use Townsville as a base to access the Yongala save yourself the six- or seven-hour round trip by boat and drive to the seaside town of Alva Beach, near Ayr. It’s about a 75-minute trip by car to Yongala Dive, operated by Heather Batrick.

Heather’s professional dive team operate a 10m Aquapro, which will take a maximum of 12 divers, plus three crew, on the 30-minute boat trip to the site of the wreck. Yongala Dive has top-quality Aquanaut equipment to hire if required and they insist on the use of computers due to the depth of the dive (close to 30m). Snacks and drinks are provided onboard and at the completion of the two dives you will be returned in style to its beach base for a barbecue lunch.

Note: Don’t forget to allow at least 24 hours before flying after diving the SS Yongala.
For more information on Yongala Dive contact: Heather Batrick, Yongala Dive Pty Ltd, 56 Narrah Street, Alva Beach, QLD, phone +61 7 4783 1519


"Looking for somewhere to take the squids" is one of Reef HQ’s catchy slogans, and it could not be better suited. Even the keenest of water babies will get cabin fever if trapped on the boat too long. If you happen to be in Townsville stocking up supplies, do take the little sailors for a leg stretch and a visit to the Townsville Aquarium and Turtle Hospital.

Reef HQ boasts the world’s largest living coral aquarium. It is so big that it actually spawns at the same time the real Great Barrier Reef does — which must be a sight to see. The displays are mesmerising and a guided tour is worth planning around. A patient explanation of the life-cycle of a coral reef is presented in a language all will understand and will gently drive home the importance of respecting the reef for the delicate and environmentally sensitive living organism it is — and it’s done in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling preached to.

Attached to the aquarium is the Townsville Turtle Hospital. Guided tours are frequent and equally fascinating. I made notes on the turtles I saw on my visit and plan to check the web to see how they are progressing.

Reef HQ and the Turtle Hospital are located less than five minutes walk from Breakwater Marina at 2-68 Flinders Street, Townsville, phone (07) 4750 0800. Entry for children under 16 is $12.80 per head and littlies under 5 are free.


In Townsville itself two marinas are easily accessed with another in Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island.

Breakwater Marina is the located to the far right of the Port of Townsville. If you approach the mainland down the marked deepwater channel and follow the breakwater around to the right it will become apparent. The navigation markers seem to be well placed but be wary of the depth in a few places. Its website suggests it welcomes visitors and it also seems like the easiest place to get fuel.
Contact Breakwater Marina, phone (07) 4721 2233, email: or call VHF Channel 16 and Channel 10 (call sign "Breakwater Marina").

This facility also seems to welcome casual berthage and the cliental at the associated boat club are welcoming. From the sea this marina is accessed by following the Magnetic Island ferry lane all the way through the Port of Townsville and up what appears to be a river. There is no fuel available at this facility.
Contact Townsville Yacht Club Marina, phone (07) 4772 1192, email: or call
VHF Channel 16 and Channel 77.

Located in Nelly Bay, this marina also offers casual berthage when it is available but does not appear to offer fuel. Regardless, it looks like a gorgeous place to spend at least one night in a little luxury.
Contact Kerry Ah-Quay at Magnetic Island Marina, phone (07) 4758 2417; 0408 026 886 or email:


We could not have been happier with the service we received from Rosshaven Marine (yes, we did pay). The team looked after Ralfy V like the princess she is. By the time I arrived onsite personally she was in the water, fully detailed and ready for her glorious handover. Thanks guys!

Rosshaven Marine offers a full haul-out and hardstand facility, painting and waterblasting, engineering, shipwright services, a full chandlery and diesel for vessels up to 100 feet.
Contact Rosshaven Marine, 17-19 Sandspit Drive, Townsville Marine Precinct, Port of Townsville, phone (07) 4772 6392; afterhours Chris Helps on 0439 722 888; Richard Grace on 0418 188 028 or email:

Stingers are serious business in FNQ. If you get stung you are in for the worst day of your life, and potentially the last day of your life. The season for these venomous jellyfish runs from November to May. If you plan to enter the water during this time wear a stinger suit and hood or better still swim inside the enclosure nets.

Top photo: Magnetic Island snorkeling. (Photo © Townsville Enterprise).

Townsville, QLD. (Photo © Townsville Enterprise).

Diving the Yongala. (Photo © Yongala Dive).

From Trade-a-Boat Issue 427, May-June, 2012.

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