Townsville, where the sun shines for an average of 320 day a year, seems to be known primarily for its connection to Magnetic Island, rather than a destination in itself. I had come here for that same reason, but as you can probable already tell, I was doing the ‘extended version’ of the popular journey up Australia’s east coast, rather than just the highlights reel. I, therefore, decided to include a stop in Townsville on either side of my trip to ‘Maggie’ and I am so glad I did, because I was not only able to explore this underrated regional town and its endless esplanade, hike Castle Hill and visit the boutique shopping strips, but I had also gotten a nasty eye infection that needed medical attention.
Day 1 – Arriving in Townsville
Hung over, tired and practically blind from an ongoing eye infection, I climbed off the Greyhound Bus in Townsville late one Sunday afternoon. Google maps told me that my hostel was only a short walk away. I made my way to Rambutan, located on Flinders Street, slap-bang in the middle of town. The streets were lined with old Victorian buildings from the late-19th-century, an attractive change from anywhere else I had seen thus far. The streets were deserted as I walked through the centre of town.
I arrived at Rambutan, which was what you call a Glam Hostel – a hostel disguised as a hotel. Checking into reception I was reminded of my stay in Tobermory in Scotland some years ago. The hostel building didn’t look like something I expected to find in Australia, but then again, the rooftop pool wasn’t something I would expect to find in Scotland either. During my check-in, I was given a towel for the first time since arriving in Australia – little luxuries you only really appreciate when you’ve been subjected to drying yourself with a travel towel for a few months. If you’ve ever used a travel towel you’ll know that it’s like trying to dry yourself with a car shamy – not lekker.
I made my way upstairs and into my air-conditioned 8 sleeper dorm, a little tight, but what do you expect for a mere 24AUD (cheap in Australian standards). I inspected the kitchen and common space downstairs to drop off my food. The kitchen was pretty busy and the not very inviting as there were no windows and the fridge was compartmentalised with lockers – something new.
After some short down-time at the pool, I headed out to explore Townsville. One-eyed, I missioned towards the Strand – a strip of public park spaces, pools and small cafes. I passed through ANZAC memorial park before arriving at the start of The Strand.
I made my way along the boardwalk, weaving between people on skateboards, scooters, electric long boards or walking their furry animals and even saw a guy on his long board being pulled by his dog. There were a lot of people around and I could now see why nobody was in the city centre on such a nice day. People were swimming in the public pools, the ocean (within the bounds of the stinger nets) and in the public water park. They were barbequing on the public BBQ facilities or out walking, running or just sitting and enjoying the views. They were flying kites in the park or playing soccer. It made me realise how much I love the fact that there are so many accessible, public spaces in Australia and most of them seemed well planned and utilised.
I walked the entire length of the Strand which stretched about 2.2 km in length. Magnetic Island was visible across the bay. I passed by a number of beaches all possessing stinger enclosures to allow people to swim in the ocean without fear of being stung.
At the end of the palm-line waterfront I stumbled upon the massive saltwater Rock Pool. I headed up the steps to Kissing Point and soon arrived at Jubilee Park. By now I was feeling pretty worn out, but continued north, drawn by the ever reddening sunset in the distance. The coastal boardwalk hugged the edge of the water and passed over the rocks and the calm ocean below.
Eventually, I arrived at the end of the coastal boardwalk just in time to catch the setting sun. I then headed the long way back. It was getting late and I was hungry. I saw the glowing curved ‘M’ in the distance and quickly caved as most other shops were already closed. I ate McDonald’s for the first time since arriving in Australia. I then also stopped for a Gelato and Gelatissmo – and now I know why my skinny jeans no longer fit… fatty.
Day 2 – Solo travel nightmares
It’s mornings like the one I experience on my second day in Townsville that make solo-travel a little less desirable. I woke up with a sharp pain in my left eye as tears kept flowing to numb the pain. The eye drops I put in only made it burn even more. I turned off my alarm and tried to go back to sleep, tossing and turning as the pain came and went. I couldn’t decide what to do as I was supposed to be catching a ferry to Magnetic Island at in a few hours.
At 9 o’clock I headed to the nearest chemist to find help as the Myprodol I had taken and the eye drops clearly weren’t helping. I squinted at my bright cellphone screen to see the map to the pharmacy a few blocks away. I made it to reception and the receptionist pointed me in the general direction of the pharmacy. I headed out with eyes barely open and thankful for the beeping noise accompanying the green crossing lights.
At the pharmacy, after clearly seeing my pain and discomfort, I was advised that I see a doctor and the pharmacist pointed me in the general direction.
I walked into the busy waiting room clutching my teary eye. I had to fill in some forms and pay a $75 consultation fee – worth it if it stops the pain. After waiting for about an hour, I finally saw a doctor and got some relief as he poured an anaesthetic in my eye. After examining my eye with a yellow dye and a florescent light, he found that I had scratched the surface of my eye which he presumed to be the cause of all the pain. He packed it and covered it up – not subtly at all, and sent me on my way. I made an appointment to see him in the morning. I then had to call the ferry company and my hostel on Magnetic Island to cancel for the night and headed back to Rambutan to book another nights stay.
I slept, lazed by the pool and wrote my blog for the remainder of the day as there wasn’t much else to do with one eye and a massive patch covering half my face. My depth perception was way off and it made simple task – like pouring cereal – more difficult than necessary.
Day 3 – Off to Magnetic Island
The next day I felt way better and was relieved to have the patch removed and made my way to Magnetic Island.
(See Magnetised to Maggie – coming soon)
Day 3 – returning for a sunrise session
I arrived back in Townsville after my two nights and three day adventure on Magnetic Island. I checked back into Rambutan for some 5 star treatment; bought dinner at their roof top restaurant and chatted to some of the other guests. After some consideration, Em, G and I decided that we would head to bed early so we could be up at 5 am to hike up Castel Hill to watch the sunrise.
My alarm went off at five-to-five the next morning and I quickly hopped out of bed and got dressed. I met Em and G in the common area, along with two German guys and one other girl (all from Em’s dorm room).
We headed out along the lit-up, deserted streets of Townsville with Google as our guide. The sky steadily lightened as we neared the summit. I stopped to take in the breathtaking view of the city lights silhouetted against the slowly brightening sky. Our path changed from steep tarmac to the uneven ground of the Goats Track and then to steep, never-ending steps. There were a few runners and joggers already making their decent. We were setting a strong pace to make it up in time, which was soon halted when Em was shown the effects of over-hydrating on an empty stomach while doing strenuous exercise. The water didn’t stay down and we watched and waited – and rested – as the water exited her body the same way it had gone in. We soon continued on and arrived at the parking area near the top, befroe continuing to one of the lookout points.
The sky started to brighten whilst we got eaten alive. So, to escape the ‘mozzies’, we headed further along the walkway, towards the rising sun. The wind was stronger there and made it pretty cold, but kept the mosquitoes away. We watched as the sky changed from blue to red and then yellow. We all felt the worth of our early morning efforts as the sun rose in clear view before us, unobstructed by any clouds.
Once satisfied that we had seen what we came here to see, we made our decent. It was another 2.8 km climb down.
Starving by the time I arrived back at the hostel, I headed straight for the kitchen to have breakfast and then head to bed for an hour long nap. I then spent the rest of the day writing and waiting for my bus to Mission Beach.
So after my few day stay in Townsville, I would certainly recommend a stop in this quaint, quiet little town. With coffee shops, boutique clothing stores, an endless esplanade and a giant red rock to challenge your fitness in the early hours of the morning there is something to keep you entertained for at least a day. Have you got any solo-travel horror storeys, when you wish you weren’t travelling alone?