Town for all sea­sons

A gate­way to rain­for­est, reef and out­back

Paradise - - Contents - Air Nuig­ini flies from Port Moresby to Townsville twice a week, on Fri­day and Mon­day. See airni­ug­ See townsvil­lenorthqueens­

Air Nuig­ini is now fly­ing be­tween Port Moresby and Townsville, but if con­ve­nience and a quick con­nec­tion aren’t rea­sons enough to head for this chilled Aus­tralian out­post then con­sider a few other facts.

Townsville is north­ern Aus­tralia’s big­gest settlement with a re­gional pop­u­la­tion just un­der 300,000, guar­an­tee­ing the des­ti­na­tion of­fers shop­ping choices, din­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, a sports scene, cul­tural en­coun­ters, and an events cal­en­dar to ri­val what’s found in some state cap­i­tals down south.

The city serves as a gate­way to rain­for­est, reef, and out­back – the Paluma Range Na­tional Park is a 45-minute drive north, the Great Bar­rier Reef two hours east by boat, and Char­ters Tow­ers 90 min­utes south by road – with vis­i­tors spend­ing just three days in town able to ex­pe­ri­ence a trio of dif­fer­ent, and uniquely Aus­tralian, en­vi­ron­ments.

But, per­haps best of all, is that this quiet cor­ner of the Queens­land coast en­joys more than 320 days of sun­shine every year, mak­ing it the ideal lo­ca­tion to hol­i­day when clear skies are a pre­req­ui­site.

The dry-sea­son months that mark win­ter in Aus­tralia’s trop­i­cal north are de­light­fully tepid and when clouds roll across neigh­bour­ing lo­ca­tions – like Cairns, 350 kilo­me­tres north and Air­lie Beach, a three-hour mo­tor south – Townsville will be bask­ing be­low a flaw­less blue dome.

Even dur­ing Cy­clone Deb­bie, the fierce 2017 weather sys­tem that dropped bib­li­cal amounts of rain on Queens­land all the way from Hamil­ton Is­land to the Gold Coast in a few very damp days, Townsville only re­ceived sev­eral mil­lime­tres of pre­cip­i­ta­tion.

All this sun­shine makes it easy to get out­side with lo­cals rou­tinely savour­ing sea­side pic­nics in a park on The Strand, ped­alling the beach­side board­walk to neigh­bour­ing Pal­larenda, hik­ing to Cas­tle Hill’s scenic sum­mit, sun­set sail­ing, al­fresco drink­ing and din­ing, do­ing sun­rise yoga, and snorkelling above coral reefs.

It’s the win­ter sun­shine that draws Syd­neysiders Clare and Paul Ley north every year. They nav­i­gate their el­e­gant 17-me­tre yacht

Pil­grim to Mag­netic Is­land – the Townsville ‘sub­urb’ a 20-minute ferry ride across the sparkling Coral Sea – and spend dry-sea­son days tak­ing vis­i­tors on sail­ing ad­ven­tures.

They ini­tially set sail for Hamil­ton Is­land, but de­cided to con­tinue north on a rec­om­men­da­tion from friends, and knew they had found their win­ter play­ground after round­ing the Cape Cleve­land Light­house.

The sea­far­ing pair now of­fers lunchtime cruises to se­cluded bays, where the crew pre­pares a bar­be­cue lunch, while guests swim from the yacht or stroll along the sand, and longer voy­ages that cir­cum­nav­i­gate Mag­netic Is­land to take in the beaches along the lonely north coast that sits in­side the bound­ary of the Mag­netic Is­land Na­tional Park.

I join them for a twi­light sail and, after leav­ing the ship’s berth in the Nelly Bay ma­rina, I set­tle into a bean­bag seat be­low the mast to sip a lo­cal beer, while Pil­grim darts across Cleve­land Bay be­fore turn­ing to sail to­wards the set­ting sun.

The city serves as a gate­way to rain­for­est, reef, and out­back.

The sky is gold, with the set­ting sun drop­ping a car­pet of sparkles on the wa­ter be­yond the yacht’s bow, and the breeze is blow­ing just hard enough to tilt the yacht to port as she races across the white­caps to­wards Cape Pal­larenda.

But there’s more to my north Queens­land en­counter than a sun­set sail and – aside from a visit to the Turtle Hos­pi­tal at Reef HQ, which is the Townsville aquar­ium that serves as the Great Bar­rier Reef Ma­rine Park Au­thor­ity’s ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre – I rarely set­tle in­side ex­cept to sleep.

I join long-time lo­cal Nick Dametto for a jet-ski tour that fol­lows the coast past Kiss­ing Point to Pal­larenda, linger over a long al­fresco lunch in a park on The Strand pre­pared by Pineap­ple Pic­nics, and spend Satur­day night at City Lane en­joy­ing the vibe after the lo­cal NRL team, the North Queens­land Cow­boys, wins an­other home game.

Townsville is a mil­i­tary town, with thou­sands of army and air force troops and their fam­i­lies sta­tioned in and around the city, but men and women in uni­form are noth­ing new with more than 50,000 Amer­i­can and Aus­tralian troops sta­tioned here dur­ing World War 2, so I take the time one peaceful morn­ing to learn more about this his­tory.

Jezzine Bar­racks, the park at the north­ern end of The Strand, was home to bat­tal­ions of wartime com­bat­ants and now there’s a walk in the gar­dens that of­fers not only views across the Coral Sea but mu­rals and information plates de­tail­ing the role Townsville played in the Pa­cific War.

There’s an­other help­ing of his­tory near Paluma with the stone bridge span­ning Lit­tle Crys­tal Creek – a peaceful place where me­an­der­ing wa­ter­falls carve pools that pro­vide the shady places to pad­dle on a hot day – built dur­ing The Great De­pres­sion as part of a pro­gram that re­mu­ner­ated un­em­ployed res­i­dents to par­tic­i­pate in build­ing projects.

After tak­ing a dip at Lit­tle Crys­tal Creek, I de­cide not to con­tinue along the moun­tain road, also built by De­pres­sion-era labour, to Paluma – the vil­lage where cafes and art gal­leries line the streets and walk­ing trails dis­ap­pear into the na­tional park rain­forests – but re­turn to the flats and the fa­mous Frosty Mango.

This ice-cream shop on the Bruce High­way rests at the heart of an or­chard grow­ing all sorts of trop­i­cal fruit, which be­come the key in­gre­di­ents for the home­made sor­bet, and I sit be­low a palm tree to savour a de­li­cious scoop of macadamia gelato.

Turns out there’s no bet­ter way to fin­ish a day that starts with a walk through wartime his­tory than by savour­ing a sin­gle scoop of per­fect macadamia ice cream.

All aboard ... the 17- me­tre Pil­grim (left); skip­per Paul Ley (above); Lit­tle Crys­tal Creek (op­po­site page, right); the 'per­fect' macadamia ice cream from Frosty Mango (op­po­site page, far right).

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