Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A long visit to Townsville

This year our travel will take on a different direction – we have chosen to avoid the winter of both New Zealand and Melbourne and have headed north.  After a month long visit to Melbourne we travelled north via the Oodnadatta Track and Simpson Desert through the outback to Far North Queensland and stopped in Townsville.  We are now house sitting in Townsville for five weeks – this arrangement was made some months ago via a website.  We briefly met with the homeowners on the day before they left for their USA holiday.  We stayed in their home and cared for their pet, Jessie, a liver coloured Dalmatian.

The weather was very kind to us during our stay.  We averaged about 27 degrees C every day and didn’t have any rain the whole time.  This was perfect from our perspective but not too sure about the farmers or for water storage.  We had time to explore and in addition to walking Jessie most days we went out for some time.  We soon learnt our way around the city and our favourite places. 
While the boys were with us we had visited Riverway Lagoon which is a complex of swimming pools on the banks of the Ross River adjacent to the Art Gallery and theatre complex.  There were a number of walks along the river and we enjoyed these.  One of the lovely warm days we took a picnic lunch and visited Palmetum which is a 17 hectare botanic garden displaying one of the largest and most diverse public collections of palms in the world.

The Ross River borders the gardens and we enjoyed our lunch in one of the picnic areas.  There is also a café with visitors’ facilities.  Soon after we arrived we were surprised to see a kangaroo in one of the areas and thought initially that there must be some roaming within the park, but as we didn’t see any more perhaps it was wild and disorientated.

The noise of the bats in one area attracted me but we didn't hang around that area for long – there were hundreds of them and with the likelihood of showers of droppings it was time to move on.

Another day we decided it was time that Jessie had a decent run on the beach so she came along for the ride.  We went to Saunders Beach which is north of the city and again took a picnic.  There is a large free camping area at Saunders Beach and it was certainly popular with at least twenty caravans and campers set up and it was only early afternoon.  The tide was out so we were able to wander quite a long way along the beach and Jessie enjoyed being out and about although we kept her on a long lead as we were uncertain of her reaction if she had met other walkers or dogs.  From the beach we could see Magnetic Island across the bay.

Flinders Street is the main shopping street in Townsville and on a Sunday there is a market.  There were the normal number of stalls selling a variety of home crafts, fruit and vegetables and even massages.  The local military vehicle club had a number of vehicles out on display which was much for interesting for Peter than any of the stalls! 

From here we went down to The Strand which is the Townsville Esplanade.  This is a beach front promenade with palm trees, bike and walkway paths, patrolled swimming beaches, picnic spots, pier, a water park and pool areas, playgrounds and of course restaurants and cafes.  We decided that lunch at The Strand each Sunday was in our plans and we enjoyed visiting a number of the café and restaurants making sure never to visit the same one twice.  Swimming in the beach in the winter months if quite popular as over the summer months there are stingers in the water and swimming is not recommended.  However they do have two beach areas with stinger resistant enclosures in place from November to May.
The rock pool is a large artificial swimming pool filled with sea water (there is a stinger net placed in the water from November to May to make this a safe place to swim all year round).  Behind the rock pool is Kissing Point which was a bunker during World War II.  It was originally build as a fort in the late 1800’s as a defence against the Russians.  This area is currently closed off to the public for redevelopment.

The Formula One racing was on while we were in Townsville so there were quite a few events held around car racing.  Peter didn’t want to go to the actual race days but he did enjoy looking at some of the cars on display down at The Strand.

Another day we took ourselves off to the Townsville Show.  We did expect it to be bigger than what it was with more exhibitions but obviously we expected too much.  We watched the wood chopping for a while, and I looked at the flower and baking competitions and also the textiles but these didn’t hold any interest for Peter which is not surprising.  Of much more interest to him was the big foot vehicles on display.  Of course there were the usual side shows and rides and the ever popular show bags.

Another day around lunch time we decided to pay a visit to the Townsville Jupiters Casino to just have a look and perhaps enjoy lunch.  The hotel is close to The Strand and overlooks Breakwater Marina.  After a short walk around we soon lost interest and didn’t even bother to stay for lunch.

When we were in Townsville last 
year we had taken the boat to Magnetic Island and enjoyed catching up with our nephew, Jordan, who was staying on a yacht moored there before sailing back to Melbourne.  We decided you couldn’t come to Townsville without paying a visit to Magnetic Island which is just eight kilometres off the Townsville coast and can be seen from the city.  The island is just 52 kms square and is mainly a mountainous national park and bird sanctuary.  There are around 2000 people living permanently on the island but mainly around the shoreline.  It is a popular holiday spot and there are lots of private home rentals and a few hotels.   A local bus services meets the ferries on arrival and there is a bus route from Picnic Bay to Horseshoe Bay on the opposite coast.  It is not possible to drive around the island.  We took the bus to Horseshoe Bay where we spent time walking the beach, having a swim and lunching in one of the café before heading back to catch the ferry back to Townsville.  It was school holidays so there were lots of people about including lots of backpackers.  It is a great place to visit and we are sure to go to Magnetic Island again.

 The Ross River Dam is the water supply for the Townsville area.  We were amazed at how much water is used irrigating lawns in the area.   The house we stayed in had a number of pop up outlets that sprayed a large quantity of water on to the gardens every night.  No wonder the lawns and the tropical gardens were so healthy.  When we were out walking the dog we had to watch out for the water spraying as there were no foot paths and we had to walk either on the grass verge or along the side of the road.  No water restrictions obviously in Townsville in winter.  We had initially visited the Ross River Dam when there was a motor home rally on and they had an open day.  There were over 300 motorhomes of various types staying and we visited on the open to the public day.  There was a small public display of some new motorhomes with price tags of around $150 - $200,000 – dreams for most people.  In addition there were the normal market type stalls and various camping supplies etc.  We did meet one couple who turned out to be visiting Australia for the winter months from New Zealand and their home was about ten kilometres from our house in New Zealand.  They were heading to Cape York and then across towards the Northern Territory with their small slide on camper.  The variety of motor homes was amazing and we enjoyed our visit.

On our next visit to Ross River Dam there were still a few motorhomes and campers parked up.  We were keen to see more of the dam but this proved quite difficult.  There is a viewing platform but we saw it from a distance.  Instead we went further down the Ross River to one of the recreational areas established and after a picnic lunch and as we are trying to increase our daily exercise we took a long walk along the walkway.  We could have kept going for kilometres but I am always mindful that we have to walk back to the car!  The bark on the trees still amazes me after living in Australia for so long now – it seems to just fall off the trees and underneath there is this very smooth tree trunk.  It is just beautiful.

One of the last beach areas we visited was Bushland Beach which is part of the northern beaches area of Townsville.  It is now one of the fasted growing suburbs of Townsville and there are extensive new housing areas.  There is a very nice recreational area along the waterfront and on the day we visited there were many families enjoying the warm conditions.  We didn’t take Jessie with us (we had cleaned the car and weren’t too keen on a lot of Jessie’s hair in it again) but instead we walked the beach.  It was low tide and the water was well out but walking wasn’t too pleasant as the sand was soft and quite muddy.  We saw one casualty of the conditions – a tractor sunk deep in the mud.  There is an open air café on the beach front with lots of tables and chairs set out as they were preparing for live music at dinner. 

Surprisingly the five weeks we had in Townsville went very quickly and we were quite sad to be packing up ready to head south – we certainly weren’t really to leave the warm weather behind us.  However, with house sitting there is a date to commence and a date to finish and the family we were sitting for were due home from their holiday in the USA.  So on Thursday, 11 July we re-packed the car, did the final clean of the house and garden, said good bye to Jessie and commenced our journey south.  We would be more than happy to stay in Townsville again another time.  It is a great city of some 196,000 (2011) people, is adjacent to the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, and is considered the unofficial capital of North Queensland.  The winter months are mostly fine weather (we had no rain during our stay).  December is the warmest month (average 31.4 deg C) with July the coolest (when we visited) at 25 deg C.  We visited during the dry season – the wet season is from November to April and they do have tropical cyclones.  We haven’t visited Townsville or Far North Queensland during the summer / wet season but we can certainly recommend it in the winter!

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