11 Sea & Self-Drive Day Trips from Townsville, North Queensland

After spending a few days exploring Townsville, we suggest making time for at least a few of these sea and self-drive day trips. Choose your own North Queensland adventure with rugged landscapes, tropical rainforests, epic waterfalls, and dreamy islands.

Once you’ve worked your way through our 15 free and fun things to do in Townsville, there’s still plenty to explore with these accessible one-day journeys. If you’re not already on a road trip, then grab a rental car and hit the highway with all drives under 2.5 hours. We’ve also added a few water-based activities, so you can choose how to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef.

Day Trip 1: Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is one of our top picks for Australian island holidays. However, if you only have one day, there are several affordable and easy-to-purchase packages with SeaLink: 

Magnetic Island near Townsville Queensland
Magnetic Island Credit: Melissa Findley

Check the SealinkQLD website for the full details, including concession rates and family passes.

While visiting Magnetic Island, we used the Sunbus to travel end-to-end from Picnic Bay to Horseshoe Bay. Getting off at The Forts, we walked along the short trail while spotting sleeping koalas in tree branches close to the ground. From The Forts car park, you can continue walking along Radical Bay Road to access Arthur Bay (700 m), Florence Bay (1.8 km) and Radical Bay (3 km) before finishing with a cold beer at Horseshoe Bay.

Local tip: Take plenty of water for your walks. There is a refill point near The Forts walk, but we didn’t find any along Radical Bay Road. The walk from The Forts car park to Horseshoe Bay via Radical Bay Road can take over two hours without stops.

Florence Bay Magnetic Island Chantell Collins
Florence Bay Magnetic Island Credit: Chantell Collins

If choosing a hire car, keep in mind that vehicle access for these rental cars is not allowed beyond The Forts car park to Arthur, Florence and Radical Bays. All the beaches are uniquely beautiful, and this section is especially remote if you are looking to escape the crowds.

Distance from Townsville: Nelly Bay Ferry Terminal on Magnetic Island is 13 km by sea from Breakwater Terminal in Townsville. The SeaLink ferry takes approximately 30 minutes.

Day Trip 2: Whale Watching Tour

If your Townsville holiday happens to coincide with whale season, between mid-July to late August, why not take a whale watching tour? In the peak season, SeaLink has a 99% success rate of spotting these gentle giants. The three-hour boat tour includes morning or afternoon tea, depending on the time of day. 

Day Trip 3: Great Barrier Reef and MOUA trip

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s most extensive living coral system stretching 2,300 kilometres along the coastline as far south as Bundaberg. While in Townsville, there are multiple ways to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef, such as a scenic helicopter, snorkelling off Magnetic Island or scuba diving at the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA).

Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA)
Museum of Underwater Art Credit: Tourism Events Queensland

MOUA is Australia’s only underwater museum. It was created by the world’s leading underwater sculptor, Jason deCaires Taylor, to help support reef restoration. There are a number of day trips to MOUA’s largest installation, The Coral Greenhouse. This includes snorkelling or scuba diving up to 20 meters in the coral reef, then scuba diving at the world heritage-listed MOUA. 

Day trip 4: SS Yongala wreck dive

Experienced divers will be thrilled to add the SS Yongala wreck dive to their Townsville list. The SS Yongala sank off Cape Bowling Green in 1911 and now rests within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Due to the remoteness of the location and the age and size of the structure, it’s home to an abundance of marine life.

Diving SS Yongala
SS Yongala Wreck Credit: Townsville Enterprise

This makes it one of the world’s top 10 dives. SeaLink’s day trip to the SS Yongala is for divers with an Open Water Diver license and a minimum of six logged dives. 

Day Trip 5: Mount Inkerman Scenic Lookout and Bowen

Bowen is an unexpected treat and one of our favourite North Queensland day trips. The regional town has a sleepy feel to it with wide empty streets during the hot days. You’ll find the locals cooling down in the crystal blue waters of Horseshoe Bay Beach in the afternoon or boisterously clinking beer glasses at the Grand View Hotel by night.

Rotary Lookout Bowen Chantell Collins
Rotary Lookout, Credit: Chantell Collins

Here are a few other recommendations for your day trip to Bowen:

  • Stop at Mount Inkerman Scenic Lookout on your way down from Townsville
  • Visit the giant mango at the Bowen Visitor Information Centre
  • Pick up the tourism guidebook at the Bowen Visitor Information Centre and follow the street art trail
  • Walk the Mother Beddock Loop (4.6 km) including Rose Bay, Murray’s Bay, and Gray’s Bay
  • See the best views of Horseshoe Bay Beach from Rotary Lookout
  • Grab a coffee and cake at Le Sorelle Coffee House
Watertank Lookout Point Bowen Chantell Colllins
Watertank Lookout Point Bowen Credit: Chantell Collins

Local tip: Watch the sunset from Watertank Lookout Point. This is not in the guidebook but provides incredible 360-degree views of both the coast and farmlands.

Distance from Townsville: Bowen is 200 km from Townsville, with Mount Inkerman Scenic Lookout on the way. The entire drive takes approximately 2.5 hours.

Day Trip 6: Pipers Lookout and Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms

For a shorter day trip with a relaxing drive through the mountains, check out Herverys Range Heritage Tea Rooms. The building was established in 1865 as the Eureka Hotel and has changed many hands before being restored and reopened as Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms in 2005. 

They have an all-day breakfast menu, but the real drawcard is the scones! We shared one plane scone with plum jam and cream, finding the portion size satisfying for two people. You can also order flavoured scones with a variety of sweet and savoury. Wash it down with a pot of tea or a hot cup of coffee.

Local tip: Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms is often fully booked, especially on weeks and during peak season. Call ahead to make a reservation to avoid missing out.

After a delicious morning tea, take a stroll along the grassy walkway throughout the property. This gentle 1.5 km trail is well signed, sharing plenty of historical tidbits and taking you via a pond. 

Distance from Townsville:  The entire drive takes approximately 45 minutes. Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms is 45 km from Townsville, with Pipers Lookout on the way.

Day Trip 7: Charters Towers

Take a day trip to the Australian outback and former gold rush town of Charters Towers. This historic town is best explored on foot with over sixty heritage-style buildings on or around Mosman and Gill Streets. On Mossman Street, you’ll also find the Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre, which is the starting point for the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail

Charters Towers
Charters Towers Credit: Megan Mackinnon

The Towers Hill Lookout is a five-minute drive south of the town centre, providing the best views, engaging storyboards, WWII bunkers, and picnic tables to enjoy a packed lunch.

Distance from Townsville: Charters Towers is 137 km from Townsville and takes approximately 1.5 hours by car.

Day trip 8: Paluma Range National Park

Once you start heading North of Townsville along the Bruce Highway, you’re on The Great Green Way. This patch of highway from Townsville to Cairns has been dubbed nature’s playground due to the high concentration of natural attractions, tropical islands, and national parks.

Little Crystal Creek, Paluma - Andrew Watson
Little Crystal Creek, Paluma Credit: Andrew Watson

One of the first national parks you’ll encounter is Paluma Range National Park in the southern part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Being in the dry end of the tropics, you may notice that the forests are different with hoop pines compared to kauri pines in the northern Wet Tropics.

Paluma Range National Park has enough waterfalls, walking tracks, and viewpoints to keep you occupied for days. However, if you are short on time, we’d recommend Little Crystal Creek, Big Crystal Creek, and Jourama Falls as they are closer to the road and require less driving time.

  • Little Crystal Creek: A freshwater creek framed by a stone arch bridge built in the 1930s. Take a refreshing dip in the swimming holes below the waterfalls
  • McClellands Lookout: From the car park, it’s just a 300 m walk to McClellands Lookout with views of Halifax Bay and the Palm Islands
  • Cloudy Creek Falls: This 4 km track begins close to McClellands and leads to a small series of waterfalls.
  • Birthday Creek Falls: A short 1 km walk to Birthday Creek Falls where you can swim at the base of the waterfall.
  • Big Crystal Creek: There are two main attractions at Big Crystal Creek. The Rockslides walking track is 400 m return to swimming holes with smooth rocks that act as natural slides. Then Paradise Water Hole is a wider pool of water where you can snorkel to see fish and turtles
  • Jourama Falls: After turning off the Bruce Highway, there is a short 6 km drive to the day area which includes 3 km of gravel road and a small water crossing. We visited in a 2WD in September without issues but it may be more difficult in the wet season. There is a 3 km track to Jourama Falls lookout. Visitors also walk through riverbeds to swim upstream in the rock pools.
Jourama Falls Credit Chantell Collins
Jourama Falls Credit: Chantell Collins

Distance from Townsville: Jourama Falls is the further point north from Townsville at 93 km and is about a one hour and fifteen-minute drive.

Day Trip 9: Ingham and Wallaman Falls, Girringun National Park

Next on The Great Green Way is the town of Ingham – not related to Ingham’s Chickens. This is a proud cane growing region with a strong history of Italian immigration. A visit to Mercer Lane Mosaics is a fun way to learn about Ingham. While you’re here, visit TYTO Wetlands and Parklands for spotting birds and agile wallabies.

Driving west from Ingham, it’s another hour to reach Wallaman Falls. This is the highest permanent, single-drop waterfall in Australia. After parking in the day-use area for the Wallaman Falls lookout, we recommend taking the Djyinda walk, which ends at the base of the falls. It’s a steep 3.2km return track but well worth it for the heart-thumping view at the bottom. For a gentler walk, there’s the 800m return Banggurru track close to the camping area.

Wallerman Falls North Queensland
Wallaman Falls Credit: Townsville Enterprises

Distance from Townsville: Ingham is 112 km, with Wallaman another 51 km from Townsville. The entire drive takes approximately two hours and fifteen minutes one way.

Day Trip 10: Cardwell and Cardwell Spa Pool

Another 53 km north of Ingham is the coastal town of Cardwell. Walk the Cardwell Jetty and foreshore enjoying the views of Rockingham Bay and Hinchinbrook Island. Along the path, there are memorials and sculptures, including three large Bagu, which were inspired by the fire-making of the Traditional Owners of North Queensland. 

Cardwell is a great place to stop for lunch with many local restaurants and takeaways. We recommend Jesse’s Cardwell Pies. He parks his van closer to the southern end of the foreshore and usually sells out of his delicious pastries by 1 pm. 

Local tip: During the dry season, the Cardwell Spa Pool can look more like a brown puddle so check recent reviews on Google Maps before going.

The Cardwell Forest Drive is 26 km if you complete the entire loop with stops at Cardwell Lookout, Attie Creek Falls, Dead Horse Creek, and Cardwell Spa Pool. As we were short of time and cautious of the gravel road with a 2WD, we only visited Cardwell Spa Pool from Ellerbeck Road. This swimming hole is mainly well known due to its striking blue colour when full. 

Distance from Townsville: Cardwell Spa Pool is the further point north from Townsville at 175 km and is about a two-hour drive. 

Day Trip 11: Hinchinbrook Island

Australia has so many wild and wonderful islands; it’s hard to know which ones are deserving of a full day of your holiday itinerary. What makes Hinchbrook unique is the Jurassic-like landscape and cloud-covered mountains. There are no resorts or restaurants in this completely undeveloped paradise. Only remote camping areas with a maximum of 40 people are allowed at one time.

Hinchinbrook North Queensland
Hinchinbrook Credit: Megan MacKinnon

Located in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, Hinchinbrook is most well-known for the 32km Thorsborne Trail. This is considered one of the best multi-day hikes in the world and top 10 in Australia. The Thorsbrne trail is usually completed over four days, starting at Ramsay Bay in the north and ending at George Point at the island’s south end.

Hitchinbrook Island North Queensland (1)
Meandering rivers and mangroves in front of Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland, Australia

Day-trippers can also visit Hinchinbrook is with a fishing charter company. Westofish runs half-day and full-day tours to the island, including to Zoe Falls and Mulligan Falls. 

Distance from Townsville: A day trip from Townsville to Hinchinbrook Island will require an especially early start. You’ll need to drive 140km to the Dungeness boat ramp to board your vessel, which takes approximately one hour and 45 minutes. All Westofish trips to Hinchinbrook Island depart at 7 am unless a private tour is booked. 

About the Author: Chantell Collins is a Pinterest Advertising Consultant, eco enthusiast, and occasional Travel Writer. Her work has been featured in Skyscanner, Yahoo, MSN, and many more. After living abroad for almost ten years, she’s renewing her affection for Australia through slow travel. 

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