TOWNSVILLE – The Friendliest town in Queensland! – (and possibly the entire country!)
The approach to Townsville is straight in and doesn’t require much maneuvering, unlike some other harbors. Once inside the harbor, and quite close to the pier, we begin to spin 180 degrees and backed in, mooring alongside the pier facing out the sea. This is a working port not used to serving passenger vessels so there isn’t any cruise terminal or passenger facilities right on the pier and we will have to take a shuttle bus to the downtown Visitors Information Center. Once moored our cabin was facing toward town, which was fairly close as the crow flies, but we would have to drive around a small inlet, about 2 KM, to get to the central business district. We were able to easily see one of the towns casinos and entertainment centers from our cabin. There are only a few buildings more than a few stories tall.
Around 8:30 AM, we were cleared by local authorities and the initial wave of guests and excursions left the ship, heading down the pier toward the shuttle busses. The ship managed to put together 3 shore excursions on short notice which were all variations of a city drive followed by a visit to a National Park or Animal Sanctuary.
We left the ship around 10:30 and once again, avoided any encounter with Australian agriculture inspectors. After a short walk down the pier, we watched as local news reporters interview Orlando Ashford, President of HAL, and took a few pictures. A report of our trip was also featured in the local paper – The Townsville Bulletin. Here is a link to the story. Another story HERE. We discovered later that the town was very pleased to have us visit and the local visitors bureau distributed flyers announcing our visit and requesting that everyone join them in giving us a warm welcome. A copy of that flyer is HERE. We boarded the shuttle bus and after a few minutes we were on our way for the 10 minute drive to the central business district. A very nice local tourist bureau official was on shuttle bus and she provided a wealth of information and recommendations. After we arrived at the Visitors Information Center, we immediately boarded another shuttle bus that ran on a continuous loop around town and down “The Strand”, their major street running along the beach.
We looped around the marina, the entertainment center and the casino, before heading down The Strand toward the Jezzine Barracks. Unfortunately we had noticed a large number of jelly fish from the ship earlier and heard reports that this wasn’t the time of year to go into the water. We did notice that parts of the beach were partitioned off with some sort of barrier to create a safe swimming space and keep out the jelly fish.
Jezzine Barracks, home to a local museum, was the turnaround spot for the shuttle bus and we elected to get off here with the plan to walk back on The Strand to the Central Business District. The ships doctor and her husband cruised by on their folding bicycles and we observed them heading into a local Fish and Chips restaurant up the road. A sign giving directions to the “Kissing Point” caught our eye and we were off to investigate.
Two options were offered to get to the Kissing Point – one way was marked as handicap accessible and the other way pointed to some stone steps. We chose the steps and started our short hike. After 126 uneven steps and 289 feet of climbing we reached the summit of this little knoll called Kissing Point with a spectacular view of the Coral Sea and nearby Magnetic Island. We learned later that Magnetic Island earned its name when it was thought to contain material that was causing Captain Cook’s compasses to go haywire back in 1770. Subsequent investigations proved this to be unfounded, but the name stuck anyway.
I was surprised to see the USA flag flying alongside the Australian flag at the top of Kissing Point. We learned that the Kissing Point is also home to a memorial commemorating the WWII Battle of Coral Sea – which was the first time in the history of naval warfare that the opposing ships never saw each other directly but only thru the eyes of their pilots launched from the various aircraft carriers involved. Early in my career, I would serve on the USN aircraft carrier named after that battle – the USS Coral Sea (CV 43).
It was starting to heat up and we chose to walk down to the Army Museum along the path that we avoided on the way up. As long as you were in the shade, it was quite pleasant, but once you were exposed to direct sun, it got hot – quickly. Fortunately the humidity was low so every breeze and spot of shade provided welcome relief.
Unfortunately after we arrived at the museum entrance we learned that it was closed – open only a few days a week and today wasn’t one of them so we headed off to The Strand to start our walk back to the central business district. Before we got started, the air-conditioning of the nearby Fish Inn looked inviting and we decided to continue our quest for the best Fish and Chips in the world here.
The restaurant is informal and you order from a counter where they give you a number on a small stand you place on your table and servers bring you your food when ready. Only the back part of the restaurant was cooled so we chose a table next to a large group of folks having a wonderful time. While waiting for our food we overheard the group discussing the cruise ship that was visible a couple miles away. A little later one of the guests got our attention and told us that we should take a look at the cruise ship that was visible out the window. After we remarked that we were passengers off that very cruise ship we became minor celebrities and they inquired about the usual items of itinerary, schedule and where we were from. Once they learned we were on a world cruise, that opened another wave of questions and commentary. Their group was celebrating a birthday of one of their family members who was turning 88 today. Another member of the group, Diana, approached us and said she was a taxi driver and this was her day off, but she would like to drive us around in her personal car and take us to the top of Castle Hill so we could see the view from there. We cleared up that this was something she was offering on her own time (she did mention being a taxi driver) and we were soon off, accompanied by another family member, Dennis.
What a joy! We enjoyed their interesting commentary about Townsville and the local area as we made our way up to the top of Castle Hill. The road to the top (about 1000 feet above the Coral Sea) was very curvy with signs warning pedestrians to not walk more than two abreast and to keep left. Apparently walking to the summit is quite popular and big crowds on weekends can swarm the road and impede traffic. On the way down later, we noticed that on the other side of the signs warning about pedestrians going up, were signs warning cyclists to not go fast downhill and give warning to pedestrians before passing.
Castle Hill offered beautiful vistas in all directions, but each view required a short walk. We spent about 30 minutes here walking from view point to view point, learning more about the local area from Diana and Dennis in the process. There is a large university nearby as well as one of the largest army barracks in the country. The Townsville airport was clearly visible to the north and is shared by commercial airlines as well as the Royal Australian Air Force.
On the way back down the hill and back into town, Dennis and Diana pointed out a large painting of a stick figure saint on a local hill. Apparently this was done by local University students to show support for one of their sporting teams years ago, but it remains today as a minor local attraction. Along the way we learned that Diana spent several months in the USA a while back and drove from Los Angeles to New York City and back in a rental car. They enjoyed visiting the small USA towns in “the outback” where the local USA residents were often surprised that they were all the way from Australia.
Diana and Dennis dropped us off very near the visitors information center where we would catch the shuttle bus back to the ship. We really enjoyed meeting them and they made our visit extra special. They get to the USA from time to time and the next time they are in Southern California we hope they look us up so we can return the favor. Townsville is truly the friendliest town in Queensland!
NOTE: Townsville also had free Wi-Fi hotspots in many places around the city – always worthwhile to check once in a while as you move around. There were also paid mobile hotpots called Testra Air that offered fast service for $5 an hour or $10 a day. I think they are part of T-Mobile and may be free if you are already on their system.
As we arrived back on the ship we welcomed the rush of cool air as we stepped onto the ship and off the gangplank. Henk, the Hotel Director, was right in front of us, in civilian clothes, as we all waited to go thru security screening. While we were all enjoying cool air in contrast to the hot air outside, we joked that soon enough we would start to complain about the ship being too cold – in reference to some remarks at yesterday’s Q and A. Henk smiled but we knew that he was probably thinking that our little joke would become all too true once he got back to his office.
Once we let go our lines, the ship rocketed out to sea as it was a straight shot to open ocean and we reached full cruising speed almost immediately. The pilot boat chased behind and would soon retrieve their pilot once we were clear of local waters.
Sail Away was lightly attending and very low energy. The selection of music was more suited for the Ocean Bar before early seating than creating a lively atmosphere for an exciting sail away. We learned thru later conversations that many people were drained by the heat and a long day of sightseeing and spent the Sail Away napping in their cabins.
Dinner continues to be phenomenal, and just when I think it can’t get any better or sustain this level of quality, they produce another memorable meal. Our waiters have picked up a few more guests in our section – not sure if they are on fixed or are just passing thru on open dining.
Patrick McMahon, was the entertainer tonight and produced a high energy show singing like Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and others. His rendition of Neil Diamond was amazing and he wowed the house.
We had a wonderful day in Townsville and look forward to our visit to Cairns tomorrow.This entry was posted in Uncategorized