Townsville is usually chosen as one of the main Australian destinations next to the Great Barrier Reef because of its mega underwater flora and fauna, the best wreck of Australia, and interesting night dives in the Outer Reefs. You have an opportunity to get close to such giant marine inhabitants like Marble Rays, Giant Groupers, Bull Sharks, Napoleons, Manta, Guitar Shark, and occasional Tiger Shark. The nearby Magnetic Island is ready to unveil its underwater secrets to wreck diving amateurs.
Located within 4-hour drive from Cairns Townsville can be reached by different transport. The fastest is to take a direct flight to Townsville International Airport. It is serviced by such airlines as Qantas Airways, Virgin Australia, and Jetstar.
If you are traveling from another destination in Australia you can arrive by train from Brisbane or Cairns. It takes about 6 hours to get here from Cairns. Whether the bus is your choice it will bring you to Townsville from Cairns within 5 hours.
In order to get to the nearby Magnetic Island, you can take a 30-minute ferry transfer from Townsville.
Townsville is famous not only for daily diving trips to the fascinating Great Barrier Reef but for the nearby wrecks as well. The world’s famous S.S. Yongala is the main attraction beyond any doubt.
If you are looking for beautiful coral gardens, then you’d better head to Lodestone Reef with shallow waters and coral pinnacles surrounded by colorful fish. At the same time, Wheeler Reef offers opportunities to dive next to small caves and canyons.
About 20 wrecks can be found in the area around Magnetic Island. Some of them are submerged like Platypus; some have become artificial reefs and islands, for example, City of Adelaide; and some can be found in the intertidal area which can be accessed even while snorkeling, like George Rennie. Probably, there is indeed some mystery and strange magnetic attraction around this place which resulted in all these wrecks as well as in manipulation of Captain Cook’s compass in the 18th century in that area.
Best Dive Sites Overview
Top rated as one of the world’s best wreck dive S.S. Yongala should not be missed. Many advanced divers arrive at Townsville to dive this wreck not only. You can dive here during several days as each dive will bring new marine encounters. Liveaboard might be the best option to fully explore this dive site.
S.S. Yongala used to be a luxury 109m (357 ft.) long passenger vessel. She was traveling without any telegraph facilities and could not be warned about a cyclone in that area. She sank due to the bad weather in March 1911 and she stayed undiscovered for another 50 years. The top of the wreck is located at 15m (49ft.) while her bottom lies at 33m (108ft.) on the sandy bottom. Now she has become a marvelous artificial wreck full of hard and soft corals including Sea Fans which attract an amazing number of marine creatures. You can find the smallest residents like Nudibranchs, Crabs, and Shrimps, as well as gigantic ones like Giant Grouper, Giant Trevally, Napoleon, Marble Ray and Manta. It is common to see Octopus, Sea Snake, Turtle, and Eagle Ray here. And of course, do not forget about Sharks which are always associated with wrecks. Here they are represented by 3 resident Bull Sharks, occasional Tiger Shark, and Guitar Shark.
Penetration is not allowed so that air bubbles will not cause more corrosion. Currents can be strong while visibility stays about 10-15m (32-49ft.). The best sea conditions for diving here are usually encountered in October and November. Some of the boat operators offer night dives at S.S. Yongala.
S.S. Moltke is one of the wrecks which can be found around Magnetic Island. She used to be a three-mastered 60m (196 ft.) long vessel. When it ceased its serve in 1913 the owner decided to turn it into the breakwater in Geoffrey Bay. It is said that the owner and an expert in explosives consumed plenty of alcohol that day and explosive detonated prematurely thus sinking the vessel in the wrong location. Now it lies at the depth of just 10m (32ft.). You can meet lots of reef fish here as well as Stonefish, Batfish, Sweetlips, Parrotfish, Humpback Grouper, and Epaulette Shark. Few times Sea Crocodile was spotted cruising along this area.
This dive site is located on the western side of the Great Barrier Reef and it can be used for all levels of divers. The depth here ranges between 2-18m (6-59ft.), though in some spots you can find 30m (98ft.). The visibility is usually very good. There are many small caves, crevices, swim-throughs, and canyons around the dive site. Lagoons host schools of pelagic and reef fish. Typically you can see Morays, Crustaceans, Whitetip Reef Sharks, and Turtles here.
Flinders Reef is located 220km (136mi) away from Townsville near Moreton Island. It is famous for its coral’s variety and about 200 species of fish. The most common representatives of the underwater world here are Sweetlip, Parrotfish, Wrasse, Surgeonfish, Batfish, Trevally, and Turtles. It is common to see Wobbegong Shark, Manta, Grey Nurse Shark, and Leopard Shark. During the season, it is possible to spot Whale Shark on the eastern side of the Reef. Humpback Whales are usually seen from the surface between June and September. There are different dive spots around this area. You can try wall diving at China Wall dive site or watch Whitetip Reef Shark, Grey Reef Shark, and Silvertip Shark at Scuba Zoo.
She used to be a 60m (196ft.) long steamship which was sunk 130km (80mi) southeast of Townsville. SS Gothenburg hit the reef because of bad weather in February 1875. It is said that many passengers were transporting gold in their pockets and cabins because of the gold rush of the time. Many of them drowned refusing to get rid of the gold. SS Gothenburg has become a beautiful artificial reef located between 9-16m (29-52ft.). Crustaceans, Whitetip Reef Sharks, and Cuttlefish can be regularly seen here.
Best Dive Season
If you wish to dive your best in the area around Townsville, then it might be good to arrive between November and February.
The best visibility is usually seen between September and December when there are little rain and wind.
The Great Barrier Reef is accessible all the year round. However, it is possible to encounter tropical storms between December and April.
The average water temperature around Townsville stays between 22Cº (71ºF) in July and August and 28ºC (82ºF) between December and February. The visibility depends on the dive spot and the season. It might be less when diving closer to the coastline, where it stays around 10-15m (32-49ft.). However, there are some areas where visibility reaches 60m (196ft.).
There can be strong currents in some of the diving destinations.
Most of the representatives of the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef can be seen in the area around Townsville. Just single dive site of S.S. Yongala accumulates so many species that you can dive it many times to spot all of them.
There are 3 types of Turtles usually found in the area: Green See, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead Sea Turtle. Rays are usually represented by Manta Ray, Eagle Ray, Stingray, and Marble Ray.
Giant Potato God, Barracuda, Whitetip Reef Shark, Napoleon, Bull Shark, and Sea Snake can be spotted all the year round.
Coral Spawning is usually witnessed in this area in November between the 2nd and 6th day after the full moon.
The best season to watch Humpback Whales is in the winter months of July and August.
When choosing an accommodation in the area of Townsville you can opt for a luxury house or apartments as well as for some budget variant. There are options available both in the city of Townsville and on the nearby Magnetic Island.
This luxurious Resort is located on the coast of the Coral Sea in the center of Townsville with the views over Magnetic Island. There is a great variety of Rooms offered for the guests: Deluxe Rooms, Executive Rooms, Deluxe Suites, Executive Suites, a Two-Bedroom Apartment and a Presidential Suite. The Resort features a lagoon-style pool, a Casino with live music, 3 restaurants, Spa, a gym, and a sauna.
No.1 the Strand
This is a modern 3-bedroom apartment which is located near the river and Cleveland Bay in Townsville. Up to 7 guests can be accommodated in the apartment. It features a pool, BBQ area, a garden, and a fully equipped kitchen. There is a large balcony where you can enjoy the views over the Coral Sea. WiFi is available in the apartment for free.
The Resort consists of 10 luxury two bedrooms free standing Villas. It is located in Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island. Each Villa has 2 bathrooms one of which is with Spa bath; panoramic doors open into the private verandah. You will find a fully equipped kitchen, a laundry, and BBQ area in a private courtyard at each Villa. There is an outdoor pool which is heated during the winter months.
Sails on Horseshoe
This 4-star self-catering apartments are located near the Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island. There are 14 apartments and the guests can stay either in a studio or in 2-bedroom apartment. Each of them has a private balcony or a courtyard, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a laundry. The Resort features a pool, a garden, and BBQ facilities.
Arthur Bay Beach House
This is a private House situated in Arthur Bay on Magnetic Island. It can accommodate up to 8 persons. The place is perfect for those who seek peace and privacy as it is hidden between the ocean and pine trees. The property features an outdoor pool, a large lounge area, BBQ zone, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a private beach area.
If you wish to see different diving spots around the Great Barrier Reef as well as S.S.Yongala wreck and some other interesting sites around Townsville, it might be best to join a liveaboard from Cairns or Townsville. You can join one of the major fleets or hire a private charter.
MV Sea Esta
This budget vessel is operated by Adrenalin Snorkel & Dive from Townsville. The standard itinerary includes 3-night accommodation, 10 dives including S.S. Yongala and all meals aboard. The liveaboard services up to 20 guests who can choose Double, Twin or Quad-share Cabins. All Cabins have A/C.
Reef Encounter is a 35m (114ft.) long catamaran hotel. It is designed to provide maximum comfort for divers and snorkelers who can be accommodated in 21 Double or Twin-shared Cabins. The Catamaran Hotel features a spacious diving and snorkeling platform, a glass bottom boat for free excursions on the reefs, a dining saloon, a bar, a lounge area, a huge sun deck, and an open air hot tub. Fresh meals are served daily by the onboard chef. The Hotel can be reached by a speed boat from Cairns Marlin Marina or by Nautilus Helicopters as there is a Heli Pad on the roof.
This is a classical wooden vessel which can be privately chartered to enjoy Townsville’s Outer reefs and S.S. Yongala wreck. The boat can take up to 16 divers aboard. The offered packages include accommodation, 5 meals, and 4 dives daily as well as weights, and tanks.
This luxury liveaboard is operated by Mike Ball Dive Expeditions. She is 30m (98ft.) long boat for 28 guests. 14 Cabins are divided into Queen, Double and Twin-share Cabins. There is plenty of space to relax aboard including a lounge and a sundeck. Itineraries usually start from Cairns. There are special expeditions devoted to S.S. Yongala wreck and the Coral Sea.
Spirit of Freedom
She is a 37m (121ft.) long liveaboard which can accommodate up to 26 divers. There are 11 different Cabins located between the 2 decks. You will find a private bathroom, A/C, and a wardrobe in each of them. The boat usually covers dive sites around Cairns, Ribbon Reefs and from time to time S.S. Yongala wreck.
Other Activities For Non-Divers
The best snorkeling around the area of Townsville can be organized by most of the dive operators which usually go to the Davies Reef or Wheeler Reef. The area is full of marine life and corals in shallow waters which are perfect for snorkeling exploration of the Great Barrier Reef. Magnetic Island is also a nice place to snorkel and access some of the wrecks close to the surface. However, the visibility might be low here. In order to avoid any Jellyfish stings, it is advised to wear a wetsuit or Lycra protection. It is good to know that Sea Crocodiles reside around Townsville, thus, you’d better snorkel only in the areas with lifeguards.
Tours and Excursions
If you wish to continue your acquaintance with the Australian wildlife, it might be a good idea to visit a Billabong Sanctuary with Crocodile, Wombat, Koala, and many other terrestrial animals and birds; Reef HQ Aquarium which is the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium situated in the center of Townsville; or arrange a wagon ride to see Texas Longhorns in Leahton Park. There are also plenty of water sports in Townsville. You can try to skydiving and surfing.