Location: Townsville, Queensland Australia

The jeep bounced along the dusty road. Pandanus palms and eucalypts flashed past. The group was singing loudly to American Pie.

They had all just watched a beautiful sunset from a delightful beach on the remote western point of Magnetic Island in Tropical North Queensland.

This was a tour with a difference aboard a “stretch” jeep, a custom-modified Jeep Wrangler with comfortable leather upholstery and seating for 10.

Owner Steve Anslow drives the 4×4 machine with panache, negotiating tricky gullies and streams with ease. At one point, he stops the jeep in a large puddle and points at something interesting, unconcerned the muffler is warbling away under-water.

Steve’s Tropicana Tours operates a number of daily tours in the stretch jeep. There’s the chance to find peace at secluded, sandy coves, sample the local liqueur Mango Rico at bottle shop drive-bys, enjoy sunset nibblies by candlelight at West Point, hand-feed chattering rainbow lorrikeets and so much more, all to Steve’s informative commentary.

As the jeep zips over the hills and past Maggie’s beautiful bays, music throbs from the super-sound system. Steve has the music pegged perfectly. It’s a delightful mix of old of new and soon everyone is singing along.

Apart from the fabulous jeep tour, Magnetic Island has all manner of great transport options and tours. Hire a moke, ride on the back of a Harley-Davidson, enjoy an informative tour with the Magnetic Island Bus Service or for the ultimate thrill, take an escorted jet-ski tour around the entire island.

Magnetic Island is a large continental island lying just off the mainland from Townsville. With a population of 2,000 spread out over several villages, it has 23 secluded beaches and coves with fringing coral reefs lying just offshore. There are 25km of walks through the tropical bush and it’s not hard to spot a koala on the Forts Walk in the late afternoon.

Accommodation includes backpacker hostels, comfortable self-contained apartments, holiday units and four-star hotels.

Magnetic Island is a 20 minute fast-catamaran ride from Townsville, a Tropical North Queensland city which is going through a renaissance. Taking centre stage here is the new $29 million beachfront, The Strand.

This delightful area has beautiful safe-swimming beaches, a fitness circuit, a great water-park for the kids, plenty of pretty places to picnic and some fine restaurants and bars overlooking the Coral Sea.

For a real gastronomic experience, take a wander down Palmer Street in South Townsville and choose from a wide range of new restaurants where every kind of cuisine – making the most of fresh local seafood and produce – can be found.

The ReefHQ aquarium next to Ross Creek is certainly a great spot to get a preview of the Great Barrier Reef. ReefHQ houses the largest self-perpetuating coral reef in the world. Nearby is a giant predator tank where you can watch sharks cruise menacingly. There’s a regular scuba dive show where the divers speak to you via intercom while they feed the fish. Other highlights include a marine creature touch-tank, a wild sea-turtle rehabilitation centre plus great interactive activities for the kids.

After this, it’s easy to take a day-trip to the Great Barrier Reef with Pure Pleasure Cruises and see the one of the world’s natural wonders up close.

A stunning addition to Townsville is the $22 million Museum of Tropical North Queensland. Pride of place in the museum is the fantastic Pandora exhibit which houses a built-to-scale section of the Pandora’s bow. This 1700s ship was sent to chase the mutineers on the Bounty – a real tale of triumph and tragedy beyond normal human endurance.

There’s all kinds of accommodation in Townsville, from backpacker hotels and holiday units to self-contained apartments and luxury hotels, including the Jupiters Townsville Hotel and Casino. On one trip to Townsville, we stayed at The Rocks Guesthouse perched on a hill overlooking Magnetic Island.

This 1886 landmark has been restored to its former glory as a plush guesthouse. The Rocks seems to always have some peripheral involvement in Townsville’s history. Jointly built by Townsville founder Robert Towns, it has served as a bank residence, a plush 1930s guesthouse and a war-time hospital.

Some say there might even be a presence or two floating about, but we didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary during our visit, just the lovely hospitality.

Whatever your tastes and temptations, Townsville is really coming of age for that perfect Tropical North Queensland holiday.

For more information:
Townsville Enterprise
Tel +61 7 4726 2728

– By Shaun O’Dowd